Honestly, I usually find these stories a bit silly. Of course the intelligence community is monitoring social media. OSINT is gathered from any and every source available and in the right hands Twitter might be the most useful public source of intelligence ever conceived. So, this isn’t really news to most people. However, the article offers a glimpse at the methods:
“The deputy director was one of a skeleton crew of 20 U.S. government employees who kept the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok running throughout the rioting as protesters surged through the streets, swarming the embassy neighborhood and trapping U.S. diplomats and Thais alike in their homes.
The army moved in, and traditional media reporting slowed to a trickle as local reporters were either trapped or cowed by government forces.
But within an hour, it was all surging out on Twitter and Facebook,” the deputy director said. The CIA homed in on 12 to 15 users who tweeted situation reports and cellphone photos of demonstrations. The CIA staff cross-referenced the tweeters with the limited news reports to figure out who among them was providing reliable information.”
This sort of cross-referencing is exactly what I do as stories break – or as I dig deeper into a topic. You heard about the Egyptian protests on Blogs of War weeks before they made the evening news and the US Day of Rage/Occupy Wall Street protests months ahead of reports in the mainstream media because I mine Twitter constantly. This activity, which used to happen exclusively behind the scenes, now has a public component in the Blogs of War National Security Monitor.
The monitor is useful but it really just hints at what is possible. Twitter is also exceptionally useful for uncovering and mapping complex relationships. It’s not just what you tweet, it’s who you follow, who follows you, the lists you keep, etc. These public profiles, especially for anyone who works in sensitive areas, are exceedingly vulnerable to exploitation. In fact, understanding targeted relationships and networks can produce more useful intelligence than the actual published content.
Social OSINT is only going to grow in importance as time progresses. The future will be filled with threatening ad-hoc networks. Predicting their arrival won’t always be possible but if we are equally creative in exploiting technology many of them will crippled by the very tools which make their existence possible.