The Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) industry has grown rapidly over the past decade. Private companies and state agencies are now collecting and analysing “publicly available” data on a vast scale.

This article by Ben Hayes, published in the Statewatch Journal last year, looks at the evolution, theory and practice of OSINT; its use by police and security agencies; the rapidly developing OSINT industry; the blurring of the boundaries between OSINT and covert surveillance; and the embrace of OSINT by the EU.

The full article is available here (pdf). It concludes:

Writing recently in the Guardian, Professor John Naughton observed:

[T]he internet is the nearest thing to a perfect surveillance machine the world has ever seen. Everything you do on the net is logged – every email you send, every website you visit, every file you download, every search you conduct is recorded and filed somewhere, either on the servers of your internet service provider or of the cloud services that you access. As a tool for a totalitarian government interested in the behaviour, social activities and thought-process of its subjects, the internet is just about perfect.

The present threat to civil liberties, however, comes neither from the internet nor totalitarian governments, but from a neo-McCarthyite witchhunt for “terrorists” and “radicals”, and a private security industry bent on developing the “perfect surveillance” tools to find them. For all the concern about Facebook’s privacy policy, that company is no more responsible for its users’ wishes to ‘broadcast themselves’ than travel agents are for tourism. Of course Facebook should offer maximum privacy protection for its users, but those of us concerned with freedom and democracy need to see the bigger picture in terms of who is doing the watching, how, and why. We must then develop the tools and communities needed to bring them under democratic control.

Article by Ben Hayes for the Economist’s “European Voice” newspaper, published 2 December 2010.

The robot armies at our borders

The EU is entering a new, and disturbing, phase in its efforts to police its borders.

In a hi-tech upgrade to ‘Fortress Europe’, the EU is developing drone planes, satellite surveillance systems, unmanned ground and marine vehicles, even combat robots, to be deployed to ‘defend’ Europe from migrants.

The policy is the result of a convergence in the EU’s ‘industrial competitiveness’ strategy, which has identified the global ‘homeland security’ market as one in which Europe should prosper, and an EU approach to migration control that places the prevention of refugees and undocumented migrants from crossing borders above any other objective, principle or approach.

In this upgrade, the defence sector, the surveillance industry and quasi-autonomous EU bodies such as Frontex and the European Defence Agency are joining forces.

More than €50 million in EU funds from the security research component of the Commission’s seventh framework programme for research (FP7) has already been allocated to the adaption of military surveillance techniques to Europe’s borders – and the programme is still in its infancy. Defence giants such as BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales, EADS, Dassault Aviation, Sagem and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) feature in numerous consortia. At least six EU-funded projects envisage the use of ‘drones’ (or unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) for border control; others promise an array of surveillance and detection technologies.

They have names such as Seabilla, Sectronic and Talos, and ‘24/7 blue and green border situation awareness’ is their objective. Talos – a €20 million partnership between PIAP (a Polish producer of combat robots), IAI (the state-owned manufacturer of Israeli drones) and others – is field-testing “a mobile, modular, scalable, autonomous and adaptive system for protecting European borders” that will “take measures to stop the illegal action almost autonomously with supervision of border guard officers” – combat robots (or ‘Robocops’ perhaps?) in plainer terms.

It would be comforting to dismiss this research as a meeting of science fiction and science fancy, but the US has already deployed an equivalent – Predator drones – along its border with Mexico, part of an $850m (€624m) investment that also includes a ‘virtual fence’.

The determination to create a similar virtual fence in Europe is very real. The European Council has endorsed the European Commission’s Eurosur proposals for a hi-tech European border surveillance system and Frontex is now investing in fixed surveillance and border-drone technology (expressions of interest are currently being invited for UAV demonstration projects).

The European Defence Agency is also involved, by funding manufacturers to develop collision-avoidance systems and other measures needed to ensure the drone programme does not fall foul of rules on the use of drones in civilian airspace. At least seven member states are exploring how they might use drones for civilian security purposes.
There has been little comment so far about these plans in general or, specifically, about Europe’s intended deployment of drones, a technology now synonymous with ‘targeted assassinations’. The UN, though, has spoken forthrightly about the US’s drone programme: Phillip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, has accused it of giving the CIA a “licence to kill” and encouraging a “Playstation mentality” that devalues human life.

The hi-tech vision of the EU’s military researchers might be a less discomforting prospect if there were some assurance that the drones and other systems would simply be used to detect and rescue those on the overloaded and ramshackle boats and rafts in which so many perish.

But a sense of comfort is impossible, amid reports – for example – of European naval patrols “deliberately overturning” boats carrying migrants and of EU-sponsored Libyan patrols opening fire on Italian fishermen.

The EU’s interventions may already be making the sea more dangerous; drones and other robotic tools will add to the risks of a Playstation mentality developing along Europe’s borders.

The EU stands on the cusp of a shameful investment in a dystopia.

Ben Hayes is a project director for the civil liberties group Statewatch.

You can view the original article on www.europeanvoice.com.

Europe’s leading drone manufacturers have joined forces in yet another EU-funded R&D project on the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or ‘drones’. The OPARUS project brings together Sagem, BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales, EADS, Dassault Aviation, ISDEFE, Israel Aircraft Industries and others to “elaborate an open architecture for the operation of unmanned air-to-ground wide area land and sea border surveillance platforms in Europe”. The consortium has received €11.8 million in EU funding.

Meanwhile IPS reports that FRONTEX has invited expressions of interest in a tender to demonstrate “Small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and Fixed systems for Land border surveillance”.

Another article, by Dave Cronin, reports that the European Defence Agency (EDA) has now launched the SIGAT project (Study on the Insertion of UAS in the General Air Traffic), featuring EADS, Sagem, BAE and Dassault (see also previous post on the EDA’s drone programme).

Finally, Cronin’s article also notes that Sagem has entered into a “joint venture” with Elbit, the Israeli company which manufactured some of the most lethal weaponry ever used in Gaza.


A Harfang UAV at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan

Further evidence of the EU’s unswerving commitment to the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or pilotless ‘drone’ planes) into European airspace has emerged in recent weeks. The European Commission, however, is yet to issue as much as a single communication explaining the EU’s UAV programme or setting out policy options for the member states.  So much for openness and transparency.

At present, drones/UAVs are only permitted to operate in ‘segregated airspace’ for military operations because of fears about public safety. Manned aircraft operating in commercial airspace are subject to stringent air traffic control safety regulations; those promoting UAV’s have yet to convince regulators of their safety (see the second comment in this post for a list of notable accidents). Last week the UK Civil Aviation Authority grounded an unlicensed Merseyside Police drone following the Force’s boast that it had been used to track down a car thief.

The European Defence Agency (EDA) has just awarded a contract to the European defence giant EADS and its subsidiary Astrium, Europe’s largest space company, to lead a six-month feasibility study demonstrating the safety of UAVs in civil airspace. EADS, the self-proclaimed “leading manufacturer of UAVs in Europe”, will use a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV in the attempt to convince regulators, while Astrium will provide the satellite-based services “needed to operate the UAVs safely in civil airspace”. EADS and Astrium already use this technology in Afghanistan, where the French air force have deployed one of their Harfang UAVs.

According to ASDNews, the consortium will meet key European civil and military stakeholders during the study in order to “receive their endorsements on safety and regulatory policy, and on future applications”. ASDNews also predicts that upon completion of the study, the EDA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will jointly fund a full demonstration programme. One wonders when, if ever, the European Parliament or the member states will be formally consulted?

“The outcome of this study will further reinforce our capability to propose leading-edge and secured solutions to our customers” said Bernhard Gerwert, CEO Military Air Systems, an integrated Business Unit of EADS Defence & Security. Like the European Defence Agency, FRONTEX is also doing its bit for UAVs and will host an event in Spain for manufacturers this coming June.

See previous posts on this topic:

One of the reasons for setting-up this blog is to show how the arms industry is trying to cash-in on all things “security”. This includes everything from pandemics to paramedics. DITSEF is a new three year, €2.8 million EU funded project on “Digital and innovative technologies for security and efficiency of first responders operation” (Project Reference: 225404).

The DITSEF consortium claims that “The main problem of First Responders (FR) (fire fighters, police, etc…) in case of crisis at critical infrastructures are the loss of communication and location and the lack of information about the environment (temperature, hazardous gases, etc.)”.

The DITSEF project is led by Sagem Défense Sécurité and includes European arms giants Finmeccanica and EADS, as well as TNO, the Dutch defence research institute. The consortium does not include any “first responders”.

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