NATO Using Twitter To Transmit Bombing Coordinates

Mark. HRI

NATO has disclosed some ways they use twitter according to a report released by AFP (posted below).

NATO has made three statements regarding their use of Twitter.

Firstly Wing Commander Mike Bracken has stated that NATO gets information from “open sources on the internet, we get Twitter,” which is a surprise to no one.

More interesting is that NATO officials have stated:

1) Libyans have been providing information in tweets regarding troop movements
2) NATO Intelligence monitor twitter to identify targets

There are a few points to make about this:

A) These activities run the risk of blurring the distinction between combatants and the civilian population which can endanger the general civilian population.

B) Regarding 1) – it isn’t stated whether these Libyans are combatants (integrated in the militia) or civilian, but its worth noting that civilians who engage directly in combat – which would include providing targeting information – would run a risk of being placed in the unfortunate category of “unlawful combatants” and facing criminal liability for their actions. Just to note, even if they were placed in this category, they should still be treated humanely but they might not be granted POW status.

C) States using civilians in violation of the law of war will be in breach of their responsibility under that law.

In a conflict ostensibly aimed at protecting civilians, which will doubtless inform the way future conflicts are conducted, consideration needs to be given to these issues.

Tweets tip off NATO on potential Libya air raids

BRUSSELS — Twitter as a weapon of war? NATO has scrambled warplanes against Moamer Kadhafi’s forces after Libyans tweeted troop movements on the micro-blogging website, alliance officials said.

Twitter and Facebook are among a wide range of media and other sources NATO’s intelligence officers monitor around-the-clock to identify potential targets in the air war against Kadhafi’s troops, the officials said.

“We will take information from every source we can,” said British Wing Commander Mike Bracken, the Libya operation’s military spokesman. “We get information from open sources on the Internet, we get Twitter.”

A NATO official said Libyans have been tweeting from the rebel-held city of Misrata, Ajdabiya and Tripoli, providing information ranging from movements of troops and tank columns to shellings of towns and fleeing refugees.

“Twitter is a great source,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The official stressed that any information gleaned from the website is checked against other more reliable sources such as satellite imagery and other traditional intelligence gathering before any jets are deployed.

“On their own they don’t represent a reliable source but they do help to draw attention to emerging issues or threats that can be checked out with more sophisticated means,” the official added.

The United Nations mandate that authorised that NATO mission in Libya forbids the presence of ground troops, forcing the alliance to rely on other sources of information.

Copyright © 2011 AFP.