​Death threat, FBI complaint greet launch of intelligence community database

As Wikileaks prepares to merge its data with a new transparency tool, some are not happy at having their LinkedIn CVs harvested.

A project that harvested the LinkedIn resumes of 27,000 people in the global intelligence community has been greeted by the threat of lawsuits, a complaint to the FBI, and even a death threat.

Transparency Toolkit's M. C. McGrath says while there hasn't yet been any official response to the open-source intelligence project, called ICWatch, there has been individual push-back. In addition to the threats, there have been some angry phone calls.

Open-source intelligence, referred to as OSINT in intelligence circles, exploits publicly available data to reveal new information. In the case of ICWatch, the aim is to "watch the watchers".

McGrath says several people have asked to be removed from ICWatch, but as the data was already made publicly available, the group's policy is not to delete them.

"Not everyone in ICWatch has responded aversely either," he says. "Some people in the database seem more amused than upset to find their profiles and a couple have asked us technical questions about the data."


There are some problems with that data, however.

Some of the identifiers used on LinkedIn appear to have scooped up the resumes of people who have never been part of the intelligence community. The term "Surrey", for instance, captured people by that name.

McGrath acknowledges there are a few such problematic search terms, including "PRISM", which could be the name of the NSA surveillance program or the word in general usage.

"This needs cleaning up by hand and we have plans to do this, but the effects of this are somewhat limited as each term has the number of possible results capped by Google," he says.

"Later on we started using additional filters to reduce or eliminate unrelated resumes for program names that are also common words. For example, while the search term PRISM has quite a bit of noise, PRISM SIGINT will at worst get people who work in signals intelligence and use the word prism in an unrelated context and at best get people who worked on PRISM the surveillance program."

Meanwhile, Wikileaks over the weekend tweeted that it was preparing a data merge with ICWatch to be launched on Monday. Apart from hosting an instance of ICWatch on Wikileaks.org, details of the merge remained unclear at time of publication.

McGrath says the death threat received was general, aimed at everyone involved in the project.

"I'm not too worried about the death threat or complaints at this point as I haven't heard more on them," he says.

Another project would follow ICWatch soon, he adds.

Transparency Toolkit is also working to add more data sources, improving the search software, and developing a new version of its network analysis tool that integrates with the search software.

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