Wednesday, January 09, 2019
When U.S. president Donald Trump flew unannounced to Iraq for his first-ever overseas visit with American troops on Wednesday, the secrecy didn't last long. Amateur plane-spotters tracked what they believed was Trump's Air Force One as it winged toward the Middle East under a false radio callsign. A photographer in the United Kingdom snapped a photo of the unmistakable, blue-and-white 747 jetting overhead, confirming the spotters' suspicion. The cat was out of the bag. Trump was on his way to Iraq. And civilian sleuths had demonstrated, once again, the power of readily-available tools to reveal covert military operations. In recent years the combination of the internet, cheap satellite imagery, powerful consumer cameras and the information demands of a global economy have given interested amateurs many of the same tools that, just a few decades ago, were the exclusive purview of military intelligence agents and government spies.
Taking advantage of plane- and ship-tracking websites, commercial satellite imagery, internet forums for aviation photographers and other social media, these amateurs have become a new kind of hybrid journalist and spy. They call their practice "open-source intelligence," or OSINT. The case of Trump's flight to Iraq is indicative of the tools available to these civilian detectives. Twitter user @ETEJSpotter, who describes themself as "tracking military movement over central Germany," apparently was one of the first to notice a plane early on Dec. 26 leaving Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, home of the U.S. Air Force's presidential transports.
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