This weekend was a special win for autocrats in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Moscow, with Hong Kong and Russian elections predictably going in favour of the establishment parties. Additionally, a new tool to analyse and present OSINT maps on multiple frames at once is introduced, and a special project from OSINTEditor was publicly launched this week!

MapChannels: Dual Maps Presentation

Geolocation in OSINT will occasionally require utilising multiple maps and geographic reference points to identify a point of interest. Moreover, multiple illustrations make it easier to mentally visualise where something is occurring. However, operating multiple tabs at once, or even using multiple screens, can be cumbersome, and lacks optimal presentation for an audience. Dual Maps, a very straightforward name and tool, offers a solution to this by presenting multiple geographic perspectives in one image.

A few notes for using this tool – if you have an ad or tracker blocker on, it may not work. The tool used to be hosted elsewhere, and it is now on Map Channels. There are some annoyingly placed ads which offer a drawback. Scroll to the bottom of the page to arrive at the actual tool. Yet, there are some other very useful and intuitive navigation tools hosted on MapChannels to be discussed for another day.

The flexibility of customisability of Dual Maps is what makes it such an attractive tool. Initially the tool may not be very intuitive, so it will take some toggling and playing around with to get the right idea. There are options to place the map at a specific location, zoom height, type of map, one custom marker, and to alternate the heading and pitch of the secondary street view. The ‘Main Map Type’ and the ‘Alt Map Type’ are the most important function to understand right away. Upon clicking on ‘Create Dual Map’ a link is generated down below to the full map. The ‘Main Map Type’ will be controlled by the mousepad; thus, if the main map is a satellite view, scrolling the mouse will take the street view along, as well as the bottom info bar and aerial shots. There are many other options, so the best way to learn how to present OSINT maps is pushing the limits of Dual Maps. Click here for an example around the Space Needle.

Tanker War 2.0 by brO(OSINTEditor)

This is a special week on OSINTEditor for the debut of two projects in one: Tanker War 2.0, and the interactive GIS App NXN, created by brO, founder of OSINTEditor. The app and OSINT gathering behind this project have been in development for months; there is still more to come.

NXN is a GIS based software tool that allows for the creation of interactive stories on maps. GIS software is typically not intuitive, and can have a steep learning curve. Moreover, making intuitive stories as a part of public journalism, OSINT, or education is rarely the intention of ArcGIS or QGIS software. NXN fits the need for an intuitive tool by offering a ton of custom interfaces, and multiple pages/layers inside of one story. There is more to be developed for this, and while it is not available for public use right now, join the OSINTEditor team on Discord to talk about NXNand other collaborative OSINT projects!

The Tanker Wars 2.0, illustrated with NXN, is a massively underreported series of tit-for-tat attacks on Israeli/U.S. friendly oil tankers, and Iranian/Syrian friendly oil tankers. The incidents trace back to over two years ago. The article is a fantastic example of putting together Geographic OSINT, gathering news reports (including translated news), and reports from governments to establish connections between underreported and underexamined incidents.

Since this is technically promoting the brand where I am supposed to promote another article (it was a big reveal and launch, oblige me, please), here is Nathan Hunt’s start to the 3D recreation of Pyongyang’s new boxcar missile.

An Election Under Intimidation is Not an Election

Two autocratic regimes, the Russian Federation and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), both held elections this weekend. In the Russian elections, President Putin’s United Russia party took lead early, and will maintain that lead. In Hong Kong, the outcome at the time of writing is uncertain, although the election process was for ‘patriots only’, giving away the victor before the polling even started.

The Hong Kong elections are a bit more complicated than the Russian elections, which mirror ‘democracy’ even more than the three-step ‘patriotic’ Hong Kong election. (Take notes Mr. Putin!) Today’s elections are to elect the election committee who will elect 40 Legislative Council seats in December and the Chief Executive in March; all potential electees in those two elections will be vetted by Beijing. This replaces an even more complicated system, but one that allowed for pro-democracy candidates to take a sizeable number of seats that were democratically elected.

To make this weekend’s elections even more farcical, 6,000 officers were deployed to ensure the elections were conducted smoothly. Less than 6,000 people were approved to vote, and not all are expected to vote. On the same day, The League of Social Democrats veiled protest march was followed by likely undercover police officers, and the Confederation of Trade Unions – a pan-democratic union – revealed they are receiving more threats that may force them to disband.  

Meanwhile in Russia, the threats began before the election, and not to politicians, but to those who control the information. Apple and Google employees were both targeted with threats of prosecution unless they removed apps from Aleksei A. Navalny’s opposition party that were helping coordinate opposition voters. The threats come as Putin’s party reportedly felt unprecedented pressure to extend crackdowns on press and dissidents of any kind. Reports of police visiting opposition politicians are also surfacing.

While the more aggressive crackdowns on freedoms in Russia are not necessarily surprising, they are still shocking. More concerning, however, is Apple and Google’s quick acquiescence to the authoritarian crackdowns. Condemning Apple and Google is not entirely fair either, however, as the companies’ staff were under the threat of prosecution. The brazen attacks on companies that can control freedom are likely to be repeated elsewhere, and may continue to catch tech companies off-guard. For Apple, however, this comes only months after they were pressured into adding a list of state-approved apps that new iPhone owners in Russia must pre-download. The Russian Government, in general, has been exploring a more insular and ‘disconnected’ internet framework that could pose threats to the free access of information. There may likely need to be new ways formulated for activists to organise and push back against authoritarian regimes that do not rely on third-party stability.

Hong Kong District Council Election Map, 2019

From June through early November 2019, pro-Beijing politicians and commentators used the term ‘silent majority’ to delegitimise the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Then came the District Council elections, which were the only popular democratic elections in Hong Kong. The seats flipped dramatically from pro-Beijing to pan-democratic politicians. The map below offers this perspective. The New York Times article from that day by Rebecca Lai and Jin Wu offers another excellent visual. Moreover, Hong Kong’s government Electoral Affairs Commission offers an excellent GeoInfo overview selection for each of the district boundaries.

The District Council election day in 2019, however, was probably the height of the pro-democracy movement. Many Hong Kongers felt that the movement was legitimised that day and voices had been heard. Although this was not the victory, it was a huge step in the direction for activism. In the wake of everything that has happened since then regarding the National Security Law, slew of threats, and the above-mentioned Patriotic Elections, that day feels tragic. I remember the elation of that night when the final results for some close races came in; it was jubilant celebration of dreams of the activism to be done. I regret not documenting the day more, as it would be the last popular election held in Hong Kong; possible for ever. I hope as much as I remember it as a touchpoint for hope, Hong Kongers looking back remember the hopes and dreams they had that day, and can find a way to rekindle those in some small way.

Present OSINT Maps