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Move Over, James Bond. OSINT Is Here

NOAA's National Ocean Service on Flickr

I feel like at some point we all have wanted to be super spies. And while most of my sneaky activities have involved getting an extra cookie in the middle of the night, there are some actual ways you can start feeling like a super spy. One of the coolest in my opinion is called Open Source Intelligence.

First things first, what is ‘intelligence’? While it may make sense to think intelligence = being smart, that is not totally true. Intelligence in this context means the activity of collecting, studying, and sharing information to help people make plans for the future, or better understand the present. How I think about intelligence is that while reading a newspaper can tell you what happened in the past, intelligence can tell you about what will happen in the future.

So what is Open Source Intelligence, also known as OSINT?

OSINT is an information-gathering tool that focuses on publicly available information. This means it uses everything from newspapers, to social media and satellites images to get information about a question.

The coolest part of OSINT is that you can use it for so many different things! For example, it has become an important tool for journalists and people looking to fact-check information.

A fun example of this can be seen in the website Snoops investigating whether or not Goofy, the beloved Disney cartoon character is a dog or a cow.

Another cool example is how OSINT can be used to better understand icebergs being created in the Antarctica ocean. A great example of this can be found in May 2021 when Iceberg A-76 broke off from Antarctica. Iceberg A-76 was the world’s biggest at the time it was formed, being 110 miles long and 16 miles wide!

Its creation though had many people wondering if the iceberg broke off because of climate change (a topic discussed in an article from a previous issue) or if it was a natural separation.

This brought out some amateur OSINT investigators!

OSINT investigators were able to watch how A-76 broke away from the main ice shelf. They did this by first looking at satellite images of the area the iceberg came from before its creation. They then used images captured by Sentinel-1, a satellite that is part of the Copernicus Programme satellite constellation to watch the actual breakaway!

Time-lapse of A-76 from May 6, 2021, to June 6, 2021, via satellite imagery from Sentinel-1
(Credit to the European Space Agency)

They then compared how the iceberg broke up to another iceberg that had broken off the same ice shelf naturally to see if the break pattern was similar.

The OSINT investigators then used this information in combination with the opinions of various iceberg experts found on Twitter and in the newspaper reportings to conclude the break was natural and would not harm any ships or coasts while it melted in the sea.

OSINT is a super cool tool that more and more people are using to verify information. The best part is, you don’t need to be an expert in any of it to get started, you learn as you go! There are a couple of links down below in case you want to learn about it more.

Learn More

How to Fact Check – for kids


Tracking World’s Biggest Iceberg


How Not to Spot Fake News


Fact Check


Iceberg A76