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Pentagon pushes back on report of anti-extremism social media surveillance program

The Defense Department is not planning to troll troops’ social media accounts for extremist activity, the Pentagon’s top spokesman told reporters on Tuesday, contrary to a Monday report about a pilot program to that effect.

The Intercept cited documents and a “senior Pentagon official” in a story about a program that would “‘continuously’ monitor military personnel for ‘concerning behaviors,’” online, spearheaded by the Pentagon’s extremism working group and its chair, Bishop Garrison.

“There’s no pilot program being run by Mr. Garrison or the extremist working group to examine social media,” John Kirby said, calling the story “misreporting.”

The working group is tasked with reviewing current Pentagon policy that touches on extremism, Kirby said, but not with making new policy.

The group is also charged with creating a department-wide definition of extremism, revising transition materials to prevent veterans from being targeted and to launch studies or surveys to get into the prevalence of extremist views among service members.

They have until mid-July to offer Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommendations for further projects. But, Kirby said, it is not working on a program that would involve a contract with a private surveillance firm to passively scan activity online, as The Intercept reported.

“I am not aware of such a contract with such a company,” Kirby said. “And certainly there is no such contract being let by Mr. Garrison’s program.”

DoD already has an insider threat program that looks at social media activity when concerns are raised about an individual, in addition to a preliminary screen during the recruiting process.

“I would remind you, and I think you know this, that we already take a look at the social media footprint when we are considering recruits as we come in ... which is just good, common sense,“ Kirby said.

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