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.



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?

“SAFIRE” is a €3.6 million project funded under the European Security Research Programme, to which the EC is contributing €3 million. The project promises a “Scientific Approach to Fighting Radical Extremism” and has the goal of “improv[ing] fundamental understanding of radicalization processes and us[ing] this knowledge to develop principles to improve (the implementation) of interventions designed to prevent, halt and reverse radicalization”.

The SAFIRE consortium is led by the Dutch military research institute TNO and includes the RAND Corporation, the Israeli International Counter-Terrorism Academy (ICSA, which promises “to adapt the ‘Israeli Operational Philosophy’ to the most vulnerable of venues and complicated of local problems”), Compagnie Européenne d’Intelligence Stratégique (CEIS, the Strategic Intelligence Company, France), Bridge 129 (an Italian security company), several academics from Utrecht and Amsterdam, and the Instituut voor Multiculturele ontwikkeling (Dutch Institute for Multicultural Affairs).

According to the EC contract:

SAFIRE will develop a process model of radicalization, describing the process from moderation to extremism, based on a non-linear dynamic systems approach and a typology of radical groups. This is an innovative approach that has not been explicitly applied to this area up until now. Principles regarding interventions will be developed in close concert with the models, and will be applied in a longitudinal, empirical study. Important aspects of radicalization that will also be addressed are: the relationship between national culture and radicalization, radicalization on the Internet, and defining observable indicators of the radicalization process…

The results of this project will increase the understanding of both conceptual aspects of radicalization (e.g. the psycho-social dynamics of radical groups and individuals), and practical characteristics and modus operandi of radical groups (e.g. recruitment techniques).

The envisaged end-users are “policy makers, researchers in the field of radicalization and professionals who work with high-risk individuals”.

Leaving aside the wisdom of asking an industry dependent upon an ever-widening circle of threat to look at such a controversial and politically charged topic, several observations can be made about some of the alarming developments in the field of counter-radicalisation to date.

First, substantive research into the UK’s ‘Prevent’ programme, which was endorsed by the Joint UK Parliamentary Committee on Communities and Local Government, has highlighted the way in which the new ‘radicalisation’  agenda has been translated into the old doctrine of mass surveillance of ‘suspect communities’ by establishing “one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain”. See “Spooked: How not to prevent violent extremism”.

Second, the European Union has already adopted a far-reaching ‘radicalisation and recruitment programme’, including a detailed Action Plan, which it has kept secret. In the absence of precise information about how the EU intends to combat radicalisation, and in light of the experience of the Prevent programme, it is very difficult for civil society (which the UN has recognised as a vital actor in terms of counter-radicalisation) to have any confidence in its actions.

Third, as reported in last week’s Guardian, the EU has now tacitly extended its radicalisation programme to include political activists labelled as “Extreme right/left, Islamist, nationalist or anti-globalisation”, prompting outrage from MEPs. See Intensive surveillance of “violent radicalisation” extended to embrace suspected “radicals” from across the political spectrum.

Fourth, the premise of countering radicalisation on the internet has already led to widespread and entirely unregulated police surveillance of internet users, such as the EUROPOL “Check the web” programme.

As the Institute of Race Relations’ ‘Spooked’ report suggests, approaching radicalisation as a process in which people pass through some kind of prism from ‘liberal’ to ‘extremist’ (or indeed back the other way) is inherently problematic because:

the terms ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ are at times defined in practice by the degree  to which [people] support or oppose central government”.

And as the report concludes:

“in democratic societies, genuine trust can only come from the bottom up. So long as the government persists in a programme of imposing on its own citizens an ideological war over ‘values’ that is backed up with an elaborate web of surveillance, that trust will not be forthcoming. And those on the receiving end of such a programme will remain ‘spooked’ by fear, alienation and suspicion”.

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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