Monday, March 13, 2017

Learn IMINT? Stop Looting? Yep, It's Been A Good Day!

Can you see the signs of antiquities looting in the picture to the right?

I think I can.  Left of the main road there appear to be three looting pits.  I also think I see some more pits to the right of the road at the base of the first row of small hills.  They might be vegetation but the shadowing and the distribution suggest looting - at least to me.

How did I learn to spot looting pits?  I joined the GlobalXplorer Project!

Here's how National Geographic's GlobalXplorer Project describes itself:
"GlobalXplorer is an online platform that uses the power of the crowd to analyze the incredible wealth of satellite images currently available to archaeologists. Launched by 2016 TED Prize winner and National Geographic Fellow, Dr. Sarah Parcak, as her “wish for the world,” GlobalXplorer aims to bring the wonder of archaeological discovery to all, and to help us better understand our connection to the past. So far, Dr. Parcak’s techniques have helped locate 17 potential pyramids, in addition to 3,100 potential forgotten settlements and 1,000 potential lost tombs in Egypt — and she's also made significant discoveries in the Viking world and Roman Empire."
In order to accomplish this mission, the GlobalXplorer Project puts you through a brief  tutorial that teaches you how to spot looting of archaeological sites.  It then unleashes you and other members of the project onto a dataset of thousands of satellite photographs of Peru like the one above.  

Your answer to the question "Is there looting going on in this picture?" is then compared with hundreds of other answers from different people looking at the same picture.  Pretty quickly the crowd forms a consensus that allows project managers to focus scarce local enforcement and preservation resources.

GlobalXplorer, like the Satellite Sentinel Project and other non-profit efforts, takes advantage of aerial imagery and imagery analysis techniques formerly familiar to only highly trained intelligence professionals.  In so doing, GlobalXplorer also creates an excellent tool for exposing intelligence studies students to some of the tradecraft of the modern imagery analyst.

I recently used the project in precisely this way in a class I am teaching called Collection Operations for Intelligence Analysts.  The course is designed to expose analysts to the difficulties inherent in many modern collection operations.  My hope is that by knowing more about collectors and what they do, the students will become better analysts - and maybe catch a few grave robbers in the process!