Social Media for Trade Sanction Enforcement?

So here’s a novel twist on Open Source Intelligence and using Social Media for good?  I read these articles and was kind of intrigued:

So, in response to international sanctions, the Iranians have told their national fleet of tankers (NITC) to turn off their transponders so no one can see where the oil is going.  Then they offer terms so favorable that buyers in China, India and the like are just too enticed to turn it down.  And the Western powers trying to cut off Iran’s oil revenues don’t know where all the oil is going.

So, as a pilot, I know a couple of things about turning off your transponder.

  1. It doesn’t make your plane invisible.
  2. It doesn’t make your plane invisible to radar, just makes you unidentified.
  3. Your plane still has to land somewhere.

I’m pretty sure the same is true for a ship that tips the scales at a quarter million deadweight tons, except for one other thing… there ain’t that many airports to choose from.  I don’t know the numbers, but the model’s pretty simple right?

So given the finite number of places that can offload an oil tanker, (100 in the world? 500?) And given that a chunk of those (half? less? more?) are in countries that are actively engaged in the sanctions and thus unlikely landing places, it would seem to me that the “free workforce” of camera-phone armed citizens could swing into action here.  How tough is it to spot a ship that runs a thousand feet from tip to tail, given it can only dock in one of a very small number of places?  I know some of the offload stations are offshore, but people on boats have cameras too right?

Whether social activists, ship-spotting hobbyists, or just people who think it might be fun to stick one to the social-media-crackdown-ing regime in Tehran, I would think that a viral campaign to engage users in those few hundred locations might trigger the occassional flickr upload or TwitPic, no?

OK, so I’m not sure about penetration of social media rates, mobile web access, and so on in some of those countries, and like I said, I know the larger ones may offload at an offshore pump station, but the beauty of the “Digital Water” model, where nearly every person and mobile device can become a sensor and witness, is that it literally only takes one person to provide a concrete update.  I mean, an ostracized regime goes to great pain and expense to maintain the flow of billions that keep them in power, and any yahoo with a camera phone can strike a blow for democracy  with a five-second upload? And the pic is probably geotagged and timestamped to boot? How awesome is that?!

Now if only there were some public source of information anyone could access where one could find the names and descriptions of the ships to be looking out for… hmmmmm…


Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are mine alone, and do not represent the views, policies or positions of Cyveillance, Inc. or its parent, QinetiQ-North America.  I speak here only for myself and no postings made on this blog should be interpreted as communications by, for or on behalf of, Cyveillance (though I may occasionally plug the extremely cool work we do and the fascinating, if occasionally frightening, research we openly publish.)





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