June 17, 2024

How OSINT gatherers come to conclusions

An Australian defence analyst says it’s highly unlikely, “but not impossible” that the Israeli Defence Force caused a hospital explosion in Gaza that’s said to have killed many people.

An explosion occurred at al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza on Tuesday. Hamas says the explosion was an “horrific massacre” while others say it was a failed Hamas rocket launched nearby.

Nathan Ruser is an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, who’s been using publicly available evidence to watch Syria, China and Ukraine for human rights violations.

He’s part of a growing worldwide community of so-called “open-sourced intelligence” (OSINT) analysts who have provided near instant evaluation of events deep inside conflict zones.

OSINT experts, for example, provide daily and sometime hourly commentary on Ukraine–Russia war with evaluation of munitions, where and when they were manufactured, artillery and weapon descriptions, and analysis of operations.

Nathan Ruser

Ruser has been using OSINT – photos and videos from the ground, and occasionally satellite images – to watch developments in countries in conflict, and China.

“For the past three years or so we’ve been monitoring Western China where they have built massive internment camps in Xinjiang” Ruser told Cosmos.

He’s also been watching for human rights violations in Syria and Ukraine.

OSINT gatherers are not forensic investigators, although many have an analytic or defence background.

He came to a conclusion fairly early that there were doubts about Hamas explanation for the explosion.

“The crucial thing was after daybreak journalists and reporters were able to visit the site,” she says, in describing how he was able to make a quick evaluation of the Gaza explosion.

 “It was quickly clear the scale and method of destruction didn’t match the reports coming overnight.

“The main damage was not consistent with a conventional Israeli military airstrike which would have left a crater many metres wide and deep.”

Photographic images posted by the media to social websites seem to show a courtyard with burnt out vehicles. There doesn’t appear to be evidence of a large crater; blood or body parts; and the walls around the courtyard appear all but undamaged.


“The damage in the courtyard appeared to be by fire, not an explosion, a fire fuelled by a large amount of accelerant,” says Ruser.

“The damage of the windows was not consistent with large radius kinetic explosive damage.”

However, he says there is no evidence to suggest an Israel missile caused the damage. “The more evidenced, more straightforward and more plausible scenario that it was a misfiring weapon from Hamas, is far more likely. Especially lacking is evidence of Israeli munition fragments.”

Ruser says it is impossible to rule anything out using the open-source material, for example that the damage might have come from an Israeli anti-personnel munition which hit the parking lot and exploded a large amount of fuel on the ground.

“But it is unlikely the hospital would have been storing a large amount of fuel in the carpark.”

Many online analysts have said the small crater in the courtyard has a clear shape which explains that the rocket came from the west-southwest, but Ruser discounts this theory, instead preferring to believe that the rocket failed in mid-air and spun as it fell to the ground.

“Impact evaluation is not particularly useful because it seems the rocket had not reached its parabolic arc, instead blowing up and falling in an uncontrolled fashion.

“We found this a lot in Ukraine where the shape of the crater was often uncorrelated with its source direction.” 



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