How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations

This story is dated from 2014, but still provides a critical insight into the operations of federal intelligence agencies to discredit and disrupt social movements. We recommend activists and revolutionaries carefully study this information.

By Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept

One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of articles about “dirty trick” tactics used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). These were based on four classified GCHQ documents presented to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” alliance. Today, we at the Intercept are publishing another new JTRIG document, in full, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Read the rest of the article on The Intercept.

Further Resources

Featured image: NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.

2 thoughts on “How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations”

  1. What Greenwald alleges in the article isn’t that far beyond the everyday activities government pursues under the “authority” of security classifications. The following details some of the things I learned, while working under a TS clearance in the U.S. Air Force, from 1966 through ’68.

    Immediately after 3 1/2 months of routine training, I was assigned to the squadron responsible for the maintenance of all Air Force munitions in East Asia, which included everything from shotgun shells to nuclear missiles. And it took me less than a day in the field to learn what everyone with a TS clearance soon realizes: At least half of the secrets governments keep are not to secure their nations from real or imagined enemies, but to keep the truth from their own people and allies.

    My job was in inventory management, which includes the acquisition, storage, and shipment of weapons, from one facility to another. Two different teams of managers handled conventional and nuclear weapons. I was assigned to the conventional team, though the nuclear squad worked in the same office. To my knowledge, nothing in conventional munitions rose above the secret classification, while everything on the nuclear side was top secret.

    Since both our office and storage areas virtually overlapped, everyone in either group was required to have a TS clearance. During my entire 34 months in the military, however, I never saw a single document marked “top secret.” And yet, though my clearance wasn’t approved until several weeks after my arrival, I was privy to TS information from day one.

    Under our postwar treaty with Japan, no nuclear weapons were ever to be on Japanese soil. They had seen more nukes than they wanted at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So far as I know, that treaty was honored, with respect to the main islands of Japan.

    But it could not have been more flagrantly violated than in Okinawa, which was governed by the U.S., from 1945-72. Our squadron alone maintained between 150 and 200 nuclear weapons. And among the 70-odd military facilities on the island, there were Army and Navy bases which almost certainly had their own.

    I was told we had a similar treaty with South Korea. But if so, little pretense was made of honoring it, as it was routine for our squadron to transfer nuclear missiles to South Korea, aboard U.S. Navy ships.

    Shortly after my arrival, we conducted a squadron-wide inventory, during which two nuclear warheads couldn’t be located. This might have meant anything from a paperwork error to a couple of airmen selling them to the Chinese. But it should have been reported immediately to Fifth Air Force (our parent organization in Japan), and to the Pacific command in Hawaii, which reports to the Pentagon.

    Instead, our commander swept it under the rug, reportedly telling a subordinate that “they’re bound to turn up somewhere.” A full six months went by before they were found, in the other of our two nuclear storage sites. This was about as gross as security violations get. But no one was punished, because no one outside the squadron knew.

    Among the other dirty little secrets I committed to memory was that one of the shotgun shells in our inventory fired glass needles, rather than steel pellets.

    I subsequently received a two-month assignment to Thailand, where we were to set up a munitions facility for Operation Arclight, when B-52s would drop more bombs over Indochina than were used by all the air forces in World War II combined. Each bomber was loaded with 45 tons of ordnance, including 108 500-lb. bombs in the fuselage, plus 24 750-lb. bombs, nestled under the wings in clusters of three. The release device was rather crude, and it was fairly common for one or two pods to fail to deploy over target.

    This was known as “hung ordnance,” and all efforts had to be made to shake the bombs loose before landing, or risk their detonating on the landing strip — along with the crew, and one of our most expensive aircraft.

    According to enlisted crewmen I talked to at the airmen’s club, the favored “secondary targets” were Cambodian farmhouses and fishing boats. “It looks just like dropping an egg onto cement,” one of the crewmen said laughing, as he poured a pitcher of beer.

    Just what our patriotic bomber crews had against Cambodians, farmhouses, or fishing boats, I never knew. But I heard exactly the same story, 40+ years later, from a caller on NPR, who said that his uncle, a former B-52 pilot, told the same story.

    Even the presence of B-52s in Thailand was a secret, as the Thai government considered it a violation of national sovereignty. But eight-engine bombers are not easily hidden, and the deception was soon exposed, when a reporter for The Bangkok post shot a photo of one landing, at our remote facility near the Cambodian border.

    It is also worth noting that B-52s flew in groups of three, dropping their loads from 20,000 feet. The “target,” in other words, was whatever was down there — typically meaning a swath of jungle the size of several football fields.

    Another item in our inventory was the “hot dog,” a cluster bomb that showered an area with over a hundred softball-size bomblets, which exploded on impact, spraying napalm-coated pellets into the flesh of any creature with the misfortune to be there.

    I had asked about the function of “hot dogs” during my first day in the field, and was curtly told, “You don’t want to know.” I did want to know, of course, but I never asked again. I only learned the truth months later, when an American news magazine reported on a North Vietnamese Army doctor’s efforts to remove “hot dog” pellets from the body of a nine-year-old girl, maimed during the supposedly errant bombing of an elementary school near Hanoi. Since the pellets were made of plexiglass, they were virtually impossible to find with x-rays, thus requiring the kind of blind, exploratory surgery that caused almost as much damage as the pellets themselves.

    Obviously, the “hot dog” was a weapon of terror, designed more to inflict maximum suffering than to kill. Its sister-bomb, the “lazy dog,” had a similar intent. In effect, it was a time bomb, made to explode in the faces of rescue workers, minutes or hours after being dropped. I’m not aware of their being used by the U.S. They are best remembered for those sold to Israel, which were responsible for the deaths of numerous civilians and Red Crescent workers in Lebanon.

    It was the “hot dog” article that made me realize I was a war criminal, since I had almost certainly performed the transaction that sent that bomb (and thousands of others) to Vietnam.

    Several months later (then working at the Air Force Communications Center, in the basement of the Pentagon), I had another jolt, while waiting in line to use a copy machine. There, as in Okinawa, everyone had at least a TS clearance (there are higher clearances, the names of which are even classified), and the “need to know” rule was considerably relaxed. The officer ahead of me absently asked his colleague what he was copying, and the officer next to him replied, “Bombing coordinates for SAC” (referring to the Strategic Air Command). He laughed and added, “Should be good for another 500 dead gooks.”

    That was when I realized that the callous racism and flippant American supremacy I had witnessed in the war zone went all the way to the top, and that silence was no longer an option.

    Soon thereafter, I joined the antiwar movement, leaking a memo from a four-star general to the Air Force chief of staff, on how to suppress the growing dissent within the ranks. Later, I leafleted the Arlington Cemetery parking lot with a flyer I had written, urging fellow GIs to refuse orders to Vietnam, and spoke at a couple of antiwar rallies near the White House.

    I deserted a few months later, after a major general told my CO he wanted me prosecuted under any charges that would lead to a dishonorable discharge and prison time. Since nothing I had done rose to that level, he was, in effect, asking that I be prosecuted under false charges.

    A few weeks thereafter, five other war resisters and I were interviewed on CBC Radio in Montreal. In response, the FBI visited my mother in Texas, falsely informing her that I was living in Canada illegally.

    When President Ford issued his 1974 clemency proclamation for deserters and draft resisters, I was reluctant to apply, assuming that I might be cleared of desertion charges, only to be prosecuted for “disaffection” (the military crime of not liking them anymore), or for disclosing the presence of nuclear weapons in Okinawa and South Korea.

    Against my wishes, my father wrote to the Air Force, asking for clarification as to any such “other charges.” They replied that there would be none, noting unspecified “errors” in my case in 1968.

    Such “errors” were common during the COINTELPRO era, and explain why even the leaders of the Weather Underground (several of whom were on the FBI’s most wanted list, for involvement in various bombings) either were never prosecuted, or received 18-month sentences, at most. When it came to crimes, what they had done paled in comparison to the crimes the authorities had committed trying to catch them.

  2. Math correction: Each B-52 that bombed Indochina during my involvement carried 36 tons of bombs, rather than 45.

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