Espionage and Social Media

By Michael Sulick

Michael Sulick is the former director of CIA’s National Clandestine Service and is currently a consultant on counterintelligence and global risk assessment.  Sulick also served as Chief of Counterintelligence and Chief of the Central Eurasia Division where he was responsible for intelligence collection operations and foreign liaison relationships in Russia, Eastern Europe and the former republics of the Soviet Union.  He is the author of Spying in America: Espionage From the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War and American Spies: Espionage Against the United States from the Cold War to the Present

Social media use has skyrocketed in recent years and connected the world in ways unimaginable in the past. Families, friends, professionals, political movements, and corporations all use social media to maintain contact around the globe, share ideas, unite against oppressive regimes, or enhance a company’s brand recognition. Facebook’s billion and a half users now comprise a larger population than any country on the planet, and, if Twitter were a country, its 300 million users would rank it fourth in population, just behind the United States.

Like many technological advances, however, social media has been used for ill as well as good, as evidenced by terrorists’ use of networking sites to spread jihadist propaganda and attract new recruits. Terrorists, however, are not the only bad actors exploiting social media for nefarious purposes. The electronic barrier between interlocutors inherent in social media is ideally suited for deception and is routinely exploited by bad actors of every stripe to harm their unsuspecting targets.

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