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Look Into the Babel X Contract for FBI Social Media Tracking

Reading: “The FBI is spending millions on social media tracking software,” by Aaron Schaeffer, The Washington Post, April 5, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/04/05/fbi-is-spending-millions-social-media-tracking-software/
  • Required: “Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Deep/Dark Web, VK and Telegram.”
  • Not Required but “Preferable”: 8Kun, Discord, Gab, Parler, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok and Weibo.

A shocking contract ripe for abuse:

“”A new FBI contract is raising surveillance concerns: Social media users seemed to foreshadow the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — and the FBI apparently missed it. Now, the FBI is doubling down on tracking social media posts, spending millions of dollars on thousands of licenses to powerful social media monitoring technology that privacy and civil liberties advocates say raise serious concerns.”

The DOJ was already using this software.

“The FBI has contracted for 5,000 licenses to use Babel X, a software made by Babel Street that lets users search social media sites within a geographic area and use other parameters. The contract began March 30 and is worth as much as $27 million. The FBI has already agreed to pay an IT vendor around $5 million for the first year of the contract, procurement records indicate. The contract has not previously been reported.”

Nobody knows exactly what this software does:

“The Justice Department has previously had Babel X in its arsenal, contracting records show. But the new contract appears to be by far the most the agency has ever shelled out for the software, and is one of the largest contracts for the software by a civilian agency, experts said….And while it’s not clear what exactly the contract entails, contracting documents provide a blueprint for the FBI’s aspirations for the technology.”

“Babel Street and IT vendor Panamerica Computers didn’t respond to requests for comment about the terms of the contract.”

The FBI only offered the most general response to public concerns:

‘The FBI uses social media tools to search publicly available information pertinent to predicated investigations in order to identify and respond to threats of violence, acts of terrorism, and potential federal violations within the scope of the FBI’s mission,’ the FBI said in a statement after this story was first published.”

Of course, we now know the FBI was tracking Tweets and forwarding an unknown number of them to Twitter.

It appears that FBI employees were doing the searching.

“In contracting documents, the FBI estimates that its 5,000 licensees will run around 20,000 keyword searches every month, though it cautioned that that’s ‘merely an estimate.’ (For context, the FBI last year got funding for around 36,000 employees — including around 13,000 special agents and 3,000 intelligence analysts.)”

Yet even that number seems low…how would these people collectively track HALF A BILLION Tweets a day through “keyword searches?”

You would almost have to automate that. Or, the actions taken based on the searches would not be well thought-out.

The risk of misinterpretation is high. So is the risk that an FBI agent who misinterpreted what you said on social media will come knocking on your door.

Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel and co-director at the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Security and Surveillance Project, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/04/05/fbi-is-spending-millions-social-media-tracking-software/ (emphasis added)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/04/05/fbi-is-spending-millions-social-media-tracking-software/#:~:text=The%20FBI%20has%20contracted%20for%205%2C000%20licenses%20to,and%20is%20worth%20as%20much%20as%20%2427%20million.

In the sixth installment of “The Twitter Files” Matt Taibbi describes the superordinate-subordinate relationship between the FBI and Twitter, which the FBI of course disclaims.

https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1603857546099449869?s=20&t=gDrRx5ojj6l0pQUJMibPcQ

The FBI is careful to characterize its communication to Twitter as purely informational in nature.

The FBI regularly engages with private sector entities to provide information specific to identified foreign malign influence actors’ [subversive], undeclared, covert, or criminal activities. Private sector entities independently make decisions about what, if any, action they take on their platforms and for their customers after the FBI has notified them.” – FBI statement released to Fox News concerning “The Twitter Files” (12/16/2022)

Indeed, the FBI was very careful to word its heads-up emails to Twitter as suggestions for further investigation rather than directions for action. See for example this one, dated November 10, 2022: “FBI San Francisco is notifying you of the below accounts which may potentially constitute violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service for any action or inaction deemed appropriate within Twitter policy.”

https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1603857573219819529?s=20&t=gDrRx5ojj6l0pQUJMibPcQ

Their action recommendations could be inane. They could be targeted at leftists. Didn’t matter. If the FBI mentioned it, Twitter snapped to attention. Of course. As any company would do. (Note: This particular user was not suspended.)

https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1603857590299103232?s=20&t=gDrRx5ojj6l0pQUJMibPcQ
https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1603857590299103232?s=20&t=gDrRx5ojj6l0pQUJMibPcQ
https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1603857622221873173?s=20&t=gDrRx5ojj6l0pQUJMibPcQ

The language sounds very serious: “Attempted voter suppression, including attempted voter intimidation or providing false information about voting or registering to vote…” But this vagueness gave the FBI free rein to target people who were simply free thinkers

In any case, the Tweet below was booted for violating “civic misinformation policy.” It read: “The only thing we received under the Biden administration and the leftist Democratic Party. Was an unknown gender” (I can’t read the rest.)

However, the power imbalance between our Nation’s Federal law enforcement agency–not incidentally the agency that investigates Federal election crimes–virtually guaranteed that Twitter could not ignore the action requests, lest they potentially be charged with promoting foreign election interference themselves.

Of course the FBI was not acting out of nowhere and it was not acting alone. Concern about “foreign interference” is a real thing and coordination to prevent it has been a top national priority ever since 2016.

The issue is that all these high-minded plans disregarded the potential for abuse and the concomitant need for accountability measures.

(It should be noted that President Trump oversaw all this…the establishment of an infrastructure that could easily be abused. It would be worthwhile to investigate whether and how the FBI, DHS, etc. bureaucracy shaded political activities from view, using “election interference” as a cover.)

https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/counterintelligence/foreign-influence#:~:text=The%20goal%20of%20these%20foreign%20influence%20operations%20directed,federal%20agency%20responsible%20for%20investigating%20foreign%20influence%20operations.

https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/counterintelligence/foreign-influence#:~:text=The%20goal%20of%20these%20foreign%20influence%20operations%20directed,federal%20agency%20responsible%20for%20investigating%20foreign%20influence%20operations.

https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/21_0311_key-findings-and-recommendations-related-to-2020-elections_1.pdf

They are tracking users ACROSS platforms–what “Q” called “The Algorithm”:

“The FBI has purchased $27 million worth of licenses for Babel X, a tracking tool from a Virginia-based data broker to “gather information” of social media users across multiple platforms. However, the agency claims that it only collects data that is already in the public eye, and won’t go beyond password-protected security barriers.”

https://www.visiontimes.com/2022/04/15/fbi-social-media-surveillance-babel-x.html#:~:text=The%20FBI%20has%20purchased%20%2427%20million%20worth%20of,eye%2C%20and%20won%E2%80%99t%20go%20beyond%20password-

The “Minority Report” is clearly here.


“The government also wants the ability to predict the future based on social media posts — not only is this impossible, in all likelihood it will risk further bias and harm against the same people that the government has historically mislabeled as suspicious, including movement leaders, immigrants and members of religious and ethnic minorities.”

Nojei, in https://www.visiontimes.com/2022/04/15/fbi-social-media-surveillance-babel-x.html
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