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[liberationtech] CIA tracks revolt by Tweet, Facebook
Frederick FN Noronha फ्रेडरिक नोरोन्या *فريدريك نورونيا
fredericknoronha at gmail.com
Thu Nov 10 06:51:58 PST 2011
AP Exclusive: CIA tracks revolt by Tweet, Facebook
By KIMBERLY DOZIER, AP Intelligence Writer – 3 days ago
McLEAN, Va. (AP) — In an anonymous industrial park, CIA analysts who
jokingly call themselves the "ninja librarians" are mining the mass of
information people publish about themselves overseas, tracking
everything from common public opinion to revolutions.
The group's effort gives the White House a daily snapshot of the world
built from tweets, newspaper articles and Facebook updates.
The agency's Open Source Center sometimes looks at 5 million tweets a
day. The analysts are also checking out TV news channels, local radio
stations, Internet chat rooms — anything overseas that people can
access and contribute to openly.
The Associated Press got an apparently unprecedented view of the
center's operations, including a tour of the main facility. The AP
agreed not to reveal its exact location and to withhold the identities
of some who work there because much of the center's work is secret.
>From Arabic to Mandarin, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the
analysts gather the information, often in a native tongue. They
cross-reference it with a local newspaper or a clandestinely
intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture
sought by the highest levels at the White House. There might be a
real-time peek, for example, at the mood of a region after the Navy
SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, or perhaps a prediction of
which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt.
Yes, they saw the uprising in Egypt coming; they just didn't know
exactly when revolution might hit, says the center's director, Doug
The center already had "predicted that social media in places like
Egypt could be a game-changer and a threat to the regime," he said in
The CIA facility was set up in response to a recommendation by the
9/11 Commission, its first priority to focus on counterterrorism and
counterproliferation. Its predecessor organization had its staff
heavily cut in the 1990s — something the CIA's management has vowed to
keep from happening again, with new budget reductions looming across
the national security spectrum.
The center's several hundred analysts — the actual number is
classified — track a broad range of subjects, including Chinese
Internet access and the mood on the street in Pakistan.
While most analysts are based in Virginia, they also are scattered
throughout U.S. embassies worldwide to get a step closer to their
The center's analysis ends up in President Barack Obama's daily
intelligence briefing in one form or another almost every day. The
material is often used to answer questions Obama poses to his inner
circle of intelligence advisers when they give him the morning rundown
of threats and trouble spots.
"The OSC's focus is overseas, collecting against foreign intelligence
issues," said CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood. "Looking at social
media outlets overseas is just a small part of what this skilled
organization does," she said. "There is no effort to collect on
The most successful open source analysts, Naquin said, are something
like the heroine of the crime novel "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,"
a quirky, irreverent computer hacker who "knows how to find stuff
other people don't know exists."
An analyst with a master's degree in library science and multiple
languages, especially one who grew up speaking another language, makes
"a powerful open source officer," Naquin said.
The center had started focusing on social media after watching the
Twitter-sphere rock the Iranian regime during the Green Revolution of
2009, when thousands protested the results of the elections that kept
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power. "Farsi was the third
largest presence in social media blogs at the time on the Web," Naquin
After bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in May, the CIA followed
Twitter to give the White House a snapshot of world public opinion.
Since tweets can't necessarily be pegged to a geographic location, the
analysts broke down reaction by language. The result: The majority of
Urdu tweets, the language of Pakistan, and Chinese tweets, were
negative. China is a close ally of Pakistan's. Officials in Pakistan
protested the raid as an affront to their nation's sovereignty, a sore
point that continues to complicate U.S.-Pakistani relations.
When President Obama gave his speech addressing Mideast issues a few
weeks after the raid, the tweet response over the next 24 hours came
in negative from Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, the Persian Gulf and
Israel, too. Tweets from speakers of Arabic and Turkic contended that
Obama favored Israel, while Hebrew tweets denounced the speech as
In the following days, major news media came to the same conclusion,
as did analysis by the covert side of U.S. intelligence based on
intercepts and human intelligence gathered in the region.
The center is also in the process of comparing its social media
results with the track record of polling organizations, trying to see
which produces more accurate results, Naquin said.
"We do what we can to caveat that we may be getting an
overrepresentation of the urban elite," said Naquin, acknowledging
that only a small slice of the population in many areas being
monitored has access to computers and Internet. But he points out that
access to social media sites via cellphones is growing in such areas
as Africa, meaning a "wider portion of the population than you might
expect is sounding off and holding forth than it might appear if you
count the Internet hookups in a given country."
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become a key resource for
following a fast-moving crisis such as the riots that raged across
Bangkok in April and May of last year, the center's deputy director
said. The AP agreed not to identify him because he sometimes still
works undercover in foreign countries.
As director, Naquin is identified publicly by the agency although the
location of the center is kept secret to deter attacks, whether
physical or electronic.
Naquin says the next generation of social media will probably be
closed-loop, subscriber-only cellphone networks, like the ones the
Taliban uses to send messages among hundreds of followers at a time in
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those networks can be penetrated only by
technical eavesdropping by branches of U.S. intelligence, such as the
National Security Agency — but Naquin predicts his covert colleagues
will find a way to adapt, as the enemy does.
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