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Pentagon spying on social media, getting exact locations, to protect top officers from ‘negative sentiment,’ ’embarrassment,’ report says

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley participates in a news briefing at the Pentagon May 6, 2021, in Arlington, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
June 20, 2023

Documents show the U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion utilizes technology to monitor social media, protecting top Pentagon officials from online “threats” and “negative sentiment.”

The U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion, a Pentagon division similar to the Secret Service, is responsible for the protection of top U.S. military leaders. According to Army records obtained by The Intercept, the U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion protects both current and former miliary officers from threats such as injury, kidnapping, assassination and embarrassment.

The Intercept recently reported that a procurement document from last September expanded the U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion’s duty to include the identification of “negative sentiment” and the monitoring of “direct, indirect, and veiled” threats to U.S. military officials on social media.

“There may be legally valid reasons to intrude on someone’s privacy by searching for, collecting, and analyzing publicly available information, particularly when it pertains to serious crimes and terrorist threats,” Privacy International Program Director Ilia Siatitsa told The Intercept. “However, expressing ‘positive or negative sentiment towards a senior high-risk individual’ cannot be deemed sufficient grounds for government agencies to conduct surveillance operations, even going as far as ‘pinpointing exact locations’ of individuals.”

Siatitsa said the ability of individuals to vocalize opinions, criticisms, assumptions, and value judgments regarding public officials is a “quintessential part” of democracy.

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The procurement document explains that monitoring social media is a requirement of the Protective Services Field Office and Protective Intelligence Brach in order to provide “global protective services” for officials with the Department of Defense. The document also outlines how the U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion is tasked with mitigating “online threats” and identifying “positive or negative sentiment relating specifically to our senior high-risk personnel.”

Also included in the procurement document is a description of how software would be utilized to create “a reliable social media threat mitigation service.”

The Intercept reports that the procurement document outlines the need for the U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion to have access to an “open-source web based tool-kit with advanced capabilities to collect publicly available information,” which would, “provide the anonymity and security needed to conduct publicly accessible information research through misattribution by curating user agent strings and using various egress points globally to mask their identity.”

The U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion also utilizes technology that can allow the government to pinpoint the exact location of private citizens, according to The Intercept.

Siatitsa told The Intercept that if the technology procured by the U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion is “left unregulated,” the technology could lead to the type of “abuses” that occur “under other forms of covert surveillance operations.” She argues that the government’s collection, storage, and analysis of online information, such as social media posts, presents a “serious interference” with an individual’s right to lead a “private life.”