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CIA Open Source Monitors

William Kelly

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CIA's 'Vengeful Librarians' Monitor Twitter,Facebook

By Kimberly Dozier, AP

05 November 11


n an anonymous industrial park in Virginia, in an unassuming brick building, the CIA is following tweets - up to 5 million aday.

At the agency's Open Source Center, a team known affectionately as the"vengeful librarians" also pores over Facebook, newspapers, TV newschannels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms - anything overseas thatanyone can access and contribute to openly.

From Arabic to Mandarin Chinese, from anangry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often innative tongue. They cross-reference it with the local newspaper or a clandestinelyintercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by thehighest levels at the White House, giving a real-time peek, for example, at themood of a region after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden orperhaps a prediction of which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt.

Yes, they saw the uprising in Egypt coming; they just didn't know exactlywhen revolution might hit, said the center's director, Doug Naquin.

The center already had "predictedthat social media in places like Egypt could be a game-changer and a threat tothe regime," he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press atthe center. CIA officials said it was the first suchvisit by a reporter the agency has ever granted.

The CIA facility was set up in response to arecommendation by the 9/11 Commission, with its first priority to focus oncounterterrorism and counterproliferation. But its several hundred analysts -the actual number is classified - track a broad range, from Chinese Internetaccess to the mood on the street in Pakistan.

While most are based in Virginia, the analysts also are scatteredthroughout US embassies worldwide to get a step closer to the pulse of theirsubjects.

The most successful analysts, Naquin said,are something like the heroine of the crime novel "The Girl With theDragon Tattoo," a quirky, irreverent computer hacker who "knows howto find stuff other people don't know exists."

Those with a masters' degree in libraryscience and multiple languages, especially those who grew up speaking anotherlanguage, "make a powerful open source officer," Naquin said.

The center had started focusing on socialmedia after watching the Twitter-sphere rock the Iranian regime during theGreen Revolution of 2009, when thousands protested the results of the electionsthat put Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in power. "Farsi wasthe third largest presence in social media blogs at the time on the Web,"Naquin said.

The center's analysis ends up in PresidentBarack Obama's daily intelligence briefing in one form or another, almost everyday.

After bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in May, the CIA followed Twitter to give the White Housea snapshot of world public opinion.

Since tweets can't necessarily be peggedto a geographic location, the analysts broke down reaction by languages. Theresult: The majority of Urdu tweets, the language of Pakistan, and Chinese tweets, were negative. China is a close ally of Pakistan's. Pakistani officials protested the raidas an affront to their nation's sovereignty, a sore point that continues tocomplicate U.S.-Pakistani relations.

When the president gave his speechaddressing Mideast issues a few weeks after the raid, the tweet response overthe next 24 hours came in negative from Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, thePersian Gulf and Israel, too, with speakers of Arabic and Turkic tweetscharging that Obama favored Israel, and Hebrew tweets denouncing the speech aspro-Arab.

In the next few days, major news mediacame to the same conclusion, as did analysis by the covert side of US intelligence based on intercepts andhuman intelligence gathered in the region.

The center is also in the process ofcomparing its social media results with the track record of pollingorganizations, trying to see which produces more accurate results, Naquin said.

"We do what we can to caveat that wemay be getting an overrepresentation of the urban elite," said Naquin,acknowledging that only a small slice of the population in many areas they aremonitoring has access to computers and Internet. But he points out that accessto social media sites via cell phones is growing in areas like Africa, meaninga "wider portion of the population than you might expect is sounding offand holding forth than it might appear if you count the Internet hookups in agiven country."

Sites like Facebook and Twitter also havebecome a key resource for following a fast-moving crisis such as the riots thatraged across Bangkok in April and May of last year, the center's deputydirector said. The Associated Press agreed not to identify him because hesometimes still works undercover in foreign countries.

As director, Naquin is identified publiclyby the agency although the location of the center is kept secret to deterattacks, whether physical or electronic.

The deputy director was one of a skeletoncrew of 20 US government employees who kept the USEmbassy in Bangkok running throughout the rioting as protesters surgedthrough the streets, swarming the embassy neighborhood and trapping USdiplomats and Thais alike in their homes.

The army moved in, and traditional mediareporting slowed to a trickle as local reporters were either trapped or cowedby government forces.

"But within an hour, it was allsurging out on Twitter and Facebook," the deputy director said. The CIA homed in on 12 to 15 users who tweetedsituation reports and cellphone photos of demonstrations. The CIA staff cross-referenced the tweeters withthe limited news reports to figure out who among them was providing reliableinformation. Tweeters also policed themselves, pointing out when someone elsehad filed an inaccurate account.

"That helped us narrow down to thosedozen we could count on," he said.

Ultimately, some two-thirds of the reportscoming out of the embassy being sent back to all branches of government in Washington came from the CIA's open source analysis throughout thecrisis.

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The CIA is a virus. Interesting they would refer to the popular novel by the anti fascist Stieg Larssen. The books actal name translates to ''Men who Hate Women''.

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