November 24, 2004 10:28 AM PST

Security officials to spy on chat rooms

The CIA is quietly funding federal research into surveillance of Internet chat rooms as part of an effort to identify possible terrorists, newly released documents reveal.

In April 2003, the CIA agreed to fund a series of research projects that the documents indicate were intended to create "new capabilities to combat terrorism through advanced technology." One of those projects is research at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., devoted to automated monitoring and profiling of the behavior of chat-room users.

Listening in
The CIA has been working behind the scenes for a number of months to help develop technology for monitoring chat on the Internet. A real-world test starts with the New Year.

• November 2002: Invitation-only workshop convened by CIA and NSF on antiterrorism research.

• April 2003: CIA and NSF sign "memorandum of understanding" to fund technology research.

• June 2004: Deadline for submitting research proposals to NSF.

• July 2004: CIA and NSF review nearly 250 research proposals.

• January 2005: Scheduled start date of chat room monitoring project at Rensselaer Polytechnic.

Even though the money ostensibly comes from the National Science Foundation, CIA officials were involved in selecting recipients for the research grants, according to a contract between the two agencies obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and reviewed by CNET News.com.

NSF program director Leland Jameson said Wednesday the two-year agreement probably will not be renewed for the 2005 fiscal year. "Probably we won't be working with the CIA anymore at all," Jameson said. "I think that people have moved on to other things."

The NSF grant for chat-room surveillance was reported earlier this year, but without disclosure of the CIA's role in the project. The NSF-CIA memorandum of understanding says that while the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the fight against terrorism presented U.S. spy agencies with surveillance challenges, existing spy "capabilities can be significantly enhanced with advanced technology."

EPIC director Marc Rotenberg, whose nonprofit group obtained the documents through the Freedom of Information Act, said the CIA's clandestine involvement was worrisome. "The intelligence community is changing the priorities of scientific research in the U.S.," Rotenberg said. "You have to be careful that the National Science Foundation doesn't become the National Spy Foundation."

"The proposed system could aid the intelligence community to discover hidden communities and communication patterns in chat rooms without human intervention."
--Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute research proposal

A CIA representative would not answer questions, saying the agency's policy is never to talk about funding. The two Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers involved, Bulent Yener and Mukkai Krishnamoorthy, did not respond to interview requests.

Their proposal, also disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, received $157,673 from the CIA and NSF. It says: "We propose a system to be deployed in the background of any chat room as a silent listener for eavesdropping...The proposed system could aid the intelligence community to discover hidden communities and communication patterns in chat rooms without human intervention."

Yener and Krishnamoorthy, both associate professors of computer science, wrote that their research would involve writing a program for "silently listening" to an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel and "logging all the messages." One of the oldest and most popular methods

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As if...
our security community has come up with something new in this effort.

Don't mean to be sarcastic, but the fact is MSN, Yahoo, AOL and all the rest have utilized such bots in their chat rooms for well over a half
decade now.

Well-funded terrorists must certainly know this, and, therefore, avoid using such an obvious method of communication.
Posted by malabrm1 (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Leave IRC alone.
I simply cannot fathom why the US government has any right to monitor the world on IRC chats when there are solid evidences out there of credit card fraud and other crimes involving other countries that they cannot harm. Let's face it people, stop trying to harm the people that are doing nothing wrong by invading our privacy. It is well known that this information would some how find it's way out and we like our privacy. No, we have nothing to hide, but our lives are our own and we don't need programs over our heads. If I ever heard of this showing up on my IRC networks I hang on I'd find a way of coping with it. IRC networks as well as many online communities hold to policies ensuring that even Admins aren't spying on conversations. IRC networks and chat communities are businesses in their own right and have a right to say yes or no to spying. I don't like terrorists but I also think this patriot act may be giving exclusive rights for a more powerful government that is not what the USA intended. You are the government but you are not gods. Leave people alone to their privacies and try learning to go after the criminals you actually see instead of spying on people of your country or others where the leaders actually can and will do something to stop terrorism. The ones that are mostly at fault are the ones you simply don't seem to be able to do crap about any way.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The phoney war
It seems that too many of the measures being taken or proposed by the Western world's security services are based on the assumption that terrorists are stupid.

First, we heard that the CIA needed to read all our email and listen in on our cellphones so they can intercept terrorists saying things like, "Hey! What say we blow up the Pentagon next Friday?" Yet, as anyone who has so much as glanced at a spy novel knows, the bad guys are far more likely to say "Let's grab a pizza on Friday" or some other prearranged signal for their activities.

Next, we were told that the government needed backdoors into all our encrypted communications, again so they could intercept terrorist communications. But wouldn't an even averagely bright terrorist know that the surest way to draw attention to their plans would be to encrypt them? During WWII, Britain communicated with an extensive European spy network via codes hidden in poems and personal letters, and via the nightly weather reports of the BBC. No sophisticated encryption required and the Germans never really suspected. Remember, it was the very difficulty of Germany's own Enigma-encrypted traffic that alerted the Allies to the importance of the information it carried, and made them determined to crack the code.

Now we're expected to believe that Al Quaeda are going to be hanging around on public chatrooms planning their nefarious plots. Yeah, right.

What seems far more likely is that the government simply wants what govenments always want: ever greater control over their citizens. The "War on Terror" is just the threat du jour and has replaced the "Cold War" as the boogieman that justifies policies of oppression and censorship. Orwell wasn't wrong when he wrote "1984," just 20 years premature.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
James...
I'm not big on conspiracy theories, even by our government, in the USA. What I am big on is mismanagement due to the splintering of our security services. It was one thing when we had a few security agencies - my pref always being those not pols but profs who only need be vetted by pols (like the Fed Chairs must be). But our security services are now such a mammoth bunch of groups, each with their own agenda and consequent turf wars, that it's with great sadness that we are forced to acknowledge that we, as a nation, have easily crackable security. Worse yet, well-funded terrorist groups know this all too well, and have devised "best practice" routes around our country's security, with the result by definition that by the time we devise yet another security effort, seriously wealthy terrorist groups already know how to take advantage of this frightening chess match.
Posted by malabrm1 (36 comments )
Link Flag
War on free society
I'm not one to believe in far fetched conspiracy theories, but the fact that the terrorists only pulled off 9/11 and no other attacks, even with all their support in the U.S. is really starting to make the "war on terrorism" look like a "war on free society". The CIA needs to stop making excuses to monitor everything citizens do, and start gathering "human intelligence". It would be much cheaper to pay 10 good agents $200,000 a year, than it would be to keep hiring more and more people to develop means of spying on citizens to prevent attacks. As others have stated, making these known publicly is just going to alert the terrorists, and make them divert away from these communication mediums, and in the end the only ones going to be monitored will be the citizens. One well placed agent could infact bring down an entire terrorist organization or severly hurt it, we've seen this in the past with the mafia and other organized crime, and yet we refuse to employ the same methods against terrorists, you cannot tell me there is not one terrorist willing to defect for the right amount of money. If the government keeps on with these rights limiting campaigns, then at the end of the day, the terrorist maybe right in saying they've won.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Do I dare comment?
With all due concern, I will. Next thing the government will be determining thought crimes. Thank you George Orwell for your prescient observations in 1948. You only missed by +20 years. Another interesting concept from Orwell's 1984 was the continuous enemy and the two-minute hate each day. I await Regis conducting it each morning.
Posted by dsherr1 (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
what about...?
So, monitoring chatrooms and such for terrorists is not a bad idea, but what about predators/pedophiles and such? I'd probably think there's more predators and pedophiles (if not the same thing) out there in chatrooms than terrorists!!! (at least in US-based chatrooms). come on!
Posted by mrv9r (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
huh?
so where did i get this "sadchild" nickname from? i surely didn't choose it, or did i? how do i change it, anyone?
Posted by mrv9r (3 comments )
Link Flag
http://ghoghnooschat.com
Posted by ghoghnooschat (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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