The Nexus Analyst: Understanding your Customer’s Requirements

Nexus is ‘an important connection between the parts of a system’, according to the dictionary. In an intelligence environment, OSINT has the same function. Another example of how OSINT can provide important leads for HUMINT and SIGINT in Afghanistan.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is all about perseverance and following bread crumbs that lead to key findings. To be honest, you won’t always find the smoking gun and in some cases you might miss it. That’s one thing I have learned: No matter how hard you look, you are always likely to miss out on something. That is why the OSINT community on Twitter is so important. New tools and techniques are shared there and help broaden your own set of skills on a daily basis. Another important lesson, is to always have clearly defined objectives, the so-called Key Intelligence Questions (KIQ), when conducting OSINT research. What specifically is your intelligence customer asking for? This means you have to understand the ultimate goal and your customer’s mindset to a certain extent.

My concept called Interdisciplinary Intelligence Preparation of Operations (I2PO) relies on OSINT to support other intelligence collection types (ICT), such as Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) or Human Intelligence (HUMINT), and vice versa. Therefore, the OSINT analyst must understand the specific requirements for each ICT. If you deliver a phone number or email address to a HUMINTer, he might give you puzzled looks. Again, I would like to demonstrate my point with an OSINT case that might easily happen this way in military intelligence and intelligence services. In a previous blog post, we had HUMINT information as a starting point for OSINT. This time, we have a couple of Key Intelligence Questions.

Imagine we are forward deployed OSINT analysts in Afghanistan. We not only provide information on the general situation in our area of operations, but also support the adjacent HUMINT and SIGINT teams. Our HUMINTers want to know a little more about the family ties of their intelligence targets and the networks surrounding these people (KIQ 1). The SIGINTer just needs some selectors such as phone number and email addresses, which he could task in his SIGINT systems (KIQ 2). One of the intelligence targets happens to be Mohammad Atta Noor, a key power broker in Northern Afghanistan.

We start out with a simple Google search and we soon find an interesting site containing bios of Afghan VIPs: afghan.bios.info. The entry on Mohammad Atta Noor is quite detailed and also reveals the name of one his sons, Tariq Noor.

Next up we conduct a Google search on Tariq Noor in combination with the name of his father. This leads us to Tariq’s Twitter account, where he is pictured together with his father.

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Twitter also suggests further accounts to follow, one of them being Khalid Noor. It turns out that this is another son of Mohammad Atta Noor.

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So far, we have names and pictures of two sons. Knowing that Mohammad Atta Noor has even more children, we could continue our search and identify the other children, while trying to obtain pictures and more data on them. However, let us focus on Tariq and Khalid first. As their father is a successful businessman, it is likely that his sons have businesses of their own, or are maybe even connected to their father’s companies.

To check this, we again have a look at the Afghan company register (www.acbrip.gov.af). Since we cannot search for individuals here, we assume that Tariq and Khalid have companies named after themselves. This search within the Afghan company register produces good results. The first result when looking for Khalid Noor even gives us the phone number of Mohammad Atta Noor and a bit of his family history with the names of Mohammad Atta Noor’s father and grandfather.

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Mohammad Atta Noor is the president of the Khalid Noor LTD and states his father’s name is Haji Noor Mohammad and his grandfather’s name is Mirza Mohammad Gul. In Arabic and Central Asian countries, this information is valuable when distinguishing same-named persons. A look into the shareholders of this company reveal not only that Khalid is a shareholder, but also mentions other business partners (and their family history, as well as phone numbers). All this information helps build a network chart including the relevant family ties. This is the information our HUMINT team was looking for (KIQ 1). Of course, the phone numbers answer the Key Intelligence Question our SIGINT Team had (KIQ 2). A query for Tariq Noor produces similar results, including phone numbers of Tariq and his business partners.

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All in all, following OSINT bread crumbs led to amazing key findings. Now this information can be used for HUMINT operations, when trying to infiltrate the networks around Mohammad Atta Noor and, as mentioned, also to task SIGINT operations. A perfect example of I2PO!

In conclusion, this way to work makes me refer to an OSINT analyst within military and intelligence services as a ‘Nexus Analyst’, an analyst in between ICTs. Someone that knows what HUMINT or SIGINT really need to conduct their missions successfully and who takes this into account when browsing the web.

Matthias Wilson / 28.11.2018

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