The manual was released by the center a week after Homeland Security officials were grilled at a House hearing over other documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that revealed analysts were scrutinizing online comments that "reflect adversely" on the federal government. Mary Ellen Callahan, the chief privacy officer for the Department of Homeland Security, and Richard Chavez, director for the National Operations Center, testified that the released documents were outdated and that social media was monitored strictly to provide situational awareness and not to police disparaging opinions about the federal government.
On Friday, Homeland Security officials stuck by that testimony. A senior Homeland Security official who spoke to The Huffington Post on Friday on condition of anonymity said the testimony of agency officials last week remains "accurate" and the manual "is a starting point, not the endgame" in maintaining situational awareness of natural and man-made threats. The official denied Electronic Privacy Information Center's charge that the government is monitoring dissent.
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The manual's instruction that analysts should identify "media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities" was not aimed at silencing criticism but at spotting and addressing problems, she added. Still, the agency agrees that the manual's language is vague and in need of updating. For instance, under terrorism watchwords, the manual lists "Hamas" and "Hezbollah" but also the "Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The Huffington Post was given a sample of the social media nuggets and news reports picked up by Homeland Security analysts by using its watchword list. An internal report circulated by the agency on Feb.
Other reports covered subjects including a multi-vehicle crash that resulted in the closing of I in North Carolina, a norovirus outbreak at George Washington University, a suspicious package at an Alabama courthouse and an evacuation of a school in New York City's Bronx borough as a result of an unknown substance. Watch a video of Rep. Patrick Meehan R-Pa.
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