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Snowden, GCHQ: How the gov’t infiltrates websites, uses social media to destroy

The latest Snowden leak about how the government is using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs to deceive and destroy unaware people and companies is getting a lot of press in Europe, but there is an awful silence about it in the American media. Edward Snowden has leaked a lot of information in the past that has been upsetting, but his latest revelation is frightening because anyone can be on the target list. According to an updated February 26, 2014, RT report from Russia, “secret units within the 'Five Eyes’ global spying network engage in covert online operations that aim to invade, deceive, and control online communities and individuals through the spread of false information and use of ingenious social-science tactics.”

Snowden: Government infiltrates websites, uses social media to deceive, destroy
The Intercept

Similarly to the report from Russia, the German Sueddeutsche is also describing the internet tactics that the governments of the Five Eyes Alliance are using to to invade, deceive, and control online communities and individuals. The Five Eyes Alliance includes the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The individuals and communities that are being targeted with the spread of false information are not terrorists or any national security threat but merely targets because they are "undesirable" and do not fit into a government’s image of how the world should be like.

American journalist Glenn Greenwald published the leaked Snowden intelligence information in his online magazine "The Intercept." In his Feb. 24 article How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations, he describes the tactics that are being used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group):

“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.”

GCHQ is Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters and its methods are described in GCHQ’s leaked document titled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.” The techniques span to all partners of the global spying network of the Five Eyes Alliance.

The operation of injecting all sorts of false material onto the internet to target individuals or companies is being conducted by teams of highly trained professionals and include “honey traps” (luring someone with sexual promises), unauthorized replacement of pictures on Facebook, publication of fictitious blog posts that spread negative information, false YouTube videos, and emails to family members, friends, and colleagues. For targeted companies, negative reviews via Twitter or the publication of fabricated confidential information documents can easily lead to a company’s destruction.

In 2008, Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, already proposed in a paper that the U.S. government should employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Since Sunstein’s controversial paper, there has been very little coverage in the American press about how the government is using social media to infiltrate the lives of individuals and the business of companies.

Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and many European newspapers, however, agree. “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.”

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