But we reported on this months ago.
In an anonymous industrial park in Virginia, in an unassuming brick building, the CIA is following tweets — up to 5 million a day.
At the agency’s Open Source Center, a team known affectionately as the “vengeful librarians” also pores over Facebook, newspapers, TV news channels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms — anything overseas that anyone can access and contribute to openl
Yes, they saw the uprising in Egypt coming; they just didn’t know exactly when revolution might hit, says the center’s director, Doug Naquin.
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 an interview.
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
The center’s analysis ends up in President Barack Obama’s daily intelligence briefing in one form or another, almost every day.
Since tweets can’t necessarily be pegged to a geographic location, the analysts broke down reaction by languages. The result: The majority of Urdu tweets, the language of Pakistan, and Chinese tweets, were negative. China is a close ally of Pakistan’s. Pakistani officials protested the raid as an affront to their nation’s sovereignty, a sore point that continues to complicate U.S.-Pakistani relations.
In 2009, for example, Greg Nojeim, an attorney for the Center for Democracy and Technology sat down with CNET to discuss the possibility of the U.S. government spying on its citizens’ online communications. As far as he was concerned at the time, the U.S. could spy on its citizens, although there was no way to prove that it does, in fact, do so.
“Who wants to live in a world where the government can listen in on every communication without any evidence of crime?” Nojeim said. “The consequences of that are that people won’t communicate freely and the country would be very different as a result. Imagine how your conversation with a close personal friend would change if you knew someone else was listening. That’s what is at stake. That’s what needs to be protected.”
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which has exposed U.S. diplomatic cables, videos from the wars, and more, is also concerned that some of the most prominent online companies–Facebook and Google, among others–are tools for the government to be used for access to any kind of information they want.
The deputy director was one of a skeleton crew of 20 U.S. government employees who kept the U.S. embassy in Bangkok running throughout the rioting as protesters surged through the streets, swarming the embassy neighborhood and trapping U.S. diplomats and Thais alike in their homes.
The army moved in, and traditional media reporting slowed to a trickle as local reporters were either trapped or cowed by government forces.
“But within an hour, it was all surging out on Twitter and Facebook,” the deputy director said. The CIA homed in on 12 to 15 users who tweeted situation reports and cellphone photos of demonstrations. The CIA staff cross-referenced the tweeters with the limited news reports to figure out who among them was providing reliable information. Tweeters also policed themselves, pointing out when someone else had filed an inaccurate account.
“That helped us narrow down to those dozen we could count on,” he said