OSINT in Action

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This is a podcast episode titled, OSINT in Action. The summary for this episode is: <p>In the context of the Ukraine conflict this podcast examines the open-source environment that is now available to analysts to derive insight and intelligence, lessons learned and future implications.</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 World of Intelligence by Janes. As usual. Harry Kemsley, your host and my co- conspirator Sean Corbett. Hello Sean.

Sean Corbett: Hi, Harry. Good to see you again.

Harry Kemsley: Good to see you again. Thanks for taking the time as always. So what I thought we might do today, Sean, as we don't have any guests, which is unusual from recent podcasts, but sometimes nice, just to sort of catch up with where we've got to, is let's look back through recent podcasts topics we've been discussing, more of that in a second and look at situation in Ukraine. What have we learned so far from the Ukrainian situation that will be important for open source intelligence proponents like ourselves, analysts and others that are listening to this because we've been talking for a while about the power of open source intelligence, the potential its ability, for example, to provide context perhaps in early indicators and warnings we've even looked at it through the prism of things like traditional and non-traditional threats which we discussed previous in a podcast. What I'd like to do today is look at all of those things we've been discussing and sweep them up through what we've seen so far with Ukraine. For some, Ukraine has been the coming of age of open source intelligence and as we've discussed in earlier podcasts, we're seeing things in the open source environment that we never would've seen 20 years ago, but that is the potential now that's available to us through open source information that you can derive insight and therefore intelligence from. So Sean, that's what I'd like to talk about today. Look at Ukraine, look at the lessons that we've learned. What are your first impressions by the way, from what we've seen in Ukraine and how that has implications for open source?

Sean Corbett: Yeah, thanks Harry. And as you said, you know, we've been talking about the developments and open source intelligence for a little while and I agree, it is the coming of age, but as all coming of age of everything, really, there are bumps in the road and things that have to be done. So there's still a little bit of a question mark, but there is no question that the entire community has stepped up and has had to step up, but there are several things that I think we do need to bring forward and when we talk about lessons identified, it's almost implying that it's gone and of course, it is worth reflecting the continued tragic situation in Ukraine four months in.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: And there is no sign that's going to end anytime soon. I mean, we are into a very long term attritional war.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: And I think it's something that we, as a community, and I am going to be cheeky and ask you a few questions actually later in terms of-

Harry Kemsley: How very inaudible.

Sean Corbett: ...how you've positioned Janes to do, to focus on an enduring campaign.

Harry Kemsley: Sure.

Sean Corbett: And there's a moral sentiment of that as well that we need to make sure that what is happening remains in the narrative and remains really high up there in addition to all the other things are going on the world so I think it's worth reflecting that first.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, I think that's important. I certainly have detected what some might call Ukraine fatigue. The media seems to be a little less ready to talk about all the things happening in Ukraine so I think it's important that we do address that.

Sean Corbett: Yeah. So going onto the lessons identified so far, and I think people are starting to realize the power of the data. You're seeing, not a day goes past where you don't see a commercial satellite image or an even a phone intercept or social media reflecting what's going on but I think one of the things that comes with though, is that it's all very well to have the data, but you've got to have that context. I know we talked about context a lot, but it's important. You've got to have a subject matter expert that knows what they're looking at and what it means.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: And the example I focus on there was the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet in April. I think it was.

Harry Kemsley: Yes.

Sean Corbett: You know, some of the headline bullets there was, it was sensationalist to be the least, but there were even some narrative saying, well, this signal's the end of the war because Russia will now capitulate. Now symbolically of course it was important because it was their flagship, but the Moskva has been through several iterations. I mean it was laid down in, I think it was 1982 might be'83, but around about then and in terms of its function, it provides a very good air umbrella, air defense umbrella.

Harry Kemsley: Sure.

Sean Corbett: Little bit of land attack capabilities, but in terms of absolute capability to win the war, it not particularly important.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: But of course you've got to understand what a capability it brings, et cetera, et cetera, before you can come up with that. So, I think that, providing that context, the so what as I keep on talking about, about any situation, I think is really important and this is demonstrated that you've got to have that expertise.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. Yeah. One of the things that I've seen in Janes in the recent months is that having been looking at the buildup around the Western borders of Russia, close to Ukraine over the last few years, detecting the patterns that are important for the indicators and warnings might be revealed, comes from that enduring look and then as the conflict started to blossom, as it started to become clear, what we were looking at was a long term war packing the appropriate team together, the resources that you need to track this properly, to actually get a sense of what's happening in all the various domains you need to was necessary, but quite challenging, because we all have so many different things to do at any particular day. Maybe we can come back to that later. So-

Sean Corbett: Harry, just pick it up on one of those, sorry Harry-

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, sure.

Sean Corbett: ...just the indication warnings really important. It brings you back to that subject matter expertise.

Harry Kemsley: Yes.

Sean Corbett: Because unless you're looking at something over a long time, how do you know what's normal and what is not normal? And of course I would say this, but I do think that Janes was probably right up front in saying, this is not just a saber- rattling, this is not just a continuing the exercise. This is something different.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: But of course, I know a couple of your analysts, they could only do that because they knew what they were looking at. So again, that context of everything.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, you're right. I think it was about two, two and a half years ago when one of the lead analysts for that part of the world identified a number of indicators that something unusual was happening in terms of the way Russian forces were moving, the volume, the units that were moving, the ORBAT pieces that don't normally get involved in certain activities were now coming together and moving to the west of Russia and those indicators would only have been observable if you are watching them on an enduring basis and with expertise. To your point earlier about having the expertise to understand what you're seeing and then from that long term enduring look force monitoring, they've derived all sorts of interesting patterns. Patterns that I think most people would not even spot and within those patterns, there are clues about what might be happening, particularly when the forces were involved in the example exercise and then didn't disperse. One of my favorite pieces of analysis, which is not revolutionary, but it was such a great example, was a video broadcast by Russian media showing Russian forces" returning to base" except if you looked at the direction of the shadow and the time of day, it was in exactly the wrong direction they were heading, if they were heading home. A great little piece of analysis there by people who know what they're doing so a great example. So let's step out then Sean, in terms of the lessons for OSINT, we talked about just briefly there, you know, how you resource, how you actually manage the problem. What about how useful OSINT could be in these tactical environments, the tactical analysis and the products that might be required?

Sean Corbett: Yeah. There's a balance here in terms of what it is that open source intelligence organizations are there to do. So, yes, you can get into the end degree of tactical, but it's what you're trying to achieve. I think that the best space for open source intelligence from a commercial perspective is giving the sort of more slightly step back view in terms-

Harry Kemsley: Yep, yep.

Sean Corbett: ...of what's happening generically, because you can spend an awful lot of time and effort and I'm sure the intelligence organizations for government are doing this and finding out where a particular battle group is and where this company's done and did they succeed there but I think having a trend analysis over a daily and weekly is probably, for us, more bread and butter but I do think now I've mentioned the government piece is that, we are seeing clearly governments, UK and US and others using open source intelligence far more than they ever had. I mean, you're seeing the daily slides from the MOD, you've seen quite a lot of announcements coming out of the Pentagon, for example, about saying, what's going on. Now, some of that will be using open source to obscure the fact that they've got other intelligence. Absolutely.

Harry Kemsley: Of course.

Sean Corbett: And that seems to be effective.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: But some of it equal, I think, is starting to use to realize the open source intelligence, because it's its own source as well, it's, valid and using that generically. I mean, I would say that some of the MOD slides have been very vanilla indeed. Now I think that's one or two reasons either because they do want to obfuscate what they really know or probably because they don't quite have the confidence yet of open source intelligence to go yeah, actually that's right, let's put it out there. So I know that's slightly obscure as the question you ask, but I think our role is to inform and yes, there's always going to be tactical events and I think validating tactical events as well. And you remember the issue 34 shoot down, which we were able very quickly to A, validate and B, work out where that came from and therefore extrapolate the fact that the VKS, the air force of the Russians were not having all their own way. So yes, absolute tactical instance, but back to the, and what does it mean?

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. I think the idea that open source might be used in a tactical environment, the point of my question, I think you've answered perfectly well. I think there is a complimentary nature of open source and although there is a time sensitivity that we can address with immediately available open source, the validity of it and therefore the actionability of it of course is always going to be a question and you need the appropriate amount of resource and expertise to validate the vast volume and variety of different open source that might be coming at you at high speed. So yes, I think that complimentary nature, that broader understanding and setting the eyes of the classified capabilities on the right things might be the role in the tactical environment rather than actually answering the questions and getting the forces on the ground to really understand what's happening. That comes from more classified environments, I suggest and we are complimentary to that. So what about the media then? Let's just talk about the media just a second, because you mentioned the media on the way through. Janes, like many other commercial organizations, has been pumped for all kinds of information from media outlets, wanting to get" insights" to what's happening on the ground. Clearly there is a play here in the information domain in terms of misinformation and disinformation and we've seen plenty of both, I'm sure of that but what about the open source for media? The use of open source for media has probably never been as good as it is at the moment in terms of the amount of stuff they're getting access to but what role do you think they play in terms of the understanding what's happening on the ground for the customers of their media, but also for potentially intelligence agencies are watching the media?

Sean Corbett: Yeah. And I think you've got to qualify what media we're talking about so-

Harry Kemsley: Sure.

Sean Corbett: ...if it's the big mainstream media then, by and large, they will try and be as objective as possible and certainly the dealings I've had with some of the organizations, some of the big media ones doing some talking head stuff, they do try and ask genuine questions and listen to the answer and actually what I have noticed is that the quality of the questions, the relevance of the questions is getting better. You'd be surprised at how little time you have to actually talk to the people before you go live so you've got to get your bullet point out in a very sort of concise way. It really is like being intelligence officer, right, you've got five minutes to get over your point, go, and then to move on. So sometimes it's a little frustrating terms of, yeah, but I didn't get a chance to say the so what for it? So there's a little bit of short- termism there, but they are very important in terms of bringing it to the public in a way, and people like myself and you have a real role in giving it to the population in simplistic, and I don't mean simple, I mean, simplistic, easy to understand bites because they haven't got long and they're not steeped as we are. So I think clarifying things, I think there's a big role there, but you know, we mentioned the information campaign and this has been fascinating to me this time. The Russians are the masters at hybrid warfare, using all means of power including misinformation, disinformation and I think that, while they will easily put out disinformation all day long, we're seeing it daily even now. I think there's an obligation on us to say it how it is. Now that's not to say that there's messaging going on, of course there is, you just had to see some of the speeches. I mean, I was pleasantly surprised by Sir Jeremy Fleming, the director of GCHQ about some of the things he was saying, I think it was down in Australia when he did a speech, that was basically calling them out saying, you're about to use chemical weapons or you're about to have a false flag operation which allowed to do so. Now how much that impacted, whether the fact they didn't use them, I don't know but I suspect that A, that was the intent and B, seems to have worked so far so there's that whole information, disinformation campaign and once again, an organization like ours, we need to be careful not to get into the middle of that and the way we do that of course is by doing all the things we do right now using accurate, well- founded data and coming up with an objective assessment analysis of that using all the years of trade craft and that's so important we keep that. I mean, of course there is going to be stuff that, and this is more the moral of discussion that we could have, we keep talking about actually, we need to talk about the ethics.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, we'll do that inaudible.

Sean Corbett: But as long as we're objective without giving too much away in terms of what we know about our own sides, for example, then I think that we have a really important part to play in that object.

Harry Kemsley: Let's just talk about that a bit further. So your observation about the Russian masterclass or in the information domain and hybrid warfare, I think that certainly felt the case in recent times. I'm not sure that feels the same anymore. I feel as though the Russians are looking increasingly clumsy and on occasions looking fairly foolish. Now the counterpoint to that, before you respond to that point, is the news, the media seems to be fairly full of successes that the Ukrainians are having. I'm not seeing anywhere near as much of the Russian successes and that in itself could be a macro theme right here. We've got this wish to see Ukrainians succeed in the face of an onslaught from their neighbors to the east and therefore we almost don't want to report, almost like the echo chamber syndrome where we don't want to report on things that look like the Ukrainians aren't doing very well, but we're quick to report when the Russians appear to be struggling. And I wonder how much we're not seeing that would give us that balanced report and maybe that's one of those areas where the open source intelligence, particularly commercially available, could begin to address that balance because the media don't seem to be doing it. The point I'm making is both I'm not sure the Russians are as good as they think they are or maybe we thought they would be in either military capability perhaps, or maybe the information war around it and if that's true, is that because I'm only seeing one side of the story through the media. I'm only hearing about it through a lens that says Russians are bad, Ukrainian's are good, therefore we'll report the Ukrainian success, we won't report any Russian success.

Sean Corbett: Yeah. This gets the crux of the issue about what it is we're there to do. So I absolutely agree. Clearly we're not reporting on Ukraine losses and of course there have been a number of losses. Now is that because the data's not there because obviously we would rely, to a certain extent, on Ukrainian people to report what's going on. They're not going to report that. Is it because we're not seeing it or because deliberately we're choosing not to sort of say anything that's going to have put Ukraine at risk. I don't know the answer to that. Clearly there are Ukraine inaudible but even subliminally, maybe we're not reporting as much as we should. I do think that we have actually reported on successes for the Russians as much as they've happened.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: So I'm not sure that is, but you know-

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, and I've certainly,

Sean Corbett: inaudible.

Harry Kemsley: ...I've certainly seen it, Sean, in the reporting that we've been putting out from Janes, a fairly balanced scorecard, if you will, allow that analogy but what I'm saying is in the media environment, I'm not seeing what appears to be a balanced scorecard. It seems to be pretty heavily weighted towards-

Sean Corbett: Yes.

Harry Kemsley: ...inaudible Ukraine and successes and maybe that's for wider reasons'cause I know that time will evaporate on us Sean. Let's move on past the media aspect.

Sean Corbett: Sorry, could I just make a point on what you're saying about the information campaign? I completely agree in terms of the Russians are being made to look foolish. There are dead bodies that actually walk up and get away and still gets filmed. Now part of that is because media is everywhere, but I agree that they're nowhere near as sophisticated as we believe that they were.

Harry Kemsley: Yes.

Sean Corbett: And that applies to the entire capabilities as well-

Harry Kemsley: Yeah inaudible.

Sean Corbett: ...you know, so-

Harry Kemsley: Exactly. It comes to that point, exactly.

Sean Corbett: ...so, you know, obviously we wrote a piece earlier about the, basically the failures of the air force, but also, more than that, when you've got 140,000- ish troops and quite a lot of hardware there that doesn't do that four day blitz that we want it to, that we expected, I have to say that we were all surprised, the entire community, I haven't met anyone that said," Oh yeah, we knew that it was going to happen a lot longer than four days, certainly at the time anyway." I think we were surprised because we were looking at the numbers. It's easy to play the numbers game, but what was missing from that? And we all talk about capability rather than the more moral side of things, which is the will to fight. So a lot of the Russian troops, as we've discussed before, didn't even know they were going to war, let alone with a sister country. A lot of them had lots of affiliations with Ukraine.

Harry Kemsley: Sure.

Sean Corbett: Command and control was hopeless because they're never used to using, to bringing different districts together to work together, let alone in a combined arms situation.

Harry Kemsley: Yes.

Sean Corbett: And of course, some of the capabilities weren't as good as we thought either so, but it is a conundrum, but I always look at, is we always, always, always overestimate in the intelligence world, the capabilities of the adversary, probably because we are trained to look at the worst case scenario, but I think there's more to it than that and that probably needs some looking at in the future.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, I think there's work there for the open source environment in that moral component and that broader understanding of capability rather than just equipment specifications. I think you could probably spend a lot of time staring at equipment specification charts and make a judgment about how capable of force is particularly when you multiply that by the numbers of those pieces of equipment and/ or troops around them but as you say, there's more to it than that and the social media feeds that have been full of news of concerned families, concerned soldiers on the frontline, probably on both sides, although we've only seen it really from the Russian side, give you a sense of the lack of moral endeavor from the Russian side of the conversation. Maybe that's a big, big part of the lack of progress they've had against what was expected but there's probably a broader perspective on this, Sean, in terms of reputational damage. There's equally, by the way, I've been to a couple of world defense shows in the recent times on behalf of Janes and the number of people there who are not buying Russian exports, Russian arms.

Sean Corbett: Yeah.

Harry Kemsley: Because of the problems they've got politically doing so. These things are difficult to quantify, but they're real. The reputational damage, the Russians aren't all seven foot tall, the export of arms was going to have an impact on their arms industry in the economy. What other things might it be doing though in terms of the military superpower that we believe Russia is and the country of Russia, what else is it doing? This dimmer view we now have of them and the light of what's happening in Ukraine?

Sean Corbett: Yeah, and this leads straight into the, we need to, so the lessons identified from the exact you just said, people are going cor, Russia not so good now. I'm obviously an intelligence guy, so glass half empty. We always learned the lessons of the last war, not the future war.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: So it'd be very easy to walk away and saying, you know what? We've probably written down about 50% of their capability, conventional capability. They're not that good, aren't we good? And we don't need to worry about them anymore and that would be the worst thing we could possibly do.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: Because although they don't seem to have learnt many lessons, this is a very defined operation and they have calibrated it, doesn't seem like it, but they have calibrated to an extent. Of course they'll learn lessons as well and they'll start developing capabilities and of course there is still this strategic threat which they're very good at. They still have strategic air capability, of course they've got their full spectrum of nuclear capabilities which they're still developing so we just need to be slightly cautious about that and of course, from a macro perspective, the only way to deal with Russia is through strength and certainly for now NATO's gone" Oh right, so we still do have a role", you know, the NATO Summit's coming up next week and there's a new strategic concept.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: We need to make sure we do not declare victory early and go away for team medals, but think right, we now have to posture ourselves and position ourselves as a position of strength to stop anything further on that.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, and of course the Scandinavian countries that are now joining the community.

Sean Corbett: Yeah.

Harry Kemsley: Are making an interesting outcome for Russian moves in terms of their border with NATO increasing by so many tens of percent because of the invasion to Ukraine. What about broader unintended consequences, Sean? We talked previously about the ability for open source information and intelligence from it to track things like traditional and non-traditional threats.

Sean Corbett: Yeah.

Harry Kemsley: So let's just bring that in. What about the energy insecurity, the food insecurity that we've started to see as a result of the invasion? What else can we be looking for in the traditional and nontraditional threats that we talked about previously that open source might be able to glean out of the situation in Ukraine?

Sean Corbett: Yeah. This is a really important piece of open source intelligence because the capacity is there to start looking at the wider stuff that may not be immediate, but of course, I'm not saying that the intelligence agencies won't be looking at this, but they're very, very focused right now and they've got the big things to look at. So the big thing of course, right now, for me is the food insecurity. If you look at what normally that Russia and Ukraine combined produce in terms of wheat, barley and maize-

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: ...you know, something like quarter of all wheat, global wheat comes from the two of those. In fact, I was just reading something, the World Food Program, Ukraine were a big donator to that. They're now recipient of some of that. Now, if you extrapolate this and compare it, and I know I use this example probably too often, but it's really coming back to a head again, is the Arab Spring. The trigger for that was unaffordable wheat prices.

Harry Kemsley: Yep.

Sean Corbett: Based on the drought which stopped the wheat. Now we're seeing that already and of course the biggest exports as well were from Ukraine were into North Africa and the Middle East. Now they are areas where traditionally we have had problems with violent extremists, extremism and of course what triggers that is not just ungoverned spaces, but an inability to provide for oneself and-

Harry Kemsley: Population. Yeah.

Sean Corbett: ...other people. If you look at Egypt, for example, tourism, that's... We're talking about tourism, Russian tourism in Egypt was massive. That's not happening so much anymore so again, it's going to impact economies and all of that, that that comes with, so we do need to keep monitoring that and I'm sure there are elements that we haven't even yet thought of that will be triggered by that. I mean, look at supply route, we're all struggling for hydrocarbons. Of course we are, I mean, they're there, but A, we've shut down a lot of stuff and B, we've been over reliant.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: And this is where you mentioned the High North, which is again, is fascinating. Now, we've started to focus on the High North before actually the Russian invasion started, but that brings all your traditional non- traditional stuff together, you know? Yes, there are sovereignty issues, but as they reckon by 2050, I think, that in the summer anyway, those sea lines of communication, the northern lines are going to be open.

Harry Kemsley: Open, yeah.

Sean Corbett: So that's going to affect things like the trade routes and protection of. Is the new relationship between China and Russia going to become strained because China's going to want to use that? There are something like, again, statistics I looked at, something like, I think it's 30% of unexploited gas and 13% of the oil is under the Arctic or within the Arctic Circle. Now that people are looking for alternative sources of energy and we're going back to the inaudible hydrocarbons, there could be a race for that as well as the rarer of metals that we know are there as well. So there's all sorts of things that bring that together and that's mixing the traditional and non- traditional, and I know that people like the, certainly the US and the UK are actually formulated new Arctic strategies whereas the sort of philosophy up until about two years ago was nothing to see here, just leave it alone, well we can't afford to do that now.

Harry Kemsley: So it sounds then, we made a point earlier on about the potentially complimentary nature of open source intelligence to support a tactical environment by giving it the broader context. It sounds again, as though a lesson out of recent events is that complementarity of open source to look at the flanks.

Sean Corbett: Yeah.

Harry Kemsley: If you think about traditional and non-traditional threats as being the flanks of the war fighting going on in Ukraine so I don't know that there are many agencies, national security agencies that have the expertise and/or the capacity to look at energy and security, food insecurity and how that could I impact national security. If that's true, and I believe it is, then that's again, a role that an agency like Janes or other open source information providers could support to give the indicators of what could be happening. Particularly if we took something like the Arab Spring, the pattern of the Arab Spring, how did it start? Why did it start? How did that start to trigger a series of follow on events? How were those follow events communicated through social media for example? We can use those patterns to track the potential emergence of other threats from these non- traditional threat sources like food and energy insecurity. So I think there's a complementarity piece there.

Sean Corbett: Yeah.

Harry Kemsley: What about-

Sean Corbett: And then, sorry, and then the final bit that I've only just thought of, which I should have done actually, is threat finance.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: It's all about the economy. How sophisticated and good are we at tracking the money? You know, not just the sanctions, although that is a really important thing, are they having an impact?

Harry Kemsley: Sure.

Sean Corbett: What sort of impact? What are the unintended consequences? You know, but also for our own economies, the dependency on oil and all the rest of it, are we going to bankrupt ourselves? And at the end of the day, the economy is what will decide how long that we want to pay attention to this and also how long Russia can sustain what it's doing right now so I think that's a really important part as well.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. What about looking a little bit further east then? So we've talked about Russia, we've previously talked about China and other potential adversaries and adversarial consequences. What do you think China's thinking right now at what's happening in and around Ukraine with one of their neighbors, Russia who are in a similar position in terms of the political, the geopolitical situation. What do you think China's thinking right now around things like is inaudible road initiative or Taiwan, for example?

Sean Corbett: There'll be no question they'll be very, very interested in seeing what the intended unintended consequences are. I mean, if you remember the Olympics, there was a very much a flourish between signing and new security agreement between the two, when it happens, there was a, well, we're going to help Russia as much as we can. That narrative has definitely dumbed down or gone away to the extent that, hang on a minute, we don't really want, because at the end of the day, for China, their future's all about the economic superpower. They need the economy, they need the reliability, they need to be trading with everybody to maintain their position, develop their position. So I think they're looking at that from one perspective, but equally they do look at Taiwan as a different issue. They look at it as part of their own country which you could superficially argue is similar to the Crimea and places like that so why wouldn't we? And so they'd be clearly looking at what the Western response is.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah.

Sean Corbett: Now, it could be glass half full for a change that in focusing on that now and in seeing the NATO and the Western reaction, which has been reasonably good, actually, although how long it lasts, I don't know. It could make them think twice because there is that will, there is that determination not to allow a big country to bully and ultimately-

Harry Kemsley: True.

Sean Corbett: ...annex another one, but that's got a long way to play yet.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. True. But the other side of that coin is if the net of all of that posturing by NATO, Europe and other governments is a set of economic sanctions. I'd love to sit down and do a study of if you applied similar or appropriate sanctions to China on a similar scale, how much of a problem is that for them?

Sean Corbett: Yeah.

Harry Kemsley: Because if the answer to that question is actually not much, then that's not a deterrent for them. That's a price they got to consider paying for doing something that they've said they wanted to do for a number of years now, which is to reclaim or repopulate a part of the world they consider to be theirs anyway, Taiwan. So I wonder how much that really plays in the minds in Beijing in terms of their strategy for Taiwan.

Sean Corbett: Yeah. That would be an excellent piece of work to do, the economic side I think, because if they find, Russia and China find themself mutually supportive, I do think that we'll probably find, and I don't know this, that China is so dependent on total global trade, that it would be potentially a step too far, but I might be wrong on that and again, it goes back to what is the stamina of NATO? Because if we're still in this position in a year's time, even six months time, is our NATO nations, because at the end of the day, NATO is 30 nations that agree to do stuff, so it's individual nations. Are the Germanys and the Frances of this world going to get bored is not the right word, but are they going to get tired of it and go," You know what? We've got our own economy, nobody seems to be focusing on this. Let's just go back to normal." Will NATO go back to contemplating its naval and you know, restructuring yourself to be seen to doing stuff because you know, it doesn't have the endurance to actually maintain forces that are high posture. That would be disastrous because that stage, both Russia and China go" Well, actually we were right all along. There isn't that determination in the West to do something about it, long term."

Harry Kemsley: You've got outlast them. You've got the beam effects.

Sean Corbett: Correct.

Harry Kemsley: They are.

Sean Corbett: Exactly that. Yeah.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. Sean, we, haven't got onto the ethics piece that we've been talking about for quite some time. So let me just bring that in briefly towards the end of this conversation'cause I know we're getting short on time here. We said earlier on about the idea that objectively, if you're going to describe what's happening in and around Ukraine, the reporting should be balanced. It should be showing what we know about what's happening of all aspects, not just on one aspect, you know, the bad Russia versus the good Ukraine influence over what we report and how we report it. How important do you think, ethically now, we should be in terms of that reporting accuracy? Do you think that we should be conveying a particular narrative because it is ethically correct that we do see Russia's activities as being the wrong thing to have done geopolitically and therefore it's appropriate that we should be biased in our reporting?

Sean Corbett: And that is the 50 million dollar question actually, that, and I know Janes has got practices and checks and balances in there to make sure that, A, we don't inadvertently give information to countries that are going to do bad things with us so I think the first thing to say is that we should never, ever give out any information that could cause people to die. That's not what we're there for.

Harry Kemsley: No, correct. Yeah.

Sean Corbett: You know, it's not about targeting. It's not about anything there so situational awareness, it's so we're talking about what level of granularity and I, so I think if any reporting resulted in say the Russians saying, oh, they've clearly got a weakness there that we didn't know about. Right, we'll attack that weakness, then for me, personally, I would not do that because at the end of the day, the Russians are the aggressors. We would have a moral obligation not to do that. Equally though, I think we also have a moral obligation to say, you know, if Ukraine are sort of under real pressure and struggling and losing lots of forces, then I think generically, we have an obligation to say that as well-

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, particularly inaudible-

Sean Corbett: ...because it is giving that kind of truth.

Harry Kemsley: ...particularly in the light of either media or political fatigue, as you were describing earlier, you mentioned a couple of European nations, if they were to become fatigued with the idea of supporting it but we were able to demonstrate that without continuance of that support, then the nation would become under threat, peril of the Russian invasion, I think that's an ethical debate we need to have and an ethical discussion, moral discussion we need to have in terms of how we report but it's an interesting balance you raised there in terms of reporting something to show why we have to support the Ukrainians. The flip side is by demonstrating that the Ukrainians have become weaker in a certain area, which is why they require support, actually encouraging further aggression potentially so that's an interesting debate to be had, but we're out of time on that for now. So Sean, let me draw stumps. I will, of course, as always, ask you for your one big takeaway for what is a big lesson from Ukraine for open source intelligence and as I'm going to go first, I get the chance to choose the one I'm going to use, which always is the one you wanted of course. For me, why do I think open source has a lot to learn from Ukraine? It's the complimentary nature of what you can get from open sources alongside the classified. I think many of us have forgotten about the heavy metal war fighting aspects of warfare. We have been focusing for such a long time on hybrid and other means of warfare and rightly so, but actually when tanks roll across your borders, there isn't an awful lot of" cyber activity" that's going to change that, you know, machinery and armor is going to have its own vote so for me, the complementarity and the ability to support both traditional and non- traditional environments of warfare is where open source is most important. The complementarity. That's my takeaway. Sean?

Sean Corbett: Yeah. I'll answer mine in a minute, but afterwards I'm going to be very cheeky, I'm going to ask you a question actually-

Harry Kemsley: inaudible.

Sean Corbett: ...but so I guess it's on the complementarity thing and I think there is still needs to be more work on how we actually work together the commercial world and defense.

Harry Kemsley: Sure.

Sean Corbett: Because yes, at the edges, it's still very transactional, right? We need a bit of information on this or we need this tool or we need that capability, inaudible do a lot we go. I don't yet see, I mean, we're having it in edges in just on the periphery, but I don't see yet a mature conversation with saying," Right, how do we work together properly so that you can fill our gaps?" You know, whichever way it is, the defense community sets its demand signal in a way that we can answer without being too sensitive in terms of either producing stuff we don't want to, or they don't like to reveal their intelligence gaps.

Harry Kemsley: Yes.

Sean Corbett: That conversation still isn't very mature as far as I can see.

Harry Kemsley: Sure.

Sean Corbett: And I think we have to keep that conversation going now in the Ukrainian context to mature it. I don't know how that happens because we've been trying for quite a bit now, but I think we've really got to do that if we are ever going to get the real sweet spot where the commercial world is able to support defense in the way it needs to whilst maintaining subjectivity.

Harry Kemsley: Yes.

Sean Corbett: You know? So that's going to be evolution rather than revolutionary, but we're not there yet. We're really not despite the best effort.

Harry Kemsley: No.

Sean Corbett: So that's what I would say. My final question for you was bearing in mind that this is, in terms of, for Janes, you know, your foundational intelligence is fantastic. We know about all the capabilities, the equipment, all the rest of it and I might be wrong here, but in terms of a campaign footing, I think that this is the first time you've said," Right, we now need to support something on a campaign basis in terms of not just threats, but an operation." So how have you been able to optimize that for Janes and what lessons have you learned? I mean, you've got a great team working on it, but how much advance do...? So I just wonder where, what lessons you've learned and what that will then bring for the future, for how you support future operations?

Harry Kemsley: Okay. That's a good question. Well, first of all, the fact that we have forced monitoring on an enduring basis means that when things start to blossom up into a potential threat environment like we've seen in Ukraine, actually we start from a good place. We're not scrambling around trying to piece together the picture, we have the baseline foundation picture. We understand the ORBAT, we understand the equipment, specifications, the forced deployments, how they reorganize and we know all that. So we have a good foundation. The team of people, I think it's about 78 people currently in Janes, from the hundreds of analysts we have 78 people currently working on Ukraine alone. That is not all Ukraine specialists. That's going to be specialists from equipment, specialists from variety of different backgrounds. The big lesson for me is how do you bring them together quickly and then make them effective quickly? Now, anybody that's been in a multi talented team will know that's actually a bigger challenge than most people give it credit for. Just throwing together people with backgrounds that are various with diverse expertise, et cetera, is not enough. Getting them to work together, functioning as a team and being effective and efficient, that's probably the big lesson for Janes. Now, we've always been good at the foundation level. We've moved into current intelligence in a more contemporary time- sensitive intelligence in recent times, but being able to do both and bringing that all together to discover intelligence, to find things that otherwise wouldn't, that's been the area of discovery for Janes through Ukraine. So for us, as an open source intelligence agency, that's been traditionally known for its foundational intelligence support to customers, more recently, the sort of current intelligence environment, the ability to bring that together and discover new insights has been interesting, but that's been absolutely resting on not just the technology now being employed to amplify the intelligence process, but the people and knowing how to bring them together and how to work them together in time- sensitive environments. That's been the big lesson for us. So we've learned a lot. As and when the next conflict should arise, we'll feel comfortable we've got the foundation, but I think we'll also be ready for that in terms of that diverse set of people we bring together and how we blend them together into an agile working group.

Sean Corbett: Yeah, strange enough, had you asked me that question from a defense perspective, I'd have said exactly the same thing. It's bringing the right people together and making the total more than some of the whole because individuals working together a team which, when you're under under pressure, it kind of tends to happen anyway, but different challenges in the commercial setting. Thanks for that.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. Thanks Sean and thanks for the question. It's nice to be on the receiving end of questions for a change rather than the guy just flinging them out. The hospital passes I've given you in the past, I know you thanked me for. So Sean, thank you very much for your time as ever on that. We'll pick up some of the threads. We will, we will get to the ethics of open source intelligence in the near term and until then, thanks for listening to those that are, and we'll speak again soon. Take care. Bye- bye.

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.


In the context of the Ukraine conflict this podcast examines the open-source environment that is now available to analysts to derive insight and intelligence, lessons learned and future implications.

Today's Host

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Harry Kemsley

|President of Government & National Security, Janes

Today's Guests

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

|CEO and Founder IntSight Global Limited