Sunday, January 22, 2012

U.S. Homeland Security Monitoring Facebook, Twitter and other Sites for Signs of Discontent

DHS outsourced $11.3 Million to monitor social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for signs of discontent.

Records reveal that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security paid contractors $11.3 million dollars to monitor Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, alternative news media, blogs, forums and many other sites.

Although USDHS Undersecretary Caryn Wagner said recently that the Homeland Security department, established after the 9/11 attacks, is not actively monitoring any social networks, in the Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center (NOC) released Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative, the intelligence-gathering arm of the DHS, the Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS) gives itself permission to “gather, store, analyze, and disseminate” data on millions of users of social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) and business networking sites (Linkedin).

Specifically, it described the plan and purpose behind the DHS’s collection of personal information from news anchors, journalists, reporters, or anyone else who posts articles, comments, or other information to many popular web outlets. The report defined the target audience as anyone who may use “traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.”

Documents of a lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (‘EPIC’), disclose that the federal government awarded a 11.3 million dollar contract to the military contractor, General Dynamics, to monitor social networks, blogs, news media sites, even comments, for “public reaction to major governmental proposals with homeland security implications.” That’s government bureaucratic-lingo for public discontent.

DHS agents using advanced modeling and simulation equipment

While it has long been known that the department monitors the Internet for information about emerging threats to public safety like a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, the documents show that its Social Networking / Media Capability program is also focused on “public reaction to governmental proposals with homeland security implications.”

The DHS activities are one of the key reasons why the U.S. Senate created the Church Committee in the 1970′s  in the first place, inquiring why federal agencies were investigating political dissent. Yes, that's right, Americans spying on Americans who disagreed with U.S. policies.

As I detailed in my article, Facebook is CIA's Primary Intelligence Source, people share virtually every bit of information about themselves with their favorite social media sites. Not only are people sharing the obvious, such as their age, race, sexual orientation and religious beliefs, they are now even posting their political affiliations, convictions and frustrations, some of which could be misinterpreted. They are now sharing literally everything. And since this is open source information, it is totally legal for the DHS, FBI, ATF, DEA, CIA, NSA and any other acronym and law enforcement agency to use it.

This information is posted alongside your picture, where the government creates a composite profile of you and literally every American who is even remotely connected to a social media site, particularly Facebook, but also Twitter, Google Plus, MySpace, YouTube and about a dozen others.

This collected data is then assessed, studied and analyzed by experts, the results of which are "sought by the highest levels at the White House" and ends up in the President's intelligence briefing almost on a daily basis, Doug Naquin, director of the CIA's Open Source Center was quoted saying.

Deputy CIA Director, Christopher Sarinsky, went as far as saying about Facebook: “After years of secretly monitoring the public, we were astounded so many people would willingly publicize where they live, their religious and political views, an alphabetized list of all their friends, personal emails addresses, phone numbers, hundreds of photos of themselves, and even status updates about what they were doing moment to moment. It is truly a dream come true for the CIA.” 
Facebook Twitter, Google Plus, MySpace and the other social media sites are enabling every agency reporting to Washington to get reliable real-time assessments of public sentiment during these troubling times. 
It is not surprising that our government want to keep up with public sentiment and keep tabs on the troublemakers and rebel rouses, considering the civil uprisings and revolutions are happening around the world. Obama and other Washington lawmakers are scared that public discontent could eventually lead to an uprising like the ones they recently witnessed in North Africa, ending with those governments being overrun and their leaders being ousted, even executed. Is it not conceivable that our government fears that something of this nature could happen in the US? Check out my article, Did Obama Administration pass NDAA in fear of civil uprisings like in Libya, Egypt or Syria? 

Still, the legal, social and moral implications of US social networking surveillance programs tracking dissent of its own citizens, even with open source tools, are deeply disturbing.

Also troubling is the fact that US Homeland Security not only knows who disagrees with them, but that the agency can shut down any sites not flattering towards the US government anytime they so choose, without warning, explanation or due process. 

Though it never bothered me that Conspiracy Watch is being watched, it does bother me when realizing that they could shut down the site if they chose to do so. Even if Conspiracy Watch, or one of my sister sites, like Censorship Watch, were doing nothing but their patriotic duty trying to get out important information to the public, someone from DHS could pull the plug on my civilly minded watchdog sites.

It is activities like these of the Department of Homeland Security that the US Senate created the Church Committee in the 1970′s to investigate why US government agencies were spying on American’s who disagreed with federal policies. This resulted in the founding of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, over 35 years ago, for keeping tabs on the intelligence community (the spying on the spies) to prevent unlawful monitoring of citizens.

The Church Committee should have oversight of the kinds of wrongs that the EPIC lawsuit found out had been perpetrated by DHS contractors at General Dynamics.

Here are some of the things that DHS paid General Dynamics to monitor:
  • The contractor shall perform a broad open sources search for information on breaking news stories. 
  • The contractor shall monitor major broadcast networks
  • The contractor shall monitor and review all Associated Press (AP) stories generated within the U.S. by each state’s AP bureau
  • The contractor shall monitor and receive alerts on local and regional broadcast news via categorized/focused text/video feeds
  • The contractor shall monitor and receive alerts on other wire service stories via categorized/focused Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds
  • The contractor shall monitor appropriate Internet web sites on breaking situational events
  • The contractor shall monitor and receive full motion video (FMV) or other streaming media

If an “incident” occurred — a “National Security Situation / International Security Situation (NSS/ISS)” — General Dynamics had to continue working on the six items above, in addition to:
  • Query and search the Internet using other search engines such as Google and Yahoo 
  • Continue to monitor/review reports available via above open sources for information on other breaking news stories

Who or What is our Government Afraid of?

Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Caryn Wagner (right) said the use of such technology in uprisings that started in December in Tunisia shocked some officials in the U.S. into attention. What, are they afraid citizens will storm the Capitol and unseat our President, Senators and Congressmen? You are kidding, Ms. Wagner, aren't you? Come on, this is America!

Aside from discussing the use of technology in unrest that has led to regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Wagner delivered a speech that addressed the way the department operates, implying that its critical elements include a nationwide network of 72 fusion centers that gather and analyze reports of suspicious activity.

Well, Ms. Wagner, what do you consider suspicious activity? Could it include someone posting how our government policies suck?

If so, now with Obama's new Executive Order passed, maybe I should pack my toothbrush and prepare for a long stay in the Big House. 

Written By: Tom Retterbush

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