In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA and the wider intelligence community, is putting cash into Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. It’s part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using ”open source intelligence” — information that’s publicly available, but often hidden in the flood of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports generated every day.
The intelligence community has been interested in social media for years. In-Q-Tel has sunk money into companies like Attensity, which recently announced its own web 2.0-monitoring service. The agencies have their own, password-protected blogs and wikis — even a MySpace for spooks. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence maintains an Open Source Center, which combs publicly available information, including web 2.0 sites. Doug Naquin, the Center’s Director, told an audience of intelligence professionals in October 2007 that “we’re looking now at YouTube, which carries some unique and honest-to-goodness intelligence…. We have groups looking at what they call ‘citizens media’: people taking pictures with their cell phones and posting them on the internet. Then there’s social media, phenomena like MySpace and blogs.”