Spies Increasingly Using Facebook-Twitter to Gather Data

by Joseph Fitsanakis
February 13, 2012



Italian version




During the past four years, this blog has reported several incidents
pointing to the increasing frequency with which spy agencies of various
countries are utilizing social networking media as sources of tactical


But are we at a point where we can speak of a
trend? In other words, is the rapid rise of social networking creating the
conditions for the emergence of a new domain in tactical intelligence


This past week saw the publication of a

new research paper (page 22
which I co-authored with Micah-Sage Bolden, entitled “Social
Networking as a Paradigm Shift in Tactical Intelligence Collection”.


In it, we argue that recent case studies point
to social networking as the new cutting edge in open-source tactical
intelligence collection.


We explain that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,
and a host of other social networking platforms are increasingly
viewed by intelligence agencies as invaluable channels of information


We base our findings on three recent case
studies, which we believe highlight the intelligence function of social

– The first case study comes out of the Arab
Spring, which, according to one report,

“prompted the US government to begin
developing guidelines for culling intelligence from social media

– We also examine NATO’s operations during
the 2011 Libyan civil war (Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR), when Western
military forces systematically resorted to social networking media to
gather actionable intelligence, by utilizing open sources like Twitter
to pinpoint targets for attack.


– Finally, we examine the sabotage by
Israeli security services of the 2011 “Welcome to Palestine Air
Flotilla” initiative, a campaign organized by several European groups
aiming to draw worldwide attention to the travel restrictions imposed by
Israeli authorities on the Occupied Territories.


Israeli authorities were able to disrupt the
“air flotilla” by systematically monitoring the participants’ online
activities on social networks.

In conclusion, we argue that, examined
collectively, these case studies underscore the ability of social networking
to do three things:

  1. reflect opinion trends and channel mass
    political action

  2. provide actionable tactical intelligence

  3. enable highly effective – and highly
    controversial – security operations against targeted groups.

The paper, which is published in the 2012
Intelligence Studies Yearbook
(pages 28-40), is

available here

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