CIA monitors Facebook, Twitter: Five million tweets a day

Summary:Based in an anonymous industrial unit close to CIA headquarters, a unit of the agency, dubbed the "vengeful librarians", scour Facebook, Twitter and more for real-time intelligence.

The Associated Press this morning reports an exclusive, explaining how the White House can receive real-time updates on a situation on the ground, leading up to a revolution, predicting crime and disorder, or the 'mood in the air' shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency on a daily basis, out of an "anonymous industrial park in Virginia", follows over 5 million tweets by users on the ground.

The 'Open Source Center', manned by a team the agency affectionately dubs the "vengeful librarians", also trawls other social networking sites like Facebook, along with Internet chat rooms; all the way down to newspapers and anything that anyone can contribute to openly.

Along with the vast resources of the agency, the real-time information from an angry blog post to a tweet sent from a BlackBerry, location-based data is gathered and tied to a made phone call to collect as much information as possible. This gives those in the highest offices of the U.S. government a specific picture of a certain place, at a certain time, to predict when an event that may cause national instability, diplomatic harm or suchlike could occur.

The report goes on to suggest that the White House, courtesy of the intelligence gathered from the vast array of resources at their disposal, from the publicly-available content provided by citizens and journalists alike, "saw the uprising in Egypt coming", but they did not know exactly when it would strike.

The facility was set up as a recommended action based on the report by the 9/11 Commission, with many working from the 'industrial unit' to U.S. embassies around the world, in a bid to get closer to the action on the ground.

Intelligence services rely on those speaking the specific dialects of difficult-to-understand languages, often those who grew up in the area and emigrated, or those with family still in the region, along with those with a vast array of degrees in specific subjects to formulate guidance based on the intelligence presented to them.

While many have suspected for some time, with the rare utterance of admittance, that the most clandestine intelligence services around the world monitor Facebook and Twitter, blogs and other content on the web, the report explains how "Facebook and Twitter... have become a key resource for following a fast moving crisis".

By following messages, Facebook status updates and tweets from Bangkok during the recent uprising, journalists were hampered by the rioting and the army moving in, with traditional media slowing to a trickle. Citizen journalism, therefore, was the prime target for the agency, allowing dozens of 'reporters' to be honed in on to provide valuable, real-time information on the ground.

To read more, visit CBS News.

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Topics: Hardware, Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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