Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Defense for all records about whether it was monitoring or planning to monitor the social media accounts of military members (Judicial Watch v U.S. Department of Defense (No. 1:21-cv-02146)).
This lawsuit was filed after the Defense Department failed to respond to a May 18, 2021, FOIA request for:
Any and all records regarding, concerning, or related to any actual or proposed program to monitor the social media accounts of service members or other Department of Defense employees for extremist content or activity. This request includes, but is not limited to, the following:
Any and all related records of communication between any official, employee, or representative of the Department of Defense and any other individual or entity.
Any and all records related to any actual or proposed grants or contracts related to the program.
Any and all related records mentioning or referring to the private contractor Babel Street.
Any and all related legal analyses, decisions, or determinations drafted or issued by the Office of General Counsel.
When asked about a social media monitoring program during a May 2021, press conference Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby said:
[P]art of that insider threat program is to take a look at social media activity out there so that we’re – that we can be as informed as possible.
If there is – again, the insider threat, right, is, you know, when there’s a concern about the potential of a threat coming from inside, you know, one of the things you want to do is take a look at the social media footprint and see what’s out there in the public space.
When asked for an underlying DOD document for the program, Kirby replied that he had not seen it. When asked if the document would be made public, Kirby said: “If it exists, we’ll look at it and see if it’s – if it’s something that’s potentially worth public release or that we could. But I’m not going to make any promises at this point.”
In April 2021, the Pentagon issued a press release regarding Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s memorandum announcing “Immediate Actions to Counter Extremism in the Department” that included information about its social media monitoring program:
Screening Capability. This [line of effort] will discuss the Department’s pursuit of scalable and cost-effective capabilities to screen publicly available electronic information in accessions and continuous vetting for national security positions. The [line of effort] will make recommendations on further development of such capabilities and incorporating machine learning and natural language processing into social media screening platforms.
“No one is being fooled – the Biden Pentagon is abusing its authority to spy on the social media posts of troops who espouse conservative views,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “That the Pentagon is hiding documents about this Big Brother program in violation of law is doubly concerning.”