NEW Slides #14, #16, #19
New Edward Snowden Slides, Documents Full-Spectrum Cyber Effects Update
Exposed: A secret program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development to create “a Twitter-like Cuban communications network” run through “secret shell companies” in order to create the false appearance of being a privately owned operation. Unbeknownst to the service’s Cuban users was the fact that “American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes”–specifically, to manipulate those users in order to foment dissent in Cuba and subvert its government. According to top-secret documents published today by The Intercept, this sort of operation is frequently discussed at western intelligence agencies, which have plotted ways to covertly use social media for ”propaganda,” “deception,” “mass messaging,” and “pushing stories.”
ZunZuneo’s organizers wanted the social network to grow slowly to avoid detection by the Cuban government. Eventually, documents and interviews reveal, they hoped the network would reach critical mass so that dissidents could organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice — that could trigger political demonstrations, or “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”ZunZuneo’s organizers worked hard to create a network that looked like a legitimate business, including the creation of a companion website — and marketing campaign — so users could subscribe and send their own text messages to groups of their choice.Executives set up a corporation in Spain and an operating company in the Cayman Islands — a well-known British offshore tax haven — to pay the company’s bills so the “money trail will not trace back to America,” a strategy memo said. Disclosure of that connection would have been a catastrophic blow, they concluded, because it would undermine the service’s credibility with subscribers and get it shut down by the Cuban government.
These ideas–discussions of how to exploit the internet, specifically social media, to surreptitiously disseminate viewpoints friendly to western interests and spread false or damaging information about targets–appear repeatedly throughout the archive of materials provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Documents prepared by NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ–and previously published by The Intercept as well as some by NBC News–detailed several of those programs, including a unit devoted in part to “discrediting” the agency’s enemies with false information spread online.
The documents in the archive show that the British are particularly aggressive and eager in this regard, and formally shared their methods with their U.S. counterparts. One previously undisclosed top-secret document–prepared by GCHQ for the 2010 annual “SIGDEV” gathering of the “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance comprising the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.–explicitly discusses ways to exploit Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media as secret platforms for propaganda.
The document was presented by GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). The unit’s self-described purpose is “using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world,” including “information ops (influence or disruption).” The British agency describes its JTRIG and Computer Network Exploitation operations as a “major part of business” at GCHQ, conducting “5% of Operations.”
The annual SIGDEV conference, according to one NSA document published today by The Intercept, “enables unprecedented visibility of SIGINT Development activities from across the Extended Enterprise, Second Party and US Intelligence communities.” The 2009 Conference, held at Fort Meade, included “eighty-six representatives from the wider US Intelligence Community, covering agencies as diverse as CIA (a record 50 participants), the Air Force Research Laboratory and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.”
Defenders of surveillance agencies have often insinuated that such proposals are nothing more than pipe dreams and wishful thinking on the part of intelligence agents. But these documents are not merely proposals or hypothetical scenarios. As described by the NSA document published today, the purpose of SIGDEV presentations is “to synchronize discovery efforts, share breakthroughs, and swap knowledge on the art of analysis.”
For instance: One of the programs described by the newly released GCHQ document is dubbed “Royal Concierge,” under which the British agency intercepts email confirmations of hotel reservations to enable it to subject hotel guests to electronic monitoring. It also contemplates how to “influence the hotel choice” of travelers and to determine whether they stay at “SIGINT friendly” hotels. The document asks: “Can we influence the hotel choice? Can we cancel their visit?”
Previously, der Spiegel and NBC News both independently confirmed that the “Royal Concierge” program has been implemented and extensively used. The German magazine reported that “for more than three years, GCHQ has had a system to automatically monitor hotel bookings of at least 350 upscale hotels around the world in order to target, search, and analyze reservations to detect diplomats and government officials.” NBC reported that “the intelligence agency uses the information to spy on human targets through ‘close access technical operations,’ which can include listening in on telephone calls and tapping hotel computers as well as sending intelligence officers to observe the targets in person at the hotels.”
The GCHQ document we are publishing today expressly contemplates exploiting social media venues such as Twitter, as well as other communications venues including email, to seed state propaganda–GHCQ’s word, not mine–across the internet:
(The GCHQ document also describes a practice called “credential harvesting,” which NBC described as an effort to “select journalists who could be used to spread information” that the government wants distributed. According to the NBC report, GCHQ agents would employ “electronic snooping to identify non-British journalists who would then be manipulated to feed information to the target of a covert campaign.” Then, “the journalist’s job would provide access to the targeted individual, perhaps for an interview.” Anonymous sources that NBC didn’t characterize claimed at the time that GCHQ had not employed the technique.)
Whether governments should be in the business of publicly disseminating political propaganda at all is itself a controversial question. Such activities are restricted by law in many countries, including the U.S. In 2008, The New York Times’ David Barstow won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing a domestic effort coordinated by the Pentagon whereby retired U.S. generals posed as “independent analysts” employed by American television networks and cable news outlets as they secretly coordinated their messaging with the Pentagon.
Because American law bars the government from employing political propaganda domestically, that program was likely illegal, though no legal accountability was ever brought to bear (despite all sorts of calls for formal investigations). Barack Obama, a presidential candidate at the time, pronounced himself in a campaign press release “deeply disturbed” by the Pentagon program, which he said “sought to manipulate the public’s trust.”
Propagandizing foreign populations has generally been more legally acceptable. But it is difficult to see how government propaganda can be segregated from domestic consumption in the digital age. If American intelligence agencies are adopting the GCHQ’s tactics of “crafting messaging campaigns to go ‘viral’,” the legal issue is clear: A “viral” online propaganda campaign, by definition, is almost certain to influence its own citizens as well as those of other countries.
For its part, GCHQ refused to answer any specific questions on the record, instead providing its standard boilerplate script which it provides no matter the topic of the reporting: “all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight.” The NSA refused to comment.
But these documents, along with the AP’s exposure of the sham “Cuban Twitter” program, underscore how aggressively western governments are seeking to exploit the internet as a means to manipulate political activity and shape political discourse.
Those programs, carried out in secrecy and with little accountability (it seems nobody in Congress knew of the “Cuban Twitter” program in any detail) threaten the integrity of the internet itself, as state-disseminated propaganda masquerades as free online speech and organizing. There is thus little or no ability for an internet user to know when they are being covertly propagandized by their government, which is precisely what makes it so appealing to intelligence agencies, so powerful, and so dangerous.
Keith Alexander’s long-time deputy just fed one of the most pro-NSA reporters in the country, the Los Angeles Times‘ Ken Dilanian, some extraordinarily sensitive, top secret information about NSA activities in Iraq, which the Times published in an article that reads exactly like an NSA commercial:
FT. MEADE, Md. — In nearly nine years as head of the nation’s largest intelligence agency, Gen. Keith Alexander presided over a vast expansion of digital spying, acquiring information in a volume his predecessors would have found unimaginable.
In Iraq, for example, the National Security Agency went from intercepting only about half of enemy signals and taking hours to process them to being able to collect, sort and make available every Iraqi email, text message and phone-location signal in real time, said John “Chris” Inglis, who recently retired as the NSA’s top civilian.
The overhaul, which Alexander ordered shortly after taking leadership of the agency in August 2005, enabled U.S. ground commanders to find out when an insurgent leader had turned on his cellphone, where he was and whom he was calling.
“Absolutely invaluable,” retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an interview as he described the NSA’s efforts, which led to the dismantling of networks devoted to burying roadside bombs.
John “Chris” Inglis just revealed to the world that the NSA was–is?–intercepting every single email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time for the entire country of Iraq. Obviously, the fact that the NSA has this capability, and used it, is Top Secret. What authority did Chris Inglis have to disclose this? Should a Department of Justice leak investigation be commenced? The Post, last July, described Alexander’s “collect-it-all” mission in Iraq which then morphed into his approach on U.S. soil (“For NSA chief, terrorist threat drives passion to ‘collect it all,’ observers say”), but did not confirm the full-scale collection capabilities the NSA had actually developed.
What makes this morning’s disclosure most remarkable is what happened with last week’s Washington Post report on the MYSTIC program, which, said the Post, provides “comprehensive metadata access and content” for entire countries where it is used. The agency “has built a surveillance system capable of recording ’100 percent’ of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place,” reported the Post.
The program, noted the Post, has been in use in one country since 2011, and “planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.” Specifically, the fiscal year 2013 intelligence budget identified ”five more countries” in which the agency planned to implement the system.
The Post did not report the names of any of those five countries, nor did it name the one where MYSTIC is already operational. Instead, “at the request of U.S. officials, the Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned.” The paper posted a short excerpt from the budget document’s discussion of MYSTIC but withheld and redacted the passages that revealed the names of these countries.
A primary argument NSA typically makes in such cases is that disclosure would endanger the lives of NSA personnel by inviting retaliation from people in those countries who might become angry when learning that their calls are being intercepted en masse. From the Post article: ”NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines, in an e-mailed statement, said that ‘continuous and selective reporting of specific techniques and tools used for legitimate U.S. foreign intelligence activities is highly detrimental to the national security of the United States and of our allies, and places at risk those we are sworn to protect.’”
Leave aside how corrupted this rationale is: It would mean that no bad acts of the U.S. government should ever be reported, lest those disclosures make people angry and want to attack government agents. Indeed, that is the rationale that the Obama administration used to protect evidence of Bush-era torture from disclosure (to disclose torture photos, Obama said, “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger”).
What is so extraordinary is that the NSA–at exactly the same time it is telling news organizations that disclosing its collect-it-all activities will endanger its personnel–runs to its favorite L.A. Times reporter and does exactly that, for no reason other than to make itself look good and to justify these activities. (“‘Absolutely invaluable,’ retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq, said.”)
This demonstrates how brazenly the NSA manipulates and exploits the consultation process in which media outlets are forced (mostly by legal considerations) to engage prior to publication of Top Secret documents: They’ll claim with no evidence that a story they don’t want published will “endanger lives,” but then go and disclose something even more sensitive if they think doing so scores them a propaganda coup. It also highlights how cynical and frivolous are their claims that whistleblowers and journalists Endanger National Security™ by reporting incriminating information about their activities which they have hidden, given how casually and frequently they disclose Top Secret information for no reason other than to advance their own PR interests. It’s the dynamic whereby the same administration that has prosecuted more leakers than all prior administrations combined freely leaks classified information to make Obama look tough or to help produce a pre-election hagiography film.
Thus, writes the L.A. Times:
Thanks to Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, the world came to know many of the agency’s most carefully guarded secrets.
Actually, in this case, the NSA’s “most carefully guarded secrets” were spilled thanks to Chris Inglis and the paper’s own Ken Dilanian. But because the purpose was to serve the NSA’s interests and to propagandize the public, none of the people who pretend to object to leaks–when they shine light on the bad acts of the most powerful officials–will utter a peep of protest. That’s because, as always, secrecy designations and condemnations of leaks are about shielding those officials from scrutiny and embarrassment, not any legitimate considerations of national security or any of the other ostensible purposes.
Metadata includes which telephone number calls which other numbers, when the calls were made and how long they lasted. Metadata does not include the content of the calls.
Edward Snowden and reporter Glenn Greenwald appeared together via video link from opposite ends of the earth on Saturday for what was believed to be the first time since Snowden sought asylum in Russia. A sympathetic crowd of nearly 1,000 packed a downtown Chicago hotel ballroom at Amnesty International USA’s annual human rights meeting
Amnesty International is campaigning to end mass surveillance by the U.S. government and calling for Congressional action to further rein in the collection of information about telephone calls and other communications.
Last year, Snowden, who had been working at a NSA facility as an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked a raft of secret documents that revealed a vast U.S. government system for monitoring phone and Internet data.
The leaks deeply embarrassed the Obama administration, which in January banned U.S. eavesdropping on the leaders of friendly countries and allies and began reining in the sweeping collection of Americans’ phone data in a series of limited reforms triggered by Snowden’s revelations.
President Barack Obama said last month he plans to ask Congress to end the bulk collection and storage of phone records by the NSA but allow the government to access metadata when needed.
Snowden and Greenwald said that such data is in fact more revealing than outright government spying on phone conversations and emails.
“Metadata is what allows an actual enumerated understanding, a precise record of all the private activities in all of our lives. It shows our associations, our political affiliations and our actual activities,” said Snowden, dressed in a jacket with no tie in front of a black background.
The majority of Americans are concerned that Internet companies were encroaching on too much of their lives.
Greenwald, who met with Snowden 10 months ago and wrote about the leaked documents in the Guardian and other media outlets, promised further revelations of government abuses of power at his new media venture the Intercept.
“My hope and my belief is that as we do more of that reporting and as people see the scope of the abuse as opposed to just the scope of the surveillance they will start to care more,” he said.
“Mark my words. Put stars by it and in two months or so come back and tell me if I didn’t make good on my word.”
Sources: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/04/04/cuban-twitter-scam-social-media-tool-disseminating-government-propaganda/ , https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/03/31/nsa-worlds-blows-top-secret-program/ , http://news.yahoo.com/snowden-greenwald-urge-caution-wider-government-monitoring-amnesty-002855883.html