Creating an intelligence revolution on the couch

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The year 2015 has ended with nice fireworks, we got rid of the Christmas trees and are now trying to eat healthier food after the Festive season. We are at the start of 2016 that for sure will be dominated by the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the EU Presidency by The Netherlands, and […]

The year 2015 has ended with nice fireworks, we got rid of the Christmas trees and are now trying to eat healthier food after the Festive season. We are at the start of 2016 that for sure will be dominated by the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the EU Presidency by The Netherlands, and unfortunately the UEFA European Championship without the Dutch squad…

Besides these events Capgemini Insights & Data foresees 2016 will be marked by 7 big trends. For me the most important will be trend number 3:

Use the Force, Luke – insights can be driven by crowd power. It is tough enough to set up and maintain a big data platform as it requires new, scarce skills – like data science – and new, unexplored technologies – like Spark and Hadoop. It’s also difficult to project when, how much and how often you will need these new, purple unicorn capabilities. So why not look outside and get social right from the start? Open community platforms such as Kaggle provide organizations with the flexible, collective brainpower of some of the smartest data scientists and technologists in the world. Also, have a look at the quickly emerging market of catalog-based, off-the-shelf analytics as a much quicker way to get going on your insight-driven journey.”

This is an important and very powerful trend. On Sunday January 3rd this was perfectly illustrated by an interesting news item from the public intelligence domain. The open source research team Bellingcat stated they had decreased the number of suspects from 100 to 20 Russians in their investigation of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17).

From an Insights & Data perspective, the way Bellingcat works is even more interesting than these findings. Besides applying the wisdom of the crowd, they are really democratizing information with their approach.

Bellingcat is a citizen journalism initiative led by the formerly unemployed Eliot Higgins. As of 2014 they are investigating the downing of flight MH17, the civil war in Syria and the Russian intervention in Ukraine. Their initiative is extraordinary because they are not doing these investigations onsite, but without leaving their homes, right from the comfort of their own couch! As long as they are connected to the Internet, they can search and analyze online information for their investigations (open-source information such as videos, maps and pictures). This method is called OSINT (open-source intelligence) for which several techniques can be applied.

In the digital world that we live in today, we are seeing an explosion of data and Bellingcat is gratefully exploiting this. Almost everybody is filming, tweeting and posting on social media. It is a well-known fact that breaking news can be found sooner on Twitter than on ‘conservative’ news sites. This is causing a revolution in journalism and in my opinion, Bellingcat is leading it with regards to investigative journalism. Bellingcat verifies the authenticity of the collected data and analyzes it (amongst others the so-called Russian Selfie Soldiers). For example, by geo-locating photos or reverse-searching thousands of Syrian Youtube videos to find what other sites are posting them, they can draw interesting and impressive conclusions.

With this way of working Bellingcat has found multiple, important conclusions which are helpful inputs for Human Rights Watch, the Joint Investigation Team (MH17) and of course journalism (for instance check the impressive analysis of the MH17 BUK convoy).

The open-source character of the information used is important, but Bellingcat is also very open about the information they produce themselves. By doing this, their analyses and conclusions can be checked (the sources are indeed publicly available), and so their integrity is ensured.

Bellingcat is thereby contributing in a huge manner to the democratization of information. An important promise of the original ‘Information superhighway’.

My expectation for 2016? More initiatives such as Bellingcat will not only arise in the public domain, but also in the business domain. Here OSINT will be applied more and more using names such as commercial intelligence or competitor intelligence next to the traditional business intelligence. Think about collecting, enriching and analyzing information of (employees of) competitors via sources as LinkedIn, blogs such as this one, Facebook or Twitter. Or think about exposing corporate lies or abuses by consumer groups or collectives.

The question however, is if the information produced will be shared openly. I suppose this will depend on the competitive value that is found through business OSINT.

Analyzing data from the Olympic Games, issues in the EU, and the UEFA European Championship are just some examples of what is possible.

What do you think is in store through such developments and open-source research teams?

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