By Tony Roper
The proliferation of open-source intelligence (OSINT) in the 2010s has enabled professionals and amateurs to exploit a wealth of freely available information that can provide a picture of global events. Powerful tools have become more readily available that can track military assets, including the Automatic Identification System (AIS) on many maritime vessels, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) and other systems for tracking aircraft via their transponders, commercial electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar satellite imagery at various degrees of resolution, and many tools for exploiting the ubiquity of geolocation software in smartphones.
As recently as 2005, and notably before Twitter’s creation, it would have been impossible to track many military assets such as navy vessels on deployment to various theatres. However, the arrival of Twitter in 2006 – and with it, the creation of networks of experienced analysts using the ever-increasing range of OSINT tools – has democratised access to such knowledge. Twitter’s 100 million users were posting 340 million tweets a day by 2012. This social media platform, more than any other, became one of the most-used resources for gathering OSINT data.
Moreover, although amateurs initially tended to use social media for information-gathering due to ease and availability, social media soon attracted the attention of national intelligence communities for collection, and some agencies created dedicated OSINT departments. However, official government and military social media accounts were less adept at posting information, to the extent that, at the time of writing, official accounts either did not exist or lacked information. This would often be because agencies aware of their own collection against adversaries on social media would reasonably assess that such targeting was taking place in reverse.