The Military Is Already Using Facebook to Track Your Mood

The intelligence community implores you not to delete your Facebook profile.

National Journal
Patrick Tucker, Defense One
July 3, 2014, 7:55 a.m.

Crit­ics have tar­geted a re­cent study on how emo­tions spread on the pop­u­lar so­cial net­work site Face­book, com­plain­ing that some 600,000 Face­book users did not know that they were tak­ing part in an ex­per­i­ment. Some­what more dis­turb­ing, the re­search­ers de­lib­er­ately ma­nip­u­lated users’ feel­ings to meas­ure an ef­fect called emo­tion­al con­ta­gion.

Though Cor­nell Uni­versity, home to at least one of the re­search­ers, said the study re­ceived no ex­tern­al fund­ing, but it turns out that the uni­versity is cur­rently re­ceiv­ing De­fense De­part­ment money for some ex­tremely sim­il­ar-sound­ing re­search — the ana­lys­is of so­cial net­work posts for “sen­ti­ment,” i.e. how people are feel­ing, in the hopes of identi­fy­ing so­cial “tip­ping points.”

The tip­ping points in ques­tion in­clude “the 2011 Egyp­tian re­volu­tion, the 2011 Rus­si­an Duma elec­tions, the 2012 Ni­geri­an fuel sub­sidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Tur­key,” ac­cord­ing to the web­site of the Min­erva Ini­ti­at­ive, a De­fense De­part­ment so­cial sci­ence pro­ject.

It’s the sort of work that the U.S. mil­it­ary has been fund­ing for years, most fam­ously via the open-source in­dic­at­ors pro­gram, an In­tel­li­gence Ad­vanced Re­search Pro­jects Activ­ity (IARPA) pro­gram that looked at Twit­ter to pre­dict so­cial un­rest.

If the idea of the gov­ern­ment mon­it­or­ing and even ma­nip­u­lat­ing you on Face­book gives you a cold, creep­ing feel­ing, the bad news is that you can ex­pect the in­tel­li­gence com­munity to spend a great deal more time and money re­search­ing sen­ti­ment and re­la­tion­ships via so­cial net­works like Face­book. In fact, de­fense con­tract­ors and high-level U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials say that so­cial net­work data has be­come one of the most im­port­ant tools they use in the col­lect­ing in­tel­li­gence.

De­fense One re­cently caught up with Lt. Gen. Mi­chael Flynn, the dir­ect­or of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency who said the U.S.mil­it­ary has “com­pletely re­vamped” the way it col­lects in­tel­li­gence around the ex­ist­ence of large, openly avail­able data sources and es­pe­cially so­cial me­dia like Face­book. “The in­form­a­tion that we’re able to ex­tract form so­cial me­dia — it’s giv­ing us in­sights that frankly we nev­er had be­fore,” he said.

In oth­er words, the head of one of the biggest U.S. mil­it­ary in­tel­li­gence agen­cies needs you on Face­book.

“Just over a dec­ade ago, when I was a seni­or in­tel­li­gence of­ficer, I spent most of my time in the world of ‘ints’ — sig­nals in­tel­li­gence im­agery, hu­man in­tel­li­gence — and used just a little bit of open-source in­form­a­tion to en­rich the as­sess­ments that we made. Fast for­ward to 2014 and the ex­plo­sion of the in­form­a­tion en­vir­on­ment in just the last few years alone. Open-source now is a place I spend most of my time. The open world of in­form­a­tion provides us most of what we need and the ‘ints’ of old, they en­rich the as­sess­ments that we’re able to make from open-source in­form­a­tion.”

Open-source in­tel­li­gence can take a vari­ety of forms, but among the most vo­lu­min­ous, per­son­al and use­ful is Face­book and Twit­ter data. The avail­ab­il­ity of that sort of in­form­a­tion is chan­ging the way that DIA trains in­tel­li­gence op­er­at­ives. Long gone are the spooks of old who would fish through trash for clues on tar­gets. Here to stay are the eyes look­ing through your va­ca­tion pic­tures.

“We train them dif­fer­ently even than we did a year ago be­cause of the types of tools we have. There are ad­just­ments to the trade craft, and that’s due to the amount of in­form­a­tion we can now get our hands on,” Flynn said.

The growth of so­cial me­dia has not just changed day-to-day life at agen­cies like­DIA, it’s also giv­en rise to a mini gold rush in de­fense con­tract­ing. The mil­it­ary will be spend­ing an in­creas­ing amount of the $50 bil­lion in­tel­li­gence budget on private con­tract­ors to per­form open-source in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing and ana­lys­is, ac­cord­ing to Flynn. That’s evid­enced by the rise in com­pan­ies eager to provide those ser­vices.

Some of them are well known like Pa­lantir, the Sil­ic­on Val­ley data visu­al­iz­a­tion gi­ant that’s been fea­tured prom­in­ently inBloomberg Busi­nes­s­week and has graced the cov­er of For­bes. Col­lect­ing or ana­lyz­ing so­cial net­work data wasn’t something they ori­gin­ally wanted to get in­to ac­cord­ing to Bry­ant Chung, a Pa­lantir em­ploy­ee. Pa­lantir doesn’t mar­ket it­self as a data col­lec­tion com­pany. They provide a tool set to help agen­cies visu­al­ize and share data.

The com­pany wor­ried that part­ner­ing with the in­tel­li­gence com­munity to do so­cial net­work data col­lec­tion could hurt their repu­ta­tion among the tech com­munity, in­creas­ingly wary of the gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to Chung. When the com­pany was ap­proached by NATO and some U.S. in­tel­li­gence groups, they de­cided to ex­plore the mar­ket­place for sen­ti­ment ana­lys­is of so­cial net­work data.

“There are a lot of oth­er com­mer­cial com­pan­ies already in that space. Un­less we know we’re go­ing to crush it, we don’t want to get in,” Chung said. “I think we have a dif­fer­en­ti­ated cap­ab­il­ity, es­pe­cially at a macro level. For ex­ample, you are in­ter­ested in mon­it­or­ing an elec­tion some­where in Africa and you want to know who are the people tweet­ing on one side of an elec­tion versus the oth­er, or who are the most in­flu­en­tial tweeters or you what if you have in­tel­li­gence that an ex­plo­sion is about to hap­pen at a par­tic­u­lar square, can you con­firm that us­ing Tweets?” That’s the sort of thing Pa­lantir wants to help you with.

Many of the groups do­ing this sort of work on be­half of the gov­ern­ment are small out­fits you prob­ably have nev­er heard of. And ideally, you nev­er would.

One of them is a com­pany out of Aus­tin, Texas, called SnapTrends, foun­ded in 2012. They provide a “so­cial listen­ing” ser­vice that ana­lyzes posts to provide in­sights about the cir­cum­stances of the poster, one of the most im­port­ant of which is the poster’s loc­a­tion. The com­pany uses cell tower dens­ity, so­cial net­work knowhow, and vari­ous oth­er ele­ments to fig­ure out who is post­ing what and where. Are you someone who re­fuses to geo-tag your tweets out of con­cerns for pri­vacy? Do you turn off your phone’s GPS re­ceiv­ing cap­ab­il­ity to stay un­der the pro­ver­bi­al radar? It doesn’t mat­ter to SnapTrends.

One tweet and they can find you.

“If it’s a dense en­vir­on­ment. I can put you with­in a block. If it’s a [bad] en­vir­on­ment I can put you with­in two or three blocks,” said Todd Robin­son, dir­ect­or of op­er­a­tions for De­fense Mil­it­ary In­tel­li­gence for the com­pany Gen­er­al Dy­nam­ics In­form­a­tion Tech­no­logy, GDIT, and SnapTrends pres­id­ent for Middle East­ern op­er­a­tions. GDIT partnered with SnapTrends to sell their ser­vices to the gov­ern­ment. “Once I do have you, I click this but­ton right here, I can go back five years [of so­cial me­dia posts.]”

SnapTrends says that the tool was ex­tremely help­ful in the in­vest­ig­a­tion fol­low­ing the 2013 Bo­ston Mara­thon bomb at­tacks. Us­ing so­cial net­work ana­lys­is, “we found the col­lege kids that had ac­cess to the com­puters [owned by the sus­pects]. We were able to get to them first,” said Robins.

The use of so­cial net­work data for in­tel­li­gence isn’t just fair, Rob­bins says, it’s a no-brain­er. Scrawl­ing Face­book for clues about hu­man be­ha­vi­or doesn’t re­quire break­ing in via back­doors or oth­er elab­or­ate pieces of tech­no­lo­gic­al trick­ery. “When you join Twit­ter and Face­book, you sign an agree­ment say­ing you will post that to a pub­lic web page. We just pull data from that web page.”

“I’m a re­tired in­tel­li­gence guy,” he said. “This is not that dif­fi­cult, people.”

But while so­cial data may be an im­port­ant tool in in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion, it’s hardly a per­man­ent one.

In the same way that ob­serving the be­ha­vi­or of some sub­atom­ic particles changes the be­ha­vi­or of those particles (called the ob­serv­er ef­fect), watch­ing the tweets and posts of tar­gets can cre­ate an en­vir­on­ment where people tweet less. You pois­on your own well by draw­ing from it. That hap­pens on an in­di­vidu­al level in terms of spe­cif­ic hu­man tar­gets but also on a lar­ger, so­ci­et­al level.

“We’ve seen that already,” Robin­son said. “There is al­ways a risk that as people un­der­stand this, they’ll quit put­ting [posts] on there.”

The view was seconded by SnapTrends co-founder and CEO, Eric Klas­son. “The more the ‘bad guys’ know about what is pos­sible, the less they will use so­cial me­dia. This un­der­mines state, loc­al, fed­er­al and in­ter­na­tion­al law en­force­ment ef­forts,” he told De­fense One.

When asked if he was con­cerned that people might stop us­ing Face­book, Twit­ter and oth­er so­cial net­works as a res­ult of U.S.in­tel­li­gence activ­it­ies, Flynn answered mat­ter-of-factly: “Yes.”

“We have to be agile enough to watch how those ad­apt­a­tions oc­cur and we have to try to stay ahead of them for when we see them and ad­just our cap­ab­il­it­ies to be able to un­der­stand them. People will con­stantly ad­apt to their en­vir­on­ment in or­der to sur­vive,” he said.

DIA has some time be­fore the so­cial net­work pool is spoiled. Today, Face­book re­mains the num­ber one so­cial net­work in the Middle East. More than 90 per­cent of all the In­ter­net users of Qatar, Saudi Ar­a­bia, Le­ban­on, Egypt, Tunisia and the United Ar­ab Emir­ates use the ser­vice.

Should mil­lions of people de­cide to aban­don the net­work and seek out an­oth­er one to con­nect to and com­mu­nic­ate with the out­side world, the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­munity will likely already be there.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×