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.

A study commissioned by the European Parliament’s ‘Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs’ policy department has produced a damning indictment of the European Security Research Programme (ESRP), reiterating and confirming many of the findings in Statewatch and TNI’s earlier Neoconopticon report.

The key findings of the European Parliament study are:
  • With regard to the “public-private dialogue”: EU security research and development activities have been mainly driven by a concern to bring together representatives from the ministries of Defence and Interior of the Member States and Associate countries, and representatives of major companies from the defence and security industries. In the process, representatives from civil society and parliamentarians, as well as bodies and organisations in charge of civil liberties and fundamental freedoms, including data protection authorities and fundamental rights bodies, have been largely sidestepped. The outcome of this process is a dialogue that is limited in its scope, addressing security research through the concerns of security agencies and services and the industry, without taking into account the requirements flowing from the EU’s internal area of freedom.
    -
  • With regard to security research undertaken in the framework of FP7-Security theme: an overview of current security research projects sponsored through FP7 show an unequal distribution of funding, which is concentrated on a small number of participating countries and a small number of organisations, mostly major defence and security companies and applied research institutions. In addition, a large proportion of these projects is dedicated to developing technologies of surveillance, to the detriment of a broader reflection on the impact of such technologies for citizens and persons concerned with the EU’s security policies.
    -
  • With regard to future developments in the field of security research in the EU: plans for the future development of EU-level security research, including the European Research and Innovation Agenda recently proposed by ESRIF, do not fundamentally challenge the abovementioned trends. While these proposals indicate a growing awareness for questions of fundamental freedoms and rights, they remain overly framed by the concerns of the defence and security industry and national and European security agencies and services.

The study also contains updated information about the extent of arms industry involvement in FP7 (see pages 23-24 of the report, link below), confirming that “it is mostly large defence companies, the very same who have participated in the definition of EU-sponsored security research which are the main beneficiaries of FP7-ST funds”. The report analysed 91 FP7 projects, worth a total of €443,2 million, and found that “companies such as the Thales group are involved in roughly one third of the projects (27), representing more than half the FP7-ST (57%) in terms of projects’ total worth (€ 253.8 million)”.

The study recommends that a comprehensive evaluation of EU-funded security research and development to date should be conducted before any decision on future funding for security research in FP8 is taken. Four options for such a review are set out:

i) an accounts and budgetary evaluation through the European Court of Auditors;

ii) a data-protection and privacy evaluation conducted by the EDPS and/or the Art.29 Working Party;

iii) a fundamental rights and freedoms assessment conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights agency;

iv) a full-spectrum evaluation conducted under the auspices of the European Parliament’s STOA unit.

Given the fundamental conflict of interests at the heart of the security research programme (in which multinational defence corporations have been able to set the research agenda and secure the lion’s share of the available funding), a review by the Court of Auditors would be most welcome. Given the limited mandates of the EDPS and FRA, however, any further review should only be conducted in the much broader STOA framework.

The study also recommends a transfer of competence for EU security research from DG Enterprise to DG Research and the “earmarking [of] a certain amount of future funds to be dedicated to security research for projects in the field of fundamental freedoms and rights (10-15%)”.

Although transferring the ESRP to DG Research would be a most welcome initiative, it seems implausible given that one of the programme’s central objectives is “industrial competitiveness” – in other words developing a globally competitive European Homeland Security industry. The second recommendation, increased funding for rights and freedoms-based research, is much more likely to happen. The question we should be asking, however, is whether this can somehow ‘offset’ or ‘human-rights proof’ the kind of security envisaged by the security-industrial complex.

What is needed more than anything in FP8 is a fundamental realignment of priorities for the entire security research programme. It is time that MEPs paid due regard to the growing body of evidence before them.

The European Parliament study, “Review of security measures in the Research Framework Programme”, is available here.

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.



The FP7 programme is supposed to be about implementing the ‘Lisbon strategy’ and making the EU the “most dynamic competitive knowledge-based economy in the world”. According to the Commission: “The ‘knowledge triangle’ – research, education and innovation – is a core factor in European efforts to meet the ambitious Lisbon goals. Numerous programmes, initiatives and support measures are carried out at EU level in support of knowledge”.

This includes the European Security Research Programme, which has just awarded Selex (a Finmeccanica company) a €10 million ‘research’ contract to develop an EU sea border surveillance system (the total project cost is €15.5 million, the EC contribution is €9.8 million).

The “SEABILLA” consortium, which includes a host of arms companies and defence contractors (BAE Systems, EADS, Thales, Sagem, Eurocopter, Telespazio, Alenia, TNO and others) promises to:

1) define the architecture for cost-effective European Sea Border Surveillance systems, integrating space, land, sea and air assets, including legacy systems;

2) apply advanced technological solutions to increase performances of surveillance functions;

3) develop and demonstrate significant improvements in detection, tracking, identification and automated behaviour analysis of all vessels, including hard to detect vessels, in open waters as well as close to coast.

According to the project synopsis, these surveillance systems will be used for:

a) fighting drug trafficking in the English Channel;

b) addressing illegal immigration in the South Mediterranean;

c) struggling [sic] illicit activities in open-sea in the Atlantic waters from Canary Islands to the Azores; in coherence with the EU Integrated Maritime Policy, EUROSUR and Integrated Border Management, and in compliance with Member States sovereign prerogatives.

In 2009, Finmeccanica revenues were somewhere in the region of €18 billion, of which 12% (approx €2.16 billion) was reinvested into Research and Development. Finmeccanica’s annual R&D budget is thus more than 10 times the annual budget of the entire European Security Research Programme.

Finmeccanica has already established itself as a global, market-leading provider of Homeland Security and maritime surveillance systems, as demonstrated by recent contracts with Libya and Panama (among others), each worth hundreds of millions of Euros.

This begs the obvious question of whether EU R&D subsidies for the likes of Finmeccanica are really warranted, and whether this kind of contract is strictly in accordance with FP7′s ‘knowledge triangle’ of research, education and innovation.

In reality the SEABILLA project has very little to do with innovation and everything to do with procurement. The EU is already committed to developing the kind of high-tech surveillance systems that only the defence sector can deliver [on maritime surveillance, see pages 36-40 of the NeoConOpticon report] but it lacks the mandate, budget and office to procure the requisite expertise, software and hardware.

Of course, were the EU to attempt to fulfil its ambitions by establishing a European Department of Homeland Security, there would be fierce resistance among the member states, not to mention civil society groups and a reluctant public.

What we have instead is an unaccountable EU procurement strategy – masquerading as research – committing hundreds of millions of taxpayer Euros in ‘seed money’ to security apparatuses that pre-empt both the political and legal authority needed to put them into practice.

It’s certainly innovative, but is it the kind of innovation that the architects of the FP7 programme had in mind?

Human Recognition Systems (“the UK’s leading independent identity management and biometric specialists”) has entered into partnership with defence giant Thales and the UK Home Office to find “the airport security technology of the future” (a.k.a. INSTINCT-Technology Demonstrator 2).

INSTINCT-TD2 is described as “a government initiative to discover, trial and showcase emergent airport security technologies, solutions and ideas” (see HRS press release).

UK Security Minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones says: “The threat to our security is real and is evolving, and technology can play a key role in reducing that threat. This project shows how the Government is working with industry to find those innovative and emerging technologies.”

As are governments everywhere…

Counter-Terror Expo protest banner

Counter-Terror Expo protest banner (source: Demotix)

Demotix reports that a small group of protesters gathered outside Kensington Olympia yesterday to speak out against the Counter Terror Expo 2010 in London. There was a strong police presence inside and outside the event and one protester was arrested for writing “No more death for profit” and “Capitalism sucks” on the ground in front of the entrance.

The exhibition is sponsored by arms company Thales and organised by Clarion Events [responsible for Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi), the world’s largest arms fair and a long-standing target of anti-arms trade campaigners] and officially supported by a host of military, police and private security organisations. It features over 250 exhibitors, including leading arms companies such as BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin, and is formally endorsed by the likes of the MoD and NATO.

You can read more about the goings on at the Counter-Terror Expo 2010 in SchNEWS and on Open Democracy, where Clare Sambrook has taken a close look at New Labour’s cosy relationship with the surveillance and detention industry.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers