Careers in the Surveillance Industry

Project report:


The project examines the ICWatch database, an activist project that has sourced intelligence workers' profiles from the social networking sites, LinkedIn and Indeed. It is considered an ‘open source intelligence’ project in that the data are publicly available (albeit not open source per se) and could be considered a data set that enables ‘watching the watchers’, a kind of counter-intelligence database project or a form of sousveillance. There is a series of sub-inquiries, where skills by location are mapped, and a typical intelligence worker profile is created (based in Maryland, etc.). (One recurring theme, not explicitly addressed, is the security clearance — who has it, where does one have it and at which level; it is often stated as a ‘skill.’ This was indeed an important issue in the Snowden case, an outside contractor with high security clearance, which is one crucial and debatable relationships underlying the ICWatch database project and the so-called revolving door of intelligence workers between the private sector and government.) The project is particularly concerned with general ethical issues surrounding the use of this database and open source intelligence more broadly, largely because it contains ‘false positives,’ that is, a series of profiles of linguists that were placed in the database because of the query “linguist,” which is also an intelligence system. Network analysis techniques are employed to filter or clean the ‘dirty' portion of the data, thereby showing a core intelligence community network. Finally the project looks into the Dutch profiles. (In the accompanying presentation, there is the interesting finding that there is a concrete relationship between the Dutch intelligence community and AT&T. They are geo-located in the same building in the Hague, which is perhaps an ‘open secret’, a term that could be fruitfully employed in this paper together with or rather than ‘open source intelligence’.) The project report would benefit from a discussion of the debate (however small) surrounding ICWatch dataset, so as to be able to position a strategy for its study within the swirl of claims and counter-claims made about it. Secondly, there is a tension between the ethical problems inhering in the appearance of ‘linguists’ (not associated with an intelligence system) and what could simply be called poor query design and a need for filtering — which is subsequently achieved in a subproject. Finally the conclusions could be made to fit the findings. Whereas a seemingly clear and, as previously stated, “unsurprising" intelligence worker profile was created through the database analysis, the report concludes by arguing that “it is very difficult to use this dataset to make generalised conclusions about employees in the intelligence sector”.

-- Richard Rogers
Topic revision: r2 - 03 Oct 2016, RichardRogers
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