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There has been a lot of controversy on Daily Kos over the possibility that some people posting diaries and comments on the site could be paid operatives for various interest groups and government agencies. While we are not supposed to accuse any specific individual without concrete evidence, up until now it has been an essentially theoretical consideration. Now Glenn Greenwald has evidence of an extensive operation by British GCHQ to conduct such infiltration targeting individuals and groups whom they view as inimical to state security, whatever that might be.

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations  

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

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

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There is the usual collection of Power Point slides outlining program goals and objectives. The idea of such activities is not really new. In 2008 Cass Sunstein, close Obama adviser and husband of UN ambassador Semantha Power published a controversial paper suggesting that governments should organize the development of such covert online counter intelligence programs.

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?

Then there is the use of psychology and other social sciences to not only understand, but shape and control, how online activism and discourse unfolds. Today’s newly published document touts the work of GCHQ’s “Human Science Operations Cell”, devoted to “online human intelligence” and “strategic influence and disruption”:

Now we can all scratch out heads in heated diary discussions trying to figure out who is just drunk and who is a spook.

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