US Army lays out scenarios with terrorists using Twitter

Intelligence report points to Twitter threat

A US military intelligence report has determined that the Twitter microblogging tool could be used by terrorists to coordinate their movements, activities and attacks.

The report from the US Army's 304th Military Intelligence Battalion, now posted on the Federation of American Scientists website, details several scenarios where terrorists could use Twitter as an operational tool.

The report notes that human rights groups, communist organisations, anarchists and others are already using the Twitter to communicate with each other and send messages to broader audiences.

"Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives," the report says. "For example, there are multiple pro and anti Hezbollah Tweets. In addition, extremist and terrorist use of Twitter could evolve over time to reflect tactics that are already evolving in use by 'hacktivists' and activist for surveillance. This could theoretically be combined with targeting."

Twitter is increasingly being used to broadcast short messages, or Tweets, from various newsmaking entities, including NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander and members of Congress. Some companies are even monitoring Twitter for customer service complaints.

Last month, Republicans in Congress used Twitter to help stage a protest over a piece of legislation.

The report cites Computerworld US coverage of how protesters at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul used Twitter to organise its movements and to help protesters elude and fend off police as an example of how terrorists could use the technology.

The report lists some Tweets used by the protestors, including:

  • "Arrest teams are approaching seated protesters on Marion bridge. Resisters are told they'll be met with force."
  • "Protestors are now fighting back. First reports of violence now."
  • "Western Ave. bridge, west of capitol can be safely crossed."

Such Tweets could be used by terrorists for counter surveillance and as command and control and movement tools, according to the report.

The report cites several potential terrorist scenarios, including one where a terrorist operative could use Twitter with or without a cell phone camera/video function to send and receive messages to and from members of his cell. The operative could also have a coded Google Maps/Twitter mashup of his location noted, which other cell members could view from their mobile phones. Members of the terrorist cell could receive near real-time updates — similar to those sent by activists at the Republican convention — on the location of and number of opposition troops.

In another scenario, a terrorist could use one mobile phone to send and receive Tweet messages and images, and another that's an explosive device that can be remotely detonated. A second terrorist has the detonator and a mobile phone to view the first terrorist's Tweets and images.

"This may allow [the second terrorist] to select the precise moment of remote detonation based on near real-time movement and imagery that is being sent by [the first terrorist]," the report notes.

The report also cites several examples of real Tweets sent from by unknown users, likely US military personnel, to unknown recipients. They include:

  • "Drove off base today down Route Irish [Baghdad airport road] in an 'NTV and didn't get blown up fun fun"
  • "Today is my day off. 115 already in Camp Bucca Iraq."

In addition, the report notes this Tweet detailing an operational change at Fort Huachuca, home the US Army Intelligence Centre and School:

  • "Email I just got: 'We are changing all the PMs tasks at Ft. Huachuca. I hope this does not add a lot of extra work on your end.' Ha!"

The potential for use of Twitter and other web tools and mobile technologies by terrorists is dependent on the availability of mobile service, the report adds. "For example, terrorists could theoretically use Twitter social networking in the US as an operation tool," the report says. "However, it is unclear whether the same theoretical use would be available to terrorists in other countries and to what extent."

Meanwhile, several groups announced last week a new Twitter Vote Report project aimed to allowing voters to use Twitter text messaging and web capabilities to send Tweets noting problem areas at the polls. Then, voter protection groups can send legal volunteers to those locations.

Between now and November 4, users can access the Election Protection Twitter account and tweet with questions and voting problem reports. On Election Day, voters will be able share their experiences and report problems using the "#votereport" Twitter tag.

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