Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Vengeful Librarians

CIA actively monitors 5 million tweets every day

Updated: Nov 04, 2011 2:32 PM EDT
By Andrew Couts
Provided by

          As if we needed any further confirmation that Big Brother is, in fact, watching, the Associated Press reports today that the Central Intelligence Agency has an entire department devoted to monitoring Twitter and Facebook posts. In addition, the CIA briefs President Obama daily on top tweets and popular Facebook posts and trends.

     The arduous task, carried out by a team known as the "Vengeful Librarians," includes sifting through more than 5 million tweets a day. (In total, Twitter's 100 million users publish approximately 140 million tweets every day.) Doing so has enabled the CIA to view how events in the US are being received overseas — like, say, the assassination of Osama bin Laden — as well as allowing the agency to keep tabs on international events, like the uprising in Egypt this spring.

        The CIA's social media monitoring, which is carried out by "several hundred" analysts at a facility in McLean, Virginia, and elsewhere around the US, was started on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission as a way to bolster the agency's counterterrorism and counterproliferation initiatives.

        Monitored sources include traditional newspapers and television broadcasts, as well as social media. The focus on Twitter began in 2009 after the micro-blogging platform played a key role in the Iranian Green Revolution.

         Because tweets do not always have location data tied to them, the Vengeful Librarians cannot track where exactly the majority of tweets originate. Instead, the intelligence team keeps track of what language tweets are published in. For instance, the team wanted to find out the world reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden. It found that the majority of tweets published in either Urdu (the language of Pakistan), or Chinese were mostly negative. Arabic and Turkic tweets accused Obama of being pro-Israel. Tweets in Hebrew thought Obama's speech was too pro-Arab.

        The CIA team has also used Twitter to monitor reports of real-time events, and can focus on a few Tweeters who are publishing accurate reports. The team found that, in these situations, other Twitter users actively stamp out erroneous information when it is reported, which proves the usefulness of Twitter as a primary source for breaking news.

          So, for those of you out there who forget that what you say online can often be seen by anyone, remember: in some windowless office building in Northeast Virginia, a CIA agent may be watching.

NOTE:  I read this very interesting story, which naturally brings to mind the 1975 motion picture Three Days Of The Condor, featuring Robert Redford, Max von Sydow and Faye Dunaway, on the WTVM- News Leader 9 -- Columbus, Georgia news site, which we follow because our cousin Eudora Linde works there as a producer.  We are all extremely proud of Eudora.


  1. When I was a kid, I used to think I might be a part of a scientific experiment, and maybe someone out there was testing me, watching me . . . I suppose it's not an unusual fantasy, but now, with all the technology, the whole idea of being watched by someone from afar has taken on real possibilities, and it's totally creepy.
    My son works in CS and talks about how some of the abilities of technology are almost too creepy to market---but of course, it's only a matter of time, right? He also talks about how the CIA seeks out kids who have his kind of abilities . . .

  2. I don't find it to be an unusual fantasy at all and what your son says doesn't surprise me either. It's good occasionally to reflect on the changing recruitment profiles for the CIA. At the time I graduated from college, Three Days Of The Condor, showing some spies as shooters and others as bookworms, made a lot of sense to me, and of course the Robert Redford character does and is meant to have a lot of appeal. I guess CS is just a new type of bookworming. What I have been finding genuinely creepy is the whole notion of "remote control war," where a person sitting in a room in Omaha can wreak havoc half a world away via drone. A couple of years ago, in a bowling alley at one of Jane's birthday parties, I first saw (and played) an arcade version of an extremely violent videogame. It was easy to see how gripping they could be and how readily they could be used for military desensitizing exercises. A couple of years later, while doing legal work for a gaming company that published games like this, I met some of the game designers and they couldn't have been further removed from the sort of psychopath/reprobates you might have imagined them to be. Just very bright CS guys with fairly refined aesthetic senses and their eyes on a commercial prize. Curtis

  3. I really wish I had not read this.

  4. Well, you know, as they say, It is what It is. I know what you mean. Curtis