So you tweak your Facebook status a few times a day, toot out five or six tweets, post the odd snarky comment on a Youtube video of dancing cats, dress up as Gabourey Sidibe on GayRomeo.com, and have an old Friendster profile out there somewhere to embarrass you like a passport photograph from 1992. You probably think these are just random traces, right? But they are texts, and good literary scholars and cool cyberpunks alike read their Derrilard and Baudrida and know that texts are endlessly fascinating, texts add up, you can put them together in all kind of configurations, you can invent or imagine old and new people behind them, you can read Don Quixote as if it was written by Pierre Menard, or the Hardy Boys as if it was about the Koch Brothers, and you can find all kinds of sentiments in them that defy the dull freight of ordinary meaning. What if “That cat could beat Chaz Bono on Dancing With the Stars” were a coded message? What if it were a cry of mourning for Osama bin Laden?
Hey! This should flatter you. Life is not random, and neither are your maunderings. Even without guessing it, you may be part of the “chatter” they are always saying they were listening to just before something big got bombed. The CIA has all kinds of cool, tattooed Ninjas in tortoiseshell glasses tapping the keyboards to track you.
In an anonymous industrial park, CIA analysts who jokingly call themselves the “ninja librarians” are mining the mass of information people publish about themselves overseas, tracking everything from common public opinion to revolutions….
The agency’s Open Source Center sometimes looks at 5 million tweets a day. The analysts are also checking out TV news channels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms — anything overseas that people can access and contribute to openly.
From Arabic to Mandarin, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often in a native tongue. They cross-reference it with a local newspaper or a clandestinely intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by the highest levels at the White House. …
The center’s several hundred analysts — the actual number is classified — track a broad range of subjects, including Chinese Internet access and the mood on the street in Pakistan. While most analysts are based in Virginia, they also are scattered throughout U.S. embassies worldwide to get a step closer to their subjects.
The center’s analysis ends up in President Barack Obama’s daily intelligence briefing in one form or another almost every day. The material is often used to answer questions Obama poses to his inner circle of intelligence advisers when they give him the morning rundown of threats and trouble spots.
Of course, if you are lucky enough to be an American citizen, you are illegally immune to this surveillance, which is only directed at the population of the other 195 countries in the world, plus several animal species that communicate in tones only Michelle Bachmann can hear.
“The OSC’s focus is overseas, collecting against foreign intelligence issues,” said CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood. “Looking at social media outlets overseas is just a small part of what this skilled organization does,” she said. “There is no effort to collect on Americans.”
Of course you can believe them! They’re the CIA, for God’s sake! The United States intelligence community does not collect information on its own citizens. Instead, we kill them with drones.
And the people who do this are really funky. Inside each one, carefully vetted by professional recruiters employing sodium pentathol and waterboarding, lurks a body-pierced, bisexual Scandinavian with a history of child abuse.
The most successful open source analysts, [OSC director Doug] Naquin said, are something like the heroine of the crime novel “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” a quirky, irreverent computer hacker who “knows how to find stuff other people don’t know exists.” An analyst with a master’s degree in library science and multiple languages, especially one who grew up speaking another language, makes “a powerful open source officer,” Naquin said.
CIA analysts are notorious for their weird tattoos.
Meanwhile, while you are mulling all this over, pay a little visit to youropenbook.org. This site trawls Facebook pages to search for information that’s publicly available, even if the people who put it there don’t have any idea it is. Wired editor David Rowan (who explains here why he is not on the social network) suggests trying out search terms like “cheated on my wife” or “my new mobile number is” or “feeling horny.“ You’ll be surprised how much these open, friendly Facebookers share.
The idea of the site is to shame Facebook into instituting more understandable, usable, and safe privacy protections. Check out their “proposed privacy controls for Facebook” here.