According to a report by the Associated Press, the Central Intelligence Agency is monitoring up to five million tweets a day. For those concerned about the amount of intelligence community snooping of supposedly free communication, there is an upside in that that’s less than three percent of the over 200 million tweets posted each day by users of the micro-blogging service. But on the other hand, the CIA is monitoring 5,000,000 tweets per day, which… seems slightly unsettling to more than just me, right?
The unsettling statistic comes from an Associated Press report released Friday afternoon on something called the Open Source Center, an organization dedicated to monitoring both new and old media around the world, from blogs and Facebook to newspapers and television stations, to obtain information on what the CIA calls “foreign intelligence issues.” Yes, American citizens, we can all breathe easier: According to CIA spokesperson Jennifer Youngblood, “There is no effort to collect on Americans.”
The AP report is a mix of purposefully vague statements—the Center is located “in an anonymous industrial park” somewhere in a location that the AP agreed not to reveal, and staffed by “several hundred analysts… the actual number is classified”—and actual facts, including that the center (created in 2005) started looking at social media in 2009, and has been used for purposes as varied as military intelligence, social and political prediction and tracking the international reaction to President Obama’s policy speeches.
Analysis from the center is said to make it to the President’s daily intelligence briefing “almost every day.” If the idea of crunching down news reports, social media posts and other online detritus into something worthy of Presidential attention on a daily basis seems daunting, don’t worry; the analysts at the OSC have dubbed themselves “ninja librarians,” suggesting that even if they’re under a lot of pressure to deliver, at least they’re keeping a sense of humor about the whole thing.
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.