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.