Outsourcing

Social networking: Why is the CIA interested?

Besides covert intelligence, the CIA is interested in accumulating open source intelligence. Surprisingly, the CIA's definition of open source is not that much different from ours.

The CIA's interest in social networking is due to the abundant supply of what they call open source intelligence. Could their definition of open source be the same as ours? Let's find out. Wikipedia describes open source intelligence (OSINT) as:

"OSINT is a form of intelligence collection management that involves finding, selecting, and acquiring information from publicly available sources and analyzing it to produce actionable intelligence."

CIA investment arm

Being interested in CIA technology, I was drawn to an article in Wired. It mentioned that In-Q-Tel, banking partner of the CIA, is investing in Visible Technologies. Visible Technologies explained the partnership in this press release:

"Visible Technologies, a leading provider of social media analysis and engagement solutions, today announced a strategic partnership and technology development agreement with In-Q-Tel, the independent strategic investment firm that identifies innovative technology solutions to support the mission of the CIA and the broader U.S. Intelligence Community."

Why the investment

The Wired article explained that Visible Technology is able to scan over half a million social-networking Web sites a day. That plus the ability of their TrueCAST engine to make sense of all that information allows Visible Technologies to provide what they call "Real-time visibility into on-line social conversations".

Above board

Being able to do this is impressive. Remember no subterfuge is involved; True CAST is sifting through public data that is available to any one of us. Ironically, it becomes sensitive after Visible Technologies gets done with it. In another Wired article, CIA chief General Michael Hayden is quoted as saying (audio):

"The information is unclassified. Our interest in it is not. One irony of working the open source side of the intelligence business is that the better we do, the less we can talk about it."

Why the interest

The reason for the CIA's interest is starting to make sense. Especially, when author Noah Shachtman pointed out that Visible Technologies works with Concepts & Strategies, a consulting firm that does media monitoring and translation services for the U.S. Strategic Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Lewis Shepard, formerly with the Defense Intelligence Agency told Mr. Shachtman why the ability to monitor so many languages is necessary:

"Facebook says that more than 70 percent of its users are outside the U.S., in more than 180 countries. There are more than 200 non-U.S., non-English-language microblogging Twitter-clone sites today. If the intelligence community ignored that tsunami of real-time information, we'd call them incompetent."

Final thoughts

With the director of the Open Source Center reporting directly to General Hayden, it is apparent that open source intelligence is important to the CIA.

One of my concerns is citizen privacy and how governments encroach upon it. As it stands, the intelligence community may not have to invade our space; we are giving it up willingly.

About

Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

41 comments
JimInPA
JimInPA

they have to send me a friend request first :D :^0 :D :^0

DMambo
DMambo

You post this blog on TR, the CIA carnivore's it up, I'm a TR member, now they have a terrorist file on me. Dang - I just posted the word "terrorist". Now they'll think I'm Al Queda for sure. Dang - I just posted "Al Queda". Now they'll think I'm a radical Islamist. "Radical Islamist"??? I'm just digging myself a deeper hole. "Deeper hole"?? Now I'm linked to every porn site there is. Only one way out of this.... jdclyde

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

There is a treasure-trove of information on-line. Once it gets sorted, that information becomes valuable and secret according to the CIA.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It's a little legal document that says "we'd like to be your friend and know all about you" but they keep sending it to my ISP instead of me.. I thought they had my address already..

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

what's a worry is when they have files on both your identities and they can find a match between them.

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

There is most likely little room left on JD's file. :p

ZCorrea
ZCorrea

Thanx DMambo. I almost spit tea all over my shiny clean monitor. And it woould have been worth it! This is the funniest comment I've read in weeks.

TNT
TNT

The CIA isn't supposed to operate inside the US. I know their researchers and analysts at Langley can do their job on US soil, but not missions and investigations. So I guess I'm wondering if its legal for them to cull information on US citizens contained on US servers. Anybody know the answer to that?

bboyd
bboyd

Actionable publicly available intelligence. Gossip. Twit about watching B2's launch from barksdale. Blog from military wife about husbands deploying to Diego Garcia. News article of ships heading to the Indian ocean. all = foreign military intelligence knows location of active military assets. Its why in WWII the government had to run a media campaign to get people to stop doing it.

JimInPA
JimInPA

or maybe they want to play mafia wars with me :^0

JamesRL
JamesRL

CSIS is our CIA, RCMP is our FBI. I worked for a member of Parliament, file opened. I visited the Russian embassy several times, file added to. I spent time with the daughter of the Governor General, file added to. I was stopped in the back halls of Parliament hill with my pass, but dressed in student cloths on the day of a student protest, held by RCMP for 30 minutes, file added to. I was bonded by an employer, including criminal check, file added to. I was cleared for secret so I could work for a government agency designing nuclear reactors, file added to. I could go on, but I'm sure there is a file with photos, fingerprints and a fair chunk of my resume on file somewhere. Whether it is shared with the US would be the interesting, I seem to get more than the usual scrutiny from Homeland security. James

jackbones
jackbones

they do whatever they want. are we really going to try to convince ourselves that the CIA plays by the rules. we're just statistics and assets to them for the most part.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

understanding is the CIA can NOT mount an active counter-intelligence operation within the USA borders - that requires sending people out after people to do something about them or just follow them about as part of a COVERT surveillance operation. There is NO restriction on them collecting information via public sources, and no restriction on them processing information provided to them by others who collected it. The NSA is the main USA member of an international information collection program often referred to as Echelon (that's not its real name, but what most people know it as). This program collects information in many countries and pools it, including Canada and Australia. The NSA is also allowed to collect and examine all electronic information that crosses the US borders - which includes telephones, radios, and the Internet traffic. The NSA shares all this information with the CIA. Essentially, the CIA can legally collect public information within the US, and even if it couldn't, the FBI and NSA can and would share with them. So who cares.

Ocie3
Ocie3

The article on Wired: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/10/exclusive-us-spies-buy-stake-in-twitter-blog-monitoring-firm/ has the following quote: [i]"Anything that is out in the open is fair game for collection," says Steven Aftergood, who tracks intelligence issues at the Federation of American Scientists. But "even if information is openly gathered by intelligence agencies it would still be problematic if it were used for unauthorized domestic investigations or operations. Intelligence agencies or employees might be tempted to use the tools at their disposal to compile information on political figures, critics, journalists or others, and to exploit such information for political advantage. That is not permissible even if all of the information in question is technically 'open source'." (italicization added)[/i] That said, remember the quote from Lewis Shepard, near the end of Michael's article. Basically, the CIA has the authority and the mission to conduct intelligence-gathering and actively engage in espionage [b]outside[/b] the borders of the US and its territories. The FBI has the authority and the responsiblity for counter-intelligence [b]within[/b] the borders of the US and its territories. The FBI has a large unit of agents who conduct counter-intelligence investigations, some of which may involve both US citizens and citizens of foreign countries. For example, last night I read an AP article about the arrest of a US citizen, who is now accused of attempting to sell classified information to an FBI agent who was posing as an Israeli spy. Both agencies can collect and use publicly-available information anywhere, as long as it supports the activities in which they have the legal authority to engage. There's nothing wrong with the CIA having a Merriam-Webster Dictionary of the English Language in their library. Nor is there anything wrong with an FBI counter-intelligence unit hiring a translator to produce a daily copy of a Chinese newspaper that is published in Beijing and/or in any other city in China. I've read somewhere that the US has a total of 17 intelligence agencies, but the party who provided the data did not name them.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Your comment pointed out another possible reason for their interest that wasn't stressed in the research I did. Thanks.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

but the basic rule is when an enquiry comes in from a friendly power they give answers to certain questions as simple yes / no - the short request asks: 1. Is this person who they say they are? 2. Is this person known to you? ie do you have a file on them. 3. Is this person one we should be concerned about? 4. Has this person been involved in any organisations we should be concerned about? Sometimes they ask more, and in some cases they're entitled to get more detailed answers. They will share a lot more on non-citizens than they will on citizens. In your case, they should be concerned because you were involved with the parliament. (This paragraph is a joke in case you missed it.) I've never been to the USA, but I know the CIA has a file on me from one of my past employments where I frequently dealt with the US Consulate importing and exporting high tech gear during the 1980s.

JamesRL
JamesRL

He was suspected of terrorism by the RCMP, but hadn't done anything that would leade to arrest. He came back from a trip through NY, and was flagged by Homeland, then sent to Syria, where he was tortured. The RCMP admits its evidence was flimsy and Arar has been since ruled out any suspcions they had. So they do indeed share, and even share suspicions, as opposed to hard evidence. James

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Interesting to know. I suspect that there is some cross-border chatter.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

have DNA samples if possible - 'mention files' are very light and don't include a full bio unless the reason for the 'mention' in another file is important enough to warrant a full check of the person. It's exceedingly hard and rare for them to get files accidentally mixed up - but sometimes some one will intentionally mix one up for their own purposes.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I doubt a court would decide that what is public on the Internet has national boundaries.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Who is a police psychologist. She is amazed at how many advertise their misdeeds as a way of looking for help.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

It takes all kinds. Certainly makes the world an interesting place.

KaceyR
KaceyR

The average person who knowingly commits a crime doesn't think about the consequences of that crime. If they did, they'd be less inclined to do it. Likewise, the same individual doesn't think twice about what they post on the Internet for the very same reason. The repeatedly successful criminals are usually *very* intelligent. So intelligent that they have not only thought about the consequences, but of ways that the crime could lead back to them. When they decide to commit a crime, they think, as best they can, of every possible execution and post execution scenario, then simply apply a risk analysis to the problem.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

on a forum or web site is enough to hide who they are from everyone. They forget they had to give a valid email address to register, and many have used their regular email to register. The smarter ones used a free service address like Gmail or Hotmail etc, but forget that, given enough incentive, the law enforcement people can get the proper court orders to allow them to back track the email accounts to them; it's hard, but can be done. The other aspect is the people doing the posts are not thinking police or security, but thinking 'Won't my friends think this was great of me' when they make those idiotic posts. Like the guy who had the bath in the fast food restaurant's sink - even named the place concerned, sure to ensure he doesn't get another job in that industry anywhere in the world.

Ocie3
Ocie3

I see that a series of examples has been posted to your request for help in understanding my answer that, yes, some guys who commit crimes are so [i]stupid[/i] that they help authorities identify and locate them. In the IT security realm, I guess we have come to expect high-IQ hackers who have crossed the boundary from innocent fun driven by curiosity to acts that harm the people whose networks and computer systems that they have hacked. Some of them know enough to make it difficult, even technically impossible, to identify and locate them. But a few have been caught only because they bragged about their exploits in a venue to which someone pointed the police. Intelligence is one thing; wisdom is another.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Two cases in Canada where idiots were convicted because one of them posted a video on the internet. One was where a bunch of young men went around to local ponds with their guns shooting ducks. The ducks were in molt, meaning they couldn't fly. Clearly they were out of season as well. Idiots posted to Youtube, police made sure it hit the media and someone recgonized the kids. Same thing happened with a swarming at a mall, some idiots posted their exploits on Youtube, and the police asked for help in identifying the thugs. Its hard to overestimate the stupidity of criminals. James

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Not sure if Tonight Show ever covered them but they are some of the earliest I've ready. A criminal walks into a store, produces a gun and demands the cash out of the register. The clerk states; "no". "alright".. the criminal breaks down and walks back out. A criminal walks into a store, produces a gun and demands the cash. The gun goes off when they hastily try to hide it from someone walking in; a pant pocket. Guess the injury that resulted. How I love the Darwin Awards and stupid criminal stories.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I guess I haven't looked at it that way. I guess that is why Jerry Springer does so well.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you're dumb enough to think petty crime is a viable income source, you're dumb enough to brag about it on the web.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Television and me don't get along. We can talk about that if you want. If what you say is correct, can you help me understand why? It certainly is not logical by any means.

Ocie3
Ocie3

on the Tonight show very often, you'd surely know all of the "stupid criminal" stories that he brought to attention, and the humorous remarks that he made about them. Succinctly, yes, they [i]could[/i] be that stupid.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Your comparison, Neon. That is certainly a unique way of stating it.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I've heard a few stories along the same lines. One was a fellow who skipped out on his alimony claiming he didn't have enough to support himself let along the monthly child care payments. His myspace had a great shot of him semi-conscious on a couch half baked with his buds. A group from a university had a "we love to party" myspace page. Apparently campus security hadn't heard about myspace before the speaker's talk at the school but the day after the talk arrests where made. There really does seem to be a gap when it comes to the internet. One wouldn't whisper information to another person in an empty field yet they'll proudly yell it in a crowded room through whatever social site is hip that week. Sure, this page will only ever be read by the select group of people you assume will read it. No, it's not permanent; it won't come back and bite you in ten years when grown up and applying for jobs. I wouldn't discount "stupid" in favor of "catch me if you can". If a wedding is a blatantly public display of strictly private intentions, the Internet is a blatantly public display of strictly private informations.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Law enforcement agencies are solving cases because of perpetrators dumb enough to brag about their crimes on social networks. Many even include photos or details that would be known only to those involved in the crime.

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