U.S. Financing Research Project to Monitor Foreign Media

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By: E&P Staff

The New York Times reported Wednesday that over the next three years several major universities will develop software to help the U.S. government monitor negative coverage in newspapers and other publications overseas. The project will be funded by a $2.4 million grant from Department of Homeland Security.

Times reporter Eric Lipton wrote that the software will allow U.S. intelligence agencies to identify patterns that might indicate a potential threat for the United States. It also stated that such a system will be much more comprehensive and quicker than the government?s previous reliance on newspapers and other news sources to track coverage in the U.S. and abroad.

Participating institutions, such as Cornell University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Utah, will test the system on hundreds of articles published in 2001 and 2002, reported the Times. Topics to be scanned include: ?axis of evil,? Guantanamo Bay, Global Warming, and the coup attempt against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Already, the researchers have compiled a database of hundreds of articles that will be used to code computer programs to identify and interpret statements of interest, wrote Lipton. This portion of the project was funded by a research group originally affiliated with the CIA. Publications included in this database, reported the Times, are articles from American sources including the Times and The Miami Herald, as well as foreign sources such as Agence France-Presse and The Dawn, a Pakistani paper.

A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, Christopher Kelly, told the Times that the project would make no effort to monitor U.S. publications, as federal law prohibits intelligence agencies from creating such a database on American citizens.

Journalists and advocacy groups (both foreign and American) have already expressed concern over the research, wrote Lipton. Andrei Sitove, Washington bureau chief of Russia?s Itar-Tass news agency, told the Times that he hopes the objective of the project is not simply to squelch criticism of U.S. leaders in foreign media.

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