At SynMax, we find ourselves using the term ‘actionable’ to describe our intelligence products on a daily basis, not because we like the way it sounds, but because we want to emphasize the importance of the distinction.
For intelligence to be deemed ‘actionable,’ it must meet basic requirements. It must be more than just a prediction or unsubstantiated dot on a map; it has to clearly represent the objective, provable, and unclassified ground truth. Corporations and governments can’t be held accountable based on predictive algorithms; they can on evidentially attributed imagery. At SynMax, we define our intelligence products by the practical benefits and tangible results they offer the end user.
Our expert team comprises data scientists, engineers, remote-sensing specialists, and ex-Five Eyes intelligence professionals, bringing decades of experience at the forefront of their respective fields. By adopting an integrated approach in the design, build, and continuing development of our intelligence platforms, SynMax created products with the analyst’s experience a priority throughout.
Unverified, out-of-date, or insubstantial intelligence is sometimes worse than useless. Before action can be taken to sanction a shipping company, complete an energy trade, or board a vessel suspected of smuggling, decision-makers need to know if the intelligence they are using is a possible or a probable: a nice to know or a need to know.
Currently, vessels are tracked using signals intelligence (SIGINT), such as automatic identification system (AIS) or radio frequency (RF) data analysis. Neither is infallible, with AIS data regularly falling foul of spoofing activity, and both RF and AIS capable of being switched off entirely to avoid detection by dark vessel operators.
With intelligence derived from SIGINT alone, analysts cannot be sure that they see all of the players in the picture, or that the data they use hasn’t been compromised- both doubly true when tracking ships at sea. Once a vessel passes out of sight of land, without imagery, verifying whether a broadcast position is the ground truth becomes impossible. Theia changes this.
Seismic changes in global politics following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 have ushered in a new maritime relations and transportation era. Once the wheelhouse of vessels engaged in illegal fishing or smuggling Iranian or Venezuelan crude, subversive and dangerous shipping practices have become mainstream, necessitating updated and more encompassing surveillance.
Estimates of the dark fleet’s size vary, but experts claim the number falls between 600 and 800 vessels, or approximately 10% of the world’s tanker fleet. That 10% of the world’s tankers are regularly engaged in deceptive shipping practices, with the express purpose of evading traditional surveillance measures, makes any large-scale analysis based upon SIGINT alone impossible.
Dots on maps or algorithmic predictions may provide interesting insight, add valuable context to an existing narrative, or act as a fantastic place to start an investigation, but neither can be relied upon when holding bad actors to account.
Theia, SynMax’s Maritime Domain Intelligence product, can ingest almost all data sources onto its foundation of satellite imagery fused with SIGINT. Our ethos of prioritizing intelligence fusion maximizes the individual strength of each and adds the improved redundancy of multiple data streams to negate the inherent vulnerabilities of a single data source.
By including ex-military imagery analysts, trained as expert witnesses, in the design and development of Theia, SynMax ensures all intelligence output is fit for purpose and beyond reproach. First-hand knowledge of the requirements of admissible evidence allows us to create genuinely actionable intelligence products.
Our proprietary machine learning and artificial intelligence have been designed to integrate additional data streams as they become available, future-proofing Theia against new technologies and changing tactics.
Drawing upon an individual data source, such as AIS (automatic identification system) or RF (radio frequency), does allow analysts to identify and track the movement of some vessels. However, without the objective proof afforded by satellite imagery, tying a particular ship to a specific place at a precise time, such data is not verifiable and, as a result, rarely actionable.
Denzel Washington’s immortal line in the film Training Day holds as true on the oceans as it does in LA: “It’s not what you know. It’s what you can prove.”
Using imagery to bolster intelligence findings derived from SIGINT is nothing new. In previous careers, SynMax’s intelligence team dedicated thousands of person-hours to searching vast tracts of ocean for vessels placed there by AIS or RF, otherwise known as tip and cue analysis.
Theia does away with the need for such laborious manual processes. By automatically identifying, attributing, and analyzing every vessel over 30 meters across millions of square kilometers, Theia effectively mass produces actionable imagery intelligence. Military-grade analytics, previously available exclusively on an extremely limited basis to governments and large multinationals, are now available commercially at scale.
Extensive archival imagery means Theia is temporally as well as geographically scalable. Tantamount to rolling back time, historic imagery of vessels engaged in crimes, sanctions breaches, or other untoward behavior leaves no room for accusations of bias or debate. Tip and cue analysis requires prior knowledge of a crime's time, location, and perpetrators. Theia, on the other hand, allows analysts to visually travel along a vessel’s voyage history and lifespan, meaning illicit behavior can be investigated, exposed, and prosecuted based on the smallest of suspicions or as part of routine due diligence.
By bringing a novel approach to earth observation data analysis, and with use cases limited by the imagination alone, SynMax and Theia have the capacity to not only revolutionize the maritime domain and its associated industries, but redefine how intelligence is gathered and analyzed full stop.