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Validating Germany's 'Islamic State' files

Confidential "Islamic State" files obtained by Germany have prompted a wider debate on their authenticity. DW spoke to the head of an intelligence consultancy to understand how security agencies could validate the data.

Intelligence consultancy Lowlands Solutions' CEO Tomas Olivier on Friday told DW that even if caches of "Islamic State" files do not lead to "actionable intelligence," they could fill in "intelligence gaps" regarding the militant group amid a wider conversation on the documents' validity.

"Even if it is outdated, and the fact the information might not lead to 'actionable intelligence' in their target-centric intelligence approach, the files might be used to work on a few intelligence gaps in order to strengthen the operational intelligence picture in, for instance, Iraq and Syria, or domestically for counterterrorism and 'counter-recruitment operations,'" Olivier said.

"The information could provide numerous intelligence agencies with possible information about new 'sources' and or the opportunity to penetrate the 'European IS-network,'" Olivier added.

On Monday, Munich-based newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" reported that Germany's Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) acquired thousands of files that detailed personal information on foreign fighters who joined the "Islamic State" militant group, including those from Germany.

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German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere confirmed the files' existence on Tuesday, saying they are "most likely authentic" and "show the thoroughness of this criminal organization." De Maiziere did not specify how Germany obtained the cache of files nor how long it was in authorities' possession.

Using SIGINT to authenticate data

Meanwhile, UK-based Sky News reported on Thursday that it obtained some 22,000 files also detailing personal information of the militant group's members, with the files' characteristics sharing similarities to those reported by "Süddeutsche Zeitung," including the type of information on the documents, such as a 23-question survey used as an "entrance interview" for new recruits.

The media reports prompted a wider conversation on the authenticity of the files and how much they could be trusted, with some analysts describing "inconsistencies and uncharacteristic language" used within the files.

However, Olivier told DW that intelligence agencies' most prominent indicator of the information's validity would be "the current, and real-time, surveillance" of the militant group's specific elements. Media coverage of the files "in itself triggers digital and cell-phone communication" between the group's members, which provides authorities with an opportunity to corroborate the data.

"Signal intelligence (SIGINT) - with the appropriate queries - is key at the moment in order to timely acquire some sort of authentication from within the organization. Or, like some analyst argue, conclude that most of the information is 'white noise,'" Olivier said.

Verifying militants

The information contained in the files was reportedly gathered by the militant group during "entrance interviews" given to new recruits, which included information regarding their education, family members and "so-called jihadist experience." But could the information be trusted at its inception?

Olivier told DW that many of the new recruits arriving in Syria and Iraq had already gone through a "process prior to arrival in the Middle East."

"There is indeed a thorough recruiting mechanism in which information might be verified by the organization. However, you have to be aware of the fact that although there are thousands of IS volunteers and foreign fighters, most of these individuals went through a shady, almost sectarian, national recruitment process prior to arrival in the Middle East," he noted.

"So prior to the 'entrance interview,' most recruits have already been validated by their 'environment.'"

According to domestic intelligence agencies, more than 600 German citizens have left to join the "Islamic State" in Syria and Iraq.

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