Social media can effectively be mined for intelligence gathering, according to a report based on a nine-day experiment conducted last year in an office building in Crystal City, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C.
In August 2012, a few dozen civilian contractors and government employees gathered in the building to experiment on using social media and other open-source information databases for intelligence-gathering purposes.
The experiment “was successful in identifying strategies and techniques for exploiting open sources of information, particularly social media,” stated an after-action report obtained by Secrecy News and released in August. The experiment was funded by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and dubbed “Quantum Leap.”
This effort to exploit Big Data was short-lived, according to a SOCOM spokesman. In a statement, SOCOM’s Ken McGraw said Quantum Leap was “a very small, little-known, inconsequential experiment that was defunded” after that first experiment in Virginia.
But with an end strength soon to reach 72,000 — up from 33,000 in 2001 — and missions in Iraq and Afghanistan mostly in their rear-view mirror, the Tampa, Fla.-based command is looking for ways to continue its counterterrorism mission in a manner that doesn’t necessarily involve thousands of operators on the ground working out of fixed positions.
Part of the new effort involves what SOCOM Commander Adm. William McRaven calls the “Global SOF Network” — a program that would try to build on the years of partnered operations between the U.S., NATO and other partner special operations units in Afghanistan and which would allow for sharing intelligence while keeping the lines of communication open across borders.
The program is still at the talking stage, and critics in Congress and elsewhere have pushed back against some of the additional funding streams that McRaven has requested.
The command is also trying to modernize its ground and air assets, even while awaiting the budget bite from sequestration that will begin to hit later this fiscal year.
And where SOCOM has been most active over the past two months has been on the ground. In August, SOCOM awarded General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems a contract worth at least $562 million for its long-awaited Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1 (GMV) program.
The program will be key to how operators move around on deployments, and the command has said it wants to buy 1,297 GMVs to replace its 1,072 AM General-made Humvee variants. SOCOM had already planned to spend about $24 million on the program in fiscal 2014 for the first 101 vehicles, at $245,000 per vehicle.
The award was bad news for AM General and Navistar International, who are looking for new programs to make up for the lack of Humvee and MRAP work now that the wartime buying spree is over.
When announcing the award, the government also said it plans to spend about $14 million in already allocated fiscal 2012 and 2013 budgets for research, test and evaluation on the GMV program.
Deliveries of the GMVs are expected to be complete by September 2020.
In late September, SOCOM awarded General Dynamics another contract for the Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV), an even smaller vehicle that can fit inside a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft along with several operators and is capable of opening up with its weapons within a minute of exiting the aircraft.
Funding for that program will kick off in the 2015 budget.■