Vengeful Librarians

Could your local reference librarian actually be a CIA agent?  Probably not, but a recent Associated Press story has got people thinking about the role of librarians in open source intelligence gathering.

Known as “vengeful librarians,” a group of analysts at the CIA’s Open Source Center analyze Facebook and Twitter posts, newspapers, television news, local radio and chat rooms to collect valuable intelligence about America’s friends and enemies.

Although all of the information they gather can be found in the open, they possess the special skills needed to gather that information and use it in conjunction with clandestine intelligence.  Many times the information they collect can give intelligence analysts a better idea of the local mood of a region.

An example of open source information that has provided analysts with valuable intelligence is social media postings during the Osama bin Laden raid.  Open source analysts were able to gather hundreds of local postings, which officials then used to gauge the public perception after the killing.  Another example is analysts gathering social media postings prior to the Arab Spring.   While you might think anyone can do this, that is far from the truth.

Tweets and other posts cannot always be pinpointed to a certain geographic location, so analysts have to use language and dialect to figure out their location of origin.  The center’s director, Doug Naquin, noted that the best analysts possess a master’s degree in library science (M.L.S) and speak several languages.  This enables them to locate, translate, and organize the information for intelligence analysts.

So next time you think about posting on a social media site, consider who might be watching in.  All of your the Legal Bibliography professors here at Georgia State have an M.L.S. degree, so maybe they previously worked as analysts for the Open Source Center. Of course I would tell you if I had worked there prior to coming to Georgia State, but then I would have to …

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