NPR Story
3:00 pm
Mon November 7, 2011

How Does The CIA Use Social Media?

Originally published on Mon November 7, 2011 8:04 pm

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

And it's time now for All Tech Considered. Today, a look at social media and the CIA. A group within the agency monitors Facebook updates and tweets from people overseas, up to 5 million a day. Kimberly Dozier got a rare inside look at these operations. She's the intelligence correspondent for the Associated Press, and she joins me in the studio. Welcome.

KIMBERLY DOZIER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: What, exactly, is the CIA looking at?

DOZIER: This is the Open Source Center. They're looking at anything that you can find openly, not covertly, not by spying. This is everything from a newspaper article in Russia to a radio broadcast in Bangkok, to what someone is tweeting near Abbottabad, Pakistan, as a Navy SEAL raid is happening. It's anything that you or I could also find, except the top minds at the CIA are looking at this stuff, and they're sending it to the White House and beyond.

SIEGEL: How many minds are actually looking at this? - because we're talking about a mountainous amount of information here.

DOZIER: You're talking about several hundred staffers. You've got people who are experts at finding information. A lot of them have master's of librarian science. They know how to track things down on the Internet that you and I simply wouldn't know existed. They also try to hire people who are native language speakers of another language. This is the way that the CIA is trying to give policymakers back in the States an idea of what next step should they take, what might be the reaction or the fallout on the ground.

SIEGEL: The intended people being listened to or read here are foreigners overseas. Should we assume, though, that if Americans are tweeting in South Asia, that they're going to be intercepted along with everyone else?

DOZIER: Well, if that's part of the language that's being followed and they happened to be there, I guess it could be swept up in the analysis. But the CIA was very clear with me: We do not follow Americans here or overseas. That's not our purview.

SIEGEL: And what are the successes that the CIA has claimed from doing this?

DOZIER: Well, they have predicted things like - believe it or not - the fallout from the revolt in Egypt, the Arab Spring. I sat down with the director of the center, Doug Naquin, who said that after the Twitter revolution of 2009 in Iran, they had predicted that if something like that took hold in the Middle East - in a country like Egypt - social media could be a game-changer. They just couldn't predict when the revolt would happen, and how quickly the fallout would come.

SIEGEL: Is the use of social media sufficiently pervasive in the countries that the CIA and U.S. policymakers are interested in, such that you can find out what, quote, people think? Or do you find out what university-educated young people think?

DOZIER: You're right, and that is a problem they acknowledged. They said that's why they try to backstop this with what the local radio broadcasts might be in Sub-Saharan Africa, where they might not have such great Internet saturation. But the director did point out that in some of those places where people can't access computers, that the SMS phenomenon - where people use their cell phones to go online and register their opinion - that that is also spreading the saturation across the world.

He also said, though, that that could be one of the downfalls for the Open Source Center in the next generation. It's already happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban, al-Qaida will get a network of subscribers, and they will send a message in a closed loop to just those people - say, 700 people across southern Afghanistan will get the same text message. The problem with that is, then you're going to have to combine covert methods. NSA and its eavesdropping methodology will have to penetrate those networks, get that information.

SIEGEL: I guess this is true of all kinds of - certainly, of all kinds of open-source intelligence. These analysts at the CIA must see a tremendous amount of trivial stuff, that - they must read through an enormous amount of information that leads them nowhere.

DOZIER: That's why they call themselves the Ninja Librarians.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DOZIER: Trying to sift through the information and figure out what counts, what is need-to-know, and what you just leave by the wayside. And, you know, it's a lot like our jobs.

SIEGEL: Kimberly Dozier, thanks a lot for talking with us.

DOZIER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Kim Dozier is intelligence correspondent for the Associated Press. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.