Berto Jongman: How geospatial analytics is helping hunt the LRA and al-Shabaab

Advanced Cyber/IO
Berto Jongman
Berto Jongman

How geospatial analytics is helping hunt the LRA and al-Shabaab

Liat Clark

Wired UK, 24 June 2013

In May 2012 Caesar Acellam, a commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and military strategist for the extremist group’s leader Joseph Kony, was captured by the Ugandan army. The act appeared to be a coup for local forces that had for nearly three decades — along with multiple regional governments and the 100 US special forces soldiers sent in 2012 — failed to thwart the militant group’s leader, a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity including the abduction of tens of thousands of children.

The capture of one of his top-ranking commanders was made possible, in part, because local forces suddenly knew where to look. Kony’s men could not hide from a constellation of five ever-watchful satellites put into orbit by  satellite imagery and geospatial analytics firm  DigitalGlobe.

Read full article with graphics.

Phi Beta Iota:  This is a useful article, recommended for a full read.  There is a great deal of exaggeration — this is basic stuff that Ralph Peters and others of his caliber have been doing for 20 years, but the narrative is useful for those who do not know how good intelligence tradecraft has been and could be.  Here are the highlights we know but the US Government never learns; these are quotes from the article.

Hundreds of kilometres above Earth, the satellites capture a miniature game of cat and mouse between factions, armed forces and the public, but it’s when this data is injected with behavioural analysis and local knowledge it becomes most powerful.

DigitalGlobe works with research firm ORB International to gather human data. This year the Somali government announced it would carry out the first census in Mogadishu since 1975.

Target audience analysis in a conflict zone is about identifying where those people are who are susceptible to radicalising and joining Al-Qaeda or going the other way and rejecting violence. We need to know where are they, what they believe and how can you influence them.”

The focus of the conference was, for many, too heavily concentrated on what’s wrong with Somalia. Combine that with the fact that a conference about Somalia took place nearly 7,000km from its capital, and there’s a real risk of alienating the nation’s people and ignoring issues most relevant to them.

“One of the biggest mistakes we make as a diaspora is we tend to think we have all the solutions. I think that’s wrong. We don’t. They know how they live, they know what they need because they live it day by day. They know their solution more than we know it.

The most important point made in the article is not as clear as we would like it to be: “enabling environemtns” are those where water, housing, sanitation, and food are all accessible without undue risk.  There is too much focus on providing “security” and not enough on providing amenties — the human habitat.  Haiti — and the idiocy of sending in 20,000 US troops with their logisitics support needs — is a good example of how NOT to do support.  Somalai is an opportunity for smart people to do good.

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