New Snowden Documents Show that Governments Are “Attempting To Control, Infiltrate, Manipulate, and Warp Online Discourse”

Spy Agencies Manipulate and Disrupt Web Discussions to Promote Propaganda and Discredit Government Critics

The alternative media has documented for 5 years that the government uses disinformation and disruption  (and here) on the web to discredit activists and manipulate public opinion, just like it smears traditional television and print reporters who question the government too acutely.

We’ve long reported that the government censors and manipulates social media. More proof here.

New Edward Snowden documents confirm that Britain’s spy agency is doing so.

As Glenn Greenwald writes today:

One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.

***

These agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself. 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.

***

Critically, the “targets” for this deceit and reputation-destruction extend far beyond the customary roster of normal spycraft: hostile nations and their leaders, military agencies, and intelligence services. In fact, the discussion of many of these techniques occurs in the context of using them in lieu of “traditional law enforcement” against people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, “hacktivism”, meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends.

The title page of one of these documents reflects the agency’s own awareness that it is “pushing the boundaries” by using “cyber offensive” techniques against people who have nothing to do with terrorism or national security threats, and indeed, centrally involves law enforcement agents who investigate ordinary crimes….

***

It is not difficult to see how dangerous it is to have secret government agencies being able to target any individuals they want – who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes – with these sorts of online, deception-based tactics of reputation destruction and disruption. There is a strong argument to make, as Jay Leiderman demonstrated in the Guardian in the context of the Paypal 14 hacktivist persecution, that the “denial of service” tactics used by hacktivists result in (at most) trivial damage (far less than the cyber-warfare tactics favored by the US and UK) and are far more akin to the type of political protest protected by the First Amendment.

The broader point is that, far beyond hacktivists, these surveillance agencies have vested themselves with the power to deliberately ruin people’s reputations and disrupt their online political activity even though they’ve been charged with no crimes, and even though their actions have no conceivable connection to terrorism or even national security threats. As Anonymous expert Gabriella Coleman of McGill University told me, “targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent.” Pointing to this study she published, Professor Coleman vehemently contested the assertion that “there is anything terrorist/violent in their actions.”

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. [Background on Sunstein here and here.]

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.

***

Then there is the use of psychology and other social sciences to not only understand, but shape and control, how online activism and discourse unfolds. Today’s newly published document touts the work of GCHQ’s “Human Science Operations Cell”, devoted to “online human intelligence” and “strategic influence and disruption”….

***

Under the title “Online Covert Action”, the document details a variety of means to engage in “influence and info ops” as well as “disruption and computer net attack”, while dissecting how human beings can be manipulated using “leaders”, “trust, “obedience” and “compliance”:

***

The documents lay out theories of how humans interact with one another, particularly online, and then attempt to identify ways to influence the outcomes – or “game” it:

***

No government should be able to engage in these tactics: what justification is there for having government agencies target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltrate online political communities, and develop techniques for manipulating online discourse?

Here are the newly-released Snowden documents in full:

The Art of Deception

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  • Lou Hodges

    i sort of figured that out on my own. I’ve been blogging ever since AOL had chatrooms. My brother is retired CIA, my ex husband is an officer at the NSA. My father was in counter-intelligence in WWII, and had connections with the mob. I worked for criminal investigators. It’s really not that difficult to see if you have experience with it. It’s impossible for that many people to follow you around the blogs and they all seem to have the very same agenda – it’s impossible for that many people to know each other on every site – I noticed that they all talked to each other while they were talking to me – I would leave “bait” out there, and they took it every time. My ex husband at the NSA is insanely jealous, and followed me around for a long time. I could tell when he was in the chatrooms with anonymous names. Stanford University and Columbia were into all this aggressive psychology. My brother was recruited by the CIA while he was at Stanford Psychology Dept. So any of you who thought you were fooling me, really weren’t fooling me. I was playing YOU. Now go back and play with your toys.

    • Hoptop

      Okay there Batman.

    • phanumad

      wow you are so insanely cool. that’s like the coolest story every bro

    • Sean Colin Comer

      “My brother was recruited by the CIA while he was at Stanford Psychology Dept.”

      That sounds suspiciously like you re-purposed part of the premise for Chuck.

  • Lou Hodges

    WHATS THE MATTER, A LITTLE MUCH TRUTHFULNESS? HUH?

    • gozounlimited

      Whatzapp, Whatzup, WHAT? Lou said your website is NSA….. called you an asshole . Surrounded by CIA & NSA & Mob…she should know, she left bait. Not fooled, Lou admits playing you like a criminal investigator……What’s The Point? Did I miss something?

    • Tobias Hoellrich

      … still STUCK …

  • Lou Hodges

    WHAT A BUNCH OF ASSHOLES. I KNOW YOUR WEBSITE IS NSA ASSHOLES.

    • Tobias Hoellrich

      .. and still STUCK after I tried to clean it!

  • Lou Hodges

    THIS BLOG IS AN NSA BLACK HOLE

    • Tobias Hoellrich

      … and my CAPS LOCK key is stuck!

  • Carl_Herman

    Yes! Great explanation and documentation; thank you, GW.

  • getreal5

    And the peon is faced with ‘normalcy bias’. You cannot win.

  • thetruth

    i’ve used the “gambits of deception” just as experiments on reddit, its quite effective.

    Conclusion of Study: People are easily manipulated.

    • ;

      oh how i wish to become a con artist and manipulate people. But i’m only 17 :( I kind of fell it’s my dream to control nations through deception and manipulation :) but first I need to learn how to socialize :(

      • blarg

        That’s a pretty twisted dream, kid. Why would you want to do that? Once you learn how to socialize you will realize that love and trust is powerful energy, and creates strong bonds in people. Manipulation and deception is negative energy, it is weak and shameful.

  • Anthony Taylor

    The one problem of the internet is anyone can assassinate characters, defame them lie, distort and manipulate all discussions political activity because there is no law on the internet. It near impossible to prosecute people for cyber bullying because of that. In the real world of course one can sue the offenders or report them to the respective police forces. In the cyber world there are no police and you can troll or vilify anyone you want with impunity so every one is equal. Spooks and citizen alike can lie manipulate and distort. Such is the wild west nature of the internet.

  • numberwang

    which commenter works for the nsa? hmmmmmm

  • White Dragon

    Whites create,
    Asians imitate;
    Hispanics populate;
    Muslims detonate,
    Blacks desecrate…

    JEWS infiltrate.

    • Pombar

      Given the invention count, it should perhaps be Asians create, Whites innovate. Or just Whites imitate.

      But regardless, leave that racist drivel up your arse where it belongs.

  • notmuchisasitseems

    Outstanding article. Thank you. Very supportive to the movement.

    Now onto developing a process to continue clear communication from unadulterated sources.

    Much appreciation.

  • Nightwing

    Man! Freaking government (spoiler: sarcasm ahead) won’t let me find out and tell everyone about all the stuff they do to watch ME! because I am the most important thing they need to watch for! Not people who actually commit crimes (y’know acts of terrorism, theft, corruption, other stuff that dwarfs “having an opinion” in scale of relevance) ME I AM IMPORTANT THAT”S WHY THE GOVERNMENT IS WATCHING MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh also I need everyone else to feel angry about it too, otherwise I have no connection to like-minded (either paranoid or a real criminal) people to vent to. Because if they (all 2% of the American population + foreign intelligence collectors) are watching us (Me, Me, Me, and oh yeah all 7 billion human beings) then no one is safe O.O

  • richdanny

    You mean they’ve discovered where the trolls come from???
    I am amazed the NSA has enough server space to go through LOLZCATZ. If they really need to go through the joke of the week or how cute this is to get the Boston Bomber, fine with me. Everyone over the age of 8 knows not to put truly personal stuff on a computer and they make that choice every day.

  • Lone Aquarian

    This is true. They use screenames to create fake Twitter profiles (and
    other things) on different individuals, especially if they have a
    unique/obscure screename. To “plant” false profiles and/or information.
    This happened to me personally.

  • Lone Aquarian

    By the way NSA, if you keep censoring my comments and information that I’ve posted on here about what has happened to me, I will create actual websites just to show what happened, with visual proof, and expose your tactics against me. It’s clear in black and white. I can show screenshots as well as actual video of me making comments and then you removing them from public view shortly after. This is America, and we have a right to freedom of speech. When you do what you’re doing, you are infringing upon everything America stands for, and yet you serve us in the name of it? That makes no sense. Why are you working for the United States but blatantly disregarding the constitution and human rights? If you don’t want me to say what I know and what I can prove, then please stop bothering me in the first place. Stop creating fictitious accounts on social networks, stop harassing me, stop censoring me, and let me be. I have no idea why you are targeting me, but I have no problem exposing your tactics to the public. You can’t censor everything, just saying.

    (To Non-NSA readers: Sorry for the rant. I’m making this post because I made a comment a few minutes ago that was relevant to this discussion, and it shows that it has been made in my Disqus account, but it has been censored and doesn’t show anywhere on here anymore. Don’t mind me, this is a message to “them”.)

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