Friday, May 17, 2013

Social Media Pose New Riddle for CIA

Effective spycraft has long called for cover—a job, family or routine that would keep a government agent from drawing undue attention. Now, that calculation extends to spies' use of social media.

Only in the past few years has the Central Intelligence Agency issued standardized guidelines on how to use social media, according to one former intelligence official. The line these guidelines draw appears to be thin: Revealing too much on Facebook FB +0.46% and Twitter risks tipping too much to the other side. But given that social media use is becoming ubiquitous, revealing too little could also arouse suspicion.

"Technology is changing the spy business in so many different ways," the ex-intelligence official said. "It's very easy to find out a lot of information about people."

The question of how much a spy should divulge online became a touch less theoretical this week after Russia unmasked what it said was an American spy—saying it had detained Ryan C. Fogle, a junior political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, amid what it alleged was an effort to recruit a Russian officer. 

U.S. officials declined to say what agency employs the detained man. His family wouldn't speak about the situation. The CIA declined to comment.

Regardless, the detention of the 29-year-old Mr. Fogle, a 2006 graduate of Colgate University, makes him one of the first members of the social-media generation whose online activities could be read against allegations that he spied.

Mr. Fogle's Facebook page, as visible to his 243 "friends," offered details about his social life, contacts and travel plans. One of those friends provided The Wall Street Journal with images of how Mr. Fogle's page appeared to them.

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