Based on recently acquired documents disclosed on Saturday by The Intercept, the Pentagon has formed a covert unit with the responsibility of safeguarding its senior officials. Their task extends beyond protection from physical harm, encompassing shielding them from negative portrayals on social media platforms — essentially monitoring people for mean tweets.
As per The Intercept's report, a specialized team within the Pentagon has been assigned the task of safeguarding and upholding the reputations of top-ranking officers specifically on social media platforms.
The US Army Protective Services Battalion is tasked with overseeing various forms of protection, including "assassination, kidnapping, injury, or embarrassment." Recent documents reveal that their responsibilities have expanded to include monitoring social media platforms for "direct, indirect, and veiled" threats, as well as identifying instances of "negative sentiment" towards officials such as General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The program is described as “a reliable social media threat mitigation service” with an “Open-Source Web-based toolkit with advanced capabilities to collect publicly available information (PAI).”
Not only is information collected from Twitter's comprehensive data feed, but it is also sourced from platforms such as 4Chan, Reddit, YouTube, VK, Discord, Telegram, and various others.
Additionally, the information is obtained from private contractors such as Dataminr, along with smartphone applications and advertisers.
This data would be merged with precise cellular location information, enabling near-precise tracking of individuals who make comments, even as simple as disparaging tweets, regarding present and former officials.
According to The Intercept's report, all the gathered information, which encompasses CCTV feeds, radio stations, personal records, and even webcams, would be accessible through a "universal search selector."
The document emphasized the necessity of a bidirectional flow, compelling the contractor to uphold the anonymity and security needed by "using various egress points globally to mask their identity."
According to Ilia Siatitsia of Privacy International, “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 the exact locations of individuals."
"The ability to express opinions, criticize, make assumptions, or form value judgments – especially regarding public officials – is a quintessential part of a democratic society," Siatitsa told The Intercept.