The Federation of American Scientists has posted a report conducted by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion and delivered to the U.S. Army, outlining potential mobile device and service threats that terrorists may use to coordinate future attacks. Twitter, the social network and microblogging site, accounts for two pages in the report, and outlines potential ways terrorists might use Twitter to plan and execute attacks.
The report, which was originally brought to national attention by Noah Schatman of Wired, notes that Twitter has already been used in several instances to report on events that have happened before the mainstream news media picks up on them, and also events at the Republican National Convention earlier this year where protestors organized via Twitter.
One specific example cited by the FAS report is an earthquake that occurred in Los Angeles on July 29, 2008. One Twitter user tweeted about the quake "approximately four minutes prior to the information being reported by the news," and within minutes there were "hundreds of tweets" from people giving firsthand accounts.
The second event that caught the attention of the people compiling the report was at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul in September. Protestors used Twitter to alert others about the movement of police, where to find aid from pepper spray, and provide directions to parts of the city that could safely be traversed.
These instances have, at least in some way, led the U.S. military to outline three potential scenarios in which terrorist groups could use Twitter to cause harm to the U.S. According to the report on the FAS Web site, these are the potential scenarios.
In scenario one, Twitter is used to:
"Terrorist operative "A" uses Twitter with (or without) using a cell phone camera/video function to send back messages, and to receive messages, from the rest of his cell. Operative "A" also has a Google Maps Twitter Mash Up of where he is under a code word for other members of his cell (if they need more in-depth directions) posted on the WWW that can be viewed from their mobiles. Other members of his cell receive near real time updates (similar to the movement updates that were sent by activists at the RNC) on how, where, and the number of troops that are moving in order to conduct an ambush."
In scenario two:
"Terrorist operative "A" has a mobile phone for Tweet messaging and for taking images. Operative "A" also has a separate mobile phone that is actually an explosive device and/or a suicide vest for remote detonation. Terrorist operative "B" has the detonator and a mobile to view "A's" Tweets and images. This may allow "B" to select the precise moment of remote detonation based on near real time movement and imagery that is being sent by "A."
And the final scenario laid out in the report involves "hacking" information from U.S. servicemen:
"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]."
The report goes on to note, correctly, that in addition to potential terrorists, other groups have adopted Twitter to send information back and forth and to share ideas. Of course, it's hard to believe that the government is grouping someone in these organizations into the same category as terrorists planning attacks on the country.
According to the report, "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."
So, now atheist vegetarians are on the same watch list as potential terrorists?
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