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The CIA is getting serious about monitoring social media

Published Apr 18th, 2016 8:45PM EDT
CIA Surveillance

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Though not a secret, it’s not widely known that the CIA has its own venture capital firm called In-Q-Tel. The purpose of In-Q-Tel is simple: invest in high-tech companies as a means to ensure that the CIA remains on top of the latest and greatest technology breakthroughs and advancements. As In-Q-Tel’s first CEO Gilman Louie once stated, the firm’s work allows the CIA to remain “at the cutting edge of information technology advances and capabilities.”

Earlier this year, In-Q-Tel (IQT) held a CEO Summit that brought together the CEOs of a number of companies that IQT has investments in. Some of the featured speakers at the event included FBI director James Comey, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency director Robert Cardillo and Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work.

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Recently, The Intercept acquired documents detailing the aforementioned CEO Summit. In turn, the publication provides us with an up close and personal look at many of the technologies the CIA finds to be of interest. Most notably, the CIA, via its venture capital arm, seems to be extremely interested in keeping an eye on social media activity.

Yet among the 38 previously undisclosed companies receiving In-Q-Tel funding, the research focus that stands out is social media mining and surveillance; the portfolio document lists several tech companies pursuing work in this area, including Dataminr, Geofeedia, PATHAR, and TransVoyant.

Those four firms, which provide unique tools to mine data from platforms such as Twitter, presented at a February “CEO Summit” in San Jose sponsored by the fund, along with other In-Q-Tel portfolio companies.

Geofeedia, as a quick example, has technology that collects and analyzes geo-tagged posts on social networks like Twitter and Instagram. The underlying goal is to track news events as they break in real-time.

Geofeedia’s website boasts:

Aggregating social media posts from any user-defined location in the world allows you to stay ahead of topics, trends and situations with proactive insights and alerts from real-time location-based intelligence. You can discover trends and patterns within the world’s largest set of location-based social data to inform better decision-making. And you can respond effectively and efficiently based on real-time location-based insights.

PATHAR’s capabilities, meanwhile, seem even more noteworthy.

The Intercept writes:

PATHAR’s product, Dunami, is used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to “mine Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media to determine networks of association, centers of influence and potential signs of radicalization,” according to an investigation by Reveal.

All told, the information obtained by The Intercept identifies 38 new companies that have received funding from IQT. Make sure to hit the source link below for a full list of the companies and technologies the CIA has its eye on.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.