CIA reveals plans to monitor the internet
But the hook up with Visible Technologies may be of little use against web-savvy criminals
Showing a degree of forethought and lateral thinking sadly lacking at the CIA in recent years, the boys from Langley, Virginia are looking to exploit social media networks through their venture capital arm In-Q-Tel. The 'Company' has wised up to opportunities offered by the reams of information posted online on sites such as Twitter and YouTube, and is seeking to mine that data.
To this end, In-Q-Tel has formed a "strategic partnership and technology development agreement" with Visible Technologies, a tech firm that monitors more than 500,000 websites on a daily basis, including messageboards, blogs and forums. It is unable to follow conversations on closed sites such as Facebook, but can access Twitter feeds and also commerce sites such as Amazon.
Presumably In-Q-Tel has bought into VT's claims that social media sites are an "emerging market in need of robust tracking and reporting". Current subscribers to VT's feeds - who include such blue chip firms as Microsoft and Xerox - can tap into conversations about recently launched products, learning about specific gripes with their new releases.
In-Q-Tel was set up in 1999 to allow the CIA to keep abreast of developments in the technological world. Former director George Tenet said: "We decided to use our limited dollars to leverage technology developed elsewhere. In 1999 we chartered In-Q-Tel. While we pay the bills, In-Q-Tel is independent of the CIA. The CIA identifies pressing problems, and In-Q-Tel provides the technology to address them." In-Q-Tel was involved in the deal that sold the Keyhole satellite mapping software behind Google Earth to the search engine.
How valuable the hook-up will actually prove to the American intelligence community is questionable; many terror cells in recent years have wised up to the level of surveillance of the online world, and conduct their business through human channels. But the ability to amass and analyse millions of conversations will certainly help agencies to track the online conversations and relationships between people of interest to them.
Perhaps more pertinently for the CIA - hit recently by scandals over the extraordinary rendition and torture of terrorism suspects - VT offers solutions that help you "protect your online reputation, enabling you to identify and address negative issues, promote positive information about your company, as well as prevent, manage and repair crises". ·
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