Sudan - a case study in OSINT for crisis support
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, welcome to this edition of World of Intelligence by Janes. I'm Harry Kemsley, as usual, as your co- host. And my co- conspirator is, as usual, Sean Corbett. Hello, Sean.
Sean Corbett: Hi, Harry.
Harry Kemsley: Hi. So in the recent times, sadly, we've seen yet another conflict emerge in the world affairs. This time in Sudan. So I thought, Sean, today, we might spend a bit of time looking at Sudan. But, as usual, let's look at it through the prism of the so what for open source intelligence. How has open source intelligence helped us understand the situation before it started, and during, and so on? So to help us with that, I am delighted to invite a couple of guests from Janes, who are experts in both the field of open source intelligence, of course, they work at Janes. But, also, in the situation that's now emerged in Sudan. First of all, Maria Lampudi. Hello, Maria.
Maria Lampudi: Hi, Harry. Thanks for having me.
Harry Kemsley: My pleasure. And, also, Heather. Heather Nicell, how are you?
Heather Nicell: Hi, Harry. Thanks so much for having me.
Harry Kemsley: It's a pleasure. Maria Lampudi is a lead analyst and manager of the Sub- Saharan African Country Intelligence team at Janes. She holds a master's degree in international security. And was previously the Africa analyst on the Janes' Military Capabilities desk. She joined Janes in 2019, coming from the European External Action Service's mission to the Philippines, where she worked as a political officer, covering the Mindanao peace process and developments in the South China Sea. Maria also worked as a research assistant at the Bureau of the Greek Defense attache in France. And at the NATO Energy Security Center of Excellence in Lithuania. She speaks Greek, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish. Our second guest, Heather. Heather Nicell is the lead Sub- Saharan Africa analyst of Janes' Country Intelligence. She specializes in terrorism and insurgency, mainly focusing on the Sahel, West Africa, and the Horn of Africa. She's also currently the Northeast Asia and Oceania Country Intelligence desk manager. Heather joined Janes in 2019 as well, working specifically at Janes' Terrorism and Insurgency Center. Prior to this, she worked at a global political and security risk consultancy, focusing on global terrorism, travel risks, and threat intelligence projects for French corporate banking clients. Welcome to you both and thanks for joining. So, great, really good to have you both with us for the podcast. Let's start, to make sure that we're all on the same page, in terms of what's actually happening in Sudan. There are, of course, many different perspectives of what might be happening. But, Maria, what would be your view about... A brief summary? What's going on? What's the context of what's happening in Sudan right now?
Maria Lampudi: So it's been nearly a month now since conflict has begun again, yet again, in Sudan. On the 15th of April, we saw a significant military escalation between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. So this is quite interesting from many perspectives. To begin with, the country has been in a political, security, social, humanitarian turmoil for decades, as I'm sure you will all know. In 2019, there was a popular movement of months long protests that led to the overthrow of former President al- Bashir, who had been ruling the country under an authoritarian regime for nearly 30 years. That was a glimpse of hope into Sudan's future. That was quite short- lived, unfortunately. So there was a civilian led government that existed, a transitional government that existed, from the summer of 2019 until roughly October 2021, when the country saw another coup. Now, the two warring factions of today used to be quite close allies and partners. They worked together to overthrow the civilian government in October 2021. And appeared to be in quite an harmonious cohabitation since. al- Burhan, who is leading the Sudanese Armed Forces, was the president of the Transitional Sovereignty Council. While Dagalo, who is leading the Rapid Support Forces, has been the vice president of the Transitional Council. So there was quite a lot of cooperation between the two. Now, back to what's happening right now. There had been an escalation of tensions between the two figures since late 2022, particularly focused around significant delays in the political transition, involvement of civilian groups, and particular armed groups with a tribal background in the country. But, most importantly, I believe, what ended up leading to that military escalation was a disagreement on the way that the Rapid Support Forces would be integrated into the Sudanese Armed Forces. So all these factors combined with a generalized humanitarian crisis in the country, a lot of grievances, social, political, ethnic, have led to this escalation that has, unfortunately, been going on for almost a month now, despite successive ceasefires. And despite efforts from the international community to really stop what's going on in the ground.
Harry Kemsley: Fantastic. Heather, before we come on to discuss what we might have seen from an open source perspective going into this conflict that might have helped us understand it, Sean, your view on the significance of this yet another conflict in Sudan? What do you think of the implications of this more widely? Just want to put the context around Sudan. Maria's done a great job of helping us to understand how we got to where we are. But what are the implications around it, Sean?
Sean Corbett: Yeah, thanks Harry. This is more geostrategic, I think, than many people think, actually, because of the possibility for contagion. That's both from a security perspective... We can go back to South Sudan, for example. It only became an independent state in 2011, who have taken some of the oil resources. But, now, they're quite worried about stability for all sorts of reasons. But you've got the internal to external. So you've got the issues of potentially food insecurity, certainly water insecurity. We might talk about that and the Nile a little bit later on. But you've also got the external actors. So Sudan has been a supporter of, and supported by, Russia for a long time. You've now got Saudi Arabia, who are trying to broker some peace discussions. Partly, because they were supported by Sudan against the Houthis in Yemen, rather than necessarily altruistic reasons. But you've got all sorts of external actors, who see stability as being a necessity. Partly, because they don't want to drain themselves in terms of providing humanitarian and possibly military relief as well. So I think there's more going on there, in terms of a geostrategic situation, than just what's happening in there.
Harry Kemsley: So we've talked about the impact on the country and the immediate... Are there any further far- reaching players that we should be thinking about, Maria, in this conflict?
Maria Lampudi: I believe so. So since the overthrow of al- Bashir and the 2021 coup, both al- Burhan and his second in line, Dagalo, have been quite close to the Russian government. And we've seen that, initially, with agreements are favoring Russia's access to the Sudanese goldmines and natural resources that were of interest to Russia. Arguably, as a way to circumvent Western sanctions. But, also, we've seen a clear support from the Sudanese state to Russia during the invasion of Ukraine, which was voiced both in United Nations votes, but also with official visits of the leaders to Russia. But what's equally of importance here is that, throughout the political turmoil that Sudan has been in since 2019, negotiations and the establishment of a Russian Navy base on the coast of Sudan have continued. And, interestingly, in the beginning of 2023, we saw some more information on the progress made on that. So I believe there is some relevance for Russia as an actor in this conflict as well. And it's interesting to see how this will evolve.
Sean Corbett: And just very quickly, to pick up on what Maria was saying, and I don't know if she agrees with this, but this seems, as opposed to being a ideological religious cultural war, this, for me, is two belligerents that want to maintain their own power base and keep themselves in power. That might be something that we can talk to later. But the fact it's got a strong internal element, I think is worth saying. Talking about contagion, one thing that I didn't cover, is almost the reverse contagion. Now, bearing in mind you go back to Sudan, which did harbor Osama bin Laden and did have those sort of organizations affiliated with Sudan in the old days, are we going to see almost a reverse of violent extremist organizations moving into Sudan? Particularly, if either the belligerents, or both the belligerents, lose power. Because I think the reason it's been relatively untouched by the VEOs is because the two factions have been very strong. And there has been structure and there has been armed forces. Now, if they fall apart, either because they cancel each other out, or because they just lose their authority, are we going to see a reverse of VEOs moving in, as they always do, to poorly and ungoverned spaces when there is significant insecurity and a surfeit of unemployed young men that need an outlet? Do you think we're going to see that?
Heather Nicell: I'll let Maria jump in after me because she might have thoughts on this, but I think... I don't want to kind of tack on a probability assessment just yet. But I would say security vacuum, it would make sense, given the country's history, the existing armed groups that do operate in the country. A couple of years ago, there was a little surge in Islamist militancy as well. So I could see that happening, particularly as the humanitarian situation worsens, grievances increase, that sort of thing. You had the exact same thing, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, the tri- border area. So I wouldn't be surprised.
Harry Kemsley: Good answer. Maria, did you want to add to that?
Maria Lampudi: I completely agree with what both of you mentioned there. And I think we've already started seeing signs of that old Islamic faction existing in Sudan emerging as a party of this conflict, with allegations at this stage that have not been able to be corroborated. But there have been allegations of either sides mobilizing Islamic militants in order to increase their legitimacy and increase their capability, particularly in the Darfur region and other regions in Sudan. So if that trend is confirmed, if Islamic militants internally become involved in this conflict, then I can certainly see the risk of the external element being involved too. Absolutely, I think your last point there, Sean, is very relevant. An element that led to this escalation was also the failure of al- Burhan to stick to what the agreement for... So in terms of a transitional civilian led government. So I believe, to a certain extent, the paramilitary forces saw that as an opportunity to initiate a power struggle between the two factions to see who will maintain control over armed forces in the future. But, also, who will maintain control over particular Sudanese states that are quite resource reach, as you were mentioning.
Harry Kemsley: Okay. I would like to then pivot this conversation now into the so what for open source information, and how we derive intelligence from it. So, Heather, maybe I can come to you. What were we seeing? How did open source information, that we get intelligence from, how did that help us predict the military escalation? And what about the indicators coming out of this conflict itself now for the contagion that Sean's just talked about? So let's talk about what we were seeing beforehand from open sources. And then, are there any things we can take from that that might help us understand how there's a contagion factor that Sean's generated? Heather?
Heather Nicell: Thanks, Harry. Well, firstly, just to say that OSINT has been amazing for covering the conflict. It's probably the most reliable means to gather and verify information in non- transparent authoritarian regimes, such as Sudan and elsewhere. It enabled us to collect realtime information and corroborate with background knowledge and data. And it was very much a cross team effort across Janes as well. We have different teams that cover military capabilities, our OI3 team, which is orbats, inventory, installation, and imagery. So yeah, it enables us there to collect information, collect data, verify claims of warring factions, and delineate areas of control. Which is difficult to do, of course, because in a conflict, things are changing. But to speak to your definition of OSINT and one of the elements is indicators or warnings, which you mention in various podcasts. For us, in Country Intelligence, we've been working on a country stability indicators product, which measures the risk of a disorderly government collapse, forceful transfer of power, or fragmentation of power. And since January 2023, we had ranked Sudan among the top three states most likely to experience a coup. It ranked 3. 6 out of four. It had a high, a very elevated military coup risk score, primarily driven by its coup risk history. More coups have occurred in Sudan than in any other state on the continent. So I think, since 1950, it has experienced 17 attempted or successful coups. So there's a strong precedent there for military coups.
Harry Kemsley: Excellent. Sean, do you want to come in there?
Sean Corbett: Yeah, I think Heather's made a really important point in terms of the ability for OSINT to react quickly. But the reason that you were able to react quickly is because you'd been looking at it in detail for a long time before that. And that goes down to the prioritization of efforts. So being my usual indiscreet self, I would say that, potentially, certainly at a diplomatic level, we were slightly caught unawares of what was going to happen and how quickly it was going to. And there was a huge information void early on, as you remember. Now, we were, and I don't know what the demand signal was for Janes, but there was a real demand for what on earth is going on? Partly, to evacuate our own people, but, partly, to understand the situation. And this is one of those examples where, because you have that expertise within Janes, and that deep background, and had been monitoring it, so all those really important things, you're able to get up to speed quite quickly. I'm sure Heather's going to come on to some of the other advantages about how were we able to do that with OSINT, when we were getting, again, diplomatically, people were saying, " Well, all the internet's off. We can't see this, we can't see that. We don't really know what's going on." And yet, it looked to me like you had a really good handle, generically, about what was going on almost on a day- to- day basis.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. So, Heather, was that entirely based on prior work that set us up with a great foundation to analyze what we could see? Or were you actually able to see into things that open source was providing us that we would normally use but were actually available to us? What sources were we getting out of open sources that were helpful to you, in terms of understanding what is going on now?
Heather Nicell: Well I think Maria, our lead analyst, had a good handle on the situation prior. It was particularly with our country stability indicators. But at the outbreak of the conflict, we were on social media quite a bit. Both sides have used social media themselves to release statements. And it's not just in Sudan. We see that a lot with a lot of governments in Africa, a lot of the non- state armed groups. They'll release statements, claims, some of them unverified... Maybe not necessarily unverifiable, but skewed statements, let's say. So we were monitoring that sort of thing. Videos as well, so any imagery that was the emerging. We have a satellite imagery team as well that were monitoring areas of conflict, just to see what was going on.
Harry Kemsley: That certainly sounds like a very multi-disciplined team. Is there anything about the open source, Maria, from your experience in this particular conflict, that stood out for you? Sean and I, in the past, have talked about Ukraine being the coming of age of open source. Many people have looked at Ukraine as being a conflict where open source actually started to get in front of other intelligence sources in the more classified environment. What's your view about this conflict? Is it similarly inaudible for open source? Or is it actually pretty much just proving what we already knew about the power of open source? Maria?
Maria Lampudi: I think this particular conflict has highlighted, once again, how valuable open source intelligence can be in conflict situations. Situations where things are developing quite rapidly. And, particularly, in countries that have a tradition of quite high media censorship, internet not working, as you said, or access to internet sources being quite limited and restricted by the government. So in the case of Sudan, just going back to the point that Heather mentioned earlier, it was key for us to have a database of sources that we can refer to. And why that was important is because that allowed us to, relatively quickly, tag a confidence level on these sources. And that's quite important, I believe, when it comes to validating claims, verifying claims. So social media imagery footage allowed us to corroborate what we were seeing through commercial satellite imagery analysis. And in some cases, it allowed us also to understand to what extent those claims were just propaganda from one of the warring factions trying to establish a status quo that was really different from what's on the ground. And I think this will become, again, quite relevant in the next stage, whenever that comes, of a ceasefire agreement, where we will be trying to understand who controls what in Sudan.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. Sean, you and I have spoken about this before about how open source can be used for understanding what's happening on the ground, sure. But, also, for the disproving of disinformation. And it sounds to me, from what Heather and Maria have said, that actually one of the benefits they've had from open source is that foundation intelligence. I understand the environment, but I also understand where good sources probably are. And then, carrying that into the conflict itself, being able to then validate what they're seeing and hearing. Does that, Sean, not further underscore, in ever blacker ink, the importance of having that long enduring open source look at an environment? So that when/ if things were to go wrong, you've actually got that foundation to base your analysis on.
Sean Corbett: Yeah, absolutely, spot on, Harry, that's exactly what I was going to say, actually. I was just reflecting on our over two year journey now, whence you started these podcasts. And if we go back right to the start, when we really thought that the power of open source intelligence was really providing that contextual layer but, also, the baseline foundational stuff. And look where we are now that, yes, that is still very, very relevant. And it's essential to do what we're doing now. But monitoring a conflict in not far off near real time, but really importantly, as Maria said, information operations now are a fundamental part of the continuation of diplomacy by military means. And so the disinformation and misinformation could be, if you take it right from... You start from scratch, you could be taken all over the place. And it's just not true. So having those people that are looking at it, all times, I suspect that the government community was probably struggling a little bit with that at the start. But having people that have been looking at it in detail, and are in a position to say, " No, that doesn't sound right because of this." Or, " We would expect that to have been said because it's supporting this particular course of action." I think is really fundamental to understanding it. So I agree, a combination of both of those things. The fact that you've still got to have that deep knowledge, but you can also react because you do have that deep knowledge.
Harry Kemsley: Where do you think, Sean, in your mind, right now, with Sudan, the classified environment will be struggling? What is it the things that the classified environment can't do? I'll go to Heather and then Maria, in terms of, okay, so how could open source fix that? Sean, where do you think classified will be struggling right now?
Sean Corbett: I think purely in terms of the bandwidth, as I mentioned before. The capacity to focus exquisite very, very capable assets in the right place, in the right time. So, for me, the open source intelligence can cover a lot, but fairly broadly, which will trigger the intelligence community to focus much more narrowly. So if the will is there within the intelligence community, do not underestimate, and we shouldn't go into detail here, the capabilities the intelligent community has. But it's a case of where it shifts it, at what time, what prioritization. And, of course, getting that expertise in there. There will be the odd Sudanese expert within the intelligence community. Of course, there will. There'll be more than the odd one, actually. But it's getting them focused in the right place, and getting them up to speed quickly. So I think it's almost... It is not triaged, but it's getting that broad area, open source intelligence. And then saying, " Right, okay, that's the area we need to concentrate in." And then, applying the exquisite collection and analytical assets to that.
Harry Kemsley: We've mentioned before mis and disinformation in strategic information operations, tactical information operations. Heather, is it not fair to say that open source almost certainly has an advantage here, in terms of the ability to understand the validity over otherwise of information pushed into places like open sources by warring factions? Is this is not an area we can succeed with open source that might be better than the classified environment, in your opinion?
Heather Nicell: I believe so. I believe it takes quite a good deal of monitoring, though it's a full- time job. And you have teams that do that, companies that do that. I think, in Africa, what we're seeing now in Burkina Faso, Russia's involvement, some of the propaganda campaigns that are being put out, some of the videos that are being put out as well, about American, Burkinabe, and citizens speaking about Russia's involvement. Or it's very slanted in a positive light towards Russia. So I think on open source, I think we could benefit greatly. Or by monitoring misinformation, disinformation, I don't know how classified intelligence would be any better than OSINT.
Harry Kemsley: Maria?
Maria Lampudi: Yeah, certainly agree that there's a lot of value there, as Heather said, in monitoring disinformation. But, also, equally importantly, monitoring what the internal audience reaction is to that disinformation. And that is something that we can certainly do on open sources. So that's equally as important, I'd say. This became even more relevant with the conflict in Khartoum, which is a quite dense urban environment, where satellite imagery, certainly commercial satellite imagery available, can help us assess the situation only to a certain extent. So what we saw during our research and analysis is that open source information was probably the only way for us to understand what's happening down to the neighborhood level. Of course, I'm not saying that we were able to create a perfect picture of who's in control of what, far from that. It's quite challenging to do that. But just to say that open source information on social media or other sources can allow us to be a bit more granular, where satellite imagery is just not good enough.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. So just before we come back to some of the specifics we talked about there for Sudan, Heather, maybe I can turn to you then, in terms of reflecting on this conflict and the non- state armed group activity in this area. We've mentioned how many times Sudan has been through coups in previous decades. And not comparing against that, but in terms of non- state armed group, is there anything in particular about Sudan, or this territory, or this part of Africa indeed, that we should be noting when we're looking at this conflict?
Heather Nicell: Well, I think Sean earlier mentioned the external element of the conflict as well. You have Sudan that borders Chad and Ethiopia, both of which have faced conflict, intercommunal, ethnically motivated violence, insurgencies, Islamist insurgencies. And now, I know Chad, they've mobilized their forces to the border. And we've reports of armed militias trying to cross over into Eastern Chad where, a couple of years ago, you had significant intercommunal clashes. Ethiopia, they've only just signed a peace deal with the TPLF, the Tigray People's Liberation Force in November. And are having discussions with the OLA, the Oromo Liberation Army. So there's definitely an ethnic, ethnocultural, nationalistic element in that violence as well. And I think you see a lot of internally displaced people moving now towards those countries. And you do have to wonder, what sort of impacts it will have for the stability of those countries? Which, Ethiopia, would you call it the most stable? Probably not. Or not the most media free either. So yeah, you would definitely-
Harry Kemsley: Well, let me just take you back then Heather, if I can, to a question we discussed a few minutes ago about the indicators that we were using going in. And you mentioned some of the country risk stability indicators then. Are you seeing yet, from open sources, that you're able to access any sign, as you just said, that the country's neighboring, or even connected by other means, that are starting to suffer as a result of what we're seeing in Sudan? Is there a contagion effect that Sean mentioned in his earlier comment? Is there any sign or sense of that yet?
Heather Nicell: I know in Ethiopia, particularly in Amhara Region, which borders Sudan, they have their own issues. Will they think, " Well, we don't want all these IDPs coming in here when our people are starving"? There was a lack of humanitarian aid going into certain regions in Ethiopia. Yeah, we haven't been able to measure that yet. Perhaps we have to look-
Harry Kemsley: Okay. So let me ask a question about contagion in terms of the IDPs, the movement of populations. Sean mentioned earlier the risks around this sort of thing being a contagion. Maybe it is about internally displaced people heading into the borders. Borders that are, on the other side of it, no better off in terms of resources than where they've just come from. So is there a contagion factor there do you think, Heather, in terms of those movements of people?
Heather Nicell: Yeah, absolutely. And I think I've seen reports as well in Amhara Region in Ethiopia of armed militias charging Sudanese civilians crossing the border. Now, an administrator of that particular area in Ethiopia denied those claims. But I think we'll see a lot more of that. As you mentioned, those areas aren't particularly better off. They've only just settled down themselves. And are suffering from food security as well, as you mentioned earlier, Sean.
Maria Lampudi: I absolutely agree there. And just to showcase the scale of what we're looking at, and what neighboring countries will be facing, as we speak now, so we're almost a month into the conflict, there have been around 900, 000 internally displaced people. But, also, displaced neighboring countries, with Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, South Sudan, having seen the largest numbers of internally displaced people that were already in a quite dire humanitarian situation. So from reports that I have seen, I think the international community's looking to mobilize resources that amount to nearly 2 billion US dollars in order to be able to support the humanitarian crisis there. So I think it's a pretty large scale development indeed.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. So, Sean, I know that you've been involved in things like evacuation planning, around individuals who have the right to leave. I would imagine a situation that's just been described by Maria and Heather, with mass population movements, and evacuation ops in the middle of that, that cannot be a straightforward thing to do at all.
Sean Corbett: No, it's not. And, again, I think there was quite a lot of misunderstanding when the evacuations first happened. You're talking a huge country here, with a lot of people in there. And getting the granularity of where entitled people, EPs, as we call them, are, is always difficult. Partly, because it depends on those individuals, at some stage, before things go wrong, to tell people where they are. And, of course, the fog of war, the confusion. So it's never a straightforward thing. And you have to, unless you want to do a forced entry... Which, in this case, because of the numbers of forces involved, was just impractical. Then, you need a secure base. Which they, ultimately, got, again, at the agreement of the belligerents, to be fair, and got people out. The problem is, is getting people to those secure locations, which is not easy. So it is an incredibly complex thing. And there are many of these cases where there has never been an option to go and get everybody out. Nobody has the capacity to do so. So it really is best effort.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. Now, one of the things that's come out from this conversation, for me, in the recent minutes is how frequently I've heard from you, Heather, and Maria about what we can do with open source and how valuable that can be. And maybe it's the actual only source we've got of what's going on in the ground. That strikes me as being one of those statements where commercial or publicly available information could actually support government activity, like the evacuation I've just been discussing with Sean there. Now, what are the kind of things that an organization like Janes can provide to a government who is looking at an evacuation op? What are the kind of things that we can provide from country intelligence, for example, that might help the planning, from an open source environment like Janes, that would help the planning for an evacuation? What sort of things are available off the shelf? Maria, maybe I can start with you?
Maria Lampudi: Absolutely. So I think in this event of a conflict between two quite capable forces, what Janes can do is provide an assessment of the respective capability which is something that we do monitor in general. But particularly since the conflict began, our teams have been able to track attrition to track damages that both forces have suffered. But, also, weapons that have been seized by both parties. And that's quite interesting, tied with information that Janes can provide on the respective basis that these forces maintain, in order to create a picture of which areas are accessible and which are not, which I believe is quite relevant to the evacuation efforts. But, in addition to that, we have been also monitoring civilian infrastructure, such as airports, airfields, and bridges. We certainly can do a better job at tracking these things. And that's what the Sudan conflicts and crisis has shown to us, that there is a lot of room for even more heavy OSINT when it comes to tracking these things. But I guess that sort of information is of immediate operational relevance, as well as the broader foundational intelligence that we can provide.
Harry Kemsley: Heather, just to come to you in just a moment. Sean, the times that you've been doing planning of this sort, like evacuation ops for entitled personnel, how frequently have you encountered situations where you actually didn't have that fundamental foundational intelligence you needed about the situation on the ground, available infrastructure, the state of the roads? How often did you find yourself in that situation? And, therefore, how easy would it have been to plug into an open source intelligence organization to get that, if you could?
Sean Corbett: That's quite a long question, actually. Because there were times, undoubtedly, where we had nothing on the shelves. We used to look, or create, these, what we call joint contingency plans, where we prioritized where we thought things would happen. And we used to maintain those, say, on an annual basis. This is the days before everything was electronic. So we literally had folders within J5 that we used to produce for J2. But, invariably, when something went wrong, it was somewhere that we hadn't thought of. And, at that stage, all you had... I'm going back quite away now. All you had was access to open source intelligence, diplomatic reporting. And it wasn't anywhere near as sophisticated as it is now. Just to piggyback on something Maria was saying though, in terms of understanding the environment, orders of battle, which is what you meant about who's got what sort of equipment on each side. And as Maria said, it's not just about numbers of kit, and what its capabilities might be, which I know Janes is absolute bread and butter. But it's also understanding how well maintained they are, what the doctrine are, what the concepts of operations, how they work in a combined arms perspective. All that matters... And I know that's something that you've been doing, in terms of it's not just about this side's got 120 of these tanks, and this side's got 50, therefore, they win. Of course, being urban warfare, a lot of it as well is that, even though the SPLA has probably more equipment and probably knows how to use it in a normal and conventional environment, the RSF is neutralizing some of that by doing some urban fighting. So it's not just about the orbats. And I think Maria covered that really well.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. Heather, what else can we do in an open source organization that would help us populate the mind, fill the data for planning an evacuation like this?
Heather Nicell: Well, I think, for us, if I can just speak to our other products as well, CSIs, all of this kind of interconnected data helps inform our subindicators, our indicators. But, also, we've assisted previously with Afghanistan. A lot of our forecasting scenarios pieces that we've written as well have focused on conflicts like this. So we've focused on Afghanistan when it fell to the Taliban. We've also looked at the Lake Chad Basin, and inaudible/ Boko Haram, its operations there, and how violence would progress. So I think that that's really important. So even if a conflict hasn't broken out yet, or it hasn't escalated, let's say, as Sean mentioned, something going wrong, and scrambling. I think being able to forecast, and work with these scenarios, also enables the customers to deal with those situations.
Harry Kemsley: So it's a forecasting element. There's a foundational intelligence aspect which fills the gaps, populates the mind, as I was saying earlier. But, also, then, when the situation starts to develop, and you're getting some insights from various sources, the lack of a foundation means that you can't really understand the implications. The so what of those insights that you're getting. So it's the combination of all of that. And then, Sean, the point you made earlier about the enduring look at something, which gives you the ability to see the abnormal because it stands out to you. You have the judgment on it. All of these things feel like the contributions that open source information, and the intelligence you can derive from it, is supporting into our understanding of the Sudan conflict. Now, because time is always against us, I'll start to spool us to a close. I usually say draw stamps, but everyone understands cricket, so I'll just say spool to a close. What I always do at the end of these sessions is ask for your one takeaway. Sean always goes last because that means that he's got nothing left to say and we've all said it for him. So if I ask you, Maria and Heather, to give your... What's the one thing you want the listeners to take away from how does open source intelligence support us, either generally, or has it helped us in specific circumstances around Sudan? So I'll start with you, Maria. What's the one takeaway for the audience in terms of the power and utility of open source around the Sudan conflict?
Maria Lampudi: Thank you, Harry. I guess when it comes to OSINT and its value, my main takeaway from the Sudanese conflict is that it can help inform decision makers on what the actual situation is on the ground. For us, as analysts, it's really the wealth and breadth of information that we can find in open sources. But, also, our analytical lens that actually creates that value. So I think there's certainly value for governments and agencies that are involved in efforts to either deescalate the conflict, or carry out evacuation operations, engage in peace talks. There's a value that OSINT can bring, in providing a more up to date, a near real time understanding of the situation on the ground. And then, I think the nature of OSINT, which is being more accessible to a variety of audiences, not just government agencies. But, also, not governmental organizations, civil society organizations, from the country that is actually suffering from the conflict, that is also quite beneficial to addressing humanitarian challenges on the ground. So I think altogether, it's a great tool to understand what's happening. And try and prepare for any future action.
Harry Kemsley: Thanks, Maria, that was great. Heather?
Heather Nicell: Well, I completely agree, Maria. But no, for me, what I find the most useful and the most interesting... Because there's a lot of noise on open source, particularly on social media, that sort of thing. And, perhaps, because I come from the more terrorism and insurgency background, and I'm monitoring non- state armed groups and their propaganda, rhetoric, narratives, in this current conflict in Sudan, I found monitoring the social media accounts of both sides, the respective of social media accounts, most interesting. Just seeing the narrative that they're spinning, some sort of indication of intent. It might not actually reflect their true capability, that sort of thing. So there's a bit of reading between the lines you have to do at times, and I find that really interesting. And I think I would want the customers, or our audience, to keep an eye on that.
Harry Kemsley: I'm just going to come back to you on that one point you made right at the end there. In order to see between the lines, do you not need to spend as long as I know you have, Heather, looking at the lines? Because the lack of understanding of what you're reading might allow you to actually not spot what's between the lines. Is it that not a matter of just how long you've been doing it, and how much expertise you've got in it, that allows you to be that clear about what's between the lines?
Heather Nicell: I think partially, you do need that foundational intelligence. But, also, I think you need to remain objective, unbiased, and that combined with some sort of foundational intelligence. You're shaking your head.
Harry Kemsley: Sean, your one takeaway?
Sean Corbett: So, as ever, I've been hypercritical of my own tribe, probably unfairly, because undoubtedly there is some understanding of Sudan. There certainly was in my day. But I think the big thing for me is the available bandwidth to cover everything you need to. I mentioned joint contingency plans, which just nobody has the resource to actually maintain that sort of understanding on everywhere in the world. So it's a case of, right, who's focusing on what? Prioritization, which you guys seem to have got really right, actually, particularly in this case. And I'm sure there are others. But having the bandwidth to actually search and partner with the intelligence community, for example. I don't know how much government, or what the demand signal was from government, for you guys in this case. But I suspect it was fairly significant because you were all over it, and all over it really quickly. So it's all about augmenting the national requirement, as well as informing journalists and all the rest of it. But there is too much badness in the world, if you want to call it that, for everybody to cover everything. So it's a partnership that we really need to develop. And we probably need to get better at that as a mixed community.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah, I think my last and final takeaway from the conversation I've heard is actually in two parts, but connected. So it's only one point, I promise you, Sean. It's that, talking about the joint contingency plans, Sean, that used to be used to be on the shelves, they're still on the shelves. They're probably electronic, but they're still on the shelves. But they still need to be updated. And the only organizations that can really react fast enough, particularly if they've been looking at the problem for long enough, are out in the open source environment. Unless you've got an enormous army of people doing it, and they're doing it all the time for all parts of the world, which as you just said, Sean, they're not, it's probably only the vast armies of open source analysts out there that are doing that work that can actually fill that void. And get you started in terms of your planning for whatever it is that you're facing. Well, as ever, time has beaten us. We've got to draw a close to this. Both Maria and Heather, thank you so much for coming to talk to us today about the situation in Sudan. But also, of course, focusing, as we do in this podcast, on the power, utility, and factors to consider with open source intelligence. If any of our listeners have any particular questions about Sudan, or indeed about open source, as ever, they can reach out to us. But let me stop by saying thank you, Maria, thank you, Heather, for your time today.
Maria Lampudi: Thank you.
Heather Nicell: Thanks so much.
Harry Kemsley: Thanks, guys. And thank you, Sean, as always, for your contribution.
Speaker 1: Thanks for joining us this week on the World of Intelligence. Make sure to visit our website, janes. com/ podcast, where you could subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts, so you'll never miss an episode.
Janes expert analysts Maria Lampoudi and Heather Nicell join Harry Kemsley and Sean Corbet to discuss how open source intelligence has helped us to understand the situation in the Sudan before it started, what is happening now and the impact on the country in the future.