Individual Twitter and Facebook users—particularly those residing in the United States—should not be overly worried about how the Central Intelligence Agency monitors posts on the popular social networks, according to a former IT manager for the agency.
“They’re primarily be looking for words that indicate sentiment,” said the former CIA employee, who retired this year after more than three decades with the agency and spoke on the condition anonymity, since he lacked official clearance. “This week they may be looking at Greece to see what people are saying about the bailout.”
An Associated Press report last week outlined operations of the Open Source Center, which has been monitoring up to 5 million tweets per day. While the center has existed in one form or another for at least four decades to monitor news accounts in foreign countries, last week’s AP article set off some speculation and minor panic among some users of Twitter, Facebook, and other online forums.
“This makes us all feel better lol,” Trish Hendricks tweeted as the article made its way around online communities.
Technically, the Open Source Center is housed under the director of national intelligence and not the CIA, and the several hundred analysts that work there are charged with picking out patterns and monitoring sentiment in foreign nations following major world events, such as the death of Osama bin Laden in May or President Obama’s speech addressing Mideast issues a few weeks after the raid.
By mandate, the CIA is prohibited from picking up information about U.S. citizens and is very limited in how it operates within the U.S., the former CIA employee said. “In my experience, that dictate was taken quite seriously,” he said.
The retired CIA employee also added that people shouldn’t be surprised that information they post publicly on social networks is being monitored. All of the information analyzed by the Open Source Center, including foreign newspapers and television broadcasts, as well as the information culled from Twitter and Facebook, is publicly available information.
“Suppose in another time there was a town square where people came from all over and posted information on a public bulletin board,” he said. “The CIA would have been interested in those messages and probably would have taken pictures of it.”
“CIA tracks revolt by Tweet, Facebook: we already knew that. But, a reminder doesn’t hurt,” @DownWithTheBull tweeted.