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BRUSSELS OFFICE : +32 (0)2 895 5909

Special Reports

Crowdsourcing Intelligence


Intelligence Fusion explains why crowdsourcing is the next stage in intelligence gathering. Europe is currently facing substantial challenges, not only in terms of security but also political and economic uncertainty. The Middle East and North Africa are also significantly unstable, leading to rising numbers of migrants making the journey to Europe. The effects of this are a migrant crime wave, a rise in parallel societies, a terror epidemic, and an increase in right wing militant groups and left wing extremism. All of this is occurring on the back of a recession and at a time when the European and global economies are still precariously balanced. In addition, European police and security services are significantly overstretched as they attempt to monitor threats from numerous sources.

Following the Brussels attacks in March, it was reported that the resources of Belgian law enforcement and security agencies are stretched so thin that they cannot keep up with ongoing investigations into national security threats. This is an issue which is repeated across the continent and the question it raises is: with no sign of migration levels lessening and new threats from left and right wing extremists, how will European security services cope?

With every new terror attack, questions are raised over how the European Union nations share intelligence in order to effectively mitigate the threat. Following the Paris attacks in November 2015, French authorities stated that they had not been informed that the mastermind of the most significant assault on France since World War II had entered their country. This has led to a push for improved methods of communicating intelligence within the EU; however, with fears over privacy concerns and source protection, that is easier said than done.

Whilst working in the private sector I have witnessed the issue of poor communication and a need to improve intelligence sharing. In 2012, my position was the intelligence manager of a private security company in Basra, Iraq. In the province were numerous private security and oil companies, all with their own intelligence functions. These companies were all looking for answers to the same questions, all collecting the same information, processing that information in their small teams and then disseminating it to their personnel or clients. In a country that was considered one of the most dangerous in the world, commercial advantage, source protection and profit meant that many of these companies would be wary of sharing information with each other – information that would have ultimately made their operations more secure.

Let us consider the Basra intelligence picture to be a jigsaw puzzle and each piece a part of the overall intelligence picture. The companies operating in the province had all of the pieces between them to create an effective intelligence picture, but because commercial sensitivity trumped safety, that puzzle was never completed and operations were conducted with a narrow understanding of Basra’s dynamics. This is the same issue Europe currently faces, although on a much larger scale.

In order to address the intelligence conundrum, we must first look at the questions European intelligence services are asking. There are two aspects to this, which I will refer to as low and high level intelligence. Low level intelligence is general data gathering and maintenance of a common intelligence picture, often using open source information that is available to the general public. High level intelligence, though, consists of espionage, agent running, targeting and interdicting terrorist operations. This is where European nations are facing intelligence sharing hurdles, but it is also the part of intelligence work that requires extra capacity.

Delegation of low level intelligence to the private sector

There are currently three options in terms of private intelligence gathering. The first and most established consists of small teams of analysts monitoring global activity. The weaknesses of this option are that you generally have just one person monitoring events in numerous countries, and their assessment is based only on their own experiences and knowledge.

The second option is that of software algorithms, which scrape the World Wide Web for keywords and then populate a map or platform. Whilst algorithms can gather a large amount of data, they are not yet sophisticated enough to understand the intricacies of human language. So, for example, any deviations in a place name may mean that a piece of information is ignored, or an incident is geo-located centre of mass because the algorithm cannot make an assessment on where an incident occurred based on the details. It will always lack the analysis and assessment, also known as the ‘so what’ factor, which is where humans are required.

The third option is that of crowdsourcing intelligence. Crowdsourced intelligence is obtaining information by enlisting the services of a number of people, typically via the internet. Intelligence Fusion is an independent crowdsourced intelligence platform with three strands of users.

The first strand is the administrators who have come from a police, military or government intelligence background. They are the experienced intelligence foundation around which we can build a diverse network of interns and users whilst keeping it grounded in established intelligence practices. The administrators check information being populated by users for accuracy and provide the ‘so what’ clients are looking for.

The second strand is our interns, who help us to monitor global security incidents. These are generally postgraduate students from diverse backgrounds and nationalities who are trained by our team in intelligence analysis.

The third strand is our users. These are professionals from many different sectors, nationalities and locations who can provide great depth to our reporting due to being connected on one platform, allowing us to tap into the wisdom of the crowd.

When a terrorist attack occurs, we conduct the same processes that intelligence and police agencies do. We establish the facts by using open sources like news sites, Twitter and Facebook. We search for images, videos, links, discuss the incident and provide analysis. Our scope, though, is not just European terrorism; we also look at criminality, migrant issues and gangs, as well as protest groups and politics.

As our network grows so does our area of intelligence interest. We currently monitor Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as parts of Asia and South America, with the aim of being able to monitor the whole globe by the end of 2016. My point here is that the private sector is evolving rapidly and we can assist nation states by focusing on the low level data gathering.

Our unique blend of expert analysis, extensive network and level of geographical coverage allows us to be ideally placed at a crucial juncture in the security environment, to help clients in addressing future challenges across Europe and the globe. We are already establishing the open source intelligence picture, as well as providing analysis and assessment. As we grow, we can surge teams for short projects such as monitoring the violence at Euro 2016. Using the private sector for low level intelligence frees up state assets to focus on high level, granular intelligence and interdicting terrorist organisations.

For me, it is not a question of if crowdsourcing intelligence will eventually support national security, but when, and those countries which are in at the beginning will reap the rewards sooner and help drive the evolution of this latest intelligence tool.


Michael McCabe
Chief Executive Officer
Intelligence Fusion

+44 (0)20 8123 5520

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Michael McCabe, Chief Executive Officer
Intelligence Fusion
+44 (0)20 8123 5520
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