The Federal Bureau of Investigation has purchased 5,000 licenses for an analytics tool for gathering open-source intelligence from multiple social media platforms.
Virginia-based Panamerica Computers will provide the law enforcement agency with licenses for Babel X, according to details published on SAM.gov on March 11. Babel X is a text analytics platform that allows users to search multiple online media websites and search by location.
The software is sold by AI data company Babel Street, which is led by Jeffrey Chapman, a former Treasury Department official. Earlier in his career, Chapman was a White House aide and intelligence officer at the Department of Defense, according to LinkedIn.
In documents issued during the procurement process, the FBI said that prospective vendors would need to offer a tool that can search a wide range of different social media websites in multiple languages. The award of the licenses could be worth up to $27 million.
“The tool shall be able to gather information from the following mandatory online and social media data sources: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Deep/Dark Web, VK, and Telegram,” the bureau said. It added that the ability to search Snapchat, TikTok. Reddit, 8Kun, Gab, Parler, ask.fm, Weibo, Discord. and “additional fringe platforms, and other encrypted messaging platforms,” would be a bonus.
In procurement documents, the FBI said information collected from online sources through the tool should be retained in the vendor’s systems before being exported to the bureau, and that the system should be able to continuously monitor sources.
The tool was sought by the Strategic Technology Unit within the FBI’s Directorate of Intelligence, which is responsible for managing internet search tools for social media exploitation of publicly available information.
The FBI’s Directorate of Intelligence is in the process of developing a comprehensive strategy that matches the social media exploitation needs of the agency’s workforce and mission, according to procurement documents.
News of the Babel X contract award was first reported by The Washington Post.
Details of the award come amid heightened interest from privacy groups in the monitoring of social media by federal government agencies. Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security was hit with a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation over its social media data collection program for visa applicants and other foreign visitors.
According to the nonprofit’s complaint, VLVI is a multimillion-dollar immigration screening and vetting program used by DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In response to a request for comment, the FBI said: “The FBI uses social media tools to search publicly available information pertinent to predicated investigations in order to identify and respond to threats of violence, acts of terrorism, and potential federal violations within the scope of the FBI’s mission.”
This story was updated to include comment from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.