1. Klint Finley

    Tim Maly reports on Alex Gianturco, a World of Warcraft player who uses espionage and psychological warfare to destroy rival guilds:

    An aggressor, he says, can untie the binds of community by putting pressure on the group until individuals stop thinking of themselves as part of the larger collective. Power blocs in Eve are made up of alliances, which are made up of corporations, which are made up of individual people. In a strong alliance, individuals think of themselves as part of the greater whole. As an alliance weakens, individuals experience a shift in identity. They think differently about who they are.

    “Pressure and not having any fun in the game makes pilots blame the alliance for their failures — ‘my alliance sucks, but my corp is great’?“ Gianturco says. “Enough people shift identity from ‘I’m a member of Band of Brothers’ [an alliance] to ‘I’m a member of Reikoku’ [a corporation], and it’s just a matter of time before those corps blame one another for the alliance’s failures.”

    When it comes to putting pressure on your enemies, not all adversity is created equal, he says. Dramatic wins or losses, though exciting, do little to turn the tide of war. Humans are quite adept as rationalizing these sorts of events. If you lose one big battle, you can tell yourself that the other guys cheated, or that it was server lag.

    Instead, Gianturco suggests a campaign of sustained low-level misery. “The trick is to find what the enemy hates the most and feed it to them nonstop. You listen to their discourse and find the core of their identity and then step on it as hard as you can.”

    Figuring out what part to step on is the job of Gianturco’s spies. With access to the private communications of his enemies, Gianturco can figure out what parts of the game they hate and then force them to live only that.

    Full Story: The New Inquiry: How to Destroy a Community

  2. Klint Finley

    Deeply weird piece by Mark Ames and Alexander Zaitchik on the murder of CIA operative/godfather of the goldbug movement Nicholas Deak, which uncovers some possible connections between the homeless woman who killed him, Lois Lang, and the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program:

    Police responding to the motel room took Lang to nearby Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. For the next month, she was put under the care of Dr. Frederick Melges, a psychiatrist associated with the Stanford Research Institute. One of Dr. Melges’ main areas of research: drug-aided hypnosis. A few years after Lang was put in Melges’ care, the New York Times exposed the Stanford Research Institute as a center for CIA research into “brain-washing” and “mind-control” experiments in which unwitting subjects were dosed with hallucinogenic drugs and subjected to hypnosis. Melges, who died in 1988, is today remembered in the field for his research on the relationship between perceptions of time and mental illness.

    Full Story: Salon: James Bond and the killer bag lady

    It goes deeper than that, with Ames and Zaitchik speculating that it may have been Argentine gangersters with knowledge of MK-ULTRA who ordered the hit:

    If Lang was tapped to whack Nicholas Deak, she was part of a long tradition. In mobster literature, insane assassins are regular characters. “Nuts were used from time to time by certain people for certain matters,” explains Jimmy Hoffa’s former right-hand man, Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, in his memoir, “I Heard You Paint Houses.” Chuck Giancana, brother of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, writes that he once heard his brother say that “picking a nutcase who was also a sharpshooter” to carry out an assassination was “as old as the Sicilian hills.”

    I found this bit interesting as well, though it’s more of a side note:

    Meanwhile, the sunny side of Deak’s business thrived. Its retail foreign currency operation, now reconstituted under new ownership and known to the world as Thomas Cooke, became a staple at airports, its multi-packs of francs and marks symbols of every American family’s European vacation. Deak’s retail precious metals business dominated the market after the legalization of gold sales. After a series of sales and reconstitutions, it is today known as Goldline, a major sponsor of Glenn Beck and subject of a recent fraud settlement.

    (via Abe Burmeister)

  3. leon theremin

    Theremin saw little of the $100,000 he was paid, Glinsky says, which most likely went straight into Soviet coffers. But he stayed in the US for a while working on other projects, and engaging in industrial espionage.

    "His very reason for being sent over was his espionage mission," says Glinsky. Demonstrating the theremin instrument was just a distraction, a Trojan Horse, as it were.

    "He had special access to firms like RCA, GE, Westinghouse, aviation companies and so on, and shared his latest technical know how with representatives from these companies to get them to open up to him about their latest discoveries. […]

    Later that year he returned suddenly to the Soviet Union, leaving his wife behind. Some people suggested he’d been kidnapped by Soviet officials, but Glinsky says a combination of debt and homesickness led to Theremin returning voluntarily.

    He returned to a Soviet Union in the grip of Stalin’s purges. He was arrested and falsely accused of being a counter-revolutionary, for which he received an eight year sentence in 1939.

    BBC: Leon Theremin: The man and the music machine

  4. Many of you have probably heard about the internal e-mails from the security firm HBGary. Ars Technica summarizes much of it in a length article, including HBGary’s aspirations to provide various PSYOPS services - such as cartoons and social media propaganda management - to federal agencies. Ars Technica details one proposal the firm sent to DARPA, which agency declined to fund:

    So Barr and Hoglund drafted a plan to create something like a lie detector, except that it would look for signs of “paranoia” instead.

    "Like a lie detector detects physical changes in the body based on sensitivities to specific questions, we believe there are physical changes in the body that are represented in observable behavioral changes when committing actions someone knows is wrong," said the proposal. "Our solution is to develop a paranoia-meter to measure these observables."

    The idea was to take an HBGary rootkit like 12 Monkeys and install it on user machines in such a way that users could not remove it and might not even be aware of its presence. The rootkit would log user keystrokes, of course, but it would also take “as many behavioral measurements as possible” in order to look for suspicious activity that might indicate wrongdoing.

    What sort of measurements? The rootkit would monitor “keystrokes, mouse movements, and visual cues through the system camera. We believe that during particularly risky activities we will see more erratic mouse movements and keystrokes as well as physical observations such as surveying surroundings, shifting more frequently, etc.”

    But HBGary was also interested in applying its techniques for private clients as well:

    But the e-mails also remind us how much of this work is carried out privately and beyond the control of government agencies. We found no evidence that HBGary sold malware to nongovernment entities intent on hacking, though the company did have plans to repurpose its DARPA rootkit idea for corporate surveillance work. (“HBGary plans to transition technology into commercial products,” it told DARPA.)

    And another document, listing HBGary’s work over the last few years, included this entry: “HBGary had multiple contracts with a consumer software company to add stealth capability to their host agent.”

    The actions of HBGary Federal’s Aaron Barr also serve as a good reminder that, when they’re searching for work, private security companies are more than happy to switch from military to corporate clients—and they bring some of the same tools to bear.

    When asked to investigate pro-union websites and WikiLeaks, Barr turned immediately to his social media toolkit and was ready to deploy personas, Facebook scraping, link analysis, and fake websites; he also suggested computer attacks on WikiLeaks infrastructure and pressure be brought upon journalists like Glenn Greenwald.

    His compatriots at Palantir and Berico showed, in their many e-mails, few if any qualms about turning their national security techniques upon private dissenting voices. Barr’s ideas showed up in Palantir-branded PowerPoints and Berico-branded “scope of work” documents. “Reconnaissance cells” were proposed, network attacks were acceptable, “target dossiers” on “adversaries” would be compiled, and “complex information campaigns” involving fake personas were on the table.

    Ars Technica: Black ops: how HBGary wrote backdoors for the government

    One of the more interesting proposals was for a “persona management" software for the Air Force. Raw Story has more details on this project. A mysterious company called Ntrepid eventually won that contract.

    This isn’t the Air Force’s first foray into social media propaganda, it launched a blog commenting campaign in 2009.

Technoccult

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