Greenwald details how he worked with “NBC News to publish a series of articles about dirty trick tactics used by GCHQ’s (Government Communications Headquarters (British) previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group)”. (1)
Among the documents that Snowden leaked were several that specifically outlined tactics for operatives to use in mastering the art of manipulating social media outlets. Greenwald studied a series of four classified GCHQ documents. One especially stands out titled, “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”
The sole purpose of these tactics is “using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world”. (1)
He highlights specific covert operations that:
–> Monitor YouTube and Blogger
–> Use Hacktivists tactics to target Anonymous
–> Employ “honey traps” (such as sexual incidences and staged encounters)
–> Destructive viruses (computer hacking)
Perhaps the most eye-opening part of his article is how these online tactics are to be used with just one goal – to manipulate a discourse in order to generate a desired reaction or even possibly incite activism.
Integrity of the Internet
While these activities unto themselves are disconcerting, Greenwald states the biggest damage is to “the integrity of the Internet itself”. (1) He points out that these tactics aimed at controlling online discussions, groups and various forums are designed to have far-reaching and often devastating effects on individuals, companies and even those in political arenas.
The integrity of the Internet is threatened and in many cases completely destroyed since the true identities of these individuals are cloaked. It’s simply impossible to know who is carrying on conversations, since false identities are easy to set up on the Internet. But even more disconcerting is that the fake identities are typically created for the sole purpose of discrediting an individual, company or political entity.
By having pulled back the curtain, it’s difficult not to be less trusting of people being who they say they are in online discussions. It’s conceivable to impersonate real people and make statements, even accusations as that person. This kind of tactic brings into question the identity of anyone as well as whether there’s a covert agenda behind online posts that generate controversy and negative reactions.
How Online Identities Are Used to Discredit Targets
Discrediting a person or destroying a person’s reputation is often achieved by creating false information about the target. Greenwald examines those tactics. The documents instruct how there are several ways to accomplish this goal. A person can be set-up in a “honey-pot” sting operation that places the person in a compromising sexual scenario often complete with photos/video.
One of the most commonly employed Internet tactics used in a covert operation is the “Fake Victim”. This fake identity has only one purpose – to discredit a targeted individual. Fake identities are often used to claim they are a victim of the targeted person.
Manipulated photos and damaging emails/texts are sent to fellow workers, friends and even family. Photos are often changed on targeted people’s social media pages. These are just some of the tactics that Greenwald discusses that are used to destroy reputations.
The same tactics are often employed against targeted companies along with others taken from the same playbook, “Disruption Operational Playbook”. These include:
–> Leak Confidential information to companies/the press via blogs, etc.
–> Post negative information on appropriate forums
–> Stop deal/ruin business relationships
Using the 4 Ds to Achieve Goals
The OCA (Online Covert Action) is based on 4 Ds (Deny, Disrupt, Degrade, Deceive). According to Greenwald’s research the targets were often suspected criminals that law enforcement was unable to charge or convict.
Denying service is an effective way to destroy a company, especially if customers are unable to use the company’s service(s). Loss of revenue can quickly destroy a company that is already tottering on the edge of bankruptcy. But even a financially solid company can’t sustain a large hit in lost revenue, compromised customer data or other losses from a hacked website. If the attack is on more than one front that goes beyond denial and disruption of services via a computer network attack – it can force a company to close its doors.
Again, fake victims can make claims against a company and destroy its reputation. Once a lie is believed as a truth, it’s very difficult to alter that perception even when there’s proof.
Greenwald concludes with a list of questions sent to the GCHQ that he states were ignored and that the GCHQ responded with a “vague and nonresponsive boilerplate” statement. As the saying goes, “It’s impossible to put toothpaste back into the tube,” so it is with government secretive documents revealing the covert workings that many condemn as over-reaching.
References & Image Credits:
(1) TSW: US Spied During G20 Toronto Summit Based on Snowden
(2) Filming Cops
(3) Wikipedia: Glenn Greenwald