My Hash Browns. What’s Inflation Got To Do With It?






The Correlation Between a Hash Brown Shortage and Inflation

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is hard to escape the glooming thought of inflation. Inflation is a topic consuming mainstream media, daily conversations, and even store checkouts. Many treat inflation as a binary topic – a simple cause-and-effect equation. This may help simplify a complex macroeconomic situation to a single factor, but it fails to take into account a further understanding of what factors signal that inflation is occurring. Understanding these different factors has the added benefit of helping to explain why certain commodities or services seem to be hit particularly hard when economic turmoil appears.   

For this week’s Overwatch, analysts looked at the different signals that indicate the presence of inflation and how these signals helped inform one man’s quest for hash browns. This journey helps businesses and everyday consumers understand the day in the life of an open-source intelligence (OSINT) analyst whose innate curiosity leads them down the discovery, develop and monitor (D2M) framework of analysis. By the end of this brief, your perspective and the world around you will be an open forum of information to develop your own hypotheses to make wiser investments, business decisions, or simply stock up on hash browns.

The Journey of an OSINT Analyst in Search of Hash Browns

As a 30-plus-year Army veteran, I had not given too much thought to the overall impact of inflation until a very obscure fact intruded upon my weekend breakfast routine with my family. We have become accustomed to potatoes on Sunday mornings, specifically hash browns. During the months of October and November, hash browns disappeared off the shelves of central Florida, nowhere to be found. My reaction rang true to how most people analyze the impacts of inflation through consumer costs such as gas, food, and other staples that are tangential to their lives with a bit of frustration. 

As I pondered my disappointment week after week, I wondered if this was another sign of inflation or something more significant. This stirred up the Army officer in me, leading me down an OSINT journey into the topic of inflation. As an OSINT analyst, we can gauge the empirical, but more importantly to many researchers in the field, the emotional responses and behaviors of populations or sections of populations addressing inflation. Like muscle memory, I started down the path of discovery by first visiting forums like food blogs and Reddit threads, discussing the disappearance of not just hash browns but potatoes in general. Most conversations on Twitter, Reddit, and other blogs cited inflation, Covid, and supply chain problems. Some more animated bloggers blamed Wall Street, which is an interesting place to go in search of hash browns.

There are excellent sources of information on the inflation rate and its impacts on consumers and the economy: the Federal Reserve, USA FACTs, and World Bank are a few good places for an OSINT analyst to obtain an official baseline of inflation. That said, inflation does not consider food prices such as hash browns. 

The World Bank maintains a database encompassing 196 countries over the period 1970-2022, with six measures of inflation in annual, quarterly, and monthly increments. The database also provides aggregate inflation for the global economy, advanced economies, emerging markets, and developing economies and measures of global commodity prices. Because no one index captures the full range of price changes in the U.S. economy, economists must consider these multiple indexes to get a comprehensive picture of the inflation rate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the Consumer Price Index (CPI) monthly based on the changes in prices consumers pay for goods and services.

It would be worthwhile to stroll down Wall Street searching for my disappearing hash browns. Let’s take a moment to see what factors investors monitor as signs of inflation. First, utility stock prices or utilities are known for their relatively stable share prices and above-average dividends. Because stock prices look forward, not backward, a prolonged sell-off in utility stocks can represent a Wall Street consensus that interest rates–and, therefore, inflation–is likely to rise. A sustained rise in the yield on the bellwether 10-year Treasury note can mean the same thing. For an OSINT analyst, the monitoring of Wall Street can be notoriously shortsighted; therefore, an analyst needs to look for a significant, sustained drop in utility prices, not just a one-week panic. 

One early warning sign of inflation is an increase in raw-material prices, such as copper and lumber, which are harbingers based on their importance to housing and construction, two areas that are prone to inflationary effects. A sharp increase in base commodities means that demand for raw materials outstrips supply. With the move or emphasis of transition to a digital or greener economy, many rare earth metals will also serve as potential inflationary tripwires. In our case, the raw material was the heroic potato which clearly had disappeared. Precious metals are always great hedges against inflation; historically, gold prices rise when the dollar falls on the international currency markets, so a sustained rise in gold prices should at least be on an OSINT analyst’s early inflation-warning radar. It is also a good indicator for subtle adversarial actions such as currency manipulation but not so much for my hash browns query. 

Another area for OSINT monitoring is the obscure data that the Federal Reserve uses to evaluate hourly businesses that are keeping up with demand by looking at their respective factory capacity utilization. To provide a perspective, economists saw this figure drop to 66% during the 2009 financial crisis. Worries around inflation begin to emerge in the minds of economists when factories begin to operate at 84% or higher. So looking at the significant potato processing plants in the U.S. and the world plays a role in determining their rates. 

Wages are another area to monitor, as inflation is defined loosely, as too much money chasing too few goods and services. In other words, one condition for inflation is a large increase in the money supply. On the opposite end is what can be called a wage-price spiral, which works like this: As demand increases, so do prices. As prices rise, employees demand higher wages. And, if the labor market is tight enough, they get high wages. That, in turn, pushes up prices. A good source for an OSINT analyst is monitoring the monthly job openings and the Labor Turnover Survey from the Department of Labor. My brief search on Wall Street directed my attention to commodity prices, factory utilization, and CPI, which pointed me west to Idaho after a brief stop at the USDA. For the OSINT analyst, the beauty of USDA crop report yields is the fact that they are not written to emote strong emotional responses, so mis- and disinformation designed to arouse emotions will contrast with these reports.

During a review of crop reports both at the state and local level, it began to paint the picture of a shortage in yields of potatoes in 2021, which decreased frozen stocks, which maintain a supply of hash browns and other potato-based staples throughout the year. More specifically, using various restaurant and food blogs to quickly sift through data for the backend network of the hash brown process, we came to the following explanation, which official public government data, reports, and statements could vet. U.S. potato yields have declined by 7% over the past five years.  This is despite an increase in Idaho potato acres by 15,000 acres in 2021, but the yields dropped by 20-30%.  In the research, the rut potato is a brand to watch as it is a regular and common potato that does not fluctuate in commodity prices wildly, but prices did increase for this brand used in batter and mashers for the first time this past year.  

Compounding this situation is the USDA recalled hash brown potatoes because they recalled more than 30 million pounds of frozen hash browns due to possible contamination with listeria monocytogenes. When 2022 yields were also lower than normal, the shortage was exacerbated as the frozen reserves were exhausted. So demand grew faster than supply. In times like these, the U.S. food industry will rely on exports from abroad, which does not embroil the hash brown in the web of disrupted international supply chains and associated transportation energy costs. These were the primary drivers behind my displeasure with no hash browns, a decrease in supply due to weather-low crop yields, and snarled disruptions in the supply chain.

Our Assessment 

Our journey from Wall Street to Washington, D.C. to Idaho and beyond led Overwatch analysts to conclude that there were a series of bad potato crops, compounded by the effects of disrupted supply chain issues affecting how the food industry processes frozen potatoes. This all led to the scarcity of hash browns in the Fall of 2022. This OSINT quest is a reminder of how important this discipline relates to intelligence, whether it’s intel for the governement, the battlefield or business. OSINT provides an understanding of the network and/or environment. This understanding allows the OSINT analyst and other intelligence practitioners the foundation to ask the right questions and judiciously apply resources, whether it is looking for your favorite comfort food or looking for a terrorist.

As we enter the new year, this story will encourage you to investigate further into headlines, be more aware of shifts in your surrounding environment, and apply critical thinking skills. Critical thinking will help us discover the correlation of events to develop hypotheses, test variations of solutions, and draw conclusions about what future impact indicators have on a macro scale. Start to ask yourself, what signals do you anticipate will indicate recovery from the recession? 


 “Inflation may be easing, but grocery prices are still way up” – CNN Business

 “Inflation in America: Track where prices are rising” – NBC News

“How media divides us” – Reddit thread

The Exchange Rate on the AI App You Downloaded

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology can transform pictures taken on a phone into a masterpiece worthy of sharing on social media in a few minutes. Sometimes, this can be done for the nominal cost of $5.99. Behind the scenes, this exchange also includes you handing over access to your camera, self-selected photos, and possibly personal information from your phone.  

At the time of this Overwatch brief, 3 out of the top 10 apps are AI-generator filters, proving their growing popularity. While many consumers are skeptical of the risk versus reward factors when using their email address to sign up for a service, they often do not confront downloading an app with the same analytical rigor. This is for many reasons: the infrastructure of app stores that make the path to purchase seamless, demographics, the company or industry, the type of digital format, and most importantly, the understanding of privacy legislation for consumer data. All are factors that contribute to consumer trust.  

 This week, Overwatch analysts will explore how consumers determine the ‘value’ of their personal information and the ambiguity behind data privacy that has potential impacts ranging from personal loss to national security.  

 The Varying Exchange Rate for Consumer Data 

According to McKinsey and Pew Research Center research, healthcare and finance industries rank highest in trust because they commonly work with highly sensitive data and are protected by federal legislation. However, the pace of technological advancement and the relative newness of personal data as a valuable commodity has limited regulation and conversation about the subject has caused consumers to undervalue their personal data.  

mckinsey_business_trust_visualThis point is proven in the chart below. Whereas email data tops the chart for consumer privacy and protection concerns, apps and programs are towards the bottom. Arguably, email has been around since 1971, whereas apps and programs were not introduced until 1994, when the first smartphone was launched. The adoption of new technology has a life cycle, and privacy and protection are often an afterthought. The more familiar people are with the medium, the greater the understanding on benefits and abuses when personal information is mishandled.  

mckinsey privacy chart

As mainstream media continues to report on data breaches, cybercrimes, and spam, which are undoubtedly rising alongside technology, people are beginning to realize how vulnerable their data is. Along with this growth in worry has come increased concern about the lack of regulated privacy laws around their consumer data and where vulnerabilities lie. 

The Vulnerability of Personal Data 

Every 39 seconds, there is a new cyberattack somewhere on the web and an estimated 64 percent of companies worldwide have experienced some form of cyberattack, according to the University of Maryland and TechJury. 

Not all data breaches are hacks. Many bad actors looking to capture personal data keep their eyes on cultural trends like AI filters that spark virality by creating FOMO (fear of missing out) among the masses, in hopes the buzz to try a new app overshadows privacy concerns. It is why countries like Argentina who have seen a 403% increase in cybercrimes are seeing marketing campaigns like the video below from HBSC to educate consumers about information voluntarily provided.

This tactic is similar to what we saw in 2019 with the popularity of FaceApp, a face-filter aging app oscillating images of faces from young to old. Over 100 million people downloaded the app without questioning its origin. Then, on December 2, 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raised security concerns about the Russian-developed app. Ian Thornton-Trump, a CompTIA faculty member, summarizes the magnitude of this risk saying, “Concerns are only really valid if you are a high-profile name, a company that holds sensitive IP, or someone who works in the intelligence services. Russia would very much appreciate and encourage the use of FaceApp by anyone with a security clearance and their immediate family.” Similar concerns have been raised around Tiktok, an app owned by ByteDance in China. In both cases, the app companies in question have insisted U.S. user data is not shared and is safely stored, although concerns around anti-American influence still exist and data privacy laws are not the same.   

With the AI-generated apps and more conversation around potential usage of #chatgpt and artificial intelligence, information campaigns like HBSC need to be designed to encourage users to pause before downloading. App stores have attempted to deliver on transparency, although the information is buried and literacy around best practices is somewhat unknown vernacular to many.  

Overwatch analysts decided to investigate further into Wonder, one of the AI-apps topping charts. In plain sight, the app store confirms the company is based outside of the U.S. in Istanbul, Turkey. Analysts scrolled down further to find security practices and app privacy at the bottom of the details. At a quick glance, the information seems to provide clarity with two distinct columns describing what data is linked to you and what is not, but how “User Content” and “Usage Data” are in both columns sends mixed messages. 

To avoid bias of companies outside the U.S., Overwatch analysts explored the available information on Lensa AI, which is also topping app stores. Lensa AI is owned by Prisma Labs, a veteran in the filter app business. Prisma Labs operates out of San Francisco, California. Through further research, analysts uncovered the company Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Oleg Poyaganov, is a Soviet from Moscow City who studied at Moscow State Technical University. This is an indicator to proceed with caution, and apply additional critical thinking skills to develop a deeper analysis before downloading the app to thoroughly understand the risk over the reward. 

The Market Value of Personal Data 

Depending on the buyer and how the information will be used, the going rate for personal data varies whether the lead was obtained legally or not. The average market price range varies and can be approximately $90 – $161 per person.  

The Harvard Business Review provides a great visualization on how the value of data can vary depending on how the information is used and protected. The visual goes on to display use cases with companies like financial institution, Mint, who restrain from sharing sensitive data for profiling usage and set parameters for the data that is sold. The alternative is Meta, who collects and sells all data with the expectation of delivering the most value to their users.  

Our Assessment 

Technology, like artificial intelligence, is rapidly advancing, improving scale, efficiency, and creativity for companies and consumers. The life cycle of technology is outpacing regulations, potentially creating vulnerabilities that cannot be recovered from, such as data leaks.  

Healthcare and finance, with a head start on regulations, will likely lead the way in educating consumers about data privacy vulnerabilities, much like HBSC did in Argentina. As more awareness campaigns educate consumers, transparency among companies and app stores will respond with disclaimers and features to protect users. The challenge will be collecting enough data to find the balance between leveraging information to improve users’ experiences and deliver value while protecting their privacy. Unfortunately, consumers may ignore warning signs and learn from being hacked directly, and at a similar pace to companies investing trillions into cybersecurity.  

This will likely occur before consumer data regulations are formalized; therefore, the homework lies in the hands of the consumer. Determine the market value wisely.  


“The consumer-data opportunity and the privacy imperative”; McKinsey 

“The First Ever Email, the First Tweet, and 10 Other Famous Internet Firsts”; Yahoo! Finance 

“Your selfies are helping AI learn. You did not consent to this.”; The Washington Post 

“The FBI Investigated FaceApp. Here’s What It Found.”; Forbes 

“Panic over Russian company’s FaceApp is a sign of new distrust of the Internet”; Washington Post 

“That Face-Aging App Made by a Russian Company Has an Odd Privacy Policy”; GQ 

“Consumer Data: Designing for Transparency and Trust”; Harvard Business Review 

“For Consumers, Data Privacy Has a Fluid Definition”; Morning Consult 

“How many cyberattacks happen per day?”; TechJury 


Vulnerabilities and Attempts to Collect Intel on U.S. Military Installations

Russia’s war in Ukraine. The creation of parallel institutions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) led by the Chinese. Both are examples of the U.S.-led unipolar world transitioning to a multipolar world defined by great power competition. 

This shift in the international landscape raises security concerns as countries like Russia and China enter direct competition with the United States. This competition will not occur on a singular plane but most likely across multiple domains – economic, diplomatic, cyber, and technological – and undeniably affect the military. One example from a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that between 2000-2020, there were 160 reported cases of Chinese espionage against the United States and 1,000 cases of intellectual property theft. Within that, 85 percent were cases “involving Chinese agents trying to acquire U.S. military and commercial technologies.”   

This week, Overwatch analysts look at some historic vulnerabilities facing U.S. military installations, domestically and abroad, to understand how adversarial nations may be attempting to gather intelligence on the United States’ critical military infrastructure. One of the biggest challenges when researching historical or potentially existing vulnerabilities facing U.S. military installations is the lack of data released by the Department of Defense (DoD). This information is naturally protected for national security reasons. Publishing current or past vulnerabilities, or tactics used to exploit them, can inspire adversarial nations to exploit them. With that limitation in mind, analysts looked at publicly available and historical reporting on the topic. 

Base Comparison 

Domestically, the United States has roughly 450 to 500 military bases spanning all 50 states. When expanded to the U.S. military’s foreign footprint, the number increases to roughly 750 bases in approximately 80 countries. The map below highlights the position of these foreign bases. 

Adversarial nations comparably have less. Russia has approximately 20 overseas bases, and China is estimated to have one foreign military base in Djibouti. The map below shows the comparative presence of the U.S. military in comparison to Russia and China.  

Vulnerabilities Continue to be an Area of Concern 

While bases and installations are a source of power for the United States, they are a desirable target for adversarial nations. The U.S. has several historical sources of vulnerability, ranging from open-source information, data breaches, apps, technology developed by countries like China, business/land purchases by adversarial nations, and human intelligence collection techniques.  

Open-source vulnerabilities facing U.S. military installations vary from applications used by denizens of the base to satellite imagery and breached data. These sources provide adversarial nations with multiple ways to gather information about critical U.S. military infrastructure and service members. A simple search for sensitive U.S. military installations, such as Area 51, supplies aerial views and pictures from March and April 2022. Using ESRI’s Wayback machine, it is even possible to view the construction and internal operations of more recently constructed installations. 








Even more concerning was a 2018 incident involving the fitness app Strata. The app charted users’ exercises, supplying routes and patterns of life information that could be leveraged to target their users. Due to the apps prevalence among service members, there was concern about identifying military members abroad. A series of Twitter threads from this time used the app to quickly identify U.S. service members serving in sensitive areas, like bases in warzones such as Afghanistan, and even alleged CIA black sites.  








Since then, the app has seemingly fixed this problem. However, the historical data remains, and the possibility that future applications may reveal the same vulnerabilities is a definite possibility.  

Somewhat connected to vulnerabilities caused by application data is the threat of breached data released on the deep and dark web. A cursory search of email domains such as,,, and resulted in thousands of breached emails and associated passwords, many of which were linked to names of individuals whose online presence could be further developed. 

*Analysts did not include photos of this data, given its potentially sensitive nature. 

Engrained Tech Infrastructure 

The second vulnerability source is Chinese-owned tech infrastructure used by service members or near U.S. military installations. The placement of technology used to intercept communications near military bases is not new. In 2014, for example, the CEO of ESD America, a company specializing in highly secure cell phones, charted out several false cell phone towers near U.S. military installations. 

The best example of this vulnerability is the telecommunications company Huawei, which was banned in the U.S. in 2019. The company continues to be unsuccessful in lifting the ban even with the introduction of new technology. As early as 2018, the Pentagon banned the sale of Huawei phones on military bases. However, this did not stop the companys alleged attempts to spy on the U.S. military. Huawei partnered with multiple local network providers in the United States, placing communications infrastructure near critical U.S. military locations, including a U.S. nuclear arsenal. The map below shows examples of some networks using Huawei technology and their proximity to U.S. military infrastructure. 

Despite the bans and investigations, the problem persists. According to a July 2022 report by Politico, small telecoms networks, many of which are in rural areas near U.S. military infrastructure, remain in place due to the expense of removal and repair. This means many of these vulnerabilities are still active and will continue to pose a threat until the issue is fully addressed.  

The purchasing of businesses and farmland provides bases of operation and operational cover for potential intelligence operatives from adversarial nations. The acquisition of American farmland and western businesses by adversarial nations, like China, poses an economic threat. However, it also poses a potential threat to U.S. military infrastructure.  

For example, in 2022, a Chinese company, the Fufeng Group, purchased 300 acres of farmland 20 minutes from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. The purpose of the purchase was allegedly to create a corn processing plant. However, its closeness to the base, which specializes in drone technology and housing a “new Space Networking Center,” has some concerned that the factory could be used to surveil drone and satellite transmissions. 

In addition to land purchases, investment in businesses utilized by U.S. citizens could allow espionage on service members who use the app. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and Treasury Department, when the dating app Grindr was acquired by a Chinese investment firm Kunlun Tech, it posed such a risk. Though the app claims no data was ever released, the U.S. government demanded the Chinese company sell its stake in the application in 2020. The same story played out with TikTok, which was banned from government and military service members’ phones due to national security concerns.  

Despite best efforts, the pace of technological development and the economy generally means that more businesses tied to adversarial nations will gain access to service members and military installations physically and through the digital domain. Due to the time it takes to evaluate their threat and the number of apps that need to be assessed, it is likely that companies owned by adversarial nations may be able to exploit sensitive data related to U.S. military personnel.  

Human intelligence collection is one of the oldest forms of information gathering. The media tends to focus more on high-profile politicians and individuals who are seduced by female and male spies in operations called “honey pots.” This was the case with a Chinese spy associated with Representative Eric Swalwell, a House Select Committee on Intelligence member, or Russian spy Maria Butina, who was attached to multiple high-level Republican officials. But this is not always the case. The threat to a member of the U.S. military or someone with access to classified military information is genuine.  

In November of 2022, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot and government contractor pled guilty to spying for China. He was recruited by a female intelligence officer with whom he began a relationship. However, not all these operations are sexual. In September, the U.S. charged former Army reservist Ji Chaoqun with spying for the Chinese. Chaoqun was recruited while studying engineering in Chicago and instructed to join the reserves in the hopes of getting U.S. citizenship and gaining access to classified information, according to reporting on the incident. While these more traditional cases highlight a concerning problem, perhaps even more alarming is the ease with which this can be done almost entirely digitally by utilizing social media to reach out to potential assets. This puts those that proudly display their position and status in the field of national security at risk. Even less sophisticated than the above examples have been attempts by alleged spies for China posing as diplomats or tourists to access U.S. military installations in 2019 and 2020. 

While exact figures on the number of successful or attempted recruitments of U.S. military personnel are not reported, the above stories prove that it is a tactic being actively used by U.S. competitors and focused on infrastructure and commercial businesses tied to the U.S. military. 

U.S. military installations in foreign countries also have vulnerabilities that adversarial nations can exploit. While the U.S. has more control and ability to surveil domestically, in foreign countries, U.S. forces depend upon host countries or partners to assist in maintaining security. For example, in 2021, it was announced that Japan would start taking a closer look at land purchases near U.S. military bases to diminish the ability of adversarial nations to collect intelligence on the United States. While we will not go into deep detail during this brief, four specific instances of attempts to gather intelligence regarding U.S. military installations in foreign countries help shed light on the threat. 

In 2021, eight individuals associated with the Russian mission to NATO in Brussels were expelled. It was discovered that these eight individuals were undeclared Russian Intelligence Officers. Then in 2022, Maria Rivera, AKA Olga Kolobova, was discovered to be a Russian spy living in Italy. Through social and organizational connections, she gained access to several NATO officials in Rome, including a member of the U.S. Navy. In April, following the release of data on Russian FSB agents by Ukrainian intelligence, it was discovered that two individuals posing as lieutenant colonels in the Russian Army had used their cover as observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to spy on U.S. military infrastructure in Latvia. Finally, in November 2022, the FBI, in partnership with Swedish State Security Forces, arrested two Russian spies living in the country for almost 30 years. The couple was believed to be in the country and were identified when it came to light that they were surveilling U.S. military assets.  

Operating critical defense infrastructure in a foreign country will never be 100 percent safe. Foreign defense systems suffer from many of the same vulnerabilities as domestic military installations highlighted above. However, awareness of past incidents helps highlight the importance of partnerships with host countries and the standard operating procedures of those hoping to exploit this vulnerability.  

Our Assessment 

Overwatch analysts assess that as competition between the United States and its near competitors increases, the desire to find vulnerabilities and collect intelligence on critical U.S. infrastructure will also elevate. These attempts will likely look to collect information using several, if not all, of the tactics outlined above. As a result, we will likely see the U.S. military and government take several actions to moderate this risk. We will also likely see more guidance released by the DoD regarding the use of apps, further government oversight in land and business purchases, increased vetting of foreign diplomats and members of the U.S. military, and increased coordination with countries hosting U.S. military bases. 

It will be imperative for individuals, especially those working in organizations and businesses tied to national security, to do their proper due diligence on companies and individuals they associate with and the apps they download on their phones. Proper open-source research techniques and literacy are not only good tools for offensive intelligence gathering, but they are also imperative for lowering the chance that an intelligence official from a hostile nation exploits an individual. 

Echo Analytics Group and Military Order of the Purple Heart to Provide Veterans Open-Source Intelligence Training



TAMPA, FL (December 5, 2022) – The Military Order of the Purple Heart (The MOPH Fund) is excited to announce a partnership with Echo Analytics Group to provide veterans with training and certification for the development of critical open-source intelligence (OSINT) research and analysis skills through their Echo Academy. The goal is to provide veterans new professional skill sets for life after the military. The instructors at Echo Academy have more than 100 years of combined experience and can tailor courses at all levels, including creating interactive learning environments for certified professional education credits from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).

“EAG is a company founded by veterans and our team has a strong sense of service. We are thrilled about this partnership,” said Echo Analytics Group CEO Buddy Jericho. “Working with the MOPH to deliver OSINT courses will help our veteran colleagues obtain skills required to differentiate themselves in a growing yet highly competitive cyber security job market.”

“The primary mission of the Military Order of the Purple Heart is to execute programs that positively impact our nation’s veterans and their families,” said Military Order of the Purple Heart National Commander Christopher Vedvick. “Employment training and subsequent career placement are a big part of a veteran’s long road to recovery after their service. Echo Analytics Group and its Echo Academy have a proven track record of excellence. Through our partnership with them, EAG will be able to provide our members with invaluable training and access to cutting-edge data and analytics for future employment in the ever-growing field of OSINT. We are excited to have Echo Analytics Group as a partner in our efforts to provide world-class training and support to our nation’s heroes.”

About the MOPH Fund

It is the mission of the MOPH Fund to provide essential assistance to America’s Veterans and their Families by directly supporting the programs and services of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. To learn more, visit

About Echo Analytics Group

Echo Analytics Group (EAG) is a veteran owned and operated open-source intelligence (OSINT) firm based in Tampa, Florida. EAG brings military grade intelligence to the private sector, combining publicly source information with human intelligence to empower businesses and people to make informed decisions based on facts. With the overwhelming amount of content created daily, EAG provides best-in-class OSINT resources from tools, case management systems, investigations, education and even analysts to make real-time decisions. To learn more, visit:


Digital DNA Heating Up Cold Cases

overwatch cover image






In the United States, approximately 250,000 unsolved murders occur each year, according to the Uniform Crime Report. This is a clearance rate of about 50%, a drastic decrease from the 90% clearance rate for homicides in the 1960s. While this decrease is in some way due to criminal justice reform and more accurate reporting, it is undeniable that this decrease is also affected by the increasing murder rate we saw starting in 2020.  

Unsolved criminal investigations (homicides or abductions) that are no longer actively pursued because of lack of evidence are defined as cold cases. In other words, when an investigation goes idle, it is often assumed that the case is hopeless, impossible, and will never result in justice. Historically, this suggests that these violent offenders who have not been caught will continue committing crimes. Many of these violent crimes are still unsolved despite the full potential of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) evidence and national DNA databases. 

Beyond DNA evidence is the power of open-source intelligence (OSINT). With advancements in technology and social media engrained in today’s culture, it is rare for individuals not to have digital footprints – potential evidence for law enforcement. This raises the question: when DNA or other traditional forms of investigation fail, could a few quick online clicks help investigators keep a case from going cold? 

In this edition of Overwatch, analysts interviewed two individuals at the Criminal Investigations Division at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) in Tampa, Florida to understand how digital footprints can aid law enforcement. Analysts also selected a cold case provided by the Hillsborough County’s Sheriff’s Office, an unsolved homicide, showing how OSINT could be applied to support an investigation. 

Interview with Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division 

Overwatch: How often does a homicide or violent crime have a digital footprint? Has law enforcement increasingly turned to social media to find suspects of crimes?  

HCSO: We try to use social media searches in almost every homicide, except open and shut ones that are closed in 24-48 hours. However, we lack advanced tools, tips, and tricks of the trade to narrow down the information found online. We rely on free knowledge but using social media platforms in investigations today is extremely common, especially in shootings and gang violence, specifically in neighborhoods with turf wars. So, looking on social media has been helpful because people aren’t typically forthcoming.  

Overwatch: What are some of the challenges faced when it comes to pursuing a digital footprint of a potential suspect? For example, are search warrants needed? Are laws applicable in the digital space? 

HCSO: Privatized accounts are a huge issue. If you want information from private accounts, detectives need enough information to send a warrant to the social media company. The Sheriff’s Office here often gets Facebook and Instagram search warrants; however, the speed at which we receive the information back from the company is decided on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes it can be super slow, especially if it’s not a pressing matter.  

Overwatch: Can you tell me about a time when the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was able to solve a cold case or homicide because of a victim or perpetrator’s strong digital footprint?  

HCSO: There was a case that we came to a dead end. However, our investigation found a couple that often made TikTok videos. We monitored their profiles, and while they didn’t make videos about the crime or anything like that, the lead came because they made a video in a vehicle that placed them in the suspect’s vehicle. So, their digital presence provided a clear lead which, coupled with other evidence, allowed the case to be solved. 

Tracks Left Behind 

In 2020, Hillsborough County had 37 homicides reported, with 27 solved or cleared. This was the highest rate of homicides in the last 10 years, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Data Explorer 

In today’s world, the internet is entrenched in everyone’s daily life, increasing the opportunity to use the massive amounts of publicly available information to reopen cold cases. We have all heard of cases where a suspect’s or victim’s digital footprint pointed law enforcement in the right direction during an investigation, despite a lack of DNA evidence. Examples include a university student who was discovered dead after her last cell phone signals were found in a remote area with another person or a mass murderer who left cryptic messages on digital forums days before carrying out an attack. Like DNA left at a crime scene, the same can be said for online activity varying from malicious websites, social media posts, interactions, and connections – all of which leave digital data in their wake. 

Murder Case Gone Cold 

Overwatch analysts visited the Unsolved Homicide website run by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to find an unsolved homicide and apply advanced search OSINT techniques. Analysts selected the cold case of Ariel Pagan-Colon. They started discovery by focusing on online chatter, looking at the date of the murder, the scene of the crime, and the victim’s social media presence.  









The event occurred on July 13, 2019, when Ariel Pagan-Colon was “shot to death outside of a house party…” according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Unsolved Homicides website. Analysts implemented advanced search queries to narrow down social posts related to the murder of Mr. Pagan-Colon.  

On July 13, 2019, Twitter user @jason_rohena posted about the victim’s death, insinuating that he was shot by one of his friends. The tweet was posted at 9:16 pm. A search on the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office “Calls for Service” website shows the location and date of Mr. Pagan-Colon’s incident. The service call was at 9:09 pm. This means that the Twitter user posted moments after the 911 call. Due to the speed of the post, it is possible that the user was at the crime scene and has more information about the suspects.  

A further look into the victim’s lifestyle and close associates revealed that his girlfriend was possibly at the location where the crime occurred. Moments before the deadly event, it appears that he was waiting outside the home where a party was occurring while his girlfriend was making her way outside to meet him, according to a Facebook post from the victim’s mother.  

The victims girlfriend was found on Facebook, and analysts were able to examine the information posted there about the victims passing. She wrote on Facebook, Not seeing your message has me broken, on December 31, 2019. It was not revealed what the message she received from the victim was. However, its possible that she received information minutes before his death that could add to the timeline of events or even insinuations about who the murderer could be. 

Analysts also found a social media post that denigrated the victim and alluded to a potential foe. This is not proof that the person who commented is accountable for Mr. Pagan-Colons death. Yet, the post may lead to a list of people who did not get along with the victim, despite the gap in time between it and the date the victim was killed. 

Our Assessment 

On television shows or movies, DNA, like fingerprints on a weapon or saliva on a discarded cigarette, are typically the evidence that solves cases. In reality, DNA is not always available in violent crimes, particularly homicides. However, many people do leave digital evidence. In the case of Mr. Pagan-Colon, his robust digital footprint can aid law enforcement in developing the case further based on discreet digital clues. 

In the case of Mr. Pagan-Colon, the victim was in his early 20s and often attended parties and clubs using social media to keep in touch with his old high school friends and family. A trail of photos and memorable moments from these events were often posted on social media by the victim. A timeline and biography of the person of interest can be found by following his digital footprint. It is possible that the details surrounding the house party where he was murdered can be found online. While we are unsure of the specifics of the crime, analysts can confidently state that the victim’s digital footprint supplied a clear picture of his lifestyle, social network, and activities in the days preceding his death.  

As the homicide rate rises, analysts assess that more crimes will become cold cases. More consideration of digital footprints in cold case homicide investigations is necessary, given this possible rise. Due to the budget constraints facing many police departments, the investment of open-source intelligence (OSINT) tools creates a financial barrier for many police departments. This makes it even more crucial that cost-effective resources and manual methods be spread to departments nationwide to surmount this artificial barrier. While traditional investigation methods such as DNA analysis will always be necessary, proper OSINT training and techniques can be a cost-effective resource to help deal with crimes that have gone cold.