Merlin, NATO's new information tool

(B2) The tool is not yet fully implemented. But the first results prove it. It is already performing well. At least its designers are quite proud of it.

© NGV/B2

Internet: the new battleground

It all started with an observation. While the Internet and social networks have become a field of conflict, the Atlantic Alliance did not really have an instrument to understand the phenomena taking place there.

Crimea's media defeat

For example, during the annexation of Crimea, and Russia's offensive in eastern Ukraine, " we realized that, long before the Russian intervention [in Crimea], there were movements on social networks, on sites, to justify the Russian presence in the Ukrainian peninsula. Ditto for eastern Ukraine. The 'long before' is not counted in days, but in weeks. From the beginning of Maidan. A sort of psychological preparation in a way, aimed at conditioning the adversary, at convincing him that acting is useless.

Objective: to maintain the superiority of knowledge

NATO, which was then surprised by Russia, no longer wants to repeat such an impasse. The Alliance Transformation Command (ACT) has developed a tool – called 'Merlin' – in conjunction with a US government agency specializing in data analysis. Objective: to have a perception of the information exchanged on the Internet and social networks and to maintain NATO's cognitive superiority. That is to say the possibility of fully understanding the issues and thus of acting ahead of a crisis… and not afterwards.

A learning device

This prototype was developed with artificial intelligence. But he is still learning. " We configure certain countries, certain areas, certain types of subjects that we want to follow. Concretely, each item or word that is entered into the machine is carefully scrutinized. This makes it possible to detect the rise in power (the number of hits) somewhere on the web of an item, to analyze its evolution over hours or days, or at the geographical level. It does not matter the form of the message or the instrument used: news, blog posts, tweets, messages on Instagram or on other social networks. The resumption by several hundred twitter accounts of the same message is an indicator.

A device adapted to each HQ

Each NATO headquarters will then be able to access the information according to its center of interest. Naturally the HQ (JFC) in Naples (Italy) will be more captivated by what is happening in the South, in the Middle East, in the Mediterranean. While the HQ (JFC) of Brunssum (Netherlands) will be more interested in what is happening in the North zone. THE " main challenge "remains however that" the information environment is changing enormously. We must constantly adapt the system. says one of the system's designers. " You have to be sure to capture everything you need ". Important clarification: there is no personal collection. " It's not Cambridge Analytica here “, he jokes.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, in Norfolk)

This article is part of a series on instruments developed by NATO's Innovation Lab. It follows the visit to the ACT command carried out at the end of September.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).