00:15 GMT07 August 2020
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    US intelligence officials are becoming increasingly confused by open source intelligence gathering they use to provide confidential reports to policy makers.

    US officials revealed that "open-source" investigations are essentially worthless for intelligence gathering, but "Russian trolls" are to blame, according to an article in DefenseOne.

    While intelligence officials rely on social media to gauge public opinion, the reports are then classified and passed on to policy makers and not made available to the general public. US State Department officials have cited "social media" as evidence of various unproven claims, including allegations that Donbass militias are responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

    "That’s where I would worry: If one of our tools gave an incorrect forecast, it could lead to giving bad advice to the senior leadership," US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) Science and Technology Director David Honey told Nextgov.

    Open Source to Closed Access

    According to the intelligence official, it is often difficult to find out if social media postings come from real people. It is unclear if the issue has already been addressed, such as when it was revealed in 2011 that the US military is developing social media trolling software that, according to the Guardian would "allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world."

    Now US intelligence bodies are struggling to find whether the people who they are tracking on social media to provide intelligence reports to top officials are even real.

    "If somebody is going and blogging 100 times under different names? How do you figure that out? That’s a challenge. And so with any of these technologies, you really have to think through how they can be used, how somebody could game them and make sure that you are getting accurate answers," Honey added.

    Honey did not comment on the possibility that social media trolling and disinformation by one US intelligence body could then be used by another intelligence body to provide intelligence reports to policy makers.

    Because the reports are ostensibly "open source" are then classified and kept secret from the public, it is also impossible for anyone to mount their own "open source" investigation to find if the reports are even based in reality.

    Blaming 'Russian Trolls'

    The DefenseOne article claimed that "Russian trolls," a Western media term for people who disagree with US foreign policy, are to blame for the US intelligence issues in intelligence gathering.

    The article does not cite any examples of Russian social media manipulation, although it does label some bloggers as "coerced typists" and "Russian trolls." Sputnik earlier looked at the evidence provided by former employees of Internet Research, a company accused of conducting "trolling" campaigns, and found a search engine optimization (SEO) operation which masked online forum spamming activities with what appeared to be discussions on a topic.

    It is not clear how certain commercial SEO and spam activities can pose a threat to US spies, although it has previously confused one journalist who thought that he found a "staggering" network of "Kremlin bots."

    Sputnik looked into similar networks of bots (the ones in the article were banned by Twitter) that appeared to be engaged in politically-motivated Twitter spam with Aleksandr Zimarin, a social media consultant to a Russian State Duma Deputy and a Federation Council Senator.

    The inquiries found that there is indeed a massive business engaged in selling and reselling Twitter accounts, with bots which at times engage in posting political content. However, while it can confuse US intelligence officials, together with actual social media manipulation by other US and UK bodies (such as the British Army's 77th Brigade of social media trolls), the greater issue is the reliability of "open source" intelligence gathering to begin with.


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    intelligence, troll, social media, US Office of the Director of National Intellidence (ODNI), United States
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