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Journalist Glenn Greenwald, through whom document-leaker Edward Snowden previously rattled the entire National Security Agency, is now confirming Western intelligence networks strategize to place “trolls” on the Internet to undermine, discredit and destroy critics.
In an article posted on website Greenwald help create called the Intercept, Greenwald reports secret documents from the GCHQ – the United Kingdom’s version of the NSA – reveal “how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.”
He cites documents from the “previously secret” Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group in the U.K., which describe injecting “all sorts of false material onto the Internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets” and 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.”
The document lists a “Disruption Operational Playbook” and subheadings titled “Infiltration Operation, Ruse Operation, Set Piece Operation, False Flag Operation, False Rescue Operation, Disruption Operation, Sting Operation.”
Regarding how to “discredit a target,” the instructions include, “Set up a honey-trap, change their photos on social networking sites, write a blog purporting to be one of their victims, email/text their colleagues, neighbors, friends etc.”
Sam Rolley at the Personal Liberty blog wrote that his organization for years has been “warning readers that the well-connected and ruling elite, displeased by this newfound proletariat freedom, have been prolific in attempts to undermine and marginalize information provided by any media outlet unwilling to obey the same unspoken rules that govern the content choices of major media outlets.”
“Now, thanks to the efforts of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald, readers no longer have to take the word of ‘paranoid’ bloggers who relate tales of paid government trolls lurking in comment sections and other concentrated top-down efforts to muddy the information provided by alternative media,” Rolley said.
He warned that the “most disturbing confirmation provided in the newly publicized intelligence documents is that spy agencies in Western nations with free speech guarantees have been given carte blanche authority from political leadership to target private individuals and organizations deemed uncooperative with the will of the state with ruthless online reputation-destruction efforts.”
Greenwald said the discussion of many of the techniques “occurs in the context of using them in lieu of ‘traditional law enforcement’ against people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, ‘hacktivism,’ meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends.”
Rolley said it takes “no stretch of the imagination – even for those who have resisted considering the possibility of malevolent intent on government’s part – to assume that the mission of organizations like the NSA and GCHQ is ultimately more about quelling citizen dissent than stopping citizen bloodshed at the hands of terrorists.”
“The mere existence of documents like those published this week,” Rolley said, “provides that the nefarious and long-suspected Internet activities of Western propagandists are not just plausible – they have very likely occurred in the comment sections and social media posts of articles like the one you are reading now.”
WND columnist Eric Rush highlighted the outrageous idea of government agents trying to destroy the reputations of critics.
“It is worth noting that in 2008, Cass Sunstein, an Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs … wrote a paper proposing that the U.S. government engage teams of covert agents and independent, ideologically kindred surrogates to employ precisely the aforementioned methods to achieve their objectives,” Rush said.
Greenwald said the “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.”
Greenwald said the British organization, GCHQ, in response to his questions, said only that it does not comment on intelligence matters.
“Furthermore,” the agency said, “all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners, and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.”
“Whatever else is true,” Greenwald wrote, “no government should be able to engage in these tactics: what justification is there for having government agencies target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltrate online political communities, and develop techniques for manipulating online discourse?”
WND previously has reported on leftist trolls operating online, including those with thousands of postings that would be unlikely to come from someone submitting comments during free time.
The report at the time said the trolls were performing a “disinformation” function typical of counter-intelligence efforts by intelligence agencies to confuse political enemies and refute or deflect opposing political views that are less susceptible to refutation by more traditional methods of debate and argumentation.
Typically, trolls operating on WND forums were defending Obama by posting specious and diversionary arguments with the goal of changing the subject and obscuring topics that could damage Obama, such as his birth records, life narrative, political history and policy preferences, including his current positions as president.
One was found to have posted nearly 4,800 comments over a two-year period. Another operated under different user names used various email addresses and nine different IP addresses to post 15,200 comments over 787 days on WND.com and FoxNews.com, as well as several smaller news websites, some of which had a local focus or interest.
The report confirmed many of the trolls banned from participating in WND forums appeared to have been operating on a professional level.