The Russian invasion of Ukraine is providing stark evidence, with every passing minute, of the growing reach and capability of OSINT: Open Source INTelligence.  From real-time video of Ukrainian Territorial Forces ambushing Russian tanks and of Russians killing civilians to debunking of Russian propaganda images to tracking of Oligarch’s yachts, open source material rivals — and likely often is faster (in discovering and communicating) and potentially more accurate — than traditional intelligence systems. Just as with traditional intelligence tools, one of the hardest OSINT issues is separating wheat from chaff, distinguishing deceit from factual information, and assessing information for understanding. (The “IAI” cycle: information assessed to provide intelligence to support decision-making.)   With a serious caveat of questioning ‘is this factual information about jet movements’ and ‘is the assessment of that information, if true, accurate”, (and, to be clear, see discussion of potential false alarm toward end of the post), it appears possible that Putin might have Russian elite moving to nuclear shelters.

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So, these are Russian Air Force transportation aircraft moving from Moscow with their civilian transponders on such that the movements can be tracked and traced. First off, what does it mean that Russian Air Force transports are moving around in wartime with their civilian transponders on? Does this mean that these aren’t sensitive flights or, well, are they truly sensitive and not turning off the transponders is a means to confuse opponents about the importance of the flights?

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In any event, there seem to be numerous transport flights moving from Moscow. What to assess from this information?  Is this movement of Putin’s inner circle (to the extent there is anyone and anything “inner” with Putin) to nuclear shelters?

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Now, just like his villa on the Spanish coast and monstrous palace near Sochi, not surprising that Putin has rather fancy nuclear shelters for himself and those he fancies:

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there has been a lot of talk about bunkers, but few will have considered something as luxurious as Vladimir Putin‘s location.

The Russian president is believed to have sent his close family to his bunker in Siberia, located in the district of Ongudaysky, close to the borders of Russia with Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. That will provide a safe haven for Putin‘s closest relatives should a nuclear attack hit Russia.

Caution before hysteria: is this a FALSE ALARM?

Nuclear warfare that could essentially erase human civilization has been looming over humanity for about the past 70 years. For decades, this has been a back-burner issue for most (even in the traditional security issue) with a sense of lowered risk. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and clear (can one called them thinly veiled) threats of nuclear weapons use radically changed that equation and put nuclear war as a terrifyingly viable (even if low probability) path.  Hearing that Putin might be sending people to nuclear bunkers certainly adds to those concerns.  However, we should pay attention to “might be” as there is far from clarity as to what is actually occurring (it isn’t as if there are Russian Civil Defense alarms going off sending people to bunkers and images of key personnel locking themselves behind 10 foot think steel doors).  As there is alarm on Twitter, there is also caution:

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“False alarm for now” is certainly the most hopeful assessment of these movements. That we need to even consider the potential that it isn’t a false alarm is an indication of the knife edge we are living in, with this path truly controlled by a megalomaniacal dictator.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

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