A report [PDF]
filed for the Army by a "military intelligence battalion" suggests (in
part) that (shudder) terrorists could use Twitter to communicate with
each other! The report details how Twitter is sometimes used to
disseminate information in real time — in some cases even before news
media outlets can get to it. The report cites recent examples of this
including protesters at the Republican National Convention in
Minneapolis tweeting updates about the locations of police and pepper
spray treatment facilities.
Twitter’s subscription-based model makes it better than straight
text messaging for disseminating this sort of information widely and
The report goes on to suggest some scenarios in which
tech-savvy terrorists could use the service for nefarious purposes.
Unfortunately, the author of the report apparently hasn’t seen this handy commoncraft video about how Twitter works. Here’s a quote from the Army report…
"Cyber Terrorist operative "A" finds U.S. Army Smith’s
Twitter account. Operative "A" joins Smith’s Tweets and begins to
elicit information from Smith. This information is then used for a
targeting package (targeting in this sense could be for identity theft,
hacking, and/or physical.) This scenario is not new and has already
been discussed for other social networking sites, such as My Space
[sic] and/or Face Book [sic]."
In this scenario, is the problem really terrorists using Twitter, or
is it Mr. Smith’s penchant for tweeting sensitive details that could be
exploited by terrorists? The scenario seems to imply that merely having
a Twitter account makes you vulnerable to identity theft or terrorist
expoitation, as though the service itself is broadcasting your location
(and, one assumes, your mood) at all times.
The really hilarious part is the list of other groups of people
who are using Twitter. According to the report, aside from terrorists,
"Twitter has also become a social activist tool for socialists, human
rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious
communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to
communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences."
a weird list. Why, for example, does it single out "communists?" Are
communists really using Twitter more enthusiastically than other
political groups, like say, Democrats or Republicans? Are fascists
using Twitter? Neo-Nazis? Where are they on the list? What about
And aren’t all these groups also using other forms of technology
to organize, like blogs and email lists and fax machines and phones and
shoes and ballpoint pens? Twitter is a communication technology that is widely available and very popular. Of course these groups (and every other social group you can name, except, possibly, luddites) are using it.
bothers me most is the guilt-by-association factor going on here. This
portion of the report is about terrorists potentially using Twitter and
it lists these other groups of social activists like "vegetarians" and
"atheists" who are already making use of the service, and as we all
know, these are gateway social activist groups that ultimately lead to
I actually get that the military/police forces
fighting terrorism need to be up on modern social networking and
communication options that their targets might be using, and I get that
they need to distribute this information widely, so somewhere there
needs to be a report that says, "uh, guys? The terrorists might be
using this Twitter thing — here’s how it works — don’t let your own
tweeting make you vulnerable." But the author of that report needs to
actually understand the technology and how it works in practical,
real-world terms, and not dismiss it as merely a tool that activists
use to meet up and smoke pot and undermine public order.
suppose there was a military report in the late 19th century about
anarchists, communists and gun-slinging outlaws communicating via
telephone and telegraph? I hear tell that the degenerate scalawags have
even started to "drive" these horseless carriages!
Source: this Wired Danger Room blog post