A few days ago, I did online battle with two trolls. Or should that be one
troll? As far as I know, the same person may have worn two masks. They (let's use that pronoun for the sake of convenience) had been been tasked with smearing Ed Snowden and Glenn Greenwald in the comments section of this blog.
How do I know that these comments came from paid shills? The clues were pretty obvious: Two people who have never posted here before suddenly show up saying more or less the same thing -- and their comments were separated by mere minutes
(Next time, guys, try not to be so blatant when you coordinate your efforts.)
Their lines of attack were, by this point, quite familiar: Snowden? Bad man. Libertarian. Greenwald? Bad man. Libertarian. The Intercept? Bad site. Libertarian. Snowden is just a bad old spook. Snowden gave us nothing new. Heard it all before from other NSA whistleblowers. Whole Snowden thing one big spook setup. It's a trap. Do not trust Snowden or Greenwald.
What. Fucking. BULLSHIT.
We have received tons
of new information from the Snowden cache that we did not learn from previous NSA whistleblowers like William Binney, Russell Tice, Thomas Drake and J. Kirk Wiebe. None of those guys have ever made the laughable claim that Snowden's treasure trove contains only material previously known to the public. If they had any complaints along those lines, we would have heard 'em by now.
Here's Binney on Snowden
, from an interview conducted by PBS:
When you hear about Snowden, what are you thinking?
The difference with us is we went out without any documentation. Edward Snowden went out with all the documentation in the world, so when they started publishing all this documentation, the U.S. government could no longer deny it. ...
A lot of what Snowden brings out is stuff that you were talking about all the way through. Is there anything new in what Snowden has revealed?
The extent to which the agreements are involved, the extent to which commercial activities, specifics more than anything else, the specifics of it. I mean, we knew this activity was going on and said so, but we didn't have the specifics that he did. He came out with documentation, so that made it here are the specifics of what they're doing, and so it was clarifying everything and making it irrefutable.
That, my friends, is what William Binney is really
Beyond that, of course, is the fact that Snowden's revelations forced the media to give much more coverage to Binney and his compatriots in whistleblowing. Before Snowden came along, Binney was an unjustly forgotten figure. Thus, Snowden shines a spotlight on the other whistleblowers and gives them a wider audience. How could that
possibly benefit the spooks?
Trolls are devious little fuckers.
We've known for a while that the American intelligence community creates virtual armies of internet trolls in order to shape public perceptions. This classic expose
from 2011 tells the story...
In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.
The spooks target progressive
sites (yes, even ones as humble as Cannonfire), and they prepare scripts designed to appeal to the progressive community. That's why they keep trying to paint Greenwald as a closet conservative or a deep-undercover CIA guy. They've done their homework, they've traded ideas with each other, and they know -- or rather, they think
they know -- what approaches are most likely to fool naive liberals. (Incidentally, they've been playing these tricks
since late 2013.)
You really want me to believe that The Intercept is some sort of right-wing wolf-in-sheep's clothing operation? C'mon. Let's get real. Just look at these headlines from recent Intercept stories:
- Spies Hacked Computers Thanks to Sweeping Secret Warrants, Aggressively Stretching U.K. Law
Alabama Congressman Says Those Seeking to Remove Confederate Flag Are “Beyond Contempt”
Revealed: How DOJ Gagged Google over Surveillance of WikiLeaks Volunteer
Refusal to Call Charleston Shootings “Terrorism” Again Shows It’s a Meaningless Propaganda Term
Donors to Congressman’s Fundraiser Vie For a Maserati
How Jeffrey Sterling Took on the CIA — and Lost Everything
Fight to Defend Trans Fats Funded With Dark Money
Clinton Campaign Fundraises With Pro-TPP Lobby Firm As Congress Reschedules Trade Vote
Hillary Clinton Fiercely Vows to [TBD] About Money and Politics
While Baltimore Police Idle, Black Lives Perish
If this be libertarianism, let's have more of the stuff.
Most libertarians want totally unregulated trade. I'm pretty sure that most Randroids would not want to see the government prohibit corporations from selling products containing trans fats. Most libertarians would not criticize Hillary's vagueness on the issue of campaign finance reform (although they would
criticize her for bringing up the issue at all). None
of the headlines listed above are likely to get a friendly reaction from Rush Limbaugh or the folks who run Fox News.
Those addicted to casuistry and strained rationalization may still want to argue that The Intercept is something other than what it patently is -- but to normal
people, the truth should be clear enough.
Interestingly, a recent story in The Intercept -- derived from the Snowden docs -- uncovers the trollish tactics now being used online to attempt to smear Greenwald. If you haven't read it yet, I'm sure you'll find this piece
absolutely fascinating: "Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research."
In short and in sum: GCHQ (the NSA of the UK) has a division called the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group. JTRIG uses social media and online resources (such as blog commentary) to disrupt and discredit anyone considered a "bad guy." (Most of their listed "bad guys" are fairly legitimate targets; some are more troubling.)
A psychologist named Mandeep K. Dhami
) wrote a classified 42-page manual for JTRIG. I won't publish the entire text here, but I can give you substantial chunks. (If you want to read the whole thing, here it is
. You may also want to track Dhami's online activities -- hey, turnabout is fair play, right? She has done a very good job of hiding her work for the spooks.)
Some of what you are about to read seems to have have a direct bearing on the argument made above. All
of it is quite interesting. And as you romp and stomp your way through the wilds of the internet, please remember that there are people out there who just love to play tricks on you.
Operation methods/techniques. All of JTRIG’s operations are conducted using cyber technology. Staff described a range of methods/techniques that have been used to-date for conducting effects operations. These included:
• Uploading YouTube videos containing “persuasive” communications (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter, delay or disrupt)
• Setting up Facebook groups, forums, blogs and Twitter accounts that encourage and monitor discussion on a topic (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter, delay or disrupt)
• Establishing online aliases/personalities who support the communications or messages in YouTube videos, Facebook groups, forums, blogs etc
• Establishing online aliases/personalities who support other aliases
• Sending spoof e-mails and text messages from a fake person or mimicking a real person (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deceive, deter, delay or disrupt)
• Providing spoof online resources such as magazines and books that provide inaccurate information (to disrupt, delay, deceive, discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter or denigrate/degrade)
• Providing online access to uncensored material (to disrupt)
• Sending instant messages to specific individuals giving them instructions for accessing uncensored websites
• Setting up spoof trade sites (or sellers) that may take a customer’s money and/or send customers degraded or spoof products (to deny, disrupt, degrade/denigrate, delay, deceive, discredit, dissuade or deter)
• Interrupting (i.e., filtering, deleting, creating or modifying) communications between real customers and traders (to deny, disrupt, delay, deceive, dissuade or deter)
• Taking over control of online websites (to deny, disrupt, discredit or delay)
• Denial of telephone and computer service (to deny, delay or disrupt)
• Hosting targets’ online communications/websites for collecting SIGINT (to disrupt, delay, deter or deny)
• Contacting host websites asking them to remove material (to deny, disrupt, delay, dissuade or deter)
2.6 Some of JTRIG’s staff have conducted online HUMINT operations. Such operations typically involve establishing an online alias/personality who has a Facebook page, and membership of relevant web forums, etc. The target is then befriended (or the target befriends the alias). Interactions with the target may be informed by a combination of analysis of SIGINT provided by the IPTs, monitoring of the target’s online behaviour, and intelligence from SIS “on-the-ground”. The goal may be to collect intelligence and/or to facilitate SIS contact in order to disrupt, delay, deceive, deter or dissuade.
2.8 A risk assessment typically referred to identification of the potential costs (drawbacks) and/or an estimation of the likelihood of the costs occurring. Commonly identified costs included:
• Being discovered (i.e., as a GCHQ operation)
• Loss of credibility or trust or confidence of target
• Being blocked from the website, internet or telephone service
• Aiding and abetting (or providing cyber criminals new ideas)
• Physical harm to the target (either from others or themselves)
• Displacement so that target moves to other sites or regions
• Target changes/adapts tactic (e.g., uses middle-men)
• Threatening a target’s ego could lead to a counter effect
• The influence communication may interact with an existing message to create an unexpected adverse effect
• Damaging international relations between the target country and the country to which the online communication can be attributed
• Interfering/confounding operations being conducted by other agencies (who may sometimes represent other countries)
• Wasted time due to failure to deconflict with another agency that is also occupying the same cyberspace and/or conducting an (on- or off-line) operation
• Financial cost
2.18 Behavioural science needs. Staff identified various areas of behavioural science support that their effects and online HUMINT operations might benefit from. These mostly referred to social psychology, and included:
• Psychology of relationships (including online social interactions)
• Cultural impact on social interactions
• Psychology of trust and distrust
• Psychological profiling
• Developing realistic online aliases/personalities
• Psychology of persuasion
• Mass messaging
• Marketing/branding of YouTube videos
• Plausible excuses for not being able to communicate or interact with target online (or face-to-face)
• Effective delay tactics and “hooks” when dealing with online customers
• Online criminal behaviour (e.g., child exploitation, fraud)
• Youth behaviour online
• Online business operations
3.5 Persuasive communications should focus on the communicator, message, recipient, and the situation. Effective communication campaigns should ask the following: What is the credibility, status, attractiveness, and trustworthiness of the source? Is the message explicit or implicit, emotional or informational, one- or twosided, and in what order is it presented relative to other information (i.e., first or last)?
What is the education level of the recipient, what functions does the attitude have, how resistant is that person to persuasion, and willing to accept or reject the message? Finally, is the situation formal or informal? Messages that are specific are more likely to be effective. In order to persuade, the recipient needs to have access to the message, to have attended to it, understood it, and accepted it, remembered it, and behaved according to it.
Propaganda techniques include: Using stereotypes; substituting names/labels for neutral ones; censorship or systematic selection of information; repetition; assertions without arguments; and presenting a message for and against a subject.
3.6 Obedience is a direct form of social influence where an individual submits to, or complies with, an authority figure. Obedience may be explained by factors such as diffusion of responsibility, perception of the authority figure being legitimate, and socialisation (including social role). Compliance can be achieved through various techniques including: Engaging the norm of reciprocity; engendering liking (e.g., via ingratiation or attractiveness); stressing the importance of social validation (e.g., via highlighting that others have also complied); instilling a sense of scarcity or secrecy; getting the “foot-in-the-door” (i.e., getting compliance to a small request/issue first); and applying the “door-in-the-face” or “low-ball” tactics (i.e., asking for compliance on a large request/issue first and having hidden aspects to a request/issue that someone has already complied with, respectively). Conversely, efforts to reduce obedience may be effectively based around educating people about the adverse consequences of compliance; encouraging them to question authority; and exposing them to examples of disobedience.
3.7 Conformity is an indirect form of social influence whereby an individual’s beliefs, feelings and behaviours yield to those (norms) of a social group to which the individual belongs or to a reference group. Conformity may reflect a person being converted (internalising) or simply being publically compliant. Conformity may be explained by the need to have an accurate representation of the world (via social comparison) and to be accepted by others (by adhering to a norm). Typically, minorities may conform to majorities. However, minority groups can influence the majority by showing a sense of consistency; demonstrated investment; independence; balanced judgment; and similarity to the majority in terms of age, gender and social category.