Tagpropaganda

How GCHQ Uses Online Deception to Discredit Hacktivists

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).

Full Story: The Intercept: How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations

What’s more, the GCHQ admit in one of the docs that this activity has nothing to do with terrorism or even national security.

See also:

Obama advisor suggests “cognitive infiltration”

DARPA Looks to “Counteract” Propaganda in Social Networks

Teach The Controversy: Mermaids Edition

I don't know; therefore, mermaids

Jim Vorel on Animal Planet‘s bizarre Mermaids hoax:

‘Mermaids: The New Evidence’ is the worst thing I’ve ever seen on TV

There’s absolutely no hyperbole in that title. Last night on Animal Planet I caught the replay of “Mermaids: The New Evidence,” the follow-up to Discovery Channel’s abysmally bad, misleading and rage-inducing “docufiction” from last year, “Mermaids: The Body Found.” It’s the worst TV I’ve ever seen. Nothing else comes even close.

Last night’s special was even further from reality from the first documentary, which at least went through more trouble to appear legitimate-looking. Instead of being comprised of talking head interviews, it was done almost in the style of an extended round-table on a 24-hour news network, which I suppose is fitting in an odd way. A shill of a host acted as the “moderator,” asking canned questions to our returning star and conquering hero from the past program, “Dr. Paul Robertson,” a man touted as being “a former researcher for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” Other guests were brought forward to share their own mermaid revelations and screen poor CGI footage of supposed mermaid encounters.

I’ll start out by simply pointing out the stuff that anyone with access to Google can discover immediately — “Dr. Paul Robertson” is not an actual person, but an actor. His name is Andre Weideman. Here’s his IMDB page. It’s safe to assume that all the other supposed researchers and government officials on the special were also actors, or they wouldn’t be there.

Full Story: Herald Review: ‘Mermaids: The New Evidence’ is the worst thing I’ve ever seen on TV

See also:

I Wanted the Story to Seem Real, Says “Mermaids: The New Evidence” Producer

Science Channel Refuses To Dumb Down Science Any Further

Monster mummies of Japan

Christopher Hitchens Stands Trial

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?

Full Story: In These Times: Christopher Hitchens Stands Trial

See also: Christopher Hitchens: from socialist to neocon

(via Metafilter)

The U.S. Media Ignored Murdoch’s Brazen Bid To Hijack The Presidency

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.

Full Story: The Guardian: Why the US media ignored Murdoch’s brazen bid to hijack the presidency

Here’s the Washington Post story Berstein is referring to.

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.”

DARPA Wants to Master the Neuroscience of Narrative

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.

Danger Room: Darpa Wants to Master the Science of Propaganda

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.

See also:

The Rise of Predictive Policing

DARPA Looks to “Counteract” Propaganda in Social Networks

Egyptian bloggers

The Pentagon is asking scientists to figure out how to detect and counter propaganda on social media networks in the aftermath of Arab uprisings driven by Twitter and Facebook.

The US military’s high-tech research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has put out a request for experts to look at “a new science of social networks” that would attempt to get ahead of the curve of events unfolding on new media.

The program’s goal was to track “purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation” in social networks and to pursue “counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations,” according to DARPA’s request for proposals issued on July 14.

Physorg: Pentagon looks to social media as new battlefield

See also:

The Air Force’s “persona management” project and its blog comment propaganda project.

Cass Sunstein’s “cognitive infiltration” proposal.

Inside the World of Wannabe Cyberspooks for Hire

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.

Will Europe be Islamafied in 40 Years?

Islam

Spoiler: Probably not.

I’ve seen the video in question. This article is a year old, but I hadn’t seen it before. Worth bookmarking if you tend to get a lot of forwards on the subject.

This seven-and-a-half minute video “Muslim Demographics” uses slick graphics, punctuated with dramatic music, to make some surprising claims, asserting that much of Europe will be majority Muslim in just a few decades. It says that in the past two decades, 90% of all population growth in Europe has been Muslim immigration. [...]

But are any of the video’s statistics true?

Spoiler: Some, but the video is wildly misleading and contains many errors.

Population projection is an inexact science. No-one knows how many Muslims will be living in Europe or anywhere else by 2050. The current trends suggest that by 2050 Europe will have a bigger proportion of Muslims, although nothing like the level suggested in the video.
But the big assumption here is current trends. Levels of immigration and fertility change over time.
It is certainly true that immigrant communities often have higher fertility rates but over time these usually fall into line with the indigenous population. This might not happen with Muslim immigrants. But nobody can know and that’s why, according to Dr Hinde, it is so hard to guess the future.

BBC: Debunking a YouTube hit

Something this debunking doesn’t address: Islam is a religion, not an ethnicity. The number of individuals of middle eastern descent doesn’t equal the number of Muslims in a country.

Rejected Psy Ops plots revealed: Saddam gay sex tape, Osama booze tape

Portrait-of-Saddam-Hussein

The Guardian lists some of the CIA’s Psy Ops plots:

According to the Washington Post’s security blog, some of America’s spooks believed that shooting a fake video of Saddam cavorting with a teenage boy might destabilise his regime in the runup to the US-led invasion in 2003. “It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera. Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session,” the Washington Post quoted one former CIA official as saying. [...]

But that did not stop a CIA video being shot of a fake Osama bin Laden sitting around a camp fire, drinking booze and boasting of his own gay conquests.

The video apparently used some of the CIA’s “darker skinned” employees as extras playing the terror chief’s henchmen. It does not seem to have been released.

Guardian: CIA’s secret Iraq weapon revealed: a Saddam gay sex tape

(Thanks to Bill and Bryce!)

Must read Glenn Greenwald on CIA propaganda efforts overseas and Wikileaks

Apathy Might Not Be Enough

The Report also cites the “fall of the Dutch Government over its troop commitment to Afghanistan” and worries that — particularly if the “bloody summer in Afghanistan” that many predict takes place — what happened to the Dutch will spread as a result of the “fragility of European support” for the war. As the truly creepy Report title puts it, the CIA’s concern is: “Why Counting on Apathy May Not Be Enough” [...]

The Report seeks to provide a back-up plan for “counting on apathy,” and provides ways that the U.S. Government can manipulate public opinion in these foreign countries. It explains that French sympathy for Afghan refugees means that exploiting Afghan women as pro-war messengers would be effective, while Germans would be more vulnerable to a fear-mongering campaign (failure in Afghanistan means the Terrorists will get you). The Report highlights the unique ability of Barack Obama to sell war to European populations. [...]

It’s both interesting and revealing that the CIA sees Obama as a valuable asset in putting a pretty face on our wars in the eyes of foreign populations. It is odious — though, of course, completely unsurprising — that the CIA plots ways to manipulate public opinion in foreign countries in order to sustain support for our wars. [...]

All of this has made WikiLeaks an increasingly hated target of numerous government and economic elites around the world, including the U.S. Government. As The New York Times put it last week: “To the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States, the Pentagon has added WikiLeaks.org, a tiny online source of information and documents that governments and corporations around the world would prefer to keep secret.” In 2008, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center prepared a secret report — obtained and posted by WikiLeaks — devoted to this website and detailing, in a section entitled “Is it Free Speech or Illegal Speech?”, ways it would seek to destroy the organization. It discusses the possibility that, for some governments, not merely contributing to WikiLeaks, but “even accessing the website itself is a crime,” and outlines its proposal for WikiLeaks’ destruction as follows:

Pentagon

Glenn Greenwald: The war on WikiLeaks and why it matters

One idea someone on Slashdot came up with is using Freenet to submit stories to Wikileaks, which could be then be mirrored on the regular web, helping insure the security and anonymity of contributors and assuring the availability of the information.

See also:

Freenet, darknets, and the “deep web”

Little Brother

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