Spy chief doesn't dispute reports Twitter sells data to Russia but not US

Spy chief doesn't dispute reports Twitter sells data to Russia but not US
© Haiyun Jiang

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Lawsuits pose new challenge for TikTok TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week MORE (R-Ark.) on Thursday pressed the head of the CIA on recent reports that Twitter has cut off U.S. intelligence agencies, but not a Russian news outlet, from an analytics service that monitors and sorts the world's tweets in real time.

While he stopped short of actively confirming the reports, Director John Brennan said repeatedly that he “was not going to dispute them.”

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“Is it disappointing to you that an American company would sell its product to Russia Today, a propaganda arm of the government of Russia, yet not cooperate with the United States intelligence community?” Cotton asked during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

“I’m disappointed that there is not more active cooperation consistent with our legal authorities that may be available from the U.S. private sector,” Brennan said.

Asked if he knew whether Russia Today is, as reported in the media, a client of the data mining software, Brennan replied that he could not say definitively.

“I believe so, I’m not certain of that. But I don’t have any information that they have been excluded from their services,” he said.

The service in question is run by an outside company called Dataminr, but Twitter owns about a 5 percent stake in the company and doesn't authorize any other service to mine its entire stream of posts.

Dataminr sifts through hundreds of millions of daily tweets looking for patterns, cross-referencing posts with data like location and financial market information. It sends out alerts of unfolding events like terror attacks or political unrest.

For example, the service tipped off intelligence agencies about the December terrorist attacks in Paris shortly after they began.

In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that Twitter executives had barred Dataminr from offering its services to the intelligence community.

A senior intelligence official told the Journal that Twitter appeared to be worried about being seen as cooperating too closely with U.S. spy agencies.

Twitter says it has a longstanding policy of forbidding third-parties — including Dataminr — from selling data to government agencies for surveillance purposes. But, it said in a statement, the “data is largely public and the U.S. government may review public accounts on its own, like any user could.”