Dec 12 - Documents obtained by a public interest research center show that the US Central Intelligence Agency and the National Science Foundation collaborated to fund researchers developing software to electronically spy on Internet chat rooms.
The documents, obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) through a Freedom of Information Act and reviewed by The NewStandard, show that $157,673 was awarded to researchers Bulent Yener and Mukkai Krishnamoorthy to fund the development of chat room surveillance software. That document includes information about the project -- conducted under the auspices of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York -- the objective of which is described as the establishment of a "fully automated surveillance system for data collection and analysis in Internet chat rooms to discover hidden groups."
The document further explains that surveillance will determine what is being discussed in various chat rooms, who is discussing those topics, and if the topic is "hot" in a particular chat room. "Thus, the proposed system could aid the intelligence community to discover hidden communities and communication patterns in chat rooms without human intervention," the document states.
The description goes on to explain that the "award is supported jointly by the NSF and the Intelligence Community."
Another document obtained by EPIC through the Freedom of Information Act is a "Memorandum of Understanding" between the National Science Foundation and the CIA outlining a "jointly funded research initiative" to "encourage long-term high-risk research approaches to scientific research in support of the nation?s fight against terrorism."
While the amount of money provided by the CIA to the initiative has been blanked out, the Memorandum shows the National Science Foundation contributing $2.5 million in both fiscal years 2003 and 2004. The document also shows that the National Science Foundation is providing 70 percent of the funding, leading The NewStandard to extrapolate that the CIA provided an average of $1 million in each of those years.
According to the CNet News, the development of the surveillance project itself has been known about for some time, but the CIA?s involvement was unknown until the release of the documents.