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The Art of Deception : Training for Online
Covert Operations

I found this information on prayerwarriorpsychicnot’s
blog that can be found at

I consider it a very good find as it is the
playbook for online psyops.

A page from a GCHQ top secret document
prepared by its secretive JTRIG unit

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. It’s time to tell a chunk of
that story, complete with the relevant documents.

Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series
of articles
about “dirty
trick” tactics
used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat
Research Intelligence Group). These were based on four classified GCHQ documents presented
to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five
Eyes” alliance
. Today, we at the
are publishing another
new JTRIG document
, in full, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for
Online Covert Operations.”

By publishing these stories one by one, our
NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring
of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS
attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring
people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But,
here, I want 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.

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. Here is one illustrative
list of tactics from the latest GCHQ document we’re publishing today:

Other tactics aimed at individuals are
listed here, under the revealing title “discredit a target”:

Then there are the tactics used to destroy
companies the agency targets:

GCHQ describes the purpose of JTRIG in
starkly clear terms: “using online techniques to make something happen in the
real or cyber world,” including “information ops (influence or disruption).”

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:

No matter your views on Anonymous,
“hacktivists” or garden-variety criminals, 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
, 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
 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.

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).

But these GCHQ documents are the first to
prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial
techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets.
Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the
internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ
itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and
friends. Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all,
let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any
cognizable legal framework?

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:

We submitted numerous questions to GCHQ,
including: (1) Does GCHQ in fact engage in “false flag operations” where
material is posted to the Internet and falsely attributed to someone
else?; (2) Does GCHQ engage in efforts to influence or manipulate political
discourse online?; and (3) Does GCHQ’s mandate include targeting common
criminals (such as boiler room operators), or only foreign threats?

As usual, they ignored those questions and
opted instead to send their vague and nonresponsive boilerplate: “It is a
longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.
Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict
legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised,
necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including
from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services
Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All
our operational processes rigorously support this position.”

These agencies’ refusal to “comment on
intelligence matters” – meaning: talk at all about anything and everything they
do – is precisely why whistleblowing is so urgent, the journalism that supports
it so clearly in the public interest, and the increasingly unhinged attacks by
these agencies so
easy to understand
Claims that government agencies are infiltrating
online communities and engaging in “false flag operations” to discredit targets
are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt
they are doing precisely that.

Whatever else is true, 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? But to allow those actions with
no public knowledge or accountability is particularly unjustifiable.

Original article:

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