Glenn Greenwald has an important new piece out at The Intercept that says that the NSA and the GCHQ are launching attacks on individuals and targets who have nothing to do with terrorism and in the process are committing acts that would be criminal and severely prosecuted if done by anyone else. They manipulate social media for this purpose.
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.
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.
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?
The US government has long been practicing the black arts of destroying its political enemies using character assassination by spreading outright lies. These have been exposed on occasion in the past, COINTELPRO being the most famous example.
What these new documents reveal is that far from past exposure leading to government reforms, it has just made them more covert and it took an Edward Snowden to be able to dig deep enough to find the incontrovertible evidence and bring it to light.
Oddly enough, there has been a controversy that the moderators at Reddit have deliberately spiked this important story. I don’t know much about Reddit and readers may be able to fill in on what is going on.