In 2008, Pentagon officials launched a social science research program, the Minerva Research Institute. As Nafeez Ahmed reports for AlterNet, the program’s most recent call for research proposals shows that the Pentagon is “increasingly concerned about the risks to social, political and economic stability from resource stress and climate change, and whether they might lead governments to collapse.” One specific aim of the Minerva program is to determine how these issues interplay with social and political activism.
To better understand the motives of different social activist groups, researchers have created an online research tool, named LookingGlass, which purportedly measures the activist behavior and ranks the level of threat posed to the US by different activist groups. Developed by researchers at Arizona State University, the LookingGlass system analyzes social media posts to identify individuals who have an inclination toward terrorism. For individuals indentified as potential threats, the program then maps the individual’s message content to social movements.
Ahmed reports that NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake has stated that the algorithms developed by ASU’s data-mining projects are similar to those used by US intelligence to identify targets for the CIA’s “signature” drone strikes against unidentified groups of terrorism suspects.
This research is ostensibly beneficial for the greater good because it seeks to diminish terrorism, but who is getting the shorter end of the stick here? As Ahmed concludes, the Minerva program “demonstrates that the military’s alarming propensity to see a politically active citizenry as a potential terror threat is directly linked to the growing recognition that ‘non-traditional’ security issues like resource stress are already undermining state legitimacy.”
As of March 2015, there is no corporate news coverage of this issue.
Source: Nafeez Ahmed, “Pentagon Makes No Secret of Wanting to Monitor Social Change Activism,” Alternet, January 30, 2015, http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/pentagon-makes-no-secret-wanting-monitor-social-change-activism.
Student Researcher: Timothy Woods (Pomona College)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)