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.
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.
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.
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.