The U.S. Army’s Protective Services Battalion (PSB), the Department of Defense’s equivalent of the Secret Service, now monitors social media to see if anyone has posted negative comments about the country’s highest-ranking officers.
Per a report by the Intercept, the PSB’s remit includes protecting officers from “embarrassment,” in addition to more pressing threats like kidnapping and assassination.
An Army procurement document from 2022 obtained by the Intercept reveals that the PSB now monitors social media for “negative sentiment” about the officers under its protection, as well as for “direct, indirect, and veiled” threats.
“This is an ongoing PSIFO/PIB” — Protective Services Field Office/Protective Intelligence Branch — “requirement to provide global protective services for senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials, adequate security in order to mitigate online threats (direct, indirect, and veiled), the identification of fraudulent accounts and positive or negative sentiment relating specifically to our senior high-risk personnel.”
Per the report, the Army intends not just to monitor platforms for “negative sentiment,” but also to pinpoint the location of posters.
Via the Intercept:
The Army’s new toolkit goes far beyond social media surveillance of the type offered by private contractors like Dataminr, which helps police and military agencies detect perceived threats by scraping social media timelines and chatrooms for various keywords. Instead, Army Protective Services Battalion investigators would seemingly combine social media data with a broad variety of public and nonpublic information, all accessible through a “universal search selector.”
These sources of information include “signal-rich discussions from illicit threat-actor communities and access to around-the-clock conversations within threat-actor channels,” public research, CCTV feeds, radio stations, news outlets, personal records, hacked information, webcams, and — perhaps most invasive — cellular location data.
The document mentions the use of “geo-fenced” data as well, a controversial practice wherein an investigator draws a shape on a digital map to focus their surveillance of a specific area. While app-based smartphone tracking is a potent surveillance technique, it remains unclear how exactly this data might actually be used to unmask threatening social media posts, or what relevance other data categories like radio stations or academic research could possibly have.
According to the Intercept, the PSB wants to search not just mainstream social media platforms, but also anonymous and semi-anonymous discussion boards like 4chan and Reddit, as well as the chat platforms Discord and Telegram.
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. He is the author of #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election.