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Trouble words: DHS' list of suspicious phrases

Want to get noticed online?

Try tweeting messages that include any of these words or phrases: snow, ice, food poisoning, extreme weather, home grown, Tucson, prevention, metro.

Those are among the terms that the Homeland Security department uses to help its information-gathering systems detect potential security risks, according to a document posted online by Huffington Post reporter Andrea Stone and reported on also by Rebecca Rosen in The Atlantic.

The terms come from a binder issued internally in DHS that guides analysts on the agency's "Media Monitoring Capability Mission.” It’s part of an effort to comb “open sources,” such as social media sites and news reports, to develop a comprehensive picture of what people are talking about, Rosen reports.

Many of the terms on the list are obvious. Anthrax, Hamas, Iran, chemical burn, biological weapon and suicide bomber are unsurprising. But some seemingly innocuous words can apparently also draw attention, although presumably the analysts can distinguish between people planning to smuggle illegal immigrants to Tucson and company employees planning a business trip to Tucson.

We hope.

Posted by Michael Hardy on May 29, 2012 at 12:18 PM


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Reader comments

Wed, May 30, 2012 Puregoldj DHS under the Weather?

Sounds like someone at DHS has been sniffing too much snow dust! Or they are from the 60s and are still obsessed about the Weathermen. Will try to avoid any tweets about home-grown tomatoes (could be thrown at a demonstration!! Be afraid!!).

Wed, May 30, 2012 SoutheastUS

The reason such "innocuous" terms are on the list is that they are used in "codespeak". Language meant to look ordinary, but carries secret meanings. Computers are only beginning to be able to look beyond the simple word phrases (but the supercomputers used for such deep analysis are not yet cheap and plentiful enough to do the pre-screening). Therefore, the quick-and-dirty collection of all kinds of "innocuous" communications is performed to allow human analysts to review what the computers have found and determine if there is anything sinister going on. As the supercomputing clusters get cheaper and more plentiful, the deep analysis algorithms being developed will be deployed more widely and will result in better computer screening of communications so that analysts will have less to analize.

Wed, May 30, 2012

Do you know how many alarm bells are ringing at the DHS right now over this article?

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