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Tuesday, August 16, 2022
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Bernie Moerdler, who was 19 when he moved to Israel from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, has already made waves with a number of impressive projects, including a recent initiative in which he keeps people updated with live on-the-ground news from Israel through a network of WhatsApp chats. This system has now expanded to five chats, which together contain over 2,000 people from around the world.

Moerdler began this project after getting fed up with mainstream media during the 2016 Trump/Clinton election, saying that he “hated the fact that you go on the news, and maybe a small part is the actual article —and the rest is just opinions and no information.” He began searching for an alternative stream of information and soon found Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), a form of investigative journalism that uses open-source data and on-the-ground sources to find stories, and a system which many mainstream media use to gather data for their articles.

After getting himself involved in the community and gaining sources, Moerdler became a part of many OSINT news groups, some of them containing hundreds of thousands of people, and built a strong network of connections and contacts. These contacts helped him acquire information, especially regarding Israel, where he lives. Moerdler explained that, using a combination of sources and OSINT news groups, he often “[finds] out about things before they happen.”

While investing more time in OSINT, Moerdler began warning his parents that there would be an attack somewhere that day; after his predictions invariably came true, his parents began telling their friends. Following pleas from friends and family for Moerdler to share his information in a more systematic way, he created Bernie News Network, or “BNN”—a WhatsApp group chat that updated people with live news from Israel. Although originally intended for his family, they soon began to add friends and others they’d met, and the chat continued to spread farther.

When the war in May of 2021 started, many yeshivas and seminaries joined, with some seminaries even making it mandatory for their students to join the chat in order to quickly access news. The project quickly expanded to fill multiple group chats with people clamoring for information, and the chats now contain thousands of members.

Moerdler and his partner for the project, Avi Granoff, use OSINT and sources to keep people in BNN informed about Israel and the Middle East, and have also used the chat to inform people about other global crises—for example, the chats cover specific major world events and also briefly covered the Ukraine war.

Moerdler has also worked with journalists from large news organizations, teaching them about OSINT and its advantages. One famous news anchor told him that he was amazed that Moerdler consistently accessed information before the anchor’s network got hold of it. “That’s amazing to me,” Moerdler said. “That’s what I strive for—to get info before other people, and to get it in a way that’s just news.”

His projects often stem from his extensive knowledge of computers and their inner workings. Moerdler was originally introduced to computers after receiving his first Mickey Mouse-themed computer at the age of 6, and he began learning about how they worked at 7 years old after he got tired of asking his father for help navigating the device. Moerdler grew to love computer design.

Due to the emphasis his family placed on helping others, Moerder grew up with a passion for altruism. He told a story about how, many years ago, a woman in Siberia was struggling to find work, so his grandfather managed to successfully relocate her to Moscow and find her a job there. Years later, Moerdler’s family and grandfather were at home when they heard a knock at the door; upon opening it, they found a young man who explained that he was the son of this woman. Moerdler recounted: “He told my grandfather, ‘If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be alive now. You saved my mom and helped bring her to Moscow, where she met my dad. Thank you so so much.’ That was my grandfather. Someone who always helped no matter what. I try to follow in his footsteps with everything I do.”

Now 21, Moerdler describes himself as “the type of person who accidentally gets into way too many projects.” Beyond his WhatsApp groups, he has started many other projects, including creating artificial intelligence to aid master’s students in cancer cell research at Bar Ilan University; 3D printing face shields for first responders during the COVID pandemic; creating a rocket alert system for Ukraine using an AI network and a Twitter account (@UkraineAlerts); and creating a Minecraft project, “Build: Israel,” that aims to build all of Israel in Minecraft on a 1:1 scale in order to educate people about Israeli culture and geography.

Furthermore, while Moerdler is known for these larger and more “official” projects—which he labels as “projects with impacts”—he constantly spins out personal creations. “I’ve caused so much chaos sometimes with spontaneous projects,” he laughed, explaining a time when he turned all of the air conditioners in his house into smart Wi-Fi connected AC units. “That was fun,” he said, “until I accidentally miswired something and blew up the whole system, so I had to rebuild it in the attic in like 85, 90-degree weather … There were a lot of things like that. I did the same thing with light switches.”

To learn more about Moerdler and his projects, visit www.bmoerdler.com.

By Brooke Schwartz

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