CIA may start tracking blogs; SARS in China is pointed to as example of “blog power”

It’s nice to know blogs are now seen as worthy of monitoring by the big US intelligence agencies. No, not the “Last night I saw a movie with Johnnie and then colored my hair blue” type of blogs, but the political blogs that wield influence, like Salam Pax and, I presume, superbloggers like Instapundit and Daily Kos.

People in black trench coats might soon be chasing blogs.

Blogs, short for Web logs, are personal online journals. Individuals post them on Web sites to report or comment on news especially, but also on their personal lives or most any subject.

Some blogs are whimsical and deal with “soft” subjects. Others, though, are cutting edge in delivering information and opinion.

As a result, some analysts say U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials might be starting to track blogs for important bits of information. This interest is a sign of how far Web media such as blogs have come in reshaping the data-collection habits of intelligence professionals and others, even with the knowledge that the accuracy of what’s reported in some blogs is questionable.

Of course, it was the graf about blogs and SARS in China that caught my eye. Too bad it has an error.

Blogs last year also provided information during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. In China, where the SARS (news – web sites) outbreak began, the government at first said little. But health officials and reporters were able to get a sense of what was happening through blogs, as well as from e-mail and cell phone text messages sent to people outside China. This might have spurred China’s blog crackdown.

Were people in China blogging about SARS? I guess they were, it seems so long ago. The reporter’s error, however, is that China began blacking out blogs before the word “SARS” came into existence. It was in January 2003 that the Cyber Nanny clamped down on Blogspot, which at the time was by far the most popular blogging service. The bigger wave of blog blackouts has been quite recent, long after the noise over SARS had simmered down.

That aside, it’s fascinating to read how US spies around the world are tuning into blogs for information.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

Big Brother on Blogs

via the Peking Duck straight from Yahoo news: Blog-Tracking May Gain Ground Among U.S. Intelligence Officials. Some blogs are whimsical and deal with “soft” subjects. Others, though, are cutting edge in delivering information and opinion. As a result, …

April 27, 2004 @ 8:42 pm | Comment

If they’re smart they’ll be reading these blogs, since they’re a great source of raw information on the ground.

What bothered me about the article is all the tut-tutting about how we can’t be sure it’s accurate because it’s a blog. In my experience, it’s the established media, not the blogs, that are inaccurate.

April 27, 2004 @ 8:56 pm | Comment

Big Brother on Blogs

via the Peking Duck straight from Yahoo news: Blog-Tracking May Gain Ground Among U.S. Intelligence Officials. Some blogs are whimsical and deal with “soft” subjects. Others, though, are cutting edge in delivering information and opinion. As a result, …

April 27, 2004 @ 9:22 pm | Comment

How can you say that, with Jayson Blair and Jack Kelly setting new journalistic standards?

April 27, 2004 @ 9:39 pm | Comment

I think there were some blogs reporting on it. SARSwatch, or something. I can’t even remember the name, but I do remember listening to NPR in Washington and hearing a whole list of blogs the listener could go to to get information about what was happening in Asia at the time.

April 27, 2004 @ 11:20 pm | Comment

Intelligence is about “feelings” as well as fact. What better place than a weblog to get that.

April 28, 2004 @ 12:46 am | Comment

Boy, i was being sublty sarcastic when I pondered whether bloggers wrote about SARS last year. Of course we did; three or four of us even got named in an article in the UK Guardian for providing a “man on the street” perspective on SARS in Asia. When that article came out, my traffic stayed at around 3,000 daily visitors for a week. Ah, memories….

See the links on the upper-left-hand sidebar for some of my SARS posts. I don’t miss SARS, of course, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I miss the excitement of that time, when I really felt my blogging was making a difference.

April 28, 2004 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

ah…

i thought you were, but then i thought i’d add in my little bit of info.

strangely, i did not visit many blogs for SARs information, simply because i was doing my best to downplay the fears of my friends who were concerned i would be heading there later in the fall.

i thought it was best not to worry about it too much.

April 28, 2004 @ 9:15 pm | Comment

China blogs blogged SARS after it was already big, but we — the English language ones anyway — didn’t have anything to do with getting out the information. At that time, there were only about three or four of them out there, and none of them were political. I don’t remember there ever being some other blog that was pointed to as providing information, Chinese-language or otherwise. Although I had just started blogging then and wasn’t really connected at the time.

April 29, 2004 @ 7:21 am | Comment

Blogs like Gweilo Diaries and Flying Chair and BWG were blogging SARS big-time once it became a story. I joined in right before it became a crisis in Beijing. I would say blogs were a primary way for the outside world to get a daily, personalized look at what SARS was doing, which is why we got all that attention. That came to a fairly abrupt halt in May/June as temperatures rose and the caseload dropped. Sorry you missed out on the excitement — we were providing a window to the world, and it was a unique experience.

April 29, 2004 @ 7:47 am | Comment

The CIA had an opening for an assassin. After all of the background checks, interviews, and testing were done there were three finalists – two men and one woman. For the final test, the CIA agents took one of the men to a large metal door and handed him a gun.

“We must know that you will follow your instructions, no matter what the circumstances. Inside this room you will find your wife sitting in a chair. You have to kill her.” The first man said. “You cant be serious. I could never shoot my wife!”The agent replies, “Then you?re not the right man for this job.”

The second man was given the same instructions. He took the gun and went into the room. All was quiet for about five minutes. Then the agent came out with tears in his eyes. “I tried, but I cant kill my wife.” The agent replies, “You dont have what it takes. Take your wife and go home.”

Finally, it was the womans turn. Only she was told to kill her husband. She took the gun and went into the room. Shots were heard, one shot after another. They heard screaming, crashing, banging on the walls. After a few minutes, all was quiet. The door opened slowly and there stood the woman. She wiped the sweat from her brow and said, “You guys didnt tell me the gun was loaded with blanks. So I had to beat him to death with the chair.”

October 8, 2004 @ 2:50 pm | Comment

Nice read. Keep it going. Spiderfriend333

June 23, 2005 @ 8:12 am | Comment

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