Big data brings new power to open-source intelligence

Analytics   |   
Published May 15, 2014   |   
Matthew Moran

In November 2013, the New Yorker published a profile of Eliot Higgins – or Brown Moses as he is known to almost 17,000 Twitter followers. An unemployed finance and admin worker at the time, Higgins was held up as an example of what can happen when we take advantage of the enormous amount of information being spread across the internet every day.

The New Yorker’s eight-page spread described Higgins as “perhaps the foremost expert on the munitions used in the [Syrian] war”, a remarkable description for someone with no formal training in munitions or intelligence.

Higgins does not speak Arabic and has never been to the Middle East. He operates from his home in Leicester and, until recently, conducted his online investigations as an unpaid hobby.

Yet the description was well-founded. Since starting his blog in 2012, Higgins has uncovered evidence of the Syrian army’s use of cluster bombs and exposed the transfer of weapons from Iran to Syria. And he has done it armed with nothing more than a laptop and an eye for detail.

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