Stay up-to-date with the latest OSINT news from around the world
Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is playing a big role in national security developments, whether it’s reporting on what intelligence resources China’s People’s Liberation Army is purchasing or state-led disinformation campaigns on sites like Twitter and Facebook. In other news, a former Australian intelligence official is also calling for the need of an apolitical national security threat analysis in the vein of the annual report the U.S. releases every year. Lastly, China’s military seems to be targeting model replicas in the desert designed to look like U.S. ships.
Let’s get up to speed with OSINT news from the global intelligence community.
Researchers at Georgetown spent a year analyzing China’s publicly available governmental contracts to find out what the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was purchasing and how it may play into a supposed AI arms race between China and the United States. The report found a special focus on intelligent and autonomous vehicles, which made up one third of the 66,000 contracts reviewed. It also found that American technology was being used in the advancement of China’s own intelligence due to lack of export control.
The report did not find support for theories that China is seeking autonomous weapons, such as what Time Magazine has theorized. More often, AI applications were similar to how they are used in the United States, such as analysis and maintenance. The reliance on American-designed computer chips points to further evidence of the interdependence between the United States and China despite growing animosity.
“Among the 273 AI equipment suppliers identified in the study, less than 8 percent are found on the Commerce Department’s Entity List of individuals and organizations subject to U.S. government licensing requirements. The overwhelming majority of PLA suppliers are also not blacklisted by either the Treasury Department or the Defense Department.”— Ryan Fedasiuk, Politico
The Cyber Policy Centre of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has become a crucial resource to many western nations thanks to its work in China-focused intelligence gathering. Their funding hails more from the U.S., Britain, Japan and other European nations rather than Australia itself, thanks to their extensive development of machine learning tools and recruitment of millennial data whizzes that could prove crucial in countering China. Recruits include Nathan Ruser, who became internationally renowned as “the Strava guy” when he used the popular exercise app to find secret U.S. bases thanks to the routes being uploaded by members of the military.
In recent years, ASPI has been able to identify the expansion of “re-education camps” used to repress Uighur populations and the use of forced Uighur labor in the supply chain of 82 popular global brands. The Cyber Policy Centre has also identified state actors on Twitter with accounts dedicated to sowing disinformation on a variety of subjects, including COVID-19 and Hong Kong.
“ANU National Security College head Rory Medcalf says open-source data analysis is key to the future of intelligence, and will continue to provide new insights for policymakers.”— Ben Packham, The Australian
Satellite imagery has identified Chinese military targets in the shape of U.S. aircraft carriers and destroyers in the Taklamakan desert. The target range features several U.S. naval ships and has been used for testing ballistic missiles. Details from satellite imagery show replicas of the carriers, including gun placement, funnels, the Vertical Launch System and helipad. This is a more nuanced upgrade from the concrete pad in the shape of a carrier that China has been known to use since 2003.
China’s PLA has land-based ballistic missile programs and maneuverable reentry vehicles that can be used to target ships. The range of these anti-ship programs is 800 to 2,000 nautical miles.
“While questions remain on the extent of weapons that will be tested at the new facility, the level of sophistication of what can now be seen at the site show the PLA is continuing to invest in deterrents to limit the efficacy of U.S. naval forces close to China — in particular targeting the U.S. carrier fleet.”— H.I. Sutton and Sam LaGrone, USNI News
United States cyber security officials may take for granted its yearly unclassified national security threat report. While much of Australia’s Office of National Intelligence (ONI) was modeled on its U.S. counterpart, according to retired senior Royal Australian Air Force intelligence officer Richard Keir, they lack the annual threat assessment provided to the national intelligence community. Keir calls for the need of an apolitical threat assessment in Australia and believes the community itself could fill the need.
Since much of the current threat assessment is gathered via open source intelligence, the opportunity to create a publicly available, unclassified threat assessment report is already there. By simply redacting secret intelligence and collecting OSINT reports, a community-based report could help focus the Australian intelligence community and even provide strategy to the ONI.
“Think tanks and online investigators already very effectively use these commercial sources to support their work, so why not the NIC in the development of the public version of the national threat assessment?”— Richard Keir, The Strategist
China’s military strategy — both in anti-ship ballistic missile programs and the effort in “intelligentizing” warfare — has been front-and-center of global OSINT news. Australia has also been playing a role in gathering intelligence on China and now working to create their own threat assessment for independent national analysis. In all these stories, national security continues to draw more and more of its intelligence gathering from open sources.
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