TheGuardian – The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.
A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an “online persona management service” that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.
The project has been likened by web experts to China’s attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.
The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sock puppets” – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organizations to do the same.
Camille Chidiac, co-owner of Leonie Industries, a Pentagon contractor, has admitted to criminally targeting to journalists for reporting on a failed Pentagon propaganda operation.
Chidiac used dirty tricks reminiscent of the FBI’s COINTELPRO tactics to target the journalists. Leonie’s co-owner created a batch of fake websites, social media accounts, and a fraudulent Wikipedia page in an effort to smear the journalists. The bogus accounts were set-up in the names of the two journalists, Tom Vanden Brook and his editor Ray Locker.
“The co-owner of a major Pentagon propaganda contractor publicly admitted Thursday that he was behind a series of websites used in an attempt to discredit two USA TODAY journalists who had reported on the contractor,” USA Today reported.
The online “misinformation campaign,” first reported last month, has raised questions about whether the Pentagon or its contractors had turned its propaganda operations against U.S. citizens. But Camille Chidiac, the minority owner of Leonie Industries and its former president, said he was responsible for the online activity and was operating independently of the company and the Pentagon.
Leonie has since attempted to disassociate itself from Chidiac:
On Sunday, May 20, Leonie’s management was informed by Camille Chidiac, who owns a minority interest in Leonie and who was personally referenced in the USA Today coverage, that he was involved in the online activity.
This was the act of an individual, not the company. Leonie was not aware of and did not authorize Mr. Chidiac’s online activity concerning the reporters.
In addition, Leonie has contacted government officials to inform them of the situation and will continue to work with government officials on this matter.
Pentagon in the Business of Targeting Americans with Propaganda
On May 22, Michael Snyder reported on an amendment added to a defense authorization bill in Congress that would legalize “psychological operations” aimed at American citizens.
“The latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act would overturn the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1987,” Snyder writes.
Those two laws essentially make it illegal for propaganda that is used to influence public opinion overseas to be targeted at U.S. citizens back here at home. If those two laws are struck down, there will be essentially very few limits to what the U.S. government can do to shape our opinions. The government would be able to bombard us with propaganda messages on television, on the radio, in our newspapers and on the Internet and there would not even be a requirement that those messages be true.
The law made it through the House and now awaits action in the Senate.
“It removes the protection for Americans,” a Pentagon official told Michael Hastings of Buzzfeed. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”
Snyder notes that if the bill is attached to the defense authorization bill and becomes law, there will be little we can do to stop the government from going after journalists and destroying their reputations and careers in COINTELPRO fashion with bogus information and propaganda.
It was routine for the FBI under the illegal program to plant false stories in the media and send defamatory letters to employers and families in an effort to discredit and destroy the reputations of activists. An infamous example is a letter the agency sent to Martin Luther King suggesting he commit suicide.
In 2010, we reported on a plan drafted by Obama’s information czar, Cass Sunstein, for the government to infiltrate conspiracy groups in order to undermine them.
“In May 2008, it was revealed that the Pentagon was expanding ‘Information Operations’ on the Internet by setting up fake foreign news websites, designed to look like independent media sources but in reality carrying direct military propaganda,” Paul Joseph Watson wrote at the time.
In 2009, the US Air Force announced a “counter-blog” response plan aimed at fielding and reacting to material from bloggers who have “negative opinions about the US government and the Air Force.”
Watson noted that the plan was created by the public affairs arm of the Air Force and included a detailed twelve-point “counter blogging” flow-chart that dictated how officers should tackle what are described as “trolls,” “ragers,” and “misguided” online writers.