Twitter and Facebook are enabling the Central Intelligence Agency to get reliable, real-time assessments of public sentiment during rapidly changing events around the world.
According to the Associated Press, the CIA is monitoring up to 5 million tweets a day, poring over Facebook and blog posts, and watching other social networks from a nondescript facility in a Virginia industrial park.
A CIA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request today for comment on the report.
A CIA team known internally as the "vengeful librarians" that numbers in the hundreds gathers information in multiple languages to build a real-time picture of the mood in various regions of the world.
The analysis is "sought by the highest levels at the White House" and ends up in the President's intelligence briefing almost daily, the AP quoted Doug Naquin, director of the CIA's Open Source Center, as saying.
When a U.S. Navy SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan earlier this year, for instance, analysts at the CIA's center in Virginia monitored Twitter to give the White House a quick view of world reaction to the event, the story said. The tweets were broken down and analyzed by language and quickly showed that a majority of the tweets in Urdu, the official language in Pakistan, were negative, it added.
A similar analysis of Arabic and Turkish Twitter traffic after the president gave a speech on Mideast issues a few weeks after the raid showed that a majority in the region thought that Obama favored Israel while Hebrew tweets expressed the opposite sentiments, the AP said.
Twitter and Facebook were key resources for following unfolding events in Egypt, Bangok and Iran recently, according to the AP.
The CIA facility was set up in response to recommendations by the 9/11 Commission and is focused on counterterrorism operations, the story said.
News of the CIA operation comes just days the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it is working on guidelines for protecting the privacy rights of U.S. citizens while it monitors social media sites.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.