Here’s the technology being used to watch Russian troops as Ukraine invasion fears linger

Welcome to the war in the big data era.

Easily accessible satellite imagery as well as TikTok videos, Twitter and other social networking platforms have rid the war and preparing for war an element of surprise. Look no further than tensions around Ukraine when the world is concerned about the possibility of a Russian invasion.

The build-up of about 150,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders was clearly visible in satellite imagery. Both videos and photos have been widely distributed, giving a wealth of information known as open source to both experts and amateurs alike.

Signs of the rise began last spring, which caused concern, but alarm bells began ringing around December, “when we started seeing things that were a little unusual” about previous activities, said Lucas Andryukaitis, deputy director of Digital Forensic in Brussels. The research laboratory is run by the Atlantic Council, a US-based foreign policy think tank.

It was clear that more and more equipment and personnel were moving to the position, and the accumulation of troops and equipment in neighboring Belarus, in particular, is a cause for concern, Andryukaitis said in a telephone interview.

Andrükaitis said he should also know where to look for other types of publicly available information. Although they were discontinued as the congestion increased, previously it was possible to access public railway databases in Russia. Images of wagons with identification numbers could be compared with a database to determine where they came from and what units or equipment they were carrying.

Open source intelligence, often abbreviated as OSINT, is not entirely new. Bellingcat, which describes itself as an independent international team of researchers, investigators and civic journalists who use open source intelligence and social media to investigate various subjects, has received an award since 2014 for its work in tracking secret operations in Russia and other entities.

The constant growth of social networks, available satellite imagery and datasets in general has transformed the field and changed the calculation around war and diplomacy.

Compare Russia’s build-up around Ukraine with the Gulf War in 1991, when the United States and its allies used the “left hook”, a massive flank attack against Iraqi troops near Kuwait’s western border.

“The Iraqis had no idea it would come because they didn’t have satellite imagery; so they haven’t seen this equipment in the desert, ”said Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies in Monterey, California.

Although deception and mismanagement remain part of any military textbook, as evidenced by the confusion surrounding the movement of Russian troops this week, security experts say operational deception on a scale similar to that used in 1991 cannot be repeated today. .

It also means that the public, which previously had to rely on government leaks and news reports, can see what is happening, almost in real time.

Meanwhile, the availability of images on social media and the tools to validate them represent other major changes, Lewis said. Geolocation and metadata can be checked to confirm whether the images are what they allegedly are.

Social media also provides a platform for open source Intel operators to share their work with the public.

On Wednesday, the focus was on open source information when NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia was continuing to build up military forces, contrary to Russia’s claims that troops and units were returning to bases after participating in military exercises.

“We were very transparent. And the information we share is also confirmed from open sources, with satellite images from commercial satellites, ”Stoltenberg told a news conference on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told ABC News on Wednesday that “there are no significant signs” of Russia’s retreat and that the United States sees Russian forces “at the forefront of any new aggression against Ukraine that continue to be on the border,” on the border.

Cyber ​​attacks on Ukrainian banks and government websites on Tuesday also kept tensions high.

“There are some potential signs of troop movements from advanced operational bases on the Ukrainian border, but we cannot say with certainty that these movements are actually taking place and in what direction,” Andryukaitis said by e-mail.

Images and analysis posted on Twitter by open source analysts sought to sort out recent developments. The confusion over what is happening on the ground also illustrates the problem posed by possible efforts to mislead observers:

The threat of a major European ground war periodically shook the financial markets. Shares fell and oil futures soared on Friday, forcing investors to buy traditional safe assets, including treasury facilities, after the U.S. warned that the invasion could happen “any day.”

Read: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would mean for markets if Biden warns Putin about “heavy spending”

Markets stabilized on Tuesday, and shares jumped sharply after Russia said it was withdrawing troops, but investors do not think everything is clear. Dow Jones DJIA Industrial Average,
-0.16%
on Wednesday ended 54.57 points lower, down 0.2%, while the S&P 500 SPX,
+ 0.09%
increased by 0.1%. Oil futures CL.1,
-1.57%
rose 1.7%, with analysts expecting oil to rise above $ 100 a barrel in the event of a Russian attack.

Suh: The fall of the stock market before the war is usually reminiscent of “fears of growth”

So what does it mean when the whole world can watch as the country prepares for a potential large-scale invasion? The Russians have tried to misalign observers to tactical details, but the task of creating and deploying more than 100,000 troops and the necessary equipment and supply lines makes it almost impossible to disguise the scale of what is happening, analysts say.

And in the case of Ukraine, it seems Moscow wanted the world to know about its preparations, as it also denied plans to invade. Indeed, the question may be whether Moscow is trying to use the visibility of its movements to its advantage.

“You have the opportunity to report things because you know they’ll see you,” Lewis said.

All governments, including the United States and its allies, make decisions knowing that many of their actions will be visible. The fact that military movements on the scale of what is happening around Ukraine is expensive and complex means they also send a clear signal of determination and intent, Lewis said could be part of the calculations when it comes to attempting to build. levers for negotiations.

Russia “is using this to its advantage, brandishing its swords as hard as it can” to secure itself with better coins, Andryukaitis said, adding that there are few downsides to the approach, because if Moscow continues to invade, such observation “cannot be”. “Will not affect their activities at the strategic level.”

The time needed to geolocate and verify the video, for example, means there will be a delay that will not allow open source intelligence to “get ahead” of action or make tactical predictions, he said.

Meanwhile, the realm, as well as the world of big data, is constantly evolving, and data sources are benefiting and displeasing. Andryukaitis, a former Lithuanian military officer, said he enjoys the freedom to “think outside the box” offered by open source.

In the world of open source intelligence, “everything is on the table,” he said.

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