Wednesday

26th Sep 2018

Focus

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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. No UK election before Brexit, says May
  2. Former French PM wants to be mayor of Barcelona
  3. Merkel's wingman in surprise defeat in internal party vote
  4. Orban sends thank-you letters to supportive MEPs
  5. UN chief: World suffering from 'trust deficit disorder'
  6. Stalemate in Sweden as parliament ousts prime minister
  7. Migrant rescue ship heading to French port
  8. EU angry at British tabloids on Brexit

Investigation

Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?

Five years and €10bn after its EU bailout, Cyprus is a weak link in Europe's banking system - amid renewed fears on Russia money-laundering.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. World upside down as EU and Russia unite against US
  2. EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses
  3. Russian with Malta passport in money-laundering probe
  4. Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?
  5. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  6. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  7. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  8. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us