Small Wars Journal

London Riots: Decentralized Intelligence Collection and Analysis

Tue, 08/09/2011 - 5:49pm

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The purpose of this paper is to comment on one of the developments arising from the current riots in the United Kingdom, where a website has been set up so that the public can identify those involved and report them to the Police. The use of modern technology to identify insurgents could be a response to the lack of working censuses in many areas where stability operations are conducted, seen by some observers as a major weakness.

The central idea is to tell friend from foe, or in classical Maoist terminology, fish from the water, using some of the widely available tools which, on the other hand, seem to be used to spread the violence in the UK.

The use of a website to spread pictures of violent incidents and have the perpetrators identified by the population would be a way to plug a gap in police capabilities, since the British authorities are unlikely to have the necessary manpower and knowledge to do so on their own.

This is why we can talk of "decentralized intelligence collection and analysis."

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About the Author(s)

Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan), focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. A member of Taiwan's South China Sea Think-Tank and CIMSEC (The Center for International Maritime Security), he tweets at Alex__Calvo and his work can be found at



Wed, 08/24/2011 - 12:44pm

I am wary of this article simply as it was written so soon after the rioting and looting. My contention is that much of what really happened is not known yet, indeed may not be revealed in forthcoming trials, the official police investigation and any public enquiry.

Secondly whatever the media focus the 'criminal insurgency' was very limited, to a few English cities, notably London, Manchester and Birmingham. It lasted effectively only a few days, two or three outside London.

There is nothing new in the difficulties facing law enforcement in matching information to identifiable suspects. If anything the current issue, say in London for example, it is the sheer volume and pace.

Technology is available for matching facial images, have a look at the system used by Facebook for example (which is Israeli in origin I believe). Or this report on the BBC:

Yes, the UK has the reputation for having CCTV cameras in profusion and this post-riot comment indicates concern over their value:…

Incidentally the author cites that CCTV captured the Malaysian student robbery, wrong; it was hand-held video, possibly from a mobile phone held out of window. An arsonist in Manchester was captured on a mobile phone, the footage being uplifted onto the web and his face captured perfectly. So enabling his rapid arrest and being charged.

My own estimate is that the police will identify and arrest at the most 20% of those involved in the looting in one city (not London). Whether that is enough for public policy is a moot point.

A lot has been made of the function Twitter and alternative social networking websites took part in spreading the continuing riots in London and alternative areas of the U.K.. But Twitter and Facebook are also taking a vigorous role in the recovery efforts as hundreds of volunteers rally to basically clean up the streets. Source for this article: <a title="Londoners gather for riot cleanup effort" href="">Londoners gather for riot cleanup effort</a>

Adam Neira

Fri, 08/12/2011 - 4:59am

All behaviour is a result of mindset and setting. It is up to the leaders in a nation to reform settings so that certain positive behaviours are encouraged. The role of an intelligence service is to protect the people from internal and external threats. At the end of the day however the citizens of a nation hold the most power. By empowering one's populace you actually decrease the need for top down management of security as people feel included in the social process. People will accept fair, reasonable guidance and leadership. There is not much that could have been done to prevent the riots in England by the intelligence agencies and things have calmed down greatly since Monday. Citizen initiatives like the "Anti-Riot Cup of Tea" Facebook campaign could also be replicated by pro-active and dynamic intelligence agencies to mitigate future outbreaks of violence.