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Crowdsourced Targeting | U.S. PATRIOT NEWS & REVIEWS

Crowdsourced Targeting

We’re all used to the internet, but that’s probably a mistake. It’s an incredibly weird thing and I suspect that nobody has any idea just how much it’s going to change the world. Every day people forget how powerful it is, and create problems for themselves. We keep seeing media stories about someone who lost their job because of something they tweeted, or because they were a PR representative for a major games company while also moonlighting as a prostitute. Yes, that happened last week. But now some people are dead because they didn’t watch what they posted online, and it’s a very strange story.

What happened was this: Some members of a Reddit group were looking through photos of the Syrian civil war when they found some of a rebel base. They were curious, so they started digging on Google Maps to see if they could pinpoint its exact location. By cross-checking various online sources they identified some distinctive features from the photo – a pair of ornate towers, and a walled road – that were also clearly visible on satellite photos. I’ve looked at the imagery myself and there’s no doubt – they found the base.

Did I mention that this was a Reddit group that really hates islamist rebels? No? Well, it was.

TargetingWhat one member of the group did next was to take a screenshot of the base’s exact coordinates and tweet them. To @mod_russia – the Russian Ministry of Defense. What happened next was fairly predictable, and involved several tons of high explosives courtesy of the Russian Air Force.

This is pretty incredible. It’s also frightening. I don’t doubt that the Russians checked the location with their own assets before hitting it; who’s going to expend ordnance, and risk an expensive aircraft, on the word of some guy on Twitter? But they clearly hadn’t noticed it themselves. That’s not a surprise. Modern surveillance systems are good, but they’re not perfect, and a compound that’s being used as a rebel base looks pretty much the same as one that’s being used as a transport company or an extended family’s home. Stuff gets missed. But this time someone on the internet saw it, and did some research.

The chances are nobody’s too worried about a few Syrian rebels getting blown up. I’m certainly not; they were a “moderate” group, but that’s not saying much. In the Middle East, these days, ISIS have tilted the balance so much that al Qaida are a moderate group, too. None of the Syrian anti-government groups are people you’d want running your country. Assad might be pretty awful, but all the people who want to replace him are a lot worse.

But this time the target was some Syrian rebels. Next time it could be you. Once you’ve posted an image on the internet, it’s pretty hard to make it go away – and somebody could use it to identify you. If you’re military, or you work in counter-terrorism or security, you need to make some hard decisions about your online activity. Yes, we all like to post stuff on social media – but the internet can be used as a global intelligence-gathering system, and pretty much anyone can decide to point it at you.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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