Friday, August 23, 2013

The Game of Spooks

The Independent published a startling story revealing a secret British surveillance effort -- involving undersea fiber optic cables -- in the Middle East.

The Independent goes to great lengths to give the impression -- without actually stating -- that their story came from documents provided by Ed Snowden. Careless readers will presume that Snowden is now working with the Independent, not the Guardian.

But Snowden insists that he has never worked in any way with any journalists connected with the Independent. Furthermore, he says that he has been careful not to release this type of information.

The Snowden revelations have concentrated on the NSA's efforts to scoop up information from American citizens, sans warrant. He has not divulged anything about British or American efforts to learn what is going on the Middle East.

Obviously, many Americans are likely to support a whistlebower who reveals hidden truths about unconstitutional domestic surveillance. They are not likely to support someone who reveals sources and methods in the Middle East.

So someone in the UK is trying to make people think that Snowden has upped his game, when in fact he has not. Here is part of Snowden's response:
It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post's disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.
Greenwald notes the suspicious timing:
and right as the UK government is trying to tell a court that there are serious dangers to the public safety from these documents, there suddenly appears exactly the type of disclosure the UK government wants but that has never happened before. That is why Snowden is making clear: despite the Independent's attempt to make it appears that it is so, he is not their source for that disclosure. Who, then, is?
Greenwald says that this is a tactic characteristic of the US government. But the Brits have also played this game, in exactly this way, many times.

One good US precedent does come to mind: Philip Agee, the CIA turncoat or whistleblower (take your pick). Back in the 1970s, CIA-friendly journalists mounted a massive disinformation campaign designed to convey the impression that Agee's revelations led to the death of a CIA station chief in Greece. The charge was not true, but the mud stuck.

Incidentally, previous Cannonfire posts have focused on the strange mysteries surrounding those undersea cables in the Middle East (the focus of the Independent's story). See here and here. Read those stories in conjunction with the Independent's latest; you tell me if it's all connected.

The GC-Wiki mystery. If you dig deeper into that Independent story, you'll find that their source of information is not really Ed Snowden but a site called GC-Wiki, a private "spooks only" wiki-type operation run by GCHQ, Britain's version of the NSA. If you hit the link in the previous sentence, you'll go to the "normal" Wikipedia's entry on GC-Wiki.

Here's what I find odd: That Wikipedia entry seems to be brand new -- the only citation goes to the above-mentioned Independent story. The entry appeared not days ago, but hours ago -- perhaps even minutes ago.

Thus, this very mysterious news story seems to be the first public mention of GC-Wiki anywhere in the world. At this writing, if you Google the term "GC-Wiki" in quotes, you will find no links other than the Wikipedia entry mentioned above. (There are links that go to a similarly-named but unconnected effort within the gaming community.) The Wikipedia entry says this:
The GC-Wiki was the source for many of the 50,000 documents downloaded by Edward Snowden which resulted in the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures
Okay. Let's think this through.

If Snowden got his documents from that "hidden" site -- and if the Independent got documents from that same site -- then how can the Independent's reporters try to leave readers with the impression that they were helped by Snowden?

Somehow -- and they won't say how -- the Independent's team of journalists got access (you might call it "independent access") to a site which is supposed to be available to intelligence personnel only.

I don't see how Snowden even figures into it.

I also don't see how the Independent would know that Snowden got documents from that site.


b said...

The "GC-Wiki" described by the Independent sounds like the British room of Intellipedia.

Or maybe it's just a staff relations thing, perhaps with a section about the other kind of spook, for use by members of the GCHQ paranormal group? (I believe that the 'Society of Leyhunters' is still based in Cheltenham.)

The British army has got ARRSE, a very useful place for studying the morale and mentality of Brit soldiers.

The funny thing is, the Independent has for several years been supposed to be the most 'left-wing' of the major British non-taboid newspapers, having replaced the Guardian in that role. Oh dear! Whatever are we to do now? :-)

Everyone's known about GCHQ on Cyprus for years.

Someone should maybe have a look at what the Spanish authorities are saying about Gibraltar. Maybe they're pissed with the electronic spying as well as with the money-laundering (sorry, er 'offshore investment') which has grown to such proportions on the Rock.

The players of spook games include Snowden and Wikileaks. If they were fully OK, they'd just release all the information they've got. Then they wouldn't be a threat to anyone. They'd also do us all a big favour. I hope the password comes out soon for the latest big dump, but I don't always get what I hope for.

Stephen Morgan said...

The Independent was founded by that rarest of things, an Irish Thatcherite, and is now owned by a Russian plutocrat.

b said...

"The (Wikipedia) entry appeared not days ago, but hours ago -- perhaps even minutes ago."

Joe - maybe you already know this, but the exact time (in GMT) a Wikipedia edit is made is supposed to be recorded under 'History'.

The GC-Wiki article was created by user "Gareth E Kegg". Here's his 'to-do' list. He belongs to the Wikipedia nobility. Here he is. See also here. Tory lobbyist Derek Laud is now at the Independent.

The article was apparently created at 00:31 GMT on 23 Aug 2013, which was probably less than a hour after the Independent article became publicly available.