January 14, 2012 in News
Lawmakers press Homeland Security on Internet monitoring (Reuters):
Leaders of a congressional subcommittee are urging the Department of Homeland Security to extensively monitor social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to detect “current or emerging threats.”The top Republican and Democrat on a House counter-terrorism subcommittee last month sent a letter to Homeland Security’s intelligence chief encouraging department analysts to pore over huge streams of social media traffic.
Representatives Patrick Meehan and Jackie Speier said in the letter to Caryn Wagner, undersecretary of homeland security for intelligence and analysis, that they “believe it would be advantageous for DHS and the broader Intelligence Community to carefully parse the massive streams of data from various social media outlets to identify current or emerging threats to our homeland security.”
Meehan, a Republican, is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s counter-terrorism and intelligence subcommittee. Speier is the panel’s ranking Democrat.
The two lawmakers said such monitoring raises “privacy and civil liberties concerns” and suggested that the department issue guidelines which balance citizens’ rights with the ability of analysts to identify threats.
Earlier this week, Homeland Security’s National Operations Center published a long list of websites which they monitor for “situational awareness.”
In an email to Reuters, Meehan said a hearing he had convened in December had “examined the evolving terrorist use of social media and effective intelligence and law enforcement responses.”
Meehan added: “If terrorists are operating in Pakistan or communicating through social media sites like Facebook, we need to remain vigilant. Yet there are important civil liberties questions involving U.S. government monitoring of social media and Americans’ Internet traffic. We are seeking answers on the Department’s guidelines and procedures to ensure Americans’ civil liberties are safeguarded.”
Jihadi Use of Social Media Examined by Chairman Meehan at Subcommittee Hearing (meehan.house.gov):
“For years, terrorists have communicated online, sharing al Qaeda propaganda or writing in online forums dedicated entirely to the prospect of Islamist terrorism. But they have recently evolved with technological changes, utilizing social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube to enhance their capabilities. In the same places the average person posts photos and communicates with friends and family, our enemies distribute videos praising Osama bin Laden.“Terrorists also disseminate diatribes glorifying the murder of innocents, and even make connections with each other internationally to plot attacks. In the case of al Awlaki, jihadists live on virtually after they’ve been physically removed from the battlefield.
“Prior to coming to Congress, I served as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. After my tenure as US Attorney ended, a local woman named Colleen LaRose was arrested on her return to the United States as part of a terror plot that targeted a Swedish cartoonist.
“LaRose would later become known to the world as “Jihad Jane.” However, what is less well known to the world was she received that moniker because it was the name she employed online, where she became a committed jihadi.
“This is notable because she did not receive formal training in a terrorist camp in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but in her own apartment in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She enthusiastically posted and commented on YouTube videos supporting al Qaeda and their allies, but her enthusiasm for jihad went beyond watching videos and offering moral support. She made contacts online with other jihadis, solicited funding, and orchestrated an actual terror plot.
“Her case is a shocking example of how easy it can be to find jihadi content online and make operational connections with others who want to commit violent acts of terrorism. The Jihad Jane case is not the only one. Only a few weeks ago, Jose Pimentel was arrested for preparing bombs to use in attacking targets in New York City. Before his arrest Mr. Pimentel had been active online. He ran a blog, held two YouTube accounts, and operated a Facebook profile, all dedicated to jihadi propaganda.
“In a case that illustrates terrorist recruitment in the homeland via social networking, in December of 2009 a group of five men from the Washington, DC area were arrested in Pakistan for attempting to join militants fighting along the border with Afghanistan. Later known as “The Virginia Five,” they were reportedly contacted by a Taliban recruiter through YouTube after one member of the group praised an online video showing attacks on American troops.
“These examples highlight the incredible challenge posed by terrorists engaging online. The Internet was designed to ease communication, and it must stay that way. However, we cannot ignore the reality that we have been unable to effectively prevent jihadi videos and messages from being spread on popular social media websites like YouTube and Facebook. I have called this hearing today to learn more about what has been done and what must be done moving forward.
“Another central issue I hope to learn more about is is whether or not social media websites can become useful sources of intelligence in our fight against terrorism. Online movements are traceable – nowhere more so than on social networks, which are designed to make connections among people easy.
“I believe the intelligence and law enforcement communities can use this open information to combat terrorism and other crimes. However, it is essential that civil liberties and individual privacy be protected. I am encouraged by recent remarks made by Under Secretary for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Caryn Wagner, when she indicated that the Department of Homeland Security will be working to enhance its ability to monitor social media for threats against the homeland, and I look forward to learning more about that as she develops those procedures.”
Related Material From the Archive:
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York Sentiment Analysis and Social Media Monitoring Proposal
- (U//FOUO) Open Source Center North Korea Social Media Activities July-August 2010
- (U//FOUO) Open Source Center Israeli Government Uses Social Media to Counter Flotilla Criticism
- (U//FOUO) Open Source Center North Korea Using Social Media Propaganda
- (U//FOUO) Open Source Center Thai Social Media Anti-Red Shirt Campaigns
- Department of Homeland Security Still Monitoring Public Intelligence
- (U//FOUO) U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Belgium
- (U//FOUO) U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: France