FBI Tracks Rioter Using Social Media; Displays Newfound Love for OSINT

On May 30, 2020, a woman with a forearm tattoo, distinctive bandana, and t-shirt set a Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) SUV and nearby PPD Sedan on fire. For nearly twenty days she roamed free, and to the best of her knowledge, unidentified by authorities thanks to the mask she wore during the riots. To her surprise, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested her on June 17, charging Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal, 33, with arson. According to US Attorney William McSwain, modern technology played an intricate roll in the case, as all it took to find the woman was an Etsy review, a LinkedIn profile, Instagram posts, and the all-powerful google search engine.

PPD Sedan and SUV burn in front of City Hall - WHYY Photo/Emma Lee

At the beginning of the investigation, federal agents only had access to helicopter footage on the incident from a local news station. This showed a woman wearing a bandana throwing flaming debris into the PPD's sedan, albeit in relatively poor quality. However, investigators did not despair, as the discovery provided a good foundation upon which to begin the search for the suspect. A quick search of footage and photos uploaded to social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, turned up dozens of additional angles on the incident. One photo from a set of 500 pictures of the riot shared by an amateur photographer proved key to the investigation, as agents were able to clearly see the woman, including her bandanna and a t-shirt with the slogan, “Keep the Immigrants. Deport the Racists.”

As the woman's face was covered, agents turned their attention to the suspect's clothes in hopes of identifying the individual. Investigators were relieved to learn that the only place to buy this shirt is through Etsy, and as such, the FBI prioritized investigating those who had recently purchased the item. This led them to the profile of Xx Mv, alleycatlore, a buyer who had left a five-star review on the sellers biography just days before the incident. Agents then combed google for websites with a matching profile, which led them to an online fashion marketplace with a user by the name of Lore-Elisabeth.

LinkedIn, an online business and employment-oriented network service, proved instrumental in the final step of the investigation. A search for, "Lore-Elisabeth" turned up the profile for one Lore Elisabeth Blumenthal, a massage therapist in Philadelphia. Her company's website showed an individual with the same distinctive forearm tattoo in the same location. The next morning, Blumenthal opened her door in Germantown to find several federal agents waiting to greet her.

Social media has fueled much of the civil unrest across the nation. However, with increased activity on digital platforms, the government and law enforcement has had increased access to data, information, and evidence. This case highlights the fact that law enforcement is improving their ability to utilize open source intelligence (OSINT), and thus how photos or videos of riots and protests on social media can not only amplify, but help identify, those who are involved.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.