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<nettime> How the security complex drives social media research (Nafeez
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<nettime> How the security complex drives social media research (Nafeez Ahmed)

[An update to Moreno's classic "DARPA on your mind" (2004)]

The Pentagon’s secret pre-crime program to know your thoughts, predict
your future

US military contractors are mining social media to influence your
‘cognitive behavior’ when you get angry at the state

By Nafeez Ahmed, 1.2.2016


This exclusive is published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new
crowd-funded investigative journalism project.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) wants contractors to mine your
social media posts to develop new ways for the US government to infer
what you’re really thinking and feeling — and to predict what you’ll
do next.

Pentagon documents released over the last few months identify ongoing
classified research in this area that the federal government plans to
expand, by investing millions more dollars.

The unclassified documents, which call on external scientists,
institutions and companies to submit proposals for research projects,
not only catalogue how far US military capabilities have come, but
also reveal the Pentagon’s goals: building the US intelligence
community’s capacity to forecast population behavior at home and
abroad, especially groups involved in political activism.

They throw light on the extent to which the Pentagon’s classified
pre-crime R&D has advanced, and how the US military intends to deploy
it in operations around the world.
Could your social media signature reveal your innermost thoughts?

A new Funding Opportunity Announcement document issued by the DoD’s
Office of Naval Research (ONR) calls for research proposals on how
mining social media can provide insight on people’s real thoughts,
emotions and beliefs, and thereby facilitate predictions of behavior.

The research for Fiscal Year 2016 is part of the Pentagon’s
Multidisciplinary Research Program of the University Research
Initiative (MURI), which was initiated over 25 years ago, regularly
producing what the DoD describes as “significant scientific
breakthroughs with far reaching consequences to the fields of science,
economic growth, and revolutionary new military technologies.”

The document calls for new work “to understand latent communication
among small groups.” Social meaning comes not just from “the manifest
content of communication (i.e., literal information), but also from
latent content — how language is structured and used, as well as how
communicators address each other, e.g., through non-verbal means — 
gestures, head nods, body position, and the dynamics in communication

The Pentagon wants to understand not just what we say, but what is
“latent” in what we say: “Subtle interactions such as deception and
reading between the lines, or tacit understanding between
communicators, relative societal position or relationship between
communicators, is less about what is said and more about what is latent.”

All this, it is imagined, can be derived from examining social media,
using new techniques from the social and behavioral sciences.

The Pentagon wants to:

    “… recognize/predict social contexts, relationships, networks, and
intentions from social media, taking into account non-verbal
communication such as gestures, micro-expressions, posture, and latent
semantics of text and speech.”

By understanding latent communication, the Pentagon hopes to develop
insight into “the links between actors, their intentions, and context
for use of latent signals for group activity.” The idea is to create:

    “… algorithms for prediction and collection of latent signals and
their use in predicting social information.”

These algorithms also need to “accurately detect key features of
speech linked to these structural patterns (e.g., humor, metaphor,
emotion, language innovations) and subtle non-verbal elements of
communication (e.g., pitch, posture, gesture) from text, audio, and
visual media.”

The direct military applications of this sort of information can be
gleaned from the background of the administrator of this new research
program, Dr. Purush Iyer, who is Division chief of Network Sciences at
the US Army Research Laboratory (USARL).

Among the goals of Dr. Iyer’s research at the US Army are expanding
“Intelligent Networks” which can “augment human decision makers with
enhanced-embedded battlefield intelligence that will provide them with
tools for creating necessary situational awareness, reconnaissance,
and decision making to decisively defeat any future adversarial threats.”
Creeping police state

The allure of co-opting Big Data to enhance domestic policing is
already picking up steam in the US and UK.

In the US, an unknown number of police authorities are already
piloting a software called ‘Beware’, which analyses people’s social
media activity, property records, the records of friends, family or
associates, among other data, to assign suspects a so-called

That “threat-score” can then be used by police to pre-judge if a
suspect is going to be dangerous, and to adapt their approach accordingly.

Given the police’s discriminatory track record with shootings of
unarmed black people skyrocketing, the extent to which such ‘Minority
Report’-style policing could backfire by justifying more
discriminatory policing is alarming.

In the UK, Home Secretary Theresa May just last week told the Police
ICT Suppliers Summit that polices forces should use predictive
analytics to “identify those most at risk of crime, locations most
likely to see crimes committed, patterns of suspicious activity that
may merit investigation and to target their resources most effectively
against the greatest threats.”

Noting that the police have yet to catch up with the “vast quantities
of data” being generated by citizens, she complained: “Forces have not
yet begun to explore the crime prevention opportunities that data offers.”

In reality, the shift to predictive policing in the UK is well
underway, with Greater Manchester, Kent, West Midlands, West Yorkshire
and London’s Metropolitan Police having undertaken trials of a
software known as “PredPol.”

According to the UK College of Policing’s National Policing Vision for

    “Predictive analysis and real-time access to intelligence and
tasking in the field will be available on modern mobile devices.
Officers and staff will be provided with intelligence that is easy to
use and relevant to their role, location and local tasking.”

The next threat is social change, economic collapse

Driving the hunger to capture Big Data is a growing recognition that
the post-2008 era of slow economic growth and geopolitical crisis is
likely to lead to a continuing risk of civil unrest — both within
Western homelands, and in foreign regions of strategic interest.

The Pentagon’s new research calls are designed to build on a wide
range of already active programs developing ways to integrate open
source data, including the social media footprints of entire
populations, into sophisticated computer models.

One of the most disturbing applications of this sort of information
was described in a new Funding Opportunity Announcement released last
month for the Minerva Research Initiative, a DoD social science
program founded in 2008.

Among the subject areas mentioned in the announcement is “Influence
and mobilization for change”, which includes themes like:

    “Analyses of the topology, power structure, productivity, merging
and splitting, and overall resilience of change-driven organizations.”

Other overlapping themes the Pentagon wants input on are:

    “Mechanisms of information dissemination and influence across
diverse populations”; “Mechanisms of (and factors inhibiting)
mobilization at individual and group levels”; “Factors that make
specific individuals/groups influential within a particular cultural
context”; and “The interaction between emotion and cognition and its
impact on future behavior.”

These are generic themes concerning the dynamics of community-driven
change activism in general. Yet the underlying assumption implicit in
the document is the conviction that change activism can in some cases
in itself generate a threat to national security.

The document also explains that research on such themes:

    “… will help the Department of Defense better understand what
drives individuals and groups to mobilize for change and the
mechanisms of that mobilization, particularly when violent tactics are
adopted. This research will inform understanding of where organized
violence may erupt, what factors might explain its spread, and how one
might mitigate its effects.”

This and several other paragraphs are verbatim copied from an earlier
Minerva call for research that I reported on about a year ago. As I
observed then:

    “At first glance, this seems fairly innocuous, but it reveals a
disturbing ideological bias in the Pentagon’s conception of social and
political dissent. The assumption that the adoption of ‘violent
tactics’ is linked to the issues that motivate people to ‘mobilize for
change’ conflates the dynamics of change activism in general with a
risk of being involved in ‘organized violence.’”

The document does not specify particular types of organization or
group that should be studied, except once in reference to “hacking
forums,” which perhaps highlights the Pentagon’s increasing interest
in decentralized networks like Anonymous.

The Pentagon appears to be particularly concerned about the potential
risks of social crisis, civil unrest and collapse, both at home and

In a section calling for submissions on “Societal Resilience and
Change”, the Minerva document states that “DoD seeks to develop new
insights into the social dynamics within regions and states of
strategic interest, and to examine the factors that affect societal
resilience to external ‘shock’ events and corresponding tipping points.”

Without specifying what those “shocks” could be, the document does
mention developing frameworks to improve policy “before, during, and
after societal shifts like those seen during the so-called Arab Spring.”

It should be noted that the Arab Spring protests had brought down and
undermined brutal autocratic governments that had, however, been
longstanding US allies.

The Minerva document also emphasizes the need to understand “changes
in demographics (e.g., gender and age structure, wealth distribution)
on internal and external stability,” especially what the Pentagon
describes candidly as:

    “Security implications of aging populations and shrinking working
age populations worldwide.”

So the Pentagon anticipates a looming economic crisis due the
unsustainability of the rise in an elderly population, relative to the
reducing numbers of working people. It further confirms that the
Pentagon perceives this as posing a potential national security crisis.

The US, and major allies like Britain, Germany, France, and Israel,
are among the top 20 countries that will be most impacted by these
demographic trends.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that in 2016, “the world’s
advanced economies will reach a critical milestone. For the first time
since 1950, their combined working-age population will decline,
according to United Nations projections, and by 2050 it will shrink
5%. The ranks of workers will also fall in key emerging markets, such
as China and Russia. At the same time the share of these countries’
population over 65 will skyrocket.”
>From open source to ‘minority report’

By linking up metadata from social media with other forms of data — 
whether it’s mobile phone usage metadata, geolocation information,
satellite data, personal records — the Pentagon hopes to find patterns
that enable it to predict future behavior.

A third major subject-theme of the Minerva research call clarifies the
Pentagon’s concern with enhancing its ability to predict the future.

Titled, “Analytic Methods and Metrics for Security Research,” the
document calls for “rigorous, validated quantitative measurement and
models” which can “compare information across sets of data and across

Such models would enhance “opportunities for visualization of trends,
and the potential to forecast future events.”

Last summer, a similar research call was issued through a Broad Agency
Announcement issued by the DoD’s Office of Naval Research (ONR),
related to “Expeditionary Intelligence Surveillance, Reconnaissance
Science and Technology.”

A significant portion of the ONR document is dedicated to outlining
the need for predictive models.

    “In being able to use social media as an ISR [intelligence,
surveillance, reconnaissance] signal, ONR is interested in theoretical
constructs that allow understanding and thus interpretation of an
online open media signature and its relationship to on the ground
sentiment and behavior.”

The Pentagon wants to develop approaches that will allow open source
analysis of a person’s or group’s publically available social media
“signature” — the full array of their social media activities — and
how this relates to both emotional “sentiment” and actual “behavior.”

ONR also wants to know “how social media can be used as a seed in a
Global Knowledge Environment (cloud based, big data repository that
includes imagery, video, ship tracks, METOC [meteorology and
oceanography] and analytic products) to discover additional
information about the physical, military, and sociocultural
environment of an operational area of interest.”

Basically: everything in an ‘area of interest.’

The ‘Minority Report’ style implications of this sort of social media
data mining are explained in some detail:

    “Information demands that social media could be helpful in
fulfilling include:

    • Predict, detect, track violent behavior by groups

    • Understand anomalous event/sentiment signals/signatures in a
region of interest

    • Derive sociocultural trends to assist in decision making

    • Identify trends, local perceptions, media bias, cultural
nuances, and environmental distinctions.

    • Connecting people, places, and things to uncover physical,
cyber, financial, social, operational aspects of an unknown or
emerging threat

    • Pattern of life analysis used to provide visibility and thus
vulnerability to physical, informational, social aspects of a threat

    • Radicalization methods, speed of spread (ISIL as an example) — 
signature to see tipping point or understand sooner (strategy,
tactics, rhetoric, narrative, what can be tracked in social media).”

Prediction is repeatedly mentioned as a core goal:

    “It may be possible to better predict what affect ‘aiding,’
‘attacking’, ‘isolating’ will have in an area if behaviour/action
surrogates can be found in historical data for which some ground truth

Social media data can thus be integrated with a wide range of open
source information from other sources to generate complex,
quantitatively-grounded empirical models of population and group

The idea is to use such models “to explain, track, and anticipate key
group behaviors including cooperation, communication (information
operations), conflict, consolidation, and fragmentation that
characterize the factional dynamics among multiple, independent armed
actors in insurgencies and civil wars.”
The all-seeing eye

One significant area the document emphasises is advancing the
Pentagon’s ability to detect “complex events” using algorithms which
can identify patterns of events within “large data streams.”

How, in other words, does the US intelligence community make sense of
the massive amounts of surveillance data absorbed by the National
Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies, with a view to detect a real

The document confirms the longstanding position of critics of the NSA
like Bruce Schneier, that although existing technologies are great for
simplistic issues like detecting credit card fraud, they are virtually
useless for detecting real terrorist activity:

    “While this works well for the detection of a behavior exhibited
by a subpopulation (e.g. credit card fraud), its application to
complex patterns applied to diverse actors leads to a high false alarm

This has never been publicly admitted by the Pentagon or US
intelligence community, but it is acknowledge here, clear as daylight.

To address the problem, the Pentagon proposes to create new ways of
integrating social media into a single, giant analytical system, which
can feed directly into US military operations.

The ONR document describes, for instance, wanting to build a next
generation of “Marine Civil Information Management System” (MARCISMS
NEXGEN), to support the US Marine Corps, which “must be able to
intelligently query both structured and unstructured data sources…
Relevant area of operations (AO) data (e.g. social media, news
reports, METOC, Automatic Information System (AIS), video, images,
etc.) must be easily consumed.”

The new MARCISMS engine must also be “built on natural language
processing, machine learning, predictive modeling, inference models,
and confidence modeling.”
Population control

The association with civil-military operations demonstrates the
importance of such predictive tools for counter-insurgency operations
abroad, and accordingly, increasing the effectiveness of US propaganda

Models, the ONR document says, should “suggest ways to draw groups
closer or further apart to each other or to a concept,” based on
“predictions about whether groups ‘attract’ or ‘repel.’”

Much of the information used to run such models would come from
“unclassified data.”

In this context, these new technologies will help achieve a key goal
of the US Marine Corps: to “maintain, influence, or exploit
relationships between military forces and indigenous populations and

Ultimately, then, this is not simply about predicting the behavior of
diverse populations and social groups.

The Pentagon wants the ability to use this predictive capacity to
manipulate human behavior, and thereby win wars.

One explicit discussion of this goal was recently published by the
Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) in its 2016 Research Topics
monograph, which highlighted subjects considered high priority by
experts across the US Special Forces (SOF) community.

“Defining and understanding the ‘human domain’ and how SOF can
influence cognitive behavior in myriad operational environments
continues to be a topic of interest,” the JSOU document asserts.

    “What affects people’s perceptions and decision-making that SOF
can favorably influence to prevent/mitigate/deter crisis and conflict?
What are the future advanced technologies and cultural social
practices for engaging underdeveloped populations in support of
partner governments to achieve US interests?”

But what happens if those interests happen to be at odds with popular
demands for self-determination, economic independence and resource
nationalism? The counter-democratic implications are already on
display in US support for brutal autocratic regimes such as Saudi
Arabia and Egypt.

These cases suggest that massive data-mining is designed to help US
military agencies influence the “cognitive behaviour” of
“underdeveloped populations,” so that the governments that rule them
may continue conforming to “US interests.”

In other words, the US military wants to mine the world’s social media
footprint to suppress the risk of popular social movements undermining
the status quo, at home and abroad.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and
international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes
the ‘System Shift’ column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is a weekly
columnist for Middle East Eye.

He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award for Outstanding
Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work, and was twice selected
in the Evening Standard’s top 1,000 most globally influential
Londoners, in 2014 and 2015.

Nafeez has also written and reported for The Independent, Sydney
Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic,
Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New
Internationalist, Counterpunch, Truthout, among others.

He is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Faculty of Science and
Technology at Anglia Ruskin University, where he is researching the
link between global systemic crises and civil unrest for Springer
Energy Briefs.

Nafeez is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization:
And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT,
among other books. His work on the root causes and covert operations
linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11
Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.

This story is being released for free in the public interest, and was
enabled by crowdfunding. I’d like to thank my amazing community of
patrons for their support, which gave me the opportunity to work on
this story. Please support independent, investigative journalism for
the global commons via Patreon.com, where you can donate as much or as
little as you like.

Founder, Editor-in-chief, INSURGE intelligence
www.medium.com/insurge-intelligence Award-winning journo, crowdfunding
investigations www.nafeezahmed.com

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