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Suspended OSINT handles back on Twitter, trash claims they exposed IAF during Balakot

Justin Peden, a US-based student who runs @IntelCrab, said the way Twitter suspended the OSINT handles gave rise to suspicion about the use of a bot network.

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New Delhi: Two of the prominent open-source intelligence (OSINT) handles suspended by Twitter for “violating Indian laws” are now back in action, with one of them alleging that India used a bot network to report them and their tweets en masse.

The handles, @IntelCrab and @ELINTNews, had put out details of Indian military aircraft, other than fighters, during the India-Pakistan standoff on 26 and 27 February — the day of the Balakot strikes and Pakistan’s retaliatory action respectively — leading to concerns that the aircraft were put at risk.

The fact is that neither the Pakistani nor Indian air defence systems need open source information to find out where the enemy aircraft is. The Indian defence establishment also follows most of these handles to retain a 360 degree view of social media.

Media reports, such as this in Deccan Chronicle, had accused certain Twitter handles of being run by Pakistan’s ISI, based on the claims of Hyderabad-based media house GreatGameIndia, which has now alleged it was the Indian Army that had ordered the crackdown on the handles.

Indian officials expressed ignorance about any such move.


Notices and ‘bot network’

In a letter to @ELINTNews, Twitter had said the handle had been suspended because it had received “official correspondence” about it. “The correspondence claims that your account and the following tweet is in violation of Indian law,” the letter said.

However, Justin Peden, a student in Tennessee, USA, who runs @IntelCrab, told ThePrint that Twitter has now informed him that his handle, as well as others, were suspended for “cross-posting”. @ELINTNews and numerous other accounts also received legal notices.

Another recipient of the Twitter notice was 21-year-old Ryan Barenklau, director of Strategic Sentinel, a strategic affairs website. Barenklau’s focus is primarily on Crimea and North Korea, but in May, GreatGameIndia had claimed his account was part of a Pakistani disinformation ring.

Peden said on the notices: “Not sure about everyone else, but the email Strategic Sentinel was sent contained completely random URLs. Some tweets were not even about OSINT, news, or anything topical.”

@ELINTNews, which is also run by a student from the UK, received a similar notice from Twitter Friday, citing harmless tweets about Sudan, Syria and recent developments in the Gulf of Oman. “They had nothing to do with India and Pakistan,” he told The Daily Beast.

Peden said these notices could’ve been the result of the action of a bot network.

“This has led many of us to believe that these tweets were randomly reported en masse by some sort of bot network. The fact that we were both banned for a vague offence at the exact same time is beyond odd,” he said.

Asked if posting information available on open source was putting the Indian Air Force’s assets at risk, Peden said: “I understand how concerning it looks, but it should be noted that the data I share is not live. FlightRadar24 does not stream pure, live data. There is a slight delay, and by the time everything is posted online, 10 minutes has easily passed between its original location and its current location.

“It takes about two minutes to access this information, and can be accessed by anyone; including combatants.”

GreatGameIndia’s stand

ThePrint asked GreatGameIndia co-founder and editor Shelley Kasli if it had erred in collecting data about such Twitter handles in the past, and he replied: “The article published by the Deccan Chronicle did not have any case studies. What we have done is identify the false information being put out. Our main focus was the Pakistani handles which were putting out wrong information.”

When told that some of the handles were actually run by college students abroad, Kasli said: “The degree of their involvement can be questioned but some of these handles were retweeting the information put out by the suspicious Pakistani handles.”

Also read: Why Twitter suspended the handle of Indian Army’s Kashmir-based Chinar Corps


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