Glenn Greenwald reports on more documents from Edward Snowden’s cache, this batch on how GCHQ uses online deception and other tactics to discredit hacktivists and possibly other political activists:
Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. […]
Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation. Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.
Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).
What’s more, the GCHQ admit in one of the docs that this activity has nothing to do with terrorism or even national security.
Gregory Shupak reviews Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, in which Richard Seymour uses Hitchens’ career as a foil to explore the role of the public intellectual in the modern media sphere:
If Hitchens was a serial plagiarist who failed to get even the simplest of facts right, was allergic to nuance, and made no scholarly contributions, one might reasonably conclude that he ought to be ignored, and that a reader’s time and Seymour’s considerable talents be put to better use. But Hitchens matters precisely because of the inverse relationship that the quality of his work has to his status. His career reveals much about the function of the public intellectual. […]
That said, Hitchens’ later years and the enormous celebrity he enjoyed during that period are a case study of just how handsome the rewards are for those willing and able to serve as attack dogs for the dominant powers of their place and time. Hitchens’ main service to the American elite was to employ a combination of innuendo and character assassination to cast aspersion on virtually every high-profile figure critical of American foreign policy after 9/11—a roster that includes Julian Assange, Noam Chomsky, George Galloway, Michael Moore, Harold Pinter, Edward Said, Cindy Sheehan, Oliver Stone and Gore Vidal.
Hitchens could never have amassed such a large following—and perhaps more importantly, such a powerful following—had he not so entirely embraced American power and its corresponding ideologies after 9/11. Would Hitchens have been invited on as many talk shows if, rather than writing fawning biographies of safely institutionalized figures like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, he had taken as his exemplary subjects two others he professed to admire even near the end of his life, C.L.R. James and Rosa Luxemburg? If, instead of levying facile criticisms of organized religion primarily at the United States’ enemies, Hitchens had selected neoliberal capitalism for his most ferocious late-career critiques, is it likely that 60 Minutes would have profiled him when he was ill with cancer, or that his audience would have been extended to readers of Newsweek, much less the Weekly Standard?
Carl Bernstein writes:
Thus in the spring of 2011 – less than 10 weeks before Murdoch’s centrality to the hacking and politician-buying scandal enveloping his British newspapers was definitively revealed – Fox News’ inventor and president, Roger Ailes, dispatched an emissary to Afghanistan to urge Petraeus to turn down President Obama’s expected offer to become CIA director and, instead, run for the Republican nomination for president, with promises of being bankrolled by Murdoch. Ailes himself would resign as president of Fox News and run the campaign, according to the conversation between Petraeus and the emissary, K T McFarland, a Fox News on-air defense “analyst” and former spear carrier for national security principals in three Republican administrations.
All this was revealed in a tape recording of Petraeus’s meeting with McFarland obtained by Bob Woodward, whose account of their discussion, accompanied online by audio of the tape, was published in the Washington Post – distressingly, in its style section, and not on page one, where it belonged – and, under the style logo, online on December 3.
Indeed, almost as dismaying as Ailes’ and Murdoch’s disdain for an independent and truly free and honest press, and as remarkable as the obsequious eagerness of their messenger to convey their extraordinary presidential draft and promise of on-air Fox support to Petraeus, has been the ho-hum response to the story by the American press and the country’s political establishment, whether out of fear of Murdoch, Ailes and Fox – or, perhaps, lack of surprise at Murdoch’s, Ailes’ and Fox’s contempt for decent journalistic values or a transparent electoral process.
This is part of an ongoing inversion of the relationship between News Corp and the GOP. As a former speech writer for George W. Bush, David Frum, put it: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox.”
Once scientists have perfected the science of how stories affect our neurochemistry, they will develop tools to “detect narrative influence.” These tools will enable “prevention of negative behavioral outcomes … and generation of positive behavioral outcomes, such as building trust.” In other words, the tools will be used to detect who’s been controlled by subversive ideologies, better allowing the military to drown out that message and win people onto their side.
A couple years ago I would have dismissed this, but data scientists are getting closer to being able to pull this sort of thing off. I’d still say this is years off, but it’s edging closer to the realm of possibility.
Look, for instance, at how semantic analysis is affecting the legal profession and how many high-end, professional jobs are being replaced by robots.
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.
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.