November 30, 2004
The CIA has been developing software to monitor Internet chatrooms and profiling the users. The CIA is looking for terrorists, or information about terrorist activities. Internet chatrooms have long been a hangout for all manner of special interest groups. Most are perfectly legitimate, but criminal groups have used them as well. Hackers involved in illegal activities often set up password protected chatrooms on computers they have taken over, and communicate with each other to plan crimes. Terrorists also use chatrooms, both to plan operations, but more frequently to recruit and spread propaganda. The problem with monitoring terrorist related chatrooms is that there are so many innocent ones out there (over 50,000). Finding who is engaged in terrorist activity, or going in that direction, is difficult. The CIA had contracted with two researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, via the National Science Foundation, to develop software for developing a, system to be deployed in the background of any chatroom as a silent listener for eavesdropping... The proposed system could aid the intelligence community to discover hidden communities and communication patterns in chatrooms without human intervention."
The contract was revealed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which opposes the CIA working through the National Science Foundation (because it is, is changing the priorities of scientific research in the U.S.") The research project in question has cost $157,673 so far. The CIA is already believed to have chatroom monitoring software in use, but new technology is always being sought.
EPIC also wants to limit how much the CIA can monitor and where they can monitor it. The CIA has been issuing research contracts like this since for decades, and monitoring mass communications systems for nearly as long. New communications technologies require new monitoring methods. The Internet has become a primary communications medium for Islamic terrorists, and monitoring it is one of the most effective ways to detect terrorists, and terrorist attacks being planned. Many terrorists have already been arrested because Internet monitoring, and many terrorist attacks have been prevented as a result.