Back in 2011, The Guardian posted an article titled “Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media.” It detailed the Pentagon’s sock puppet software that creates “fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda.”
The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities—known to users of social media as “sock puppets”—could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organizations to do the same.
The DOJ claims in its indictment this week that a Russian operation uses fake IDs and personas—the government calls this fraud and identity theft—in its alleged influence operation.
But the Russians come in second place to the Americans.
The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".
Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."
This is the same line used by the NSA—it only targets people outside the United States. It’s bullshit. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows the NSA to snoop the phone calls, email, and internet traffic of American citizens. It does this by using the physical infrastructure of communications providers—with their consent.
Here’s another Pentagon lie:
[Commander Bill Speaks] said none of the interventions would be in English, as it would be unlawful to "address US audiences" with such technology, and any English-language use of social media by Centcom was always clearly attributed. The languages in which the interventions are conducted include Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.
Centcom said it was not targeting any US-based web sites, in English or any other language, and specifically said it was not targeting Facebook or Twitter.
More bullshit. Last year it was revealed the Pentagon routinely data mines social media, including Facebook, so we can accurately assume it is also carrying out a sock puppet op there.
DOD was reportedly collecting billions of public internet posts from social media, news sites, and web forums and storing them on Amazon S3 repositories. But it neglected to make those storage servers private. So anyone with a free Amazon AWS account could browse and download the data, according to Chris Vickery, a security researcher at UpGuard.
Vickery noticed the problem in September. "The data exposed in one of the three buckets is estimated to contain at least 1.8 billion posts of scraped internet content over the past 8 years," UpGuard said in a Friday report.
Much of the data was scraped from news sites, web forums, and social media services such as Facebook and Twitter. The information includes content relating to Iraqi and Pakistani politics and ISIS, but also social media posts made by Americans.
We’re not talking about Facebook users posting photos of kittens and the family outing at Disney World.
In 2011, I reported on a Pentagon effort to compile a database on US activists:
In 2005, it was reported that the Pentagon was adding anti-war groups and individuals to a terrorist database. A Defense Department document leaked to NBC provided a “first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.”
Northcom also has a unit dedicated to snooping on political activists.
The US Army posted a FedBizOp request for white paper submissions earlier this year. In addition to translating foreign languages on social media and “deriv[ing] sentiment from all social media content,” the Army wants to an “[a]utomated capability to generate/create at least three, and up to 10, unique statements derived from one (1) original social media statement, while retaining the meaning and tone of the original.”
This is what China does. Here’s Karl Bode on Techdirt:
According to a new study out of Harvard [in 2016], the Chinese government posts about 488 million fake social media comments—or roughly one day of Twitter's total global volume—each year. In China, these propagandists have historically been dubbed the "50 Cent Party," because it was generally believed they were paid 50 Chinese cents for every social media post.
Of course, when Congress rants and faves about Russia and its influence operation, it says absolutely nothing about the US doing the exact same thing.
Why should they?
We’re the exceptional and indispensable nation, after all.