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The *first* revelation this week, at least
July 16, 2014 4:22 AM   Subscribe

This week's Glenn Greenwald revelation is that Britain's GCHQ JTRIG intelligence organization offers its agents and planners tools with abilities to increase the search ranking of chosen web sites, “change outcome of online polls”, “masquerade Facebook Wall Posts for individuals or entire countries”, and accomplish “amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube).”

Source document, apparently a wiki page last updated in July 2012. More conventional spamming, telephone robocall, email and SMS spoofing, and virus/trojan-like tools are also mentioned.

Previously, detailing the policies and practices in which these tools have been employed.
posted by XMLicious (54 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Quite reminiscent of the capabilities being explored by Facebook.
posted by XMLicious at 4:22 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


This reads like a version of urban dictionary where random assortments of words are defined as hacks instead of supposed sex acts.

Also, the SEO crowd will take this as vindication that search results manipulation is possible and I expect to see them start touting their techniques as "superior to GCHQ".
posted by pulposus at 4:28 AM on July 16 [9 favorites]


Well, Rupert Murdoch's influence is waning, so they'll need a backup plan for managing democracy.

</hamburger>
posted by acb at 4:32 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


If you can't trust the outcome of online polls... then what can you do, think for yourself?
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:38 AM on July 16 [6 favorites]


...Britain's GCHQ...

Surely you mean "NSA's GCHQ"? GCHQ is the NSA's 'inland' spying organization, carrying out domestic surveillance and activities which it is lawfully barred from doing. Likewise the NSA spy on the UK on behalf of the UK intelligence agencies. I think we could kill two bird with one stone were the UK to become part of the US, then neither could spy on either.
posted by Thing at 4:40 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Another previously would be the HBGary Anonymous leaks detailing the "persona management" mass-sockpuppet software and other tools they offered their clients, including the U.S. military.
posted by XMLicious at 4:40 AM on July 16 [7 favorites]




this reminds of Pattern Recognition where some people had a job as social media promoters except they were paid to talk to others about a certain brand, but not do it in totally obvious way (like "liking" a page or product or handing out merch and free samples). they were simply to work it into their convos.

i've been assuming since then there are people really like that.

i guess that's what secret agents do only they do it for the government not Blue Ant or Axe or whoever.
posted by sio42 at 4:52 AM on July 16 [6 favorites]


These guys think they're going to out-stupid the internet?
posted by telstar at 5:05 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


Well, they apparently rely on services like Tor and use the same techniques they famously criticize pirates, hackers, and extremists for using. There's a big "we're not so different, you and I" speech waiting for someone in all this.

I would argue the Internet is symbolic of a place where We are as powerful as Them, hence this concerted effort to control and manipulate such miniscule parts of it. But it's hard to argue that you're fighting terrorism when your toolbox consists of increasing Youtube views and looking for private photos on Facebook.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 5:21 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I would be extremely surprised if intelligence organizations don't have the ability to alter the results of electronic voting machines used for regular elections. We all remember the black-box voting scandal from when they were released that was basically swept under the carpet with no action taken.
posted by empath at 5:22 AM on July 16 [24 favorites]


Perhaps these nice gentlemen from the NSA or GCHQ JTRIG could help with the whole Google Metafilter situation. Or are they the cause?
posted by 724A at 5:29 AM on July 16 [9 favorites]


If you can't trust the outcome of online polls... then what can you do, think for yourself?

My new app, Thinkr, will take care of that for you! I am in my second round of VC and government funding! Coming soon (in a mandatory but enthusiastic way) to every device and screen near you.

We like to think of ourselves not so much as Big Brother as Just in Time Brother.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:31 AM on July 16 [8 favorites]


"The *first* revelation this week"?

Is Glenn Greenwald going to pull a Weird Al and release one story per day and get the whole thing over with?
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:56 AM on July 16


Underpass is used to “change outcome of online polls.”

Fandom's perfect weapon. Dean/Castiel shippers are planning to infiltrate GCHQ to get hold of this as we speak.

Scrapheap Challenge does “perfect spoofing of e-mails from Blackberry targets.”

Robert Llewellyn's fandom has clearly already made inroads.
posted by ewok and chips at 5:56 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Although the subject matter and the Glen Greenwald connection makes one think of Snowden, security expert Bruce Schneier thinks there's a second leaker.

Interesting times.
posted by spacewrench at 5:58 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


It's stuff like that this that makes it hard to not sound a bit tin foil.

"So the government makes fake facebook identities for people and countries and then uses them in an attempt to steer people's thinking on issues."

I mean that's not too far off from "the government is using mind control."

Of course I've only had two hours of sleep for some reason and may not be making sense. (3pm cannot come fast enough so I can go.home....)
posted by sio42 at 6:01 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Along with all the Top-Gun-guys turned drone pilots, the James Bond of the 21st century is going to be Comic Book Guy.
posted by XMLicious at 6:04 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I think we could kill two bird with one stone were the UK to become part of the US, then neither could spy on either.

Or we could revert to a historical situation and the US could undo the whole independence thing...
posted by Dysk at 6:12 AM on July 16


Given the increasingly confederated nature of American government, in which the national government is being gutted of finances and regulatory strength in order to localize power at the states level... annexing the UK would probably lead to an arms race of spying and espionage among the States.
posted by at by at 6:25 AM on July 16


Underpass is used to “change outcome of online polls.

Goddamnit, they're going to make "Tomorrow (White House Version)" the winner of this poll instead of "Easy Street," aren't they?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:26 AM on July 16


And then there's GCHQ's focus on Second Life.

This was honestly the only thing I found surprising.

The agency has already developed Lump, a tool for identifying the avatar name of a user based on their Second Life agent ID.

Easily done; it's built into LSL.

And the JTRIG developer team was also working on Glitterball: "Online Gaming Capabilities for Sensitive Operations. Currently Second Life."

I am fascinated by this. I have no idea what this could mean, but I want to!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:37 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Well, Rupert Murdoch's influence is waning

I don't know. According to the news this morning he just tried to buy TimeWarner for $81 billion. If you find a finger in your pie it's probably his.
posted by sneebler at 6:39 AM on July 16


Second Life still exists? And there's spies on it?

This is a lame ass dystopia.
posted by PMdixon at 6:39 AM on July 16 [14 favorites]


Although the subject matter and the Glen Greenwald connection makes one think of Snowden, security expert Bruce Schneier thinks there's a second leaker.

Flag isn't working for just your comment for some reason, but could we all please refrain from linking to Infowars? It's up there with Stormfront and FreeRepublic on the insane and hateful scale.
posted by indubitable at 6:40 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


Or we could revert to a historical situation and the US could undo the whole independence thing...

And drop the protections to privacy that our written Constitution provides?!


...
posted by Atreides at 6:42 AM on July 16


Particularly on this particular FPP, since Schneier links it to Snowden.
posted by stoneweaver at 6:43 AM on July 16


Second Life still exists? And there's spies on it?

This is a lame ass dystopia.


I dunno, a dying but still somewhat active social media platform might be the perfect place to conduct clandestine business. You can plausibly be a "legacy member" who can't bear to switch venues, there's enough going on that you don't totally stand out, but you are less likely to be spotted by government or commercial efforts to gather data.

In all the bot-spam on MySpace, a plot was taking place....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on July 16


Sorry, I wasn't aware of any problem with ][nfowars. I'd remove the link, but the edit window is closed.

I first learned of this leak through Schneier's Cryptogram newsletter, where he commented (in another item) that he thought there was a second leaker.

Even if the GCHQ info is from Snowden, I think it's relevant (and good) that there's a possibility that somebody else is also spilling secrets. (Although I suppose it could equally easily be the Cloak&Dagger Guys overstating their actual capabilities via a channel that has some current credibility. I'm not sure where the ultimate cost/benefit would work out for them if they're doing that.)
posted by spacewrench at 7:19 AM on July 16


Sorry, I wasn't aware of any problem with ][nfowars.

They're the people who are claiming that Sandy Hook and the Boston Bombings were false flag operations. Among other wackadoodle things.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:32 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I wonder whom the message-spoofing/internet-rewriting capabilities are used (or intended to be used) against. Are they highly selective capabilities (for, say, gaslighting an arms dealer, or tearing apart a protest group by identifying the key organisers and making each one think that the other is betraying the movement), or are they intended to be used en masse against the entire population for changing the tone of discourse, making propaganda seem more trustworthy, suppressing inopportune messages and such?

Or could it be some kind of hybrid system, where the system algorithmically selects individuals matching a profile and fucks with them (“find connective nodes in social network aligned with left-wing/civil-libertarian/anti-establishment activism and degrade their communications, dropping and replacing messages to and from them”). Such an automated system could be an effective form of low-level dissent suppression; if people who start organising any sort of protest or dissent find that their friends are stonewalling them and not returning their calls and that the news they read online is either oppressively discouraging or insipidly uninspiring (and which approach to use could be determined by automated psychological profiling based on their online activity), they may end up being demoralised and dropping out.
posted by acb at 7:45 AM on July 16 [7 favorites]


And the JTRIG developer team was also working on Glitterball: "Online Gaming Capabilities for Sensitive Operations. Currently Second Life."

I plotted out a sci-fi story years ago where intelligence agencies where using World of Warcraft characters as covers so they could communicate with agents around the world without drawing attention. You just set up the whole operation as a guild on a warcraft server and use gamer lingo as codewords. I think it would be really difficult for an opposing intelligence agency to uncover what was going on.
posted by empath at 7:50 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


change outcome of online polls

So they have the operational capabilities of... /b/? Does it say anything about rickrolling tactics in there?
posted by entropicamericana at 7:52 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


I wonder whom the message-spoofing/internet-rewriting capabilities are used (or intended to be used) against.

This is the biggest issue with the way all of the Snowden leaks have been presented. Relentless focus on nefarious-sounding capabilities, complete absence of discussion on how, against who, and why they are actually used.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:05 AM on July 16


Maybe he doesn't know the end results.

The fact of the capabilities is the problem here. Keep your eye on the ball.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:28 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Can you provide a basis (other than the metaphor of a ball) for why/how the specter kiltedtaco and acb raise (tort) dilutes discussion about Snowden's documentation?
posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:38 AM on July 16


I already did. In the first line of my comment.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:45 AM on July 16


That foreign policy is informed and driven by 4chan trolls is the best explanation for the 20th century I've yet read.
posted by straw at 8:47 AM on July 16 [10 favorites]


The fact of the capabilities is the problem here. Keep your eye on the ball.

That's an odd metaphor to choose, fffm. To keep our "eye on the ball" would be to follow the actual run of play. But to focus on "capabilities" is to consider an infinite sphere of hypothetical possibilities. The US has the "capability" to nuke any nation on earth into a glowing cinder, but it would be foolish to suggest that they have any current plans or intent to do so or that anyone should live with any very active concern that this is a likely event in the short or medium term. All states have--and must and should have--the "capability" to violate the rights of their citizens. If the state has effective police powers and effective defense powers it will have that "capability." So "capabilities" really aren't all that interesting or revealing. What is interesting is what safeguards are in place to prevent or curtail the state's deployment of those "capabilities" and whether or not the state is heeding those curbs on its power.

Throughout l'affaire Snowden there has been a deliberate blurring of the difference between "capabilities" and actual practices on the part of Greenwald et al. which really is unhelpful and obfuscatory and which has sown real misunderstanding and confusion among the public (see how many people think the NSA is recording every phone call in the US or is storing every email that anyone sends etc.). By and large, of course, people on Metafilter don't care about that misunderstanding and confusion because it tends to sway people towards the 'right' side of the issue--but if you think, as I do, that good public policy ultimately comes from a reasonably clear understanding of the actual facts of the situation it's a large part of the reason why I think it's a great shame that Snowden chose a preening prima donna like Greenwald as his mouthpiece to the world.
posted by yoink at 8:52 AM on July 16


amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube).”

So GCHQ is responsible for that cesspool? What on earth is the the "given message" over at YouTube—that incoherent assholery can be raised to an artform?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 AM on July 16


but it would be foolish to suggest that they have any current plans

The Pentagon very much has plans which are kept current for nuclear bombardment. It's not like the President would say to the Joint Chiefs "Hey, I'd like to nuke Wherever, go make a plan." They'll just pull the appropriate binder from the shelf.

(see how many people think the NSA is recording every phone call in the US or is storing every email that anyone sends etc.)

For all practical intents and purposes, they are. I refer you to my recent FPP on the topic, and in fact every single FPP about the NSA in the past two years.

but if you think, as I do, that good public policy ultimately comes from a reasonably clear understanding of the actual facts of the situation it's a large part of the reason why I think it's a great shame that Snowden chose a preening prima donna like Greenwald as his mouthpiece to the world.

You know that ad hominems are useless in a discussion, right? And you know that the message Greenwald is putting out is the important thing here, right? And that Snowden was a relatively low-level worker in the NSA who knew about capabilities but probably wasn't privy to how those capabilities were used, right?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:57 AM on July 16 [6 favorites]


I disagree Greenwald's handling has compromised the exposure of the documentation. I agree Snowden would not have a known the specifics of any particular case file or actionable order or whatever they're called. But I believe posing questions about who has been targeted-- a sum would likely be devastating, and for how long? average durations?-- and why is relevant.

You don't and I don't see a basis.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 9:14 AM on July 16


Again, there are actual specifics of who has been targeted, in my recent FPP and many of the other Snowden/NSA FPPs over the past couple of years.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:18 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I have been for some time helping deal with some shitty low criminals in Dogecoin and as far as we can tell they are coordinating things using League of Legends voice chat sometimes.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:28 AM on July 16


I have been for some time helping deal with some shitty low criminals in Dogecoin and as far as we can tell they are coordinating things using League of Legends voice chat sometimes.

This is practically a sentence from Reamde with the proper nouns changed.
posted by figurant at 9:40 AM on July 16 [10 favorites]


Right, the recent Greenwald story was about five people who were both targeted by the FBI and were willing to talk to the media, drawn from a very long list of redacted emails, and none of the people involved in the story knew why these individuals were targeted. That does not actually constitute a discussion about NSA targeting.

Gellman's recent story used the word targeting, but really just talked about collection (focusing on over-collection). It did not focus on the rationale behind the collection.

That Snowden might not have had access to information about the actual use of these capabilities doesn't make it any less relevant. This assertion is not even plausible anyways, since Gellman directly states that they have but are not reporting on Snowden documents that reveal specific ongoing intelligence operations.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:46 AM on July 16


Uh... what part of "The NSA is collecting far more information than we originally thought" is not about the NSA?

Or, you know, whatever... keep grinding that axe, I'm out.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:50 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Regarding Snowden "not knowing the results" of NSA's capabilities, I should have given a direct quote:
Among the most valuable contents — which The Post will not describe in detail, to avoid interfering with ongoing operations — are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:57 AM on July 16


Relentless focus on nefarious-sounding capabilities, complete absence of discussion on how, against who, and why they are actually used.

We have historical precedent for this stuff, it's not difficult to guess who the targets are: Anyone to the left of Hillary Clinton, with a smattering of fascist groups.
posted by gorbweaver at 10:12 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


By definition, whatever use has been made of these capabilities, whatever policy is in place to guide that use, has been made in an un-democratic fashion, in secret. That's why capabilities are important. The next steps are ending illegal spying, holding those accountable for the illegal spying accountable, and democratically establishing a policy framework and laws to govern future spying (e.g. warrants, non-secret courts, etc.)
posted by rustcrumb at 10:17 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Are any MeFites going to HOPE X? Feel free to MeFiMail me if you are!
posted by brina at 11:40 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


ewok and chips: “Scrapheap Challenge does “perfect spoofing of e-mails from Blackberry targets.”

Robert Llewellyn's fandom has clearly already made inroads.”
Judging by my business partner e-mailing me urgently from her Blackberry while visiting her sick sister in Portugal, so have Nigerian scammers.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:46 PM on July 16


It seems completely naïve to me to suggest that concern over the mere existence and concerted development effort of these sorts of tools is misplaced, and that we should wait for comprehensive documentation and analysis of their misuse before we get worried about the myriad anti-democratic projects they might facilitate. In the United States at least, from the Committee on Public Information on up through the rest of the 20th century and to today, the government has shown little hesitation when it comes to directly and clandestinely manipulating the public to achieve desired outcomes rather than the inconvenient and uncertain approach of openly persuading or providing leadership.
posted by XMLicious at 4:18 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


kiltedtaco: Right, the recent Greenwald story was about five people who were both targeted by the FBI and were willing to talk to the media, drawn from a very long list of redacted emails, and none of the people involved in the story knew why these individuals were targeted. That does not actually constitute a discussion about NSA targeting.

You are correct that the article was only about five people. Many of the surveilled email addresses could not be linked to their owners. Other email addresses belonged to Americans killed in a drone strike. The article identified two professors, a lawyer, a candidate for public office, and the head of a major civil liberties advocacy organization. These are innocent people. They have not been charged with criminal acts. They have not been charged as accessories to criminal acts.

We do not even know if the FISA court issued warrants for their surveillance. Anonymous DOJ officials tipped a reporter that at least one of the suspects was surveilled without a warrant. The carefully worded statement from the NSA and ODNI — that warrants are required "except in exceptional circumstances" — gives credence to that allegation.

What do you suggest as a starting point for a discussion regarding whether innocent Americans are inappropriately targeted? Unless the NSA and FBI choose to disclose the reasons why these five people were surveilled, it is difficult to have a more substantial conversation than what is already taking place.

pulposa: the SEO crowd will take this as vindication that search results manipulation is possible and I expect to see them start touting their techniques as "superior to GCHQ".

The article describes tools that can "artificially increase traffic to a website" and "inflate page views on websites." This doesn't necessarily mean that GCHQ is mucking with search results. The description is broad enough to encompass redirects — users click on a link to website A, but are instead directed to website B.
posted by compartment at 4:40 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


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