Investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, working with former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, has uncovered bombshell after bombshell regarding the manner in which U.S. and Western intelligence services conduct business.
Now, he can reveal another bombshell that ought to forever change the way you view your government and the internet itself.
Writing for The Intercept, a site he co-founded, Greenwald says that one story that remains to be told from the archive of documents Snowden took from the National Security Agency is “how Western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.”
For weeks, Greenwald said he worked with NBC News to publish a series of stories about “dirty trick” tactics practiced by Britain’s NSA equivalent, the GCHQ, and the latter’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group).
“Online covert operations”
The stories, Greenwald says, were based on four classified GCHQ documents (which can be found here, here, here, and here) that were presented to the NSA and the other three “Five Eyes” partners – an English-speaking intelligence coalition whose members consist of the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
With that in mind, Greenwald’s latest piece centers around the publication of yet another document entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.” In publishing his latest series of stories one at a time, Greenwald said they highlighted some of the key, albeit discreet, revelations: Government intel monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the same kind of DDoS (denial of service) attacks agencies accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising themselves with sex) and destructive computer viruses.
With the latest piece, Greenwald said he wanted to “focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.”
Greenwald further writes:
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.
“Discredit” targets, companies, with false flag and other techniques
In order to achieve those goals, agencies (according to one of the PowerPoint slides in the documents revealed by Snowden) use a host of techniques: “false flag operations” (the posting of material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else); phony victim blog posts (where an agent pretends to be a victim of an individual whose reputation they wish to destroy); and the posting of “negative information” on various blog forums.
On a slide entitled “Discredit a Target,” agents are encouraged to:
Set up a honey-trap
Change the target’s photos on networking sites
Write a victim blog
Email/text the target’s colleagues, friends, etc.
Similar tactics are called for when the target is a company, according to a separate slide.
“No matter your views on Anonymous, ‘hacktivists’ or garden-variety criminals,” writes Greenwald, “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.”
He makes a broader point that far beyond hacktivists, intelligence agencies have be vested with the authority to decide for themselves to ruin people’s lives and reputations, perhaps guided by political leaders, while disrupting their online political activity even though they’ve never been charged with any criminal activity and their actions have no bearing on or connection to terrorism or even national security threats.
The Obama administration is hardly innocent in any of this. As Greenwald pointed out, 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 highly controversial paper in 2008 in which he proposed the government “cognitively infiltrate” anti-government (or anti-administration) groups and web sites. This is something that Obama has done by using the IRS to thwart and besmirch Tea Party organizations).
Many Americans – and citizens of other Western nations – want to believe that their government is always on the up-and-up and that their motives are always good. It is difficult to imagine that your own government might want to target you simply because you might disagree with the stated goals and policies of the administration or Congress.
Now, however, these documents should prove otherwise quite convincingly.