Open-source intelligence in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine

Use of publicly available information for military strategy
Russian invasion units established by OSINT-intelligence of Russian social networks by Informnapalm group

The role of open-source intelligence (OSINT) in response to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine has attracted significant attention.[1][2][3][4][5][6]


Open-source intelligence (also known by its acronym OSINT) refers to the gathering and analysis of intelligence based on publicly available sources of information.

2022 invasion

In the early hours of 24 February, just before the start of the invasion, OSINT researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey used Google Maps to track a significantly large traffic jam on a road in Russia leading to the Ukrainian border. Jeffrey Lewis subsequently tweeted "someone’s on the move." An hour later, Russian troops began the invasion.[7][8]

Netherlands-based investigative journalism group Bellingcat has published interactive maps of destroyed civilian targets and has worked on authenticating potential documentation of war crimes.[9][10][11] In July 2022, Bellingcat was banned as an undesirable organisation by the Russian government, with the Prosecutor-General of Russia saying that it posed "a threat to the security of the Russian Federation."[12]

Oryx gained international prominence through its work during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, counting and keeping track of material losses based on visual evidence and OSINT from social media.[13][14][15] It has been regularly cited in major media, including Reuters,[16] BBC News,[17] The Guardian,[18] The Economist,[19] Newsweek,[20] CNN,[21] and CBS News.[22] Forbes has called Oryx "the most reliable source in the conflict so far", calling its services "outstanding".[23][24][25] Because it reports only visually confirmed losses, Oryx's tallies of equipment losses have formed absolute minimum baselines for loss estimates.[26][23]

The Free Buryatia Foundation, which was founded in opposition to the invasion, has used open-source intelligence to try and track the number of Buryats killed in action in Ukraine. As of April 2022, the Foundation has estimated that around 2,8% of Russian casualties were Buryat, one of the highest death tolls among the Russian federal republics.[27]

OSINT groups have also used tools such as facial recognition apps to try and identify perpetrators of war crimes, such as the Bucha massacre.[28]


The sharing of open-source intelligence on social media has raised ethical concerns, including over the sharing of graphic images of bodies and of potentially military-sensitive data.[29] Matthew Ford of the University of Sussex has noted that "Ukrainians fear such images will reveal their tactics, techniques, and procedures," and that Ukrainians have therefore undertaken a degree of self-censorship.[30] Concerns have also been raised about the potential dissemination of misinformation, such as through fake accounts posing as insider sources.[31]

See also


  1. ^ Moran, Matthew (18 March 2022). "Open-source intelligence: how digital sleuths are making their mark on the Ukraine war". The Conversation. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  2. ^ Schwartz, Leo (7 March 2022). "Amateur open-source researchers went viral unpacking the war in Ukraine". Rest of the World. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  3. ^ Wise, Jeff (4 March 2022). "The DIY Intelligence Analysts Feasting on Ukraine". NYMag. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  4. ^ Faife, Corin (23 February 2022). "Twitter accounts sharing video from Ukraine are being suspended when they're needed most". The Verge. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  5. ^ "What is open-source intelligence – and how is it helping to map the Ukraine war?". The Week. 10 March 2022. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  6. ^ Perrigo, Billy (24 February 2022). "How Open Source Intelligence Became the World's Window Into the Ukraine Invasion". TIME.
  7. ^ Aldhous, Peter (2 March 2022). "How Open-Source Intelligence Is Helping Clear The Fog Of War In Ukraine". Buzzfeed News. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  8. ^ Vincent, James (28 February 2022). "Google disables Maps traffic data in Ukraine to protect citizens". The Verge. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  9. ^ Basu, Tanya (16 March 2022). "The online volunteers hunting for war crimes in Ukraine". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  10. ^ "Investigative Group Publishes Map Of Destroyed Civilian Targets In Ukraine". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 19 March 2022. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  11. ^ Vick, Karl (9 March 2022). "Bellingcat's Eliot Higgins Explains Why Ukraine Is Winning the Information War". TIME.
  12. ^ "Russia Bans Bellingcat, Insider as 'Undesirable' Orgs". The Moscow Times. 15 July 2022. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  13. ^ Wasielewski, Philip. "Appraising the War in Ukraine and Likely Outcomes". Foreign Policy Research Institute. Foreign Policy Research Institute. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  14. ^ Lendon, Brad (29 April 202). "Russia's tanks in Ukraine have a 'jack-in-the-box' design flaw. And the West has known about it since the Gulf war". CNN. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  15. ^ "Russia is failing in its war aims' in Ukraine: US". aljazeera. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  16. ^ "Fact Check-No evidence photo shows a Ukrainian soldier who 'blew up 52 Russian tanks'". Reuters. 19 April 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022. Oryx, a closely watched military blog which tallies both sides' losses based on verifiable visual evidence
  17. ^ "Ukraine conflict: Why is Russia losing so many tanks?". BBC News. 11 April 2022.
  18. ^ Sabbagh, Dan (6 April 2022). "As Ukraine war enters new phase, can western arms turn the tide?". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  19. ^ "How Ukraine is winning the drone-jamming war". The Economist.
  20. ^ Carbonaro, Giulia (27 April 2022). "Russia Unable To Fight Another War After Catastrophic Military Losses". Newsweek. Retrieved 4 May 2022.; Carbonaro, Giulia (28 April 2022). "Russia's Colossal Tank Losses in Ukraine Are Due to This Fatal Design Flaw". Newsweek. Retrieved 4 May 2022.; Cole, Brendan (6 April 2022). "Russian Tanks Already Rusting in Ukraine, Photo Shows". Newsweek. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  21. ^ Lendon, Brad (29 April 2022). "Russia's tanks in Ukraine have a 'jack-in-the-box' design flaw. And the West has known about it since the Gulf war". CNN. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  22. ^ "Why Russia keeps losing so many armored vehicles in Ukraine: "It's finders keepers for these farmers"". CBS News. 23 April 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  23. ^ a b Hambling, David (26 April 2022). "How Heavy Are Russian Losses, And What Does It Mean For Their Offensive?". Forbes. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  24. ^ Axe, David (30 April 2022). "The 'Ghost Of Kyiv,' Who Was Never Real, Just Got Killed In The Press". Forbes. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  25. ^ "Ukraine is Knocking Increasing Numbers of Russian Drones Out of the Sky — with Help from Russian Corruption". Forbes.
  26. ^ Peck, Michael (5 April 2022). "Russia Is Exaggerating Ukraine's Military Losses". Forbes. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  27. ^ Shcherbakova, Irina (27 April 2022). "'This War Is a Vampire': Buryat Activists Protest Ukraine Invasion". The Moscow Times. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  28. ^ "Open source intelligence methods are being used to investigate war crimes in Ukraine".
  29. ^ "As grisly images spread from Ukraine, open-source researchers ask what's too gory to share". 2 May 2022.
  30. ^ "Open Source Intelligence May be Changing Old-School War". Wired UK.
  31. ^ "How internet sleuths exposed a celebrity "volunteer soldier" in Ukraine as a fraud". 15 July 2022.
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