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Documents Reveal British Spy Agency Manipulating the Internet

By Kelli Sladick

In a new report from The Intercept, Snowden documents reveal that a unit of the British spy service (G.C.H.Q) know as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), manipulates the public through the Internet. The world wide web used to be considered free and open, but it’s turning into a multi-governmental scientific experiment achieving great results.

You can pretty well be sure that if the Brits are engaged in manipulating the Internet, the United States has its hands in the pie as well.

According to the article, the JTRIG “has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls, artificially inflate pageview counts on web sites, ‘amplif[y]’ sanctioned messages on YouTube, and censor video content judged to be ‘extremist.'”

The “tools” have been assigned boastful code names. They include invasive methods for online surveillance, as well as some of the very techniques that the U.S. and U.K. have harshly prosecuted young online activists for employing, including “distributed denial of service” attacks and “call bombing.” But they also describe previously unknown tactics for manipulating and distorting online political discourse and disseminating state propaganda, as well as the apparent ability to actively monitor Skype users in real-time—raising further questions about the extent of Microsoft’s cooperation with spy agencies or potential vulnerabilities in its Skype’s encryption. Here’s a list of how JTRIG describes its capabilities:

A number of interesting tools and their short descriptions are below:

ASTRAL PROJECTION: Remote GSM secure covert Internet proxy using TOR hidden service
POISON ARROW: Safe malware download capability
AIRWOLF: YouTube profile, comment and video collection
BIRDSTRIKE: Twitter monitoring and profile collection
GLASSBACK: Technique of getting a target’s IP address by pretending to be a spammer and ringing them. Target does not need to answer.
MINIATURE HERO: Active skype capability. Provision of realtime call records (SkypeOut and SkypetoSkype) and bidirectional instant messaging. Also contact lists.
PHOTON TORPEDO: A technique to actively grab the IP address of MSN messenger user
SPRING-BISHOP: Finding private photos of targets on Facebook
BOMB BAY: The capacity to increase website hits, rankings
BURLESQUE: The capacity to send spoofed SMS messages
GESTATOR: Amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (YouTube)
SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE: Perfect spoofing of emails from Blackberry targets
SUNBLOCK: Ability to deny functionality to send/receive email or view material online
SWAMP DONKEY: A tool that will silently locate all predefined types of file and encrypt them on a targets machine
UNDERPASS: Change outcome of online polls (previously known as NUBILO).
WARPATH: Mass delivery of SMS messages to support an Information Operations campaign.
HUSK: Secure one-on-one web based dead-drop messaging platform.

The Intercept contends that this list isn’t finite.

JTRIG urges its GCHQ colleagues to think big when it comes to internet deception: “Don’t treat this like a catalogue. If you don’t see it here, it doesn’t mean we can’t build it.”

Of course, it appears the agency operates with very little oversight.According to The Intercept, “Serious questions have been raised about whether top national security officials even know what GCHQ is doing.”

Privacy watchdogs often accuse U.S. non-government organizations (NGO’s), USAID, and some social media platforms of serving as CIA fronts engaging in online manipulation targeting foreign countries to further US foreign policy. See here, here, here, and here. But, what is more revealing, this online manipulation isn’t geared to just interventions in foreign governments. It is tailored to target online platforms many Americans use like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. It is also meant to infect your computer by targeting your IP address or even phone. Some unintended consequences are foreign governments cracking down on their own citizens’ right to read on the internet to prevent destabilization in their backyard.

As former NSA official and whistleblower Bill Binney said, “The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.”

We need to end the surveillance state and protect our right to read the truth.

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