LONDON, UK – Open source intelligence or OSINT was the brainchild of Arnold Toynbee, founder of Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), also known as Chatham House and the prototypical think tank – a quasi-independent body of hand-picked academics, journalists and leaders of industry who use their influence to develop foreign policy consensus within the institutions of government, that serve the interests of the elites.
Just before World War II, Toynbee was asked to return to the British Foreign Office (FO) to revive and expand a program he had run at the agency’s intelligence department shortly after he’d first joined in 1915, called the Political Intelligence Department (PID). Toynbee led a small cadre of political analysts and scholars setting out to sift through newspaper clippings, public radio communications, diplomatic correspondence and any other openly available materials of enemies and allies, alike, to buttress clandestine military intelligence efforts during the course of the first World War.
Dissolved by the end of the conflict as a result of budgetary and political considerations, the idea of using “open” sources of information was nevertheless established as a viable approach to intelligence gathering and by the early 1920s, the professor of ancient history at Balliol College founded and assumed the directorship of Chatham House, which would soon spawn a sister organization in the United States known as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
Three years after meeting with Adolf Hitler in 1936 and assuring Whitehall that the German leader had no intention of invading Europe, Toynbee was given funds by the FO to set up the reconstituted PID as the Foreign Research and Press Service (FRPS) at his alma mater, which he staffed with Chatham House members and professors, including a younger colleague named Harold Beeley (father of British blogger Vanessa Beeley), and divided them into research teams determined by geographical regions.
A reduced contingent of FRPS/FORD staff remained at Balliol, Oxford and maintained contact with the Admiralty and War Office Intelligence Departments. The rest moved to new headquarters in London, next door to Chatham House in St. James Square, where the ad-hoc agency’s success would fuel the growth of future OSINT operations and the rise of the think tank model for policy-shaping.
Sir Harold’s Ploy
Beeley, who had been in charge of the FRPS’ Palestine Desk and had focused on this area for Toynbee’s RIIA since 1937, was among the few original recruits to stay on as the war-time OSINT team was officially integrated into the British FO and renamed the Foreign Office Research Department (FORD) in 1943. He would be knighted by the Queen in 1946 and feature prominently in the post-war negotiations regarding the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel.
In 1947, (now Sir) Harold Beeley would come up with a strategy to handle the partition as a kind of Hunger Games scenario, in which a violent clash between Arabs and Jews would be allowed to take place with Western powers “overseeing” the situation to prevent a major escalation and letting the Jews prove how much territory they could defend militarily and, thereby, set the stage for a political settlement brokered by the West.
According to Amitzur Ilan in The Origin of the Arab-Israeli Arms Race, the British Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevin, was fully on board with Beeley’s proposal, which included cutting Palestine off from military aid and nixing a plan to create a Palestinian state by giving King Abdullah of Transjordan the go-ahead to annex the British part of Palestine.
As civil war broke out in Palestine early in 1948, Beeley’s assessment that there was “a sporting chance that if left undisturbed by foreign intervention or aid, the parties will tire sooner or later of the conflict” and that “a great part of the Arab population […] would probably make its way through the lines to the safety of the Arab area” after the emergence “of a defensible Jewish State”, was adopted as unofficial policy in a secret British Cabinet meeting in March.
Known as the Bevin-Beeley Plan, the catch-22 devised by Toynbee’s protégé would be regarded as the “malevolent midwife at the birth of the state” of Israel. Indeed, Beeley’s disingenuous prediction of a natural outcome between evenly-matched opposing forces never materialized as the Arabs found themselves subject to an international arms embargo, while Zionist forces benefited from the smuggling operations of the Haganah, tacitly approved by Washington and ignored by the UK.
Beeley’s ostensible justification was the need to avoid Soviet military aid to the Zionists, which paired well with the post-war British policy towards their former ally (itself fashioned by FPRS/FORD) and was a cornerstone of the Cold War policies, that would form the basis of the Atlanticist power paradigm in the latter part of the 20th century. It would also bolster the legend of Beeley as “Bevin’s pro-Arab Rasputin“, a charge made by Israeli diplomat, Abba Eban.
The master propagandist would manage to maintain a pro-Arab image well into the later stages of his diplomatic career, which culminated with his ambassadorship to the United Arab Republic (UAR) in the late 60s, a short lived alliance between Egypt and Syria.
Open Source Lies
Manipulation of public perception has come a long way since those days. The advent of the Internet has made the life of OSINT agents immeasurably simpler by funneling virtually all open source material through a single pipeline. In addition, the vast stream of granular data that now accompanies these materials through the various cyber surveillance tools makes OSINT a self-contained universe of narrative formation.
Today, OSINT is no longer limited to newspaper clippings, radio broadcasts or official state correspondence and, in many ways, it is no longer separate from clandestine intelligence gathering operations that were once the exclusive purview of the alphabet agencies like the CIA or the FBI. Much of that work has been steadily flowing to the private sector since the beginning of the century and the growth of Big Tech.
Israel has been on the cutting edge of this merger between open source intelligence and cybersecurity functions since the Western-infused creation of the so-called Startup Nation, which began in the 90s as American, British and European venture capital firms partnered with the state of Israel to provide seed funding for technology start-ups, focused mainly on surveillance and ICT (Information Communications Technology) tied to the Israeli defense industry.
On Monday, Israeli cybersecurity company, Cellebrite, which provides backdoor capabilities to law enforcement and military agencies globally – covered by Silicon Icarus and originally published by Mint Press News –, announced the acquisition of an Israeli OSINT company with a considerable pedigree in the open source intelligence space, which is somewhat concealed by a relatively recent name-change and CEO swap.
The company, now called Digital Clues, began its existence as 3i-Mind in 2007 as a part of the group of companies comprising AGT International, Inc. (Asia Global Technologies), a “public safety and security solutions” investment firm founded by controversial Israeli entrepreneur Matania “Mati” Kochavi, who was described by anti-Zionist Jewish blogger Richard Silverstein as “the Herzliya version of the old-fashioned arms dealer with a suit and MBA”. Herzliya is an affluent Tel Aviv suburb where Kochavi incorporated Logic, another AGT company that employs former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) generals, retired Mossad and Shin Bet officials.
In the searing profile, Silverstein details Kochavi’s rise from his association with New York real estate powerhouse Related Companies and his sputtering entrance into the security business in the wake of 9/11 as he tried to tap the massive security contractor budget of the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security. Kochavi, along with a seemingly interminable list, translated his experience in Israel’s infamous Unit 8200 “to the realms of global security and commerce”.
Through AGT, Kochavi would be the first to make inroads in the UAE long before the Abraham Accords. The Israeli would jump headfirst into the propaganda business with Vocativ, a “media and technology” company that would earn international ridicule with stories about ISIS infiltrating the Gaza Strip and outed as “a mouthpiece for Israel’s armed forces” by Pando in a scathing 2014 report. In 2017, one of its journalists penned a piece on Medium explaining why he left the company after it had suppressed a story about abuse he suffered at the hands of police during Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Since law enforcement is Kochavi’s main client base, this should come as no surprise. But, it should definitely give us pause when it comes to his increasing hold over private sector OSINT. Cellebrite’s acquisition of 3i-Mind, now Digital Clues, represents another step in this direction, since it is not so much a change of ownership as much as it is another building block for the implementation of the dubious wonders of data-driven capitalism.
From his scandal-ridden start in the early 2000s, Kochavi has successfully rebranded himself as “a pioneer in the fields of AI, IoT, and smart city solutions”, according to a recent article in CTech. As we’ve covered many times on Silicon Icarus, the constant surveillance and data-relay systems of smart cities and the IoT are vital elements in the emerging impact investment model, which is tied to the UN’s sustainable development goals and related digital twinning initiatives by organizations like the World Economic Forum.
Yali Harari, who took Kochavi’s place as 3i-Minds CEO after he moved on to lend his influential presence to other projects, is a venture partner at Chemi Peres’ Impact First Investments, a venture capital firm that invests in Israeli startups focused on impact investment. Peres is a board member of Sir Ronald Cohen’s Social Finance Israel (SFI), which is the leading social impact development project in Israel.
Cohen is, of course, intimately involved with the power centers of the UK government and was the point man in Gordon Brown’s government for the establishment of social finance protocols. Lest we fall victim to the narrative machinery that currently envelops us, seeking to divide and conquer through our opinions about events that are really beyond our control, understanding that it all boils down to power is a critical step we must take in order to see behind the curtain.
More than twenty years after collaborating with the OSS’ Ralph Bunche to fashion the UN’s role as an agent of Atlanticist power, Sir Harold Beeley was gaslighting the Arab world in the midst of an oil crisis and with elaborate and expensive celebrations of traditional Muslim culture, while the U.S. – its partner in crime – was making sure Israel had state-of-the-art missiles, fighter jets and nuclear weapons to build its present day apartheid state, while conspiring with British financial elites to implement a new oil-backed currency that has fueled the non-stop wars of the last half-century in the Middle East.
As long as we allow the story to be told by the servants of power, we cannot expect to understand each other or to organize a society truly designed for humans and we will deserve the machines they are building to encircle us in their abominable digital enclosures.