The CIA monitors social media activity around the world from an unassuming warehouse in Virginia.
As many as 5 million tweets, Facebook status updates, blog posts, comments, radio and television stations – anything that is made openly communicated – are tracked by a government agency set up in response to the 9/11 Commission’s report.
“Vengeful librarians,” as the agents at the Open Source Center are called, are trained to look at social media activity in various languages, on various platforms, from various countries.
The agency gauged public opinion after the U.S.-led attack that killed Osama Bin Laden, by tracking online activity across the Middle East. The agency also predicted uprisings in Iran, Egypt and elsewhere in the region.
In places where media is biased, stifled or forced out of publication, the agency is able to use social media updates to gain access to new information. Agents are placed globally, in U.S. embassies, to help keep a closer eye on certain areas.
Tweets can’t be attributed to location, so experts at the agency cross-reference the language used with the content of the message to determine a more specific location, according to the report.
In cases where the agency must rely on civilian reports, agents use the limited media reports, available intelligence and social media trends to determine whom among the informants they can trust. The report said that social media users tend to correct each other, so the best information is usually cultivated communally.
The decision to focus on social media sites was born out of the Iranian elections of 2009. Agents were able to pinpoint which group dissented against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad through the language-Farsi-used in social media.
It is unknown how long the agency has been working, but the 9/11 Commission, whose findings created this agency, was set up in late 2002, according to the Associated Press.