Research: Spies increasingly using Facebook, Twitter to gather data

Spying on social networkingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
During the past four years, this blog has reported several incidents pointing to the increasing frequency with which spy agencies of various countries are utilizing social networking media as sources of tactical intelligence. But are we at a point where we can speak of a trend? In other words, is the rapid rise of social networking creating the conditions for the emergence of a new domain in tactical intelligence collection? This past week saw the publication of a new research paper (.pdf), which I co-authored with Micah-Sage Bolden, entitled “Social Networking as a Paradigm Shift in Tactical Intelligence Collection”. In it, we argue that recent case studies point to social networking as the new cutting edge in open-source tactical intelligence collection. We explain that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of other social networking platforms are increasingly viewed by intelligence agencies as invaluable channels of information acquisition. We base our findings on three recent case studies, which we believe highlight the intelligence function of social networking. The first case study comes out of the Arab Spring, which, according to one report, “prompted the US government to begin developing guidelines for culling intelligence from social media networks”. We also examine NATO’s operations during the 2011 Libyan civil war (Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR), when Western military forces systematically resorted to social networking media to gather actionable intelligence, by utilizing open sources like Twitter to pinpoint targets for attack. Finally, we examine the sabotage by Israeli security services of the 2011 “Welcome to Palestine Air Flotilla” initiative, a campaign organized by several European groups aiming to draw worldwide attention to the travel restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on the Occupied Territories. Israeli authorities were able to disrupt the “air flotilla” by systematically monitoring the participants’ online activities on social networks. In conclusion, we argue that, examined collectively, these case studies underscore the ability of social networking to do three things: (a) reflect opinion trends and channel mass political action; (b) provide actionable tactical intelligence; and (c) enable highly effective —and highly controversial— security operations against targeted groups. The paper, which is published in the 2012 Intelligence Studies Yearbook (pages 28-40), is available in .pdf format here.

5 Responses to Research: Spies increasingly using Facebook, Twitter to gather data

  1. amanfromMars says:

    Hi, Joseph,

    Thanks for the info.

    Although I appreciate that one cannot be expected to list all of the abilities which social networking can do/can energise, …….. and the three that you mention [(a) reflect opinion trends and channel mass political action; (b) provide actionable tactical intelligence; and (c) enable highly effective —and highly controversial— security operations against targeted groups.] are certainly well to the fore in reactionary field work to information hoovered/intelligence gathered/metadata analysed ……. you appear to have missed out, or even deliberately neglected to mention probably the prime mover and shaker application in global social networking ….. virtually novel and practically anonymous leading future intelligence provision aka Future Remote Globalised Control.

    Such is in AI and Magical Mystery Turing Flights of Cyber Fancy, the Great Game Changer Currency ……. and is freely transparently shared here for other party collection and metadata analysis and positive reaction and/or constructive action.

  2. who’s knowing and give the news it’s call cell,and all is be agenda by every organitation even they are civilian and not knowing to much,behind the wall Toni Paneta CIA Chieff;you care you cure

  3. intelNews says:

    @amanfromMars: Thanks for posting. Obviously the term “Future Remote Globalised Control” is extremely loaded and for that reason highly misleading, in my opinion. There is no denial that intelligence agencies seek access to social networking in order to monitor and analyze what are called “global trends”; but I find that any mention of “global control” highly overestimates the mission, capabilities, and even brains, of intelligence agencies. Many of them can’t even control their own employees or finances, let alone the world. [JF]

  4. Surelyyoujest says:

    I don’t do Twitter, Facebook, Myspace or any social networking site. Things like these reply boxes are about the most exposure I intend to give to the public/government snoops. If you all were to suddenly boycott them for, say……a month, the only thing left for DHS and the NSA to watch would be bunch of kids on Myspace, the news media on Facebook, and a bunch of lying, stealing congressional types on Twitter. That would leave you to the more pressing issue of what to do about the upcoming flooding of our skies with surveillance drones, some of which I suspect will be armed. I saw this really slick bumper sticker last year that just about says it all: “Buy a gun, kill a bureaucrat and do the world a favor”.

  5. We advise our clients, ‘anything you say on a phone or comments made on the internet, are not private.’

    From what we understand there are over 100 spies watching everything on the internet. This includes several duplicating government agencies and their subcontractors, including all others within the world just to start with.

    Intelligence information gathering didn’t just start. It’s been in existence for many years example being local/national newspaper articles physically cut and saved.
    Intelligence gathering by government law enforcement agencies did a covet job of which they had to do in order to keep tract of the bad guys. Obviously today this is way out of the scope of original intent.

    A sign of privacy regulation is that ‘In late January, the European Commission published a proposal “on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data.’ When this is recognized and agreed by everyone, we feel it sure will help

We welcome informed comments and corrections. Comments attacking or deriding the author(s), instead of addressing the content of articles, will NOT be approved for publication.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: