Belgian intelligence workers outed on Facebook, LinkedIn

November 26, 2012

The identities of several Belgian intelligence workers have been exposed, but it wasn’t rival spies who blew their cover. The workers listed the Belgian State Security Service as their employer on Facebook and LinkedIn, the Brussels-based paper De Standaard reports. The security service hasn’t confirmed if the profiles are real, and Facebook in particular requires no proof of workplace. But in interviews with De Standaard, both a Belgian senator and a security service spokesperson expressed concerns about the profiles, suggesting they might be authentic. 

They wouldn’t be the first. While intelligence agencies would probably prefer their employees not broadcast their jobs, many already do just that. More than 200 LinkedIn users identify themselves as Central Intelligence Agency employees, including a number of analysts, operatives, and at least one cook. (One woman, a self-identified intelligence analyst at U.S. Central Command in Florida, lists “national security” and “counterterrorism” among her skills -- she has peer endorsements in both.) In France, a number of Facebook users claim to work for the General Directorate for External Security and list their languages, educational background and marital status publicly. Similarly, Foursquare records 500 self-reported 'check-ins' at Germany's Federal Intelligence Service by 142 users.

This could all mean very little, of course: Pranksters and low-level employees likely don’t pose a security threat. But it also opens up new avenues for error, and spy agencies have been known to bungle operations online. In 2004, a CIA officer committed what Wired’s Spencer Ackerman calls “the biggest reply-all-FAIL of all time” -- sending a list of all the agency’s Iranian operatives to a double agent, who passed the information on to Iran. Apparently spies need Internet security guidelines as much as the rest of us.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Max Fisher · November 26, 2012