Using OSINT to understand Yemen

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This is a podcast episode titled, Using OSINT to understand Yemen. The summary for this episode is: <p>The situation in Yemen is particularly complex. Even before the start of the attacks on shipping in November 2023 by Ansar Allah (commonly known as the Houthis), the country has been of interest to many. A large-scale humanitarian crisis has emerged following a decade of conflict across the country drawing in the Yemeni government, Ansar Allah, southern Yemeni secessionists, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, and a minor Islamic State faction. In this podcast James Trigg, Senior Research Analyst for the Middle East and North Africa Country Intelligence team at Janes joins Harry Kemsley and Sean Corbett to explore how open-source intelligence has allowed us to get a deeper understanding of the relatively closed environment of Yemen and the complex situation in the country.</p>

Speaker 1: Welcome to the World of Intelligence, a podcast for you to discover the latest analysis of global military and security trends within the open source defense intelligence community. Now onto the episode with your host, Harry Kemsley.

Harry Kemsley: Hello and welcome to this edition of Janes World of intelligence. Sean, as always is my co- host. Hello, Sean.

Sean Corbett: Good morning, Harry.

Harry Kemsley: And I'm Harry Kemsley. So Sean, we recently did a podcast, in fact, we've done three podcasts now on the terrible situation we've seen in Israel and Gaza, among which of course the situation that has escalated out of that into Yemen came into the conversation. So I thought it'd be helpful today for us to just examine Yemen. I don't think it's a country that many people really knew much about until it became newsworthy for reasons we can look at. So let's have a look at that and I'm delighted to invite and have join us. James Trigg. Hello, James.

James Trigg: Hi, good morning, Harry. I'm James Trigg. I'm a senior research analyst with the Middle East and North Africa team here at Janes.

Harry Kemsley: Perfect. Thank you James. So James, as I said, our introduction very briefly, one of the things that many people won't understand about Yemen is why we should care about Yemen and not just because of the attacks on shipping of the local area of Yemen, but what is it about Yemen that causes us to need to understand more about Yemen? What's the background? What are the challenges of that part of the world?

James Trigg: Thanks. That's a great question. And the situation in Yemen is an incredibly complex mosaic of inaudible. One of the main reasons for its continuing relevance is because of the scale of the humanitarian crisis that's unveiling across the country because of now over a decade of conflict, which has drawn in not just Yemeni actors but also Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemenis Al- Qaeda affiliate is also heavily involved and even a minor Islamic State branch. So there's a number of different reasons why different actors either need to be involved in Yemen or have become interested in Yemen even before the start of the attacks on shipping in November 2023.

Harry Kemsley: So it sounds like a real melting pot. It sounds like a huge amount of actors operating in there. Is there anything about what we're now seeing in the main line press, the shipping? Is there anything about the history of Yemen that gives you a sense of that's what we would've expected? Is there anything about the connection between what you've just described as this melting pot of state and non-state actors and what we're seeing in the shipping lanes nearby?

James Trigg: Particularly with regards to Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, this is not the first round of attacks that they've launched on Red Sea shipping. In 2016, they launched an unmanned surface vessel out into the Red Sea, which struck a Saudi Arabian frigate and killed two sailors I believe. So this is not necessarily as brand new a phenomenon as perhaps the media may portray, but it certainly ties into the broader kind of narrative of the region, particularly in terms of the vulnerability of sea lanes and ships transiting through those particular waterways.

Harry Kemsley: Absolutely. So Sean, from your background, how much attention... Let's go back five years, how much attention do you think Yemen would've been getting during that? Would that then stop you with the Saudi ongoing conflict at that time? How much-

Sean Corbett: To an extent, yeah, that's true. I think we looked at Yemen very much for counter terrorist lens for a long time.

Harry Kemsley: Counterterrorism.

Sean Corbett: Indeed, yeah. So as has been mentioned, AQAP, Al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that kind of cross fertilizes with organizations like Al- Shabab, but also further in there. But that's only one element of course. It is incredibly complex. So from a counterterrorist perspective, always humanitarian exactly as James said. But it depends on how far you want to go back. I mean, Yemen is a very, very interesting place. And it goes back to, I mean culturally it used to be very, very important. And here's where you see without simplifying it, there is yet another schism between the Shia and the Sunni domination. So everyone thinks about the Houthi as the new rebels or the rest of it, but if you go back to thousands of years, literally they're part of what we know, the Zaidi Shia plan, and they governed Yemen for, as I say, 1, 000 years up to 1962 and then it kind of unraveled a little bit there. But there's so many different factions and it's back to, I'll try not to use the contagion word, which I just did, but to what extent is Yemen now a proxy for all the other stuff going out, the Saudi versus Iran peace? To an extent that is absolutely true, but there are many, many other actors as well. And to what extent is that chicken and egg situation where because there is this schism, because there is internal conflict and total breakdown in some respects anyway of law and order, is there opportunity therefore for the Saudis and the Iranians? I mean the Saudis would say, " Hang on a minute, we've been attacked by the Houthis and other groups actually from within Yemen for a long time with ballistic missiles coming over and actually the UAE as well actually were attacked, but maybe inadvertently, I'm not sure. So how much is defensive, how much is it to pursue their interests? So again, this is back down to contextual understanding and just a fun fact if you like, the commercialization of coffee originated within Yemen. So mocha, which is a type of coffee actually was a port facility where a lot of the coffee came from. And again, without boring the audience to tears. So it originated of actual coffee came from Ethiopia, but very quickly went through to Yemen and that's where it's commercialized. So there is a real cultural richness. So if you are looking at it in isolation now you think it is, and forgive my vernacular, but a basket case, and there are lots of, sadly the humanitarian crisis is awful there, but it wasn't always like that. It's quite an agricultural region. There's lots of raw materials and natural... So oil is, although it's not one of the major producing, but it's certainly self- sustainable, the oil, so the potential for it to be not one of the poorest states in the world is great, but it just hasn't manifested it recently.

Harry Kemsley: James just come into then looking at this to use Sean's vernacular a second time, the basket case that is Yemen. I think if I was to stop a person in the street and ask them, talk to me about Yemen, they'd probably ask the question, " Where's that? What is that?" And I think that's probably because whether it's been because it has had little or no infrastructure development, whether it's an economic basket, whatever it is, it doesn't feel like a country that's been in the mainline press very much at all until the recent decade or so. Therefore it feels like a relatively difficult challenge to penetrate from an open source perspective anyway. So how do you do that? How do you get inside what is a relatively closed or apparently closed environment that is also so complex inside?

James Trigg: For me, the main strategy is simply immersion. It's reach out and find as many sources as I can that are talking about the conflict or the situation, whether those are aligned with a particular faction or whether those are more general reporting, it's just a case of taking the time and the effort to really deep dive into it. And I know that even in my own experience, I've likely only scratched the surface. Once I've conducted that deep dive, then it's a case of, well, okay, I have all of these sources, but now I need to validate them, I need to corroborate them, triangulate whatever word you wish to use. So it doesn't necessarily mean I exclude a source, but I'll give them an appropriate weighting. So if an event happens, say there's an attack claimed, now I will go to the primary source that makes that claim and they have given me these details. Now I'll look at sources that are aligned with the alleged victim. They are reporting a similar situation, but maybe the fatalities are different or the details. And eventually it becomes a case of distilling these varied sources down into the maybe only a slither of what I believe is actually something I can substantiate and base an inaudible or an analysis on.

Harry Kemsley: Right. So Sean, here's your opportunity. Every podcast has to have a discussion about trade craft. That sounds to me like intelligence trade craft.

Sean Corbett: It really does. And that's music to my ear. My nirvana is all source intelligence, of course it is. But you've got to use all the sources. And what I really liked about what James said there is the validation piece and you can only validate up to point A with all the sources, but also understanding who is saying what. So it is the intent to influence as well as inform. So you might have say the same tactical event and if one side are reporting on it, and maybe this is the best thing ever, and actually this is in response to people doing bad things on the other side, maybe this is an atrocity. So unless you've got that background, that understanding and understand where your sources are coming from. And you might talk about the scale of sourcing as well. So we talk about crowdsourcing quite often. So if you're looking at social media for example, you can tend after a while to get a really good indication of something, whether it's true just by the sheer number of people that are reporting on it, even if it's from their perspective. So if it's a tactical event like a ballistic missile is just dropped on somewhere, you can very quickly get to the point of did that actually drop on somewhere, and if so, what was that somewhere and what was the damage done, literally by the eyewitnesses. Now Yemen is quite interesting and quite difficult because it doesn't have the same electronic environment, and correct me if I'm wrong on this, but yes, everyone has cell phones, but very few people have the internet, for example. How many people are reporting on what's happened. And that's where the expertise comes in to be able to get that massive reporting step back and go, " Okay, on the balance of probabilities, judging by the validation and the cross sourcing, this is what we think has happened."

Harry Kemsley: Okay, so the scale of reporting is something that you've alluded to Sean, and something you said, James, in terms of the trade craft is from that scale distill that down to a much smaller set of sources you can rely upon, and from that foundation start to build out your insights. Is there anything you can give us in terms of an example though of in Yemen, an event that you were able to determine was or wasn't actually as described by whatever source you looked at because of the fact you had a very sound set of sources that you could rely upon? Is there any way you could exemplify that and an example that you can think of?

James Trigg: I think the one example that leaps to mind is a recent attack that was claimed by the Houthis on a vessel in January this year. Now it's notable because we also corroborate the Houthis claims with press releases by USCENTCOM and naval command and the USCENTCOM statement make reference to an anti- ship ballistic missile having struck this vessel. That vessel, the inaudible pictures were later published of her in the Suez Canal receiving repair work. Details were taken of the damage that was shown and there was a piece of analysis done that said the phrase anti- ship ballistic missile is perhaps rather misleading, given the character of the damage and the fact the vessel was able to continue on her voyage, a cruise missile was perhaps more likely. But that was only possible because Ansar Allah had said they'd struck it with suitable missiles. USCENTCOM had gone into this habit of saying anti- ship ballistic missile, but it was only when I distilled those together and corroborated that with other sources that we were able to go, actually the wording may be misleading, this is what we think was far more likely the responsible weapon.

Harry Kemsley: I think it's an excellent example.

Sean Corbett: It's a great example.

Harry Kemsley: And I think it's also perhaps Sean, another example. We've seen many, but there's another one of those moments where you think that's why open source is important.

Sean Corbett: Yeah, indeed. I'll be interested to see whether CENTCOM then revalidated and said, " Oh, actually we think it's this," or whether they just moved on because one of my mantras is always, the first report is generally wrong for good reasons because you don't simply don't have all of that material. And it's really different from seeing something on a screen to actually being able to physically assess the hole and all the damage and all the rest of it, which is so much more information there to provide on. So yes, there was an attack, which is I guess that's the tactically important thing. You've got to get that out there because it's really important in terms of the political messaging and also the threat assessments. But then retrospectively you go back and say, " Okay, it may not have been this, it may not have been that." And we've seen that in so many scenarios recently where the first report wasn't quite right and so you've got to do that and do that analysis and exactly as you said, that's a great example.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. In a previous podcast, the words proxy war kept coming up where you've got various states, maybe non- state actors as well actually using an environment, using certain situations as a proxy for their own national interest and national objectives. Yemen has often been associated with a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example. I doubt it's as simple as that. Nothing is ever as simple as that, we said at the very, very beginning, but I'm sure that's a key element to some of the dynamics you've seen in that country. What is your view of the Yemen situation being used as a proxy? And then from that question or the answer to that question, let's look at how you've derived that insight from your own experience.

James Trigg: So there is definitely an element of that in play. Ansar Allah and Iran clearly have some level of connection. We've seen that through the interception of weapon systems, Iranian weapon systems bound for Yemen. I am sometimes a little cynical as to the depth of that relationship and I believe that it's important never to deprive a group like Ansar Allah or their agency and state that they only act on behalf of a patron or a sponsor. And that comes down to, again, immersion, reviewing their own statements, their own propaganda compared to Iranian statements. Now one would expect that there would be some similarities, but likewise, Ansar Allah and their campaign against Red Sea shipping for example, has continued despite cause Iran to pressure them to desist despite US and UK air strikes because this is a group capable of their own agency and capable of launching their own campaigns. Where I find it gets particularly interesting in terms of proxies is also the internal situation between Saudi backed forces opposed to Ansar Allah and United Arab Emirate forces opposed to Ansar Allah who have been clashing in Yemen in turn to settle local power struggles for a number of years themselves. For example, the Yemeni government technically operates out of Aden. That city is controlled primarily by the Southern Transitional Council, which is a group aligned with the United Arab Emirates and not diametrically opposed, but resistant to the imposition of the Yemeni government's presence because the STC is seeking to secede the southern Yemen from the rest of the state. So there's a very, very interesting set of proxy conflicts happening. But again, the key takeaway is until anybody has the chance to immerse themselves in the sourcing, that position becomes very difficult to judge because there are lots of different titles for the same person flying around. There are lots of different abbreviations and there are lots of different dynamics at play.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. Sean, I want to come to you on that point because you and I have talked in the past about within a default intelligence agency, you have a constant churn of people flowing through for good and bad reasons. Now that doesn't give an analyst a great deal of time to assimilate all the long- term insights that an analyst like James would have. How much of a reason is that for them to reach out and have a trusted relationship with commercial organizations that provide that sort of support because the longevity of the expertise?

Sean Corbett: And that's kind of a leading question, isn't it? Because yes, of course it's important and within the intelligence community, we all like to say it's the intelligence community, but it's clearly many faceted. So you tend to have in the military side, people that move on quite quickly, partly for career reasons, partly just for structural reasons, who will dip in and out maybe over a year, two years, whatever, into a certain subject. But then you've got the strategic level, you tend to have more continuity in terms of what it's all about. But it goes back to what I think I mentioned earlier. How far back do you want to go on this? So James is absolutely right. It is far too simply to say this is Shia versus Sunni because, correct me if I'm wrong here, James, but the Zaidi Shia are a very distinct form of Shia from Iran, for instance. So well they could say it's proxy. Yeah, well it is, but it's not that total proxy-

James Trigg: No, no.

Sean Corbett: And then if you look at the tactical side where there is absolutely irrefutable evidence that arms transfers have been happening from Iran'cause they've been intercepted to factions, not just the one faction within Yemen sometimes that they take all the serial numbers off, literally the filing of serial number, sometimes it doesn't happen. So you actually see that evidence on the battlefield, whether that's images and all the rest that you look at. Sometimes it's not necessarily the Iranians, you mentioned the UAE, big player in Yemen. They may or may not be transferring arms as well. So you've got the proxies definitely. But you've got to understand as well, the factions within Yemen, a lot of it's tribal, it's all about their power base, et cetera. So it is that, and I know I'm not really answering your question here, but this is fun anyway, to think about it, you've got to have that. And the point is this really the point is you've got to have that depth of understanding to realize that they're nuances. It's very easy to say Shia versus Sunni. Yeah, no problem. Iran versus-

Harry Kemsley: Saudi.

Sean Corbett: ...Saudi. But it is not that simple and you can only understand that if you're looking at this over years and decades even.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, for sure. I'm keen to just tap into one further aspect of this. You sort of alluded to it in an earlier answer. The command and control of the assets that have been deployed into Yemen, some of which have been now utilized against shipping in the area, but not for the first time inaudible. There is this definite sense in the media that we just need to tell the Iranians to tell them to stop doing it, that somehow they are directly involved in the command and control. And I get the essence from what you said, Sean, and what you said, James, that is far from necessarily the case, but the local factions that are using these weapons may well have their own ideas about what they want to do with these weapons and may or may not be heavily influenced. What's your view of this command and control aspect of these lethal capabilities in Yemen?

James Trigg: That's one aspect that has been very, very difficult to pin down through open sources. Ansar Allah takes credit for its missile launches. They do not say, " Thanks to our Iranian brethren, we were able to launch these missiles." So it's difficult to pinpoint exactly the depth of penetration by let's say the Iranian Republican Guard Corps into Ansar Allah's hierarchy. There have been notable kind of illusions. Iran is the only nation that recognizes the Ansar Allah regime in Yemen. But I think that's a very, very difficult question to answer without a clearer understanding of the situation. And so for me, that's where I stop being able to say, and I stop definitively making comments to the point of Iran is commanding Ansar Allah's activities. I limit myself to saying these are what Ansar Allah has claimed to do and there are claims that Iran is influencing those activities, but correlation does not equal causation for sure.

Harry Kemsley: All right, very good. Good answer, thank you. Let's move on to what might well end up being the last group of conversation questions. I'm always looking from an in intelligence perspective for the Nirvana, which is predictive analytics, the ability to look into the future. Now indicators and warnings of what might be the most likely future is something that we look at from an intelligence perspective all the time. What are you seeing in Yemen as indicators of where Yemen might be in a period of time in the future? You can measure that time in months or years you decide, but what are the indicators that you're seeing? And by the way, how do you know those are indicators of anything?

James Trigg: So principally what I'm looking for are indicators of a return to full- blown conflict in Yemen. There was a UN sponsored ceasefire between April and October 2022 that broke down. However, we've not returned to what I would say is full- blown conflict at this point. However, especially since the start of the conflict between Israel and Hamas on October 7th, there has been a significant uptick in Ansar Allah rhetoric regarding recruitment of fighters. There have been reports from anti- Ansar elements that large numbers of fighters are being redeployed to strategic points around the country such as the besieged city of Taiz and the government's last stronghold in the north Marab, which also controls significant oil resources. Those are the kind of indicators that once again I'm looking for, but I have to take both sides with a pinch of salt in terms of Ansar Allah is claiming they've recruited hundreds of thousands of fighters, the opposition of saying that they're seeing dozens of fighters moving into positions, distill that down. We get something approaching the truth. And for me, the biggest risk in Yemen is a return to all out conflict. So those are the indicators and warning signs that I'm prioritizing as opposed to perhaps will this year have a particularly good wheat harvest in Yemen because those indicators are important, but they're not the principle risk to the population and to the wider international community stemming from Yemen.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. And those economic indicators from agriculture, do they have a potential knock on effect to the stability of what is already an instable environment?

James Trigg: Yes, absolutely. It ties in both the humanitarian crisis but also the political one because particularly in territory that they've taken in North Yemen, Ansar Allah has used control of access to resources as a way to incentivize or coerce the population into acts or perhaps, you know, if your son joins up, then we will provide gas, food, whatever it might be. So there's definitely a direct link there between Yemen's condition in terms of agriculture and access to food and the conflict itself.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, very good. So Sean, I'm curious, what do you think is happening inside the agencies that you're familiar with about these various factors? How are they trying to deal with it? Because what we've heard from James is an extended look at fragments of information pieced together to form a picture. Something we've said before, and I'm not entirely convinced, but you'll hear me out or disagree that the agencies have got that endurance or that longevity in some of their analysts or analyst teams.

Sean Corbett: I would say in this case they probably have at the strategic level.

Harry Kemsley: You think they do?

Sean Corbett: Yeah, I do. I do. There are some real experts in there that have been looking for a long time. For all the reasons that we said. Yemen is quite pivotal just because, you know, it's a litmus inaudible for everything else that's happening there. And I think going back to the other question in terms of your indicators and warnings, yes, there's the tactical events that James has very well described, but I think there's also the political narrative. You'll detect that political narrative changes according to what's happening to an extent on the ground, but also what a particular political body, whether that is a country or non- state group thinking. But also there's a cause and effect thing, and I always think about the attacks that are happening in the Red Sea right now. They've made a huge global impact because everyone is now, well, a lot of people are still not going through Suez Canal, they're going round, so everything's more expensive, et cetera, et cetera. How much of that was strategic intent by the Houthis to say that, " If we attack a few ships, this is the impact," or the other way round, so right, " We need to show our support to Hamas, therefore we'll bang off a few missiles and go,'Hang on a minute, that was far more impact than we said. Right we'll keep this going and now we'll make the narrative that we're there to affect this and because we're getting leverage that we didn't know that we were going to have.'" So how much of it is deliberate preconceived, and how much of it is opportunism? I don't know the answer to that, but I suggest it's more the latter than the former personally. So the political narrative does matter, but it matters from a lot of different perspectives. So whether that is from Saudi, whether that is from Iran, whether that's from the US even because that gives you an indication of what people are thinking as well as what they're doing.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. I'm curious to know James, and the answer, no I don't know is a perfectly good answer. Is there any sense from what you've seen about whether this is opportunistic or whether this was a strategic attempt, well thought through, planned? Anything you can say about that in terms of what you've seen from open sources?

James Trigg: I certainly can't say for definite. What I could allude to is that, as I've said it in an earlier answer, this is not the first time that inaudible Ansar Allah has taken action against shipping in the Red Sea. This is certainly the first time that Ansar Allah has taken action on this scale in the Red Sea. And there I think it leans into, as Sean described, the first few attacks stunned the international community and certainly impacted thought processes by international shipping firms. And that has created a feedback loop of actually this is working and we should keep doing this because it is generating the impact that we wanted.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, that's the response you wanted. Yeah. Sean, can you see this as becoming, I'm going to use your contagion word, a contagion that could spread further. So the Red Sea becomes a big problem, other nations in that area that have similar problems in their own backyard, taking some appropriate action that they think will generate the same outcome. Is that something you could see as a contagion?

Sean Corbett: This is the big question. To what extent, and I don't think we know the answer to this. To what extent is this almost a self- fulfilling prophecy? Because we talk about it particularly in the West as a narrative, and we touched on this in the previous podcast, but the contagions as you call it, are we seeing that in terms of it actually fits a narrative, it gets headlines or the rest of it? Or is this just a particular hotspot in a series of events that's been going on and off for many years? I mean the Middle East as a whole, you see hotspots from time to time. Is it going to be contained, ultimately, I think it will die down just purely because of the economics and the will to continue at the higher level that forces and the political dynamics will get exhausted. I mean, there's always going to be some sort of dialogue where the limit is reached. They go right, " Okay, now we need to dial it down." That's certainly my experience in the Middle East. I mean, are we there as a high point yet? Probably not. I don't know. But I do detect that we're coming to a point now of, and there's so many dependencies, but if there is a ceasefire within Gaza that's extended, that will dial everything down tactically. But the strategic levers are still going to be going through all the time. So you're always going to see peaks and troughs, I think.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, this idea that I'll make it horrifically simplified that the media could stoke a narrative that said, " There was a crisis happening in the Red Sea." When in actual fact, from what I've seen from open source is, the deployed navies are starting to get a bit of a handle on these attacks, the numbers of attacks that have been successful to be reducing, but that's certainly not the impression created in the media. So is this James one of those areas where open source can actually step in and verify the outlandish claims made by one side the unnecessarily outlandish reporting done by the media from another side? Is there something where open source can step in and actually say, actually ladies and gents just be aware that there are civil attacks happening, but they are 50% less than they were two weeks ago. Is there something open source can do there to help balance the narrative?

James Trigg: I think so, certainly in terms of not only being able to track these events over a longer period of time than let's say the mainstream media can, the 24-

Harry Kemsley: So you would see the peaks and troughs from history and know that this was just a peak that the public dissipate.

James Trigg: Precisely. And also by taking into account a wider range of sources than say a journalist who needs to turn a piece around in the next four hours. We can see that yes, these attacks may have dropped off, they have relocated. But even before the imposition of Operation Prosperity Guardian, no ship had been sunk, no crew had been killed, one cargo container had fallen off a vessel. So yes, these attacks probably a terrifying experience for the crew on board these vessels. This is not the same as unrestricted submarine warfare in the second World War, we are not losing thousands of sailors and thousands of tons of shipping. So I think that's certainly where open source has its role to play as a moderating factor on the discussion of one side of making outlandish claims. The other side are denying anything ever happened. The truth is inaudible. The more likely position is somewhere in the middle.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, very good. All right, well, as ever time starts to evaporate on it. So I'll come to you in just a second, James, for your takeaway. What do you want the audience to take away about our discussion around Yemen in current context or more broadly? And Sean, the same for yourself, but maybe I'm going to ask you just to step in a little bit more on the trade craft. What's the one piece about the trade craft you've heard from today that we want to underscore? I have my own by the way, and I'll go last just in case you eat my sandwiches. I'll try have two. So James, what's the one thing that you want the audience to hear in terms of your takeaway for the situation in Yemen?

James Trigg: I think my biggest takeaway for anybody would be simply that it is a far more complex situation than individual sources will make it out to be. And it's also not a situation that can be detached from the domestic situation in Yemen, which is still undergoing conflict even if that conflict has died down. So I think that for me is the biggest lesson I'd like anyone to take away from this is the complexity is there. The complexity can be understood with time and immersion, but it cannot be detached from the wider narrative and the wider scheme of events.

Harry Kemsley: Perfect. Sean

Sean Corbett: Yeah, absolutely what James said, but for me, it's about that balance and objective approach. Objectivity is absolutely critical where you explore alternative hypotheses and you aren't overall by the narrative on either side. So it is really important in this case is to counter the uninformed, irresponsible narrative by saying, " Okay, taking all of that away and saying, 'Right, what are we seeing?' What do I know from context and having that objective balanced approach?"

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, I agree with both of those and probably what I'll do is I'll sort lean on both of them as my takeaway to understand the complexity, to understand the nuances of what's happening on the ground and the potential implications of that for indicators for the future is require a degree of balance and objectivity. But it also, I'm going to underscore your word immersion, if you haven't got that long- term insight and hindsight of this situation, it's very, very hard to understand what's happening today in any real context and not become one of those people that just misinterpret things constantly. The surgeon attacking on ships, attacks on ships in recent times may actually, by comparison to previous attacks, periods, be a very, very small event. But because you don't know it's happened before, you don't see it that way. You see it as a very large event. So for me, this immersion point you made, James, inaudible big takeaway from today. So unless there's anything else, can I just say again, James, thank you very much for joining us. Shining a light on a country that is perhaps not well known as it should be or probably will become. Certainly if a situation in that part of the world continues to escalate, I'm sure it'll become. But thank you very much indeed for your time today.

James Trigg: No, thank you very much.

Harry Kemsley: Thank you. Sean, thank you as always.

Sean Corbett: Thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks for joining us this week on the World of Intelligence. Make sure to visit our website, janes. com/ podcast, where you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts, so you'll never miss an episode.


The situation in Yemen is particularly complex. Even before the start of the attacks on shipping in November 2023 by Ansar Allah (commonly known as the Houthis), the country has been of interest to many. A large-scale humanitarian crisis has emerged following a decade of conflict across the country drawing in the Yemeni government, Ansar Allah, southern Yemeni secessionists, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, and a minor Islamic State faction. In this podcast James Trigg, Senior Research Analyst for the Middle East and North Africa Country Intelligence team at Janes joins Harry Kemsley and Sean Corbett to explore how open-source intelligence has allowed us to get a deeper understanding of the relatively closed environment of Yemen and the complex situation in the country.

Today's Host

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Harry Kemsley

|President of Government & National Security, Janes

Today's Guests

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Sean Corbett

|AVM (ret’d) Sean Corbett CB MBE MA, RAF
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James Trigg

|Senior Research Analyst for the Middle East and North Africa Country Intelligence team at Janes