The Central Intelligence Agency is taking its puppy tweets, wombat animations to teach tradecraft and general social media game beyond the confines of its already very active Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Besides just revealing one of its former deputy directors was an extra in the latest episode of Game of Thrones, CIA director Gina Haspel recently announced the American spy service would be heading to Instagram in a growing attempt by the agency to mainstream its image.
But whistleblower Edward Snowden—once a CIA and National Security Agency contractor—says that’s just the latest attempt by American intelligence to fix its image after he leaked a trove of damning top-secret documents in 2013 that revealed a series of mass surveillance abuses by the US government.
“What's happened here is the intelligence agencies have drawn the wrong conclusions, at least from the public's perspective, from the backlash of 2013,” he said in the latest episode of Motherboard podcast CYBER.
Snowden thinks while the revelations of bulk data collection turned public sentiment against American intelligence activities, the agencies themselves took away the wrong lesson.
“And in the wake of doing that, right, this sort of damage control, they went: ‘Maybe the real story of 2013 isn't that we got caught breaking the law,” he said. “Instead, what we're gonna do is we're going to try to change the laws and be more flexible, more accommodating, so we can do what we want. And at the same time, what we really have here is a PR issue.”
He said for those exact reasons, these once clandestine agencies (the NSA was once known colloquially as the “No-Such-Agency) turned to social media.
“They get Twitter accounts. Instagram accounts (with) puppies and everything like that, because they want to be friendly. They want to be on your side,” he said.
Ironically, the NSA famously had trouble recruiting new operators after the Snowden leaks, with young hackers and computer programming majors turning away from the signals intelligence agency. But hey, if an Instagram account helps the CIA, maybe the NSA will get one too.