US spy agencies invest in Internet-monitoring company

In-Q-Tel logo

In-Q-Tel logo

In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture-capital investment arm, is funding a private software company specializing in monitoring online social media, such as YouTube, Twitter and Flickr. The company, Visible Technologies, unleashes web crawlers that scan and sift through over half a million Internet sites a day, looking for open-source intelligence (OSINT) of interest to its customers. The latter receive real-time updates of Internet activity, based on specific sets of keywords they provide. Noah Shachtman, of Wired’s Danger Room blog, correctly notes that In-Q-Tel’s latest investment is indicative of a wider trend within US intelligence agencies to enhance their foreign OSINT collection and analysis. Incidentally, the US Pentagon has shown similar interests since 2006. In-Q-Tel’s spokesperson, Donald Tighe, told Danger Room that the CIA-linked company is interested only in “foreign social media”, in an effort to provide US intelligence agencies with “early-warning detection on how issues are playing internationally”. The problem is, of course, that the same web-monitoring tools can easily be used domestically, to monitor public opinion or wider social and political trends inside the United States, which would violate the CIA’s mandate. This is not the first time that In-Q-Tel has invested in online monitoring and indexing software. Last June, the CIA investment arm bought shares in Lucid Imagination, a new software start-up specializing in search engine software.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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