Pentagon launches program to surveil military personnel’s social media

Pentagon launches program to surveil military personnel’s social media

May 18, 2021

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The Pentagon is planning on launching a program that would screen military personnel’s social media for “extremist material” — looking to retain a private firm to do the digging in order to circumvent First Amendment protections, according to a report.

Internal Defense Department documents reviewed by The Intercept reveal that Bishop Garrison, a senior advisor to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tasked with addressing “extremism” in the armed forces, is currently in the process of designing a social media screening program which will “continuously” monitor for “concerning behaviors.”

In the past, the Pentagon has shied away from surveilling members due to First Amendment protections, as well as other privacy concerns.

This program, according to the outlet, citing a senior Pentagon official, will rely on a private firm in order to avoid being accused of circumventing First Amendment restrictions through government monitoring.

The Intercept reported that the program “will use keywords to identify potential extremists,” although specific terms were not specified.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment on the report, nor did reps for the White House.

Multiple members of President Biden’s cabinet have made addressing “extremism” inside the federal government a priority in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Austin ordered a 60-day “stand down” of the entire US military back in February to allow for commanders to address the threat.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby described the military-wide pause at the time as similar to stand downs that units have to do to address safety concerns.

Austin issued the order following a meeting about the topic with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, as well as service civilian leaders and service chiefs.

The group also discussed the Capitol riot, Kirby said, noting the presence of veterans and active-duty service members at the scene. They left the meeting still uncertain of how to fully address the problem, leading to the pause.

In April, Austin issued a memo with several immediate actions for the Pentagon to take to combat “extremism” following the stand down, but cautioned that the department was continuing “to address this issue proactively.”

Austin ordered the DoD to establish the Countering Extremism Working Group, which he placed Garrison in charge of.

Garrison was listed in the memo as Austin’s point of contact on all things related to the “extremism” matter.

In addition, Austin also ordered an update to the DOD’s definition of prohibited extremist activities among uniformed personnel, an update to the service member transition checklist, a review and standardization of questionnaires for recruits and a study on extremism in the ranks. 

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