FBI Cites Guidelines That Don't Actually Forbid Social Media Monitoring As The Reason It Was Blindsided By The January 6 Attack

from the some-monitoring-is-more-equal-than-others dept

The FBI has spent thousands on social media monitoring software. These contracts are public, making it literally unbelievable the agency has managed to stave off FOIA requests by handing out "neither confirm nor deny" non-answers. A court didn't buy the FBI's excuse for its Glomar, pointing out that confirming public information would not give criminals a heads-up on surveillance software the FBI is currently using.

The FBI's inability to honestly discuss its social media monitoring programs continues. The January 6th raid on the US Capitol building has resulted in hundreds of arrests. A lot of the evidence for these prosecutions has come from social media posts by members of the ad hoc raiding party.

The FBI continues to provide contradictory responses when questioned about its social media monitoring programs. Its Congressional testimony has kind of eluded direct questions about the FBI's incursions into First Amendment territory -- something the FBI is now using to explain why it wasn't more aware of the impending threat prior to January 6th.

Quinta Jurecic's post for Lawfare points out the FBI lack of awareness was somewhat stunning, given the vast amount of publicly available information circulating social media prior to the Capitol raid.

The only document the FBI produced warning about Jan. 6 was a single bulletin issued by the bureau’s Norfolk, Virginia, field office. This absence of warning is particularly striking given that a significant amount of the planning for the Jan. 6 riot took place in public on social media platforms like Facebook, Gab and Parler. Anyone with a Twitter account and an hour of time to kill could have warned about the potential for violence on Jan. 6—and many did.

FBI Director Chris Wray has been questioned about the FBI's lack of preparedness. And his responses haven't cleared much up. According to Wray, FBI guidelines forbid agents from camping out on social media and searching for evidence of potential criminal activity.

“We’re not allowed to ... just sit and monitor social media and look at one person’s posts … just in case,” Wray told the House Judiciary Committee recently.

But that's not strictly true. The agency's guidelines do not strictly forbid this activity. The FBI can monitor social media platforms. It just usually doesn't. Wray says guidelines prevent agents from "collecting First Amendment activities," but there's nothing in the rules that says the FBI can't monitor open-source information like public posts.

This has been Wray's line through several hearings this year. But the guidelines say something completely different.

[A]ssessments may be undertaken proactively with such objectives as detecting criminal activities; obtaining information on individuals, groups, or organizations of possible investigative interest, either because they may be involved in criminal or national security-threatening activities or because they may be targeted for attack or victimization by such activities; and identifying and assessing individuals who may have value as human sources. For example, assessment activities may involve proactively surfing the Internet to find publicly accessible websites and services through which recruitment by terrorist organizations and promotion of terrorist crimes is openly taking place

So, perhaps the problem was the January 6th raid was carried out by the wrong kind of terrorists. The FBI is certainly proactive when it comes to monitoring the Muslim community "just in case." When it comes to white insurrectionists, the agency apparently just hangs back and lets things take their course until it becomes imperative for the FBI to get involved.

Wray, at best, is only partly right.

In other words, Wray is correct that the bureau needs an authorized purpose to review social media, and that First Amendment considerations are involved. But his testimony leaves out the fact that the DIOG specifically authorizes FBI employees to review social media posts potentially protected by the First Amendment under certain circumstances—circumstances that could well have been met in the case of the soon-to-be Capitol rioters. After all, wouldn’t Facebook posts announcing plans to invade a government building raise criminal or national security concerns under the FBI’s definition of “authorized purpose”?

It's not that we should be encouraging the FBI to engage in more proactive monitoring of social media -- something that's sure to raise some First Amendment issues. It's that the FBI has never been shy about focusing this attention on certain kinds of people while appearing to ignore others who haven't historically been considered a threat to national security by the agency.

Perhaps this take isn't accurate and the FBI takes a similar hands-off approach when keeping an eye on other potential threats involving less-white people. But given the FBI's long history of utilizing social media to radicalize local adherents of Islam into attempting to commit criminal acts, it hardly seems likely the FBI follows these guidelines (the ones that don't say what the FBI Director says they do) consistently. It has experienced this sort of colorblindness in the past. And the conclusion one can easily draw -- especially when the FBI hasn't offered up a better explanation for why it missed the warning signs for the January 6th attack -- is that the agency largely feels white people are nothing to worry about.

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Filed Under: chris wray, fbi, insurrection, january 6th, public information, social media, social media monitoring


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  • icon
    Koby (profile), 7 Jul 2021 @ 12:35pm

    Perhaps this take isn't accurate and the FBI takes a similar hands-off approach when keeping an eye on other potential threats involving less-white people.

    Another possibility has nothing to do with race, and instead concerns public support. Imagine for a second if a local police department had a bunch of Democrats calling to defund the police, and then the police antagonized the local Republicans such that they agreed. Now picture the FBI on a national level, with both political parties calling for funding reductions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 7 Jul 2021 @ 1:35pm

      Another possibility has nothing to do with race, and instead concerns public support.

      That…really wouldn’t be much better.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 9:38am

      Re:

      Now picture the FBI on a national level, with both political parties calling for funding reductions.

      Just so I'm clear, you're suggesting the FBI may have done nothing about the insurrection ahead of time in retaliation against Congress for cutting its budget?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:25am

        Re: Re:

        Are you suggesting that it is beyond the realm of possibility that the FBI would stoop so low? We are talking about the freakin' FBI here, after all. I am not saying that I believe they did this, but it would be completely in character for them to have done so. Therefore it is a possibility well worth considering.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 7 Jul 2021 @ 1:06pm

    The difference between Trump and the FBI

    Trump lies because he is a liar. The FBI lies because it is law enforcement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2021 @ 3:58pm

    The fbi likely monitor 1000s of websites and they have been know to setup fake terrorist plots ie give money to a person with mental problems who has extreme views and give them fake weapons and explosives and money
    And then immediately arrest them
    The fbi have been known to pay crinimals to make up or make false statements about a person they wish to prosecute
    I'd take any official statement the fbi makes with a big grain of salt
    I'd be very surprised if the fbi does not read posts made on Facebook or any other social media websites
    And of course there's forums used by white power extremists

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2021 @ 4:18pm

    The only problem I see is that these people exist in a constant state of anger and make endless idle threats in comment sections. I don't know how one can read The Gateway Pundit's comment section and separate the thousands of meaningless posts that incorporate violence from the actual terrorists. Go there today or any day and you will find gun profile pic after gun profile pic calling for some form of violence or civil war, whether that be executing their liberal neighbors or Democratic politicians. I'm skeptical a software can differentiate that either even if someone has sold one to the government with that claim. There's no real functional difference in what they call for, but only a very small percentage will turn off their computer and pick up a gun.

    I guess if they start entrapping white people like they concoct absurd scenarios to lock up Muslims who present no danger until an FBI agent spends months convincing them to commit a crime that might help get some more Republicans going against the cops. But they have always tended to view federal law enforcement with a critical eye they won't turn on the state and local authorities who usually don't arrest their social class of criminals.

    No real good answer here, but it's definitely been disheartening seeing people who spent the last few years claiming to care about issues with policing cheering on the FBI and demanding we lock people up and throw away the key. Some people definitely need to be locked up, but the FBI also overstated what some people did and demanded people who presented little danger be held indefinitely pre-trial. Those were things many claimed to be against on January 5th and apparently forgot about on January 7th because the people on the receiving end are Trumpkins. It sure seems like the police reform many Democrats wish to see is to harness all of the bad things in the criminal justice system and turn them on people they don't like instead of actually reducing the scope of law enforcement's involvement in day to day life. Emptying the prisons of poor black people and filling them up with poor white racists isn't a great improvement. Maybe just empty the majority of them and call it a day. We can preserve them like concentrations camps and people can come from all over the world to learn about the human suffering increasing your prison population by 800% over a few decades causes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 9:42am

      Re:

      The only problem I see is that these people exist in a constant state of anger and make endless idle threats in comment sections.

      There's a difference between "liberals should be shot" and "let's go storm the capitol on January 6."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2021 @ 4:39pm

    The agency's guidelines do not strictly forbid this activity. The FBI can monitor social media platforms. It just usually doesn't. Wray says guidelines prevent agents from "collecting First Amendment activities," but there's nothing in the rules that says the FBI can't monitor open-source information like public posts.

    Guidelines are by definition not rules, and can therefore not "forbid" anything. What are the "rules" the last sentence is referring to?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Jul 2021 @ 6:58pm

    "“We’re not allowed to ... just sit and monitor social media and look at one person’s posts … just in case,” Wray told the House Judiciary Committee recently."

    Perhaps you are unaware of where a bunch of your magical leads that were constructed in parallel to hide the actual source came from. Maybe you should take a look at the resources you've put into motion to identify low mental functioning men to convert into home grown terrorists & I dunno write a google alert looking for the words shoot & synagogue in a public FB post.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dank710 (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 5:16am

    LOL Sure

    They were told to stand down by Trump. FBI has a proud boy problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 5:19pm

    Or size?

    How many millions of pointless posts are made on “social” platforms every day?
    The vast majority of it being pointless blah. Political blah, personal blah, my cat blah, I made a poopie blah.

    The somebodies get a few million “followers” who may or may not read every post.
    The majority have what, 10?

    If have yet to see definitive proof or a grand Republican conspiracy to “storm” the capital and “riot”, “attack” “assault”…

    Honestly: looks like the same thing happened on the 6th that happened in so many BLM riots.
    A peaceful protest. Something happens.
    People respond… responses increase in physicality,
    Eventually you have a riot.

    It doesn’t matter who does it. It’s still a riot.
    And generally they happen the same way.
    Any pre planing by individuals to riot, should be charged for what they planned. The rest, it’s a situation we’ve seen repeated all over this country.

    That the FBI missed some grand plan is simply because there was no grand plan.

    That they missed a few bad actors in millions and millions of posts?
    Monitoring social media without specific targeting is rather pointless.
    I’d rather be charged with finding a needle in a National park.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 7:48pm

    Any pre planing by individuals to riot, should be charged for what they planned.

    But it's fine as long as they didn't plan it ahead of time?

    The rest, it’s a situation we’ve seen repeated all over this country.

    Rioters, both in DC and around the country, have been and are being charged with various crimes.

    That the FBI missed some grand plan is simply because there was no grand plan.

    That is true, there were a bunch of small plans by lots of people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Lostinlodos (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 9:46pm

      Re:

      “ But it's fine as long as they didn't plan it ahead of time?”
      Only according to democrats responding to BLM.
      Not allt all in my book.
      Those who entered the capital should be criminally charged for their actions. I have no problem with it at all.
      There’s a world of actual charges that are provable.
      Trespass, aggravated trespass, vandalism, theft…!
      A few should go down for aggravated assault.
      Beyond the handcuff problematic people, charge everyone else with disturbing the peace.

      “ Rioters, both in DC and around the country, have been and are being charged with various crimes.”
      Just not enough. Charge, not detain, all of them. Do the crime, do the time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 12 Jul 2021 @ 6:19pm

      Re: [lots of small plans]

      That is true, there were a bunch of small plans by lots of people

      I will tell you the tip-off the FBI missed. The morning of 06-Jan, there was a large armed mob present near the Capitol. There was a platform set up and several rabble-rousing speakers were present to address the armed mob. The speakers did deliver their respective addresses, which were followed shortly by an armed march upon the Capitol.

      The various law-enforcement and military operations laregely ignored this. Sure, there was also social media chatter, but since it was largely the KKK and ``blue lives'' sorts doing the chatter, it was also largely ignored.

      Compare the non-armed-mob a few months prior for the BLM protest, and the storm trooper response thereto, and let me know if you have a good explanation for the different responses.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Lostinlodos (profile), 12 Jul 2021 @ 7:04pm

        Re: Re: [lots of small plans]

        For starters your story of the events of the 6th are MSNBCNN misinformation.

        A large platform was set up for the President and members of the government to hold speeches with civilians.
        The vast majority of the attendees were unarmed. The secret service wouldn’t let any civilian with a weapon near any of the politicians for a standard rally.

        There was no armed storming of the capital. A small group of bad actors resorted to violence.

        Just like all those BLM protests. A few cause problems. People get caught up in it, and a protest becomes a riot.
        The capital isn’t a burning pile of ruins.
        Portland, Chicago? Detroit? St. Louis?
        Cities across the country still haven’t recovered from the damage and violence of the peaceful protests.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 13 Jul 2021 @ 7:58am

        Re: Re: [lots of small plans]

        The morning of 06-Jan

        It was too late to do much at that point if they hadn't already made plans and had people in place.

        Compare the non-armed-mob a few months prior for the BLM protest, and the storm trooper response thereto, and let me know if you have a good explanation for the different responses.

        It seems like there must have been something different, but it's so hard to place it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Claude Bahlz, 9 Jul 2021 @ 8:51am

    Malice VS Stupidity

    "...especially when the FBI hasn't offered up a better explanation for why it missed the warning signs for the January 6th attack -- is that the agency largely feels white people are nothing to worry about."

    or,

    The new Trump-friendly FBI was complicit in the insurrection.

    just saying...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 13 Jul 2021 @ 12:06pm

    “ It seems like there must have been something different, but it's so hard to place it.”

    There had been one single instance of trump related rally/protest rioting prior to that date.

    Antifa riots hade been a daily occurrence some cities, had cost hundreds of millions in damages, and numerous lives.

    Now you understand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 11:44am

      Re:

      We understand that you're unable to tell fact from fiction.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Lostinlodos (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 12:35pm

        Re: Re:

        The fact is when it’s a cause you’re for the rules don’t apply, just find some way to justify breaking the law.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 4:42pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          [Projects facts not in evidence]

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Lostinlodos (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 5:37pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Fact in evidence is your posting history.

            You appear, by that history, to think a single, minor, riot in jan 6 is worse than dozens and dozens of nights of violent riots that resulted in looting, arson, vandalism, and murder.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Toom1275 (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 8:05pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Once again, you prove me correct as always with that little work of fiction you wrote there yet presented as though a single part of it were true.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Lostinlodos (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 9:50pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Well here’s your chance to correct that view then.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Toom1275 (profile), 18 Jul 2021 @ 11:03am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Another lie from you. You've rejected every other attempt to correct you before, your pretense that this time will be different is unconvincing.

                  You've already stated several times that the more a source lies to you, the more trustworthy you believe it to be; you've never let yourself be corrected by the facts we (Mostly Paul amd Stephen) keep providing you.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    Lostinlodos (profile), 18 Jul 2021 @ 11:31am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    Still waiting for you to condemn the BLM riots. I’ve already condemned those who trespassed at the capital, especially those who committed actions of vandalism and assault.

                    Are you willing to condemn the burning of a federal court house (with people inside).
                    The illegal hostage taking of the autonomous zones?
                    The destruction and looting in Chicago?
                    The murders across the country?
                    The fires of Wisconsin?
                    The deviation caused in the name of BLM?

                    Here’s your opportunity to do so.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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