The Protective Services Battalion (PSB) of the U.S. Army, which is like the Secret Service of the Department of Defense, currently monitors social media to check if anyone has posted negative comments about the country’s highest-ranking officers.
According to a report from The Intercept, the Protective Services Battalion is responsible for safeguarding officers not only from serious dangers such as kidnapping and assassination but also from potential “embarrassment.”
An Army procurement document from 2022 obtained by the Intercept reveals that the PSB now monitors social media for “negative sentiment” about the officers under its protection, as well as for “direct, indirect, and veiled” threats.
“This is an ongoing PSIFO/PIB” — Protective Services Field Office/Protective Intelligence Branch — “requirement to provide global protective services for senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials, adequate security in order to mitigate online threats (direct, indirect, and veiled), the identification of fraudulent accounts and positive or negative sentiment relating specifically to our senior high-risk personnel.”
According to the report, the Army’s intention extends beyond monitoring platforms for “negative sentiment,” but also to pinpoint the location of posters.
As reported by The Intercept:
The Army’s new toolkit goes far beyond social media surveillance of the type offered by private contractors like Dataminr, which helps police and military agencies detect perceived threats by scraping social media timelines and chatrooms for various keywords.
Instead, Army Protective Services Battalion investigators would seemingly combine social media data with a broad variety of public and nonpublic information, all accessible through a “universal search selector.”
These sources of information include “signal-rich discussions from illicit threat-actor communities and access to around-the-clock conversations within threat-actor channels,” public research, CCTV feeds, radio stations, news outlets, personal records, hacked information, webcams, and — perhaps most invasive — cellular location data.
The document mentions the use of “geo-fenced” data as well, a controversial practice wherein an investigator draws a shape on a digital map to focus their surveillance of a specific area. While app-based smartphone tracking is a potent surveillance technique, it remains unclear how exactly this data might actually be used to unmask threatening social media posts, or what relevance other data categories like radio stations or academic research could possibly have.
According to the same report, the PSB aims to expand its search beyond mainstream social media platforms to encompass anonymous and semi-anonymous discussion boards such as 4chan and Reddit, as well as chat platforms like Discord and Telegram.
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