While the NSA has been the focus of much my criticisms, its British counterpart the GCHQ has been even worse in its disregard for people’s privacy. Glenn Greenwald has a new story out today revealing more of its activities and its propaganda techniques to manipulate public opinion.
The secretive British spy agency GCHQ has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls, artificially inflate pageview counts on web sites, “amplif[y]” sanctioned messages on YouTube, and censor video content judged to be “extremist.” The capabilities, detailed in documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, even include an old standby for pre-adolescent prank callers everywhere: A way to connect two unsuspecting phone users together in a call.
The tools were created by GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), and constitute some of the most startling methods of propaganda and internet deception contained within the Snowden archive. Previously disclosed documents have detailed JTRIG’s use of “fake victim blog posts,” “false flag operations,” “honey traps” and psychological manipulation to target online activists, monitor visitors to WikiLeaks, and spy on YouTube and Facebook users.
The article lists all the programs that the GCHQ uses or that are under development along with the often boastful names they assign to them. The GCHQ was determined to keep this information secret.
British watchdog Privacy International has filed pending legal action against GCHQ over the agency’s use of malware to spy on internet and mobile phone users. Several GCHQ memos published last fall by The Guardian revealed that the agency was eager to keep its activities secret not to protect national security, but because “our main concern is that references to agency practices (ie, the scale of interception and deletion) could lead to damaging public debate which might lead to legal challenges against the current regime.” And an EU parliamentary inquiry earlier this year concluded that GCHQ activities were likely illegal.
While some top politicians say they were kept in total darkness about the scope of GCHQ’s activities, I find it hard to believe that all of them were. It has to be the case that the prime minister knew and approved of everything, even if it was in the form of nods and winks.