Friday, March 13, 2009

Quick And Easy Translation Tool (Digital Inspiration via Lifehacker)

One of my favorite websites, Lifehacker, featured a post by one of my other favorite websites, Digital Inspiration, yesterday that shows you how to get one-click translation of virtually any website integrated into your browser.

The tool is the Translate This! bookmarklet. All you have to do is grab the bookmarklet from the Lifehacker page and then move it into the toolbar (see the screencast below).

Then, when you run across a website in a foreign language, you just click the button and the page is converted into a reasonable facsimile of a translation. The tool works by automatically identifying the language on the page to be translated and then using Google Translate to translate it to English.

I tried out with a Croatian language site and a Farsi language site and it seemed to work pretty well.

If you like this bookmarklet, there are many others available here, and here.

(Production Note: I made the screencast using a very easy, online sceencasting tool called Screencast-o-matic. It requires no download and is free to use as it is currently in beta).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

80+ Church Burglaries In 400 Days. Can You Help? (Crowdsourcing Analysis)

St. Paul, Minnesota has a problem. Over the last year or so, 80+ churches have been burglarized. The St. Paul Police Department has asked anyone with any information on the burglaries to call them and has, apparently, released some of the data regarding the thefts -- which gives us all an opportunity to help.

I was first alerted to this opportunity by the blog Entropic Memes, which has done quite a bit to get the word out. The success of Jeff Carr's Grey Goose project and Mercyhurst's students own effort with the DNI's Open Source Challenge suggested that this was also a project that was perfect for some sort of "crowdsourcing" effort (i.e. giving it to lots of people and seeing what they could do with it).

The only piece missing seemed to be a platform around which the information and analysis could congregate. I contacted a couple of people at Dagir Co. to see if they could help. Dagir is a new company that is in the business of providing solutions to tactical and operational analytic problems for business and law enforcement. I had seen some of Dagir's custom analytic tools and knew they had the skills to pull a collaborative analytic platform together quickly.
  • Full disclosure: Dagir is run by Mercyhurst grads. I had many of them in my classes while they were here. I thought I was calling in a favor but when they heard the reason why, they were more than happy to contribute their time and expertise.

The guys at Dagir actually built two platforms for us to use. The first is a loosely structured wiki where anyone who has a few minutes to spare can help. Simple things like plotting the location of a church that HAS NOT been burglarized or reading and commenting on the one of the ongoing analytic discussions would add value to the product.

More sophisticated analysis is also possible through the second tool, an interactive geospatial analysis tool that permits the user to play with the data in a variety of interesting ways (the picture above is a screenshot of the tool). Want to search for only those burglaries that involved forced entry through a window? You can do that. Want to see how the pattern of burglaries emerge across time? You can do that, too. The Dagir team has even put up a "How-to" section on the wiki for those that really want to explore the power of this geospatial analytic tool.

The wiki platform also allows people who want to contribute to the project to upload any analysis (sophisticated or otherwise) or just plain information that might be of use to the rest of us. It really is a flexible set of tools (I was also glad to see the Dagir guys settled on Wikispaces as the wiki platform of choice. It is a very easy to learn wiki platform).

Even if you can't find the time to help analyze the data, watching the project evolve from this point should be an interesting case study in how these kinds of efforts work and how they might be improved in the future. It could also be an interesting classroom extra credit assignment for those who are interested in crime mapping or collaborative analysis.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

List Of 300 Alleged Iranian Intelligence Officers ( via

Open Source Info has recently published a translated (and abbreviated) version of an article by a Croatian blogger/journalist writing at which purports to "out" 300 Iranian intelligence agents who received visas from the Bosnian embassy in Tehran to travel to Bosnia.

What makes the article particularly interesting is that it makes the list of 300 "agents" publicly available for download (the good people at Open Source Info have also uploaded the file to EmbedIt so you can view the 21 page document online). The screenshot below gives you a feel for what the document actually looks like. It is a real eye chart which is why I strongly recommend you download it or view the EmbedIt file if you are interested in actually being able to see the content.

With apologies to my Serbian and Croatian teachers, the first column appears to be some sort of internal tracking number, the second column is the name of the person, the third column is the date of birth, the fourth column is the place of birth and the fifth column is the country of birth. The sixth column is a "PI" number -- maybe a passport number -- and the seventh column is the "agreement number" (whatever that means, though it may be date related). Column 8 is the type of visa issued while column 9 is the dates the visa is valid from and to. The final column is the place the person either entered or intended to enter into Bosnia (the context is unclear to me).

The source of this data is un-named (of course) but the author implies that the source knew that the people listed in this document are agents travelling, the author claims, as "athletes, scientists, writers, [and] cultural workers."

My own experience with the press in the Balkans suggests that this is either spectacularly right or spectacularly wrong -- with special emphasis on the word "spectacle". Sometimes the stuff that comes out of southeast Europe makes the Weekly World News sound tame. At the same time, Iran and Bosnia share a complicated history dating back, at least, to the Balkan Wars of the 1990's.

From my perspective, it is a good case study in the strengths and weaknesses of open sources. Such a document would never have had such a wide dissemination without the internet but the mere fact that it is on the internet has to give one serious pause as to its authenticity.

As an interesting side experiment, I decided to use Dax Norman's work on evaluating the credibility of a website to see what a more objective analysis might come up with. I was very conservative in my scoring and the site scored as one with low credibility. Had I been even a bit more liberal with my scoring, it would have come in at the medium level. I recommend the experiment to anyone who is interested. You can find the tools to do it and the research to back it up on Dax's website.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Intel Project Earns Kudos From Iraqis (

Dan Mulligan, who teaches competitive and business intelligence here at Mercyhurst, just got back from a year in Iraq. The army put Dan to good use while he was there and he worked with the Intelligence Transition Team supporting the Iraqi Minister of Defense's Directorate General for Intelligence and Security.

As a result of these connections, students in my fall Strategic Intelligence class had a tremendous opportunity: Do a strategic intelligence project and present it to Iraqi analysts for feedback. The projects (using only open sources, of course) examined Middle Eastern governments in the region and their reaction to events unfolding in Iraq. The students, via teleconference, presented thieir findings in late November to Dan and several of the analysts in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

It was an extraordinary opportunity and the students took full advantage of it. They worked hard and put together a visually and analytically compelling product. The Iraqis were very generous with their time and the feedback given to the students was professional and positive. Everyone got something out of the experience.

It was, however, an enormous surprise and honor when Dan came back from Baghdad last month carrying with him Certificates of Appreciation signed by Mr. Stephen Bond, the Director of the Intelligence Transition Team and Major General Bakhtyar Thahir Al-Brazanchi from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense for all of the students who participated in the project.

Congratulations to all of the students who earned these Certificates!

Next-Gen Librarians

I had the tremendous good fortune to get an invite from Dr. Katherine Shelfer to come to St. John's University in New York to speak to a group of graduate students studying to become the next generation of librarians.

I know, I know. That sounds weird, but apparently these librarians "get it" and are moving fairly decisively to re-vamp their discipline for the 21st Century and beyond.

I am not sure how effective my speech was but I was massively impressed with the students in this program and the philosophy behind it. With substantial help from a variety of government agencies, the program has gone out of its way to recruit people from all walks of life -- people who are looking to change carreers.

I spoke with lawyers and stock brokers and editors. All were information junkies (obviously) and all were seriously considering the transformation of the "library" as we know it.

Many (if not all) of the students I spoke with are attending St. John's on a full ride scholarship. The program also provides free laptops and other assistance with regards to conference fees and what have you.

One of the most interesting things was to have a chance to compare notes with what amounted to some really great OSINT collectors. Not sure if you could hire any of these people (there is a job, apparently, waiting for most if not all of them when they are done -- the average age of a librarian is close to 50 and some enormous number of them are retiring in the next 36 months) but, boy, if you did, you would acquire some unique and very impressive talent.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

SAM Soundtrack: Ukulele Zo (YouTube)

Ever since Warren Buffet was outed (as a very good ukulele player...), it seems that YouTube has been flooded with a surprisingly good selection of ukulele videos. Ukulele Zo is one of my favorites and this is her entry for a world competition (Who woudda guessed?) of ukulele music.

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