According to newly published documents, Western spy agencies like the GCHQ and NSA have developed sophisticated online operations in which covert agents infiltrate online communities, networks and forums in order to “manipulate, deceive”—even destroy the reputations of—targeted individuals and groups even if those people have not be charged, or necessarily accused, of a crime.
Building on his previous reporting about so-called “dirty tricks” used by GCHQ to ensare, trap, and discredit online hacktivists and other digital networks, journalist Glenn Greenwald late Monday published a new series of internal agency slides—leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden—which show how a special unit, called JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group), has attempted “to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse” for its own ends. In so doing, writes Greenwald, these operations are disrupting “the integrity of the internet itself.”
Using sophisticated psychological templates, the slides show how the intelligence service believes it can use subversion to disrupt online networks by using various tactics, of which Greenwald descibes two as key: “(1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable.”
In just one example, a slide titled “Disruption” offers a playbook for some of the tactics used to discredit a target. Those possible tactics include: infiltration, false flag, false rescue, and sting operations.
Though previous reporting has shown much of this online subterfuge has been used to target political hacktivist groups like Anonymous or online criminal networks, Greenwald hints that the targets of these online psy-op campaigns may also include other kinds of forums or networks.