Putin Addressing The U.N.
Distract, Deceive, Destroy: Putin At War In Syria is a 32 page publication I originally found on the Atlantic Council’s web site. This is the part that got me reading, the focus on employing OSINT methods, as well as it being about my new favorite topic, Russia.
We have used the power of digital forensics to expose the details of Russia’s aerial and ground attacks in Syria using information entirely from open sources, available to be viewed and verified by anyone. Such an approach empowers individuals not only to discover information about Putin’s war in Syria, but also to verify the information themselves. Such an approach is the polar opposite of Russia’s opaque disinformation campaign, which relies on ideological narratives over verifiable facts.
A bit later in the paper it introduces an acronym that is new to me: open source and social media intelligence (OSSMINT). I’ve never NOT thought of social media as an open source suitable for inclusion under the older OSINT definition so I’m curious to see where this concept first arose and what (if any) differences there are in the definition.
The paper offered a couple of interesting observations on the diplomacy ahead of the Russian campaign in Syria.
Russian propaganda uses a 4D approach: Dismiss the critic, distort the facts, distract from the key point, and dismay the audience.
Thus, the style and content of the Syrian campaign fit more closely with the Kremlin’s tactic of aggressive disinformation, rather than with an attempt at persuasive diplomacy.
It appears far more likely that Putin wanted to launch air strikes to back Assad, and to distract from this unpopular position, he claimed to be targeting ISIS instead.
And here the Russians are caught in lies thanks to OSSMINT srouces.
From the first day of Russian air strikes, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) began publishing video footage of the strikes on its official YouTube channel.23 The videos generally contained information describing the location and target of the attack, but right from the start, OSSMINT analysts, including Russian expert Ruslan Leviev and the Bellingcat group of investigative journalists demonstrated that the Ministry was providing false information about the targets and locations of the air strikes.
Between September 30 and October 12, the Russian Ministry of Defense published videos of forty- three air strikes. Using the crowdsourced analysis techniques described above, the Bellingcat group and its collaborators identified the exact location of thirty-six of these strikes, then overlaid the locations onto the MoD’s own map, identifying which armed groups controlled what parts of the country. The result revealed inaccuracy on a grand scale: Russian o cials described thirty of these videos as air strikes on ISIS positions, but in only one example was the area struck, in fact under the control of ISIS, even according to the Russian MoD’s own map.
The Kremlin’s policy in Syria appears to have served three purposes: Distract attention from its actions in Ukraine and its military buildup in Syria; deceive the international community about the nature of its targets; and destroy the forces that presented the greatest threat to the Kremlin’s client, Assad, especially those forces most closely linked to the United States.
The paper closes with a page and a half of realpolitik and this sentence jumped out at me.
There are no good options in Syria.
I’ve been saying things like that about Syria … Yemen … Gaza … and it’s unusual to see in a document from serious minded foundation fellows. The best thing the world could do in Syria is sealing up it crumbling Cold War era water handling systems, which are currently losing some 40% of the water they carry. That would have been a fine thing to do prior to things going off the rails in 2011. Now we have to wait for the shooting to die before this vital infrastructure fix.