i hear you're minin' for the c.i.a., they wouldn't have you in the maf-i-a
talkleft led me to a washington times story (i know, i know, but that's what makes it interesting) on c.i.a. data mining techniques for blogs and other open source materials. i'm a little creeped out, of course, but also intrigued by the research challenge involved in sifting through masses of information.
on the creepy side, i started blogging with the idea that a few close friends might see my words, maybe a grad student or two, sometimes my dad... could the c.i.a. possibly be interested in anything i write? nah, but there's a non-zero probability the f.b.i. might have stopped by once or twice.
on the research side, it has to be a keyword thing, right? if one repeatedly types in the appropriate combination of words or phrases, i'd bet that any blog could attract an audience in the central intelligence agency.
the c.i.a. gets blasted from the left (evil spies!), the right (if you had just been more ruthless, we wouldn't have these problems!), and all points in between. heck, i've even heard so-called progressives criticize the organization for being too stingy with assassination.
for the record, i've known at least a few good people who have served the c.i.a. as analysts or information specialists. taking what they could share at face value, their main job seemed to involve data reduction, whether through quantitative data mining or qualitative newspaper-reading and interviewing.
analysts must prepare cogent briefs or reports from mountains of information on, say, the political situation in sarkhan. ideally, these reports would extract the big-picture trend or finding and link it to analogous processes occurring in related settings. the directive is to render all this information useful for a generalist audience and, possibly, for policymaking -- whether for good or for evil.
hmmm. is it heretical to ask whether such efforts parallel those of social scientists?