Saturday

8th Aug 2020

EU-funded project to prompt intelligence-sharing

  • Tripoli from space: over 80 percent of intelligence used by EU services comes from open sources (Photo: nasa.org)

The democratic uprisings in north Africa have exposed the limits of member states' on-the-ground knowledge of the region, but a project sponsored by EU money aims to get national intelligence agencies used to the idea of sharing information on everything from brewing conflicts to migration flows and terror threats.

In an unassuming building a stone's throw from the European Commission's headquarters in Brussels, a group of experts is overseeing the development of software that will make it easier to deal with what intelligent experts call the "tsunami of information" in the public sphere.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

While the information is in the open - either in traditional sources such as newspapers or radios or online in blogs and social networking sites - harvesting and analysing so-called "open-source intelligence" in order to better anticipate or manage events is hampered by a lack of compatible technology.

Virtuoso (standing for the unwieldy Versatile Information Toolkit for End Users Oriented Open Source Exploitation), when ready, is to be a one-stop platform for the use of all analytic tools such as speech-to-text software, tools that show where people are speaking from or tools that process proper nouns and locations.

"What we are developing is the integration framework where you can plug in all the different tools that you might use and they can all communicate with one another," says Axel Dyevre, from European Strategic Intelligence Company (CEIS), one of the partners in the project.

He compares it to Microsoft's Windows system. "You have Word and you have Excel and if you take an Excel spreadsheet, you can easily import it to Word."

With a budget of €11.45 million, of which €8 million is EU R&D money, the project has 17 partners including TNO, a Dutch research organisation, Denmark's Aalborg University, the Austrian company Sail Labs (specialised in speech to text technology) and Newstin, a data acquisition company.

The first big test will be in June when three scenarios - border security in Greece; arms proliferation and a potential attack on member-state infrastructures - will be used to showcase the project.

Watching will be a roomful of officials from the EU border agency Frontex, the EU crisis centre (SitCen), the EU satellite centre as well as experts from national intelligence agencies, military and police personnel and foreign and defence ministry officials.

Secrecy and prejudice

But the project has to fight against both the culture of secrecy among intelligence agencies and a certain prejudice towards information gathered from public sources.

"There can be some paranoia among those working in intelligence. For them, keeping the information is much more important than collaborating even it if would be useful [to share it]," says Frederik Schumann, a consultant with CEIS.

"For them, open source [information] is something that kids play with," he adds.

But Virtuoso could help with analysis of situations in hotspots the EU is involved in, he argues. He points to US military personnel in Afghanistan who have said that local newspapers provide more valuable information than their own intelligence services.

The current war in Libya is a case in point. Experts remain unsure about the extent of the bloodshed, where loyalties lie, how the different tribes interact and the effectiveness of the international coalition against Colonel Gadaffi's forces.

"Thousands of people are writing about [Libya]. There is TV, radio, bloggers. There is so much information. The idea is to extract what those sources don't talk about," says Schumann.

Dyevre, formerly an officer in the French army, is hoping intelligence services will ultimately use Virtuoso to swap information directly with one another: "Another interest is, but later I think, the possibility of information sharing between organisations if they are using the same standards. [Exporting] a whole set of data and [giving] them to another organisation."

Whether their project will eventually overcome intelligence agencies' ingrained reluctance to share information is moot.

But both Dyevre and Schumann are adamant that their project will not go the way of many schemes funded by EU money - to a dust-gathering shelf full of worthy but impracticable research.

"The project is quite novel in that it is very user-centric and we are working very closely with the end-users," says Dyevre. "We want to be a FP7 (framework research programme 7) project that actually produces something," adds Schumann.

Meanwhile, another similar venture is already in the pipeline. Member states have just said yes to EU funding for a project aimed at reducing cognitive biases – analysing data according to the data gatherer's world view - in intelligence gathering.

Innovation

As the EU continues to struggle with the effects of the economic crisis, the importance of investing in innovation and research is increasingly been emphasized. But how much money is enough and where should it be spent? EUobserver investigates.

EU innovation efforts unknown

The efforts of the EU to turn the old continent into an “innovation union” are largely unknown to business leaders, according to a survey by global accounting firm Ernst & Young.

The Acta debate - will innovation be stifled?

Opponents of Acta, the controversial anti-counterfeiting treaty up for vote in the European Parliament in July, say, among other things, that it would stifle innovation. Advocates say the exact opposite.

News in Brief

  1. Germany breached rights of Madeleine McCann suspect
  2. EU offers trade perks to Lebanon
  3. Germany charges four ex-Audi chiefs on emissions cheating
  4. UK quarantines Belgium, as European infections climb
  5. Bulgaria's Borissov mulls resignation
  6. EU prolongs anti-dumping duties on Chinese steel
  7. Swedish economy contracted less during April to June
  8. EU offers help to Lebanon after port explosion

Stakeholder

Renew Europe has a plan to combat gender-violence

This is not about supposedly traditional values – when was violence against women ever a value? – it is about living up to the European values we all signed up to. We have to put pressure on Poland.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Iraqis paid €2,000 each agree to leave Greece
  2. EU's most sustainable islands are Danish 'Sunshine Islands'
  3. Worrying rows over future EU chemicals policy
  4. Rainbow flag protesters charged by Polish police
  5. An open letter to the EPP on end of Hungary's press freedom
  6. Renew Europe has a plan to combat gender-violence
  7. Why EU beats US on green pandemic recovery
  8. Azerbaijan ambassador to EU shared anti-George Floyd post

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us