New British center will help wage information warfare

A new center aims to improve UK security by building expertise in cutting-edge technology.

The Center for Emerging Technologies and Security (CETaS) will be based at the Alan Turing Institute, Britain’s center for data science and artificial intelligence.

U.K. officials say it will help gain expertise outside the government, including in publicly available information.

This is vital to combating Russian disinformation on Ukraine.

But there are also concerns about the government’s current “piecemeal” use of this type of open-source information.

It is widely believed that in recent years Moscow has had an advantage in using technology to wage “information warfare.

The West seems to have fallen behind as Russia has used social media as a weapon to influence public opinion, most famously the use of fake accounts in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Open Source Intelligence

But the Ukrainian conflict has revealed a shifting balance, officials say.

“At the current stage of the conflict, the balance of advantage is on the side of those seeking the truth about the Russian campaign,” two anonymous government officials wrote in a document released on the occasion of the launch of the new state-funded CETaS.

The key reason was what is called open-source intelligence. This is based on analyzing publicly available data, such as social media videos, as opposed to “covert” intelligence information that spies obtain through covert means, such as intercepting messages or launching agents.

“The Ukrainian conflict has shown us the importance of analyzing data and technology to expose Russian disinformation campaigns,” Paul Kilworth, deputy chief academic adviser for national security, told the BBC.

“Centers like [CETaS] provide another tool in the arsenal of open societies. It gives us more teams of specialists who can investigate claims.”

The U.S. and U.K. governments actively use open-source information to be able to talk publicly about what their secret sources point to. But this type of information is most effectively used by those outside the government to reveal what is really happening on the ground.

On the evening of February 23, graduate students in Monterey, California, who were using publicly available satellite imagery to watch for Russian tanks on the border with Ukraine, saw a traffic jam on Google Maps slowly approaching the Ukrainian border.

They tweeted that the war appeared to have begun long before the official announcement.

“Expanded analytical capabilities.”
Since the conflict began, others have used data to investigate possible war crimes and refute Russian narratives.

The extent to which civilian journalists and investigative groups like Bellingcat have pioneered investigations, Mr. Killworth said.

“If we go back about a decade, if you want advanced analytical capabilities, the ability to manage large amounts of data and do advanced analysis, it’s the government’s prerogative,” he said.

“It was done behind barbed wire in very, very strictly controlled circumstances. It’s been several decades and the amount of advanced IT tools, analytics and open source data available to investigative journalists, citizen groups and academics has grown. dramatically.”

Leveraging new technologies to maintain an edge is part of the new center’s mission. This could include areas such as automatic recognition of military equipment from satellite images or social media, allowing human experts to spend their time on more complex problems.

Tools already enable better translation and interpretation of material in a foreign language. Artificial intelligence can also be used to identify behaviors or language that indicate an organized network of misinformation on social media.

Solving these problems quickly is one of the goals of the center, which aims to build a community that can keep up with the growing volume of data and tools to use it.

Challenges

Another paper released as part of the center’s launch, produced in conjunction with the RUSI think tank, raises questions about whether the government is organized to adequately use open-source information.

It warns of the current “fragmentation” of activities within the government and says it needs to be increased to become the “core” discipline of intelligence.

One official told the authors that although 35 percent of intelligence comes from open sources, they receive only 1 percent of funding compared to covert sources. More attention needs to be paid to developing skills and removing barriers because government analysts sometimes cannot access open-source information because of regulatory and technical constraints.

Cultural bias is a serious problem. Intelligence agencies are often reluctant to use information from open sources, and decision makers are more likely to pay attention to pieces of information stamped “SECRET” than to information found online, even if it is no less relevant, the newspaper said.

Experts also warn that Russia is likely to adapt and improve its game. This could mean spending more time on amplifying real voices in the West that support its message, which is more difficult to counter with governments and social media companies, or developing better “dipfake” technologies.

Russia’s position has also not been questioned within its own borders because it has closed its information space, and the government authors of the CETaS report say that Moscow’s messages may be more effective outside the West as well.

“Outside the Western ‘information theater,’ Russia has had more success: audiences in China, India, Africa and the Middle East are more favorably disposed to Russia’s actions,” they warn.

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