Peter Thiel has made millions of dollars off contracts with the intelligence community [IC] yet he now supports a group that boasts of exposing and holding accountable members of the intelligence community by placing people on a watch list. Yet a closer examination of this conspiracy theory group’s watch list shows that is full of nonsense.
The Security and Culture Intelligencer exclusively broke the story of how Peter Thiel is one of the backers of a group called Transparency Toolkit, which claims as its mission an effort to hold accountable members of the intelligence community and potentially investigate them for possible surveillance and human rights abuses. SCI revealed, among other things, how Thiel has made millions off the IC and yet now turns on it through his support of Transparency Toolkit even as he is conspicuously absent from the watch list.
But there is more to this story. A closer examination of the Transparency Toolkit so-called watch list reveals that the list is a mess of data because of how Transparency Toolkit mined LinkedIn profiles.
The SCI article mentioned that Transparency Toolkit placed me on its watch list for potential investigation for potential surveillance and human rights abuses based on the public portion of my LinkedIn account. But there is more to it than this. Transparency Toolkit did not place people such as David Petraeus on its watch list despite his having led a major IC organization. Yet Petraeus has a LinkedIn account that details his professional background. (Transparency Toolkit also does not have the actual account of Stanley McChrystal, former leader of the Joint Special Operations Command, on its watch list. It has McChrystal on its watch list but the LinkedIn account Transparency Toolkit presents as McChrystal’s is clearly phony—just check out the link to the original LinkedIn URL.) So why did this occur?
Transparency Toolkit explained how it mined LinkedIn and built its database in an article by ZDNet on May 6.
“The data was collected from LinkedIn public profiles using search terms like known codewords, intelligence agencies and departments, intelligence contractors, and industry terms, the group said.”
This broad criteria meant that Transparency Toolkit missed the LinkedIn profiles of at least one significant general even as it scooped up data of others. In my case, Transparency Toolkit likely put me on its watch list purely by dumb luck on its part.
My résumé was vetted by all appropriate IC and DOD agencies and so there is nothing classified or sensitive on it. However, I wrote an article on Glenn Greenwald and others who were pushing the narrative on Edward Snowden’s illegal release of information on PRISM. I linked this article on my LinkedIn account.
And because PRISM was so heavily in the news, Transparency Toolkit used it (and other words or phrases it saw in the news) as part of the parameters for its mining of LinkedIn profiles. Thus, Transparency Toolkit scooped up my résumé even as it overlooked the LinkedIn account of Petraeus, whose account presumably didn’t contain the keywords the conspiracy group used.
But it gets worse. Those running Transparency Toolkit apparently never stopped to think of the crude method they used to mine LinkedIn data. Or if they did, they didn’t care. In addition to missing the LinkedIn accounts of significant IC leaders while catching lower level IC veterans such as me, they scooped up vast amounts of information on people who have nothing to do with the IC or government.
This is why you can find the LinkedIn account of a man who works for Prism Parfum posted on the Transparency Toolkit “watch” list. Ironically, this makes Transparency Toolkit guilty of that which it accuses the IC of being guilty: mass surveillance and vacuuming up the personal information of average citizens.
Transparency Toolkit is a paranoid group that has been given legitimacy through its significant backers, including Peter Thiel who has heavily profited from the IC. Yet it doesn’t change the fact that the group is a conspiracy theory group. And Transparency Toolkit’s public watch list is a perfect reflection of what the group is: nothing but nonsense.