Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why Does The CIA Have A Twitter Account?

The Central Intelligence Agency lit up Twitter and drew both applause and fire with its most recent tweet in its short Twitter career:
The most galling part of this might be that everyone, as New York's Stefan Becket points out, knows where Tupac is: he's dead. Either this line was written by someone who did not actually understand who Tupac is, and assumed that he was interchangeable with, say, Amelia Earhart or the Roswell alien, or it was written by someone who could not reason through the logical steps of a one-step joke. Either way, not a feather in the cap of our national intelligence organization.
What is going on? What does the CIA even have a Twitter account? And why are they tweeting jokes?

The Answer: Tech Recruitment

It's no mystery that the CIA is looking to hire. There have been headlines since that effect since 2005 and they're still looking to 'diversify' as of 2011. Furthermore, the 'recruitment process' doesn't just happen in America and it isn't just for action-adventure style James Bond types (no, MI:6 is the one that hires the action-adventure style James Bond types--keep up).

For example, the National Resources division of the CIA hires "locally" (in other countries) by recruiting young people who will simply go to work for it:
A few years ago, an American company placed a want ad for an aerospace engineering consultant in an Asian newspaper. It quickly drew a flurry of applicants - one of whom was just the kind of person the company was looking for: someone who worked in that country's missile program, someone who was a little sleazy, someone looking to make a little cash on the side.
This was a CIA front operation, and soon that eager applicant was supplying the spy agency with details on his country's ballistic missile program.
As the article notes, it isn't just people out of the country who get romanced by the spy agency: major economic players do to--and they like it:
JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sach's Lloyd Blankfein, one former CIA executive recalls, loved to get visitors from Langley. 
And the CIA loves them back, not just for their patriotic cooperation with the spy agency, sources say, but for the influence they have on Capitol Hill, where the intelligence budgets are hashed out.
So, good--but why the egregious Tupac Tweet?

Well, Slate, no one has ever accused The Omnivore of being hip--in fact, he isn't even especially fly (for a white guy)--but he does know this: Tupac Theories #4 and 5 involve him not bein' dead:
4) Tupac is alive in New ZealandIf Tupac’s life did in fact revolve around spiritual numbers and Christ-like references, it is perhaps only fitting that he was spotted this year in little ol’ ‘Godzone’, aka New Zealand, last month.
5) Witness protectionAnd lastly, despite Tupac’s many derogatory lyrics aimed at the boys in blue - the “po-leece” - the final popular theory in our list is that Tupac is in fact under witness protection by the FBI.
So, uh, get it straight, Slate it's ... kinda like Elvis, eh? He's dead too--so far as The Omnivore knows--but he's still shows up a lot ... if you know what I mean.

So, uh, the CIA's trying to recruit guys who are into the Hip-Hop conspiracy scene? No. If The Omnivore were to guess it would be that the CIA is re-branding to compete with the NSA for young tech-talent. For that? It needs to be hip. What young tech-savvy expert wants to work at a company (or even The Company) that doesn't have a Twitter presence?

You can read here how Palantir Software (a tech outfit that works with the CIA) recruits people with creepy stalker emails and leverages their name with the entire Middle Earth connotations to persuade people to join in the "fight against evil." This is reasonably good branding: who doesn't want to take a piece out of Mordor?

This is also a good piece of maneuvering: if they are competing with the NSA it's a heck of a challenge: Go Ahead And Try That, No Such Agency!

There's one more element as well: Trolling.

The Internet Battlefront

The Middle East is active on Twitter and this is seen as both a good way to harvest data and a powerful destabilizing force (recall that USAID clandestinely launched a Cuban text-message based cell phone 'twitter'). For the CIA, opening a public Twitter feed is the chess equivalent of moving your king-pawn two squares out: it opens the game with a presence right in the middle of the board.

The Omnivore suspects there will be some data-mining and surveillance around who engages, follows, and responds to the CIA's messaging. The tweets are a kind of provocation and responses could yield things like IP addresses, levels of cultural affinity respondents have, and insight into language skills. There probably isn't a lot here that couldn't be gained from a general survey of the Internet but The Omnivore suspects that the CIA's targets "can't help themselves" when it comes to an increased heat-level in the face of actual CIA readers.

That and, hey, trolling.


  1. It's also possible that part of the reason for this seemingly ill-considered tweet is that various conspiracy theories involving Tupac Shakur have been a consistent source of nuisance traffic for the CIA's public-facing presence over the last 18 years. If so, and if this tweet was in any way an attempt to silence those queries once and for all, the Agency is even more hopelessly out of touch with reality than I thought.

    They can't very well lead with an explicit claim to have juicy insider knowledge of high-profile secret info (JFK assassin(s)? Flying saucers? Drug-running in the Golden Triangle? "Piccadilly's" home address in Denmark? etc) so may be trying to play it off with "No, we don't know [implausible thing]", to deliver the unsubtle hint that they actually do know lots of cool stuff, just not that.

    It's a theory.

    -- Ω

    1. I can only imagine what their brand-management meetings must look like! Their recruitment videos score a solid 5 on the 1-10 scale (which is why I think they're diversifying into hip social media marketing). It's like the ad agency is going "We can't say THAT ... we don't know anything about THAT ... they won't tell us why someone would like to do THAT ... uh ... DEFEND AMERICA!!"

      -The Omnivore