May 27, 2020 - Technology

Beer rating app reveals spies' locations

Untappd, a popular beer-rating app, can easily be manipulated to identify and track military and intelligence personnel, according to a report in the investigative open-source journalism and research outlet Bellingcat.

Zoom in: In one case, Bellingcat located an individual who “checked in” multiple times from Camp Peary, commonly known as “The Farm” — a highly restricted Virginia military base where CIA operations officers are trained in spycraft.

  • This person then “checked in at military locations throughout the Middle East, and has logged an additional 700+ check-ins at 500+ unique locations,” according to Bellingcat. 
  • In another case, a user uploaded a photo of beer — with military documents lying on his or her desk.

The bottom line: Digital trails make surveillance of individuals much easier than in the past. For government officials, using even harmless-seeming apps — like ones that rate beer! — can provide foreign intelligence services with massive troves of information useful in tracking top-tier espionage targets.

Between the lines: The trend is gradually rendering it impossible to conduct the traditional kind of human spying, say intelligence officials. Now, spies have to “hide in plain sight,” accept that their identities may be known and rely on superior tradecraft to keep their work secret.

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