New Snowden Docs: British Spies Manipulate Polls and Pageview Counts, Censor Videos They Don't Like and Amplify Messages They Do

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We've noted for years that the Pentagon and spy agencies manipulate the Internet - including social media - in order to promote false propaganda and to stifle dissenting information.

We've also discussed some of the methods used to game popularity on social media sites.

A new report from the Intercept adds to our understanding of these tactics:

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.

 

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The “tools” have been assigned boastful code names. They include invasive methods for online surveillance, as well as some of the very techniques that the U.S. and U.K. have harshly prosecuted young online activists for employing, including “distributed denial of service” attacks and “call bombing.” But they also describe previously unknown tactics for manipulating and distorting online political discourse and disseminating state propaganda, as well as the apparent ability to actively monitor Skype users in real-time—raising further questions about the extent of Microsoft’s cooperation with spy agencies or potential vulnerabilities in its Skype’s encryption. Here’s a list of how JTRIG describes its capabilities:

 

• “Change outcome of online polls” (UNDERPASS)

 

• “Mass delivery of email messaging to support an Information Operations campaign” (BADGER) and “mass delivery of SMS messages to support an Information Operations campaign” (WARPARTH)

 

• “Disruption of video-based websites hosting extremist content through concerted target discovery and content removal.” (SILVERLORD)

 

• “Active skype capability. Provision of real time call records (SkypeOut and SkypetoSkype) and bidirectional instant messaging. Also contact lists.” (MINIATURE HERO)

 

• “Find private photographs of targets on Facebook” (SPRING BISHOP)

 

• “A tool that will permanently disable a target’s account on their computer” (ANGRY PIRATE)

 

• “Ability to artificially increase traffic to a website” (GATEWAY) and “ability to inflate page views on websites” (SLIPSTREAM)

 

• “Amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube)” (GESTATOR)

 

• “Targeted Denial Of Service against Web Servers” (PREDATORS FACE) and “Distributed denial of service using P2P. Built by ICTR, deployed by JTRIG” (ROLLING THUNDER)

 

• “A suite of tools for monitoring target use of the UK auction site eBay (www.ebay.co.uk)” (ELATE)

 

• “Ability to spoof any email address and send email under that identity” (CHANGELING)

 

• “For connecting two target phone together in a call” (IMPERIAL BARGE)

NSA engages in the same types of dirty tricks.

We're not very confident that the spies are only going after actual bad guys and promoting the messages of the good guys, given that:

  • Any criticism of government policies is considered "extremist" and potential terrorism

And see this.