CIA receives authorization to spy on MySpace, AOL

LANGLEY, Va. — The Central Intelligence Agency has received authorization to spy on terrorists and other threats to national security on the websites of MySpace and AOL, some 15 years after requesting access, Duffel Blog has learned.

The requests were part of an effort by the intelligence community after the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks to collect information on future terrorist plots, though they were still marred by infighting between rival agencies prior to the attacks. Lukas Berg, a CIA analyst overseeing terror financing, requested congressional authorization to access data from AOL in early 2002, then asked for access to the data of MySpace, which became popular in 2003.

However, the National Security Agency claimed it was its responsibility to exploit AOL and MySpace, and blocked the CIA’s move, arguing that cyber spying was a form of signals intelligence. The CIA countered that spying on humans using computers was clearly human intelligence, the CIA’s mission.

Still, since both sites were based within the United States, questions were raised over the legality of such requests for both agencies, since the NSA and CIA generally only operate overseas.

Amid the gridlock, American intelligence officials failed to identify Fidel Castro’s use of AOL Instant Messenger to communicate with his ex-mistress in Miami. They also overlooked the frequent updates appearing on Osama bin Laden’s MySpace page.

In 2006, Congressional overseers blasted Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte for his failure to exploit the Internet, before deciding to regularly attack his successors for spying on Americans using the Internet.

After Facebook overtook Myspace as the most popular social network in 2008, the request was almost forgotten.

However, before Berg’s retirement this summer, senior CIA officials rushed through the request in order to give him something to talk about during his retirement speech.

“He hasn’t done a whole lot in his career,” said a colleague, who asked not to be named. “He's still talking about how we should go after bin Laden’s Myspace profile — but bin Laden stopped updating it in 2006 just like everyone else. Admittedly, Lukas did catch bin Laden’s YouTube account, which was gold. He spent a lot of time commenting on 9/11 conspiracy theorists’ videos. Too bad he never uploaded a geotagged video.”

Duffel Blog writer G-Had contributed to this article.