With vast amounts of data becoming available to intelligence analysts, new tools will help them sift and interpret it all—but they will introduce new risks, too.
A RADIO TRANSMISSION between several Russian soldiers in Ukraine in early March, captured from an unencrypted channel, reveals panicked and confused comrades retreating after coming under artillery fire.
“Vostok, I am Sneg 02. On the highway we have to turn left, fuck,” one of the soldiers says in Russian using code names meaning “East” and “Snow 02.”
“Got it. No need to move further. Switch to defense. Over,” another responds.
Later, a third soldier tries to make contact with another codenamed “South 95”: “Yug 95, do you have contact with a senior? Warn him on the highway artillery fire. On the highway artillery fire. Don’t go by column. Move carefully.”
The third Russian soldier continues, becoming increasingly agitated: “Get on the radio. Tell me your situation and the artillery location, approximately what weapon they are firing.” Later, the third soldier speaks again: “Name your square. Yug 95, answer my questions. Name the name of your square!”
As the soldiers spoke, an AI was listening. Their words were automatically captured, transcribed, translated, and analyzed using several artificial intelligence algorithms developed by Primer, a US company that provides AI services for intelligence analysts. While it isn’t clear whether Ukrainian troops also intercepted the communication, the use of AI systems to surveil Russia’s army at scale shows the growing importance of sophisticated open source intelligence in military conflicts.
Tapping into open source intelligence data means sifting immense quantities of information. “The amount of open source intelligence is impossible for anyone to process,” says Emily Harding, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy research nonprofit, who wrote a report in January 2022 about using AI to mine open source intelligence. Harding says the intelligence world has gotten better at analyzing imagery using machine learning tools. Classifying the contents of images was one of the first tasks that demonstrated the power of modern AI. Harding says that Primer has distinguished itself for its ability to parse language.
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- Come Back Alive is one of the largest charitable foundations that supports Ukrainian soldiers, founded by the IT specialist Vitaliy Deynega. The organization collected more than 210 million UAH (more than $7M) in 2014. According to Na chasi, the Patreon page Come Back Alive is in the top ten projects by the number of financial donations.
- Army SOS, which develops drones;
- Everybody Can, an organization that supports internally displaced people;
- Help on the Ministry of Defense website.