One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.
What this means: if you visited WikiLeaks.org your IP may have been logged and stored by GCHQ. Your IP address is assigned by your ISP. This is the company that you pay, with your credit card or bank account, to use the Internet in your home. You are now in the system. Take heed, those who have nothing to hide. It has been confirmed. We’re on a list.
According to the documents released by Snowden, The Pirate Bay and Anonymous collectives may have also been targeted. Needless to say, The Pirate Bay has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. This is the world’s most advanced spy agency enforcing corporate interests and monitoring individual habits: the television shows, movies, books, games and pornography you download.
If the NSA and GCHQ are collecting the IP information en masse of all visitors to subversive websites, as well as torrent habits from The Pirate Bay, this may allow a revealing profile to be built of you. Yes, you. Not Mr. Jihad in Pakistan, but Sally Student and Mrs. Soccer Mom in Pleasantville, USA.
The full 40 page leak can be found at Greenwald’s new media outlet The Intercept. (Psychology: A New Kind of SIGDEV.)
I have never been a fan of conspiracy theories. I don’t think that the US government killed J.F.K., nor that the World Trade Center was the result of a government controlled demolition. I don’t believe in chemtrails, nor that fluoride is poisoning my precious bodily fluids. Imagine my surprise when Snowden’s leaked documents, which largely have to do with psychological operations, sound exactly like many of the things conspiracy theorists have been saying.
For example, they reveal that GCHQ is profiling Mac versus Windows users, as well as Firefox, Chrome and Explorer users, based on the Five Factor Model of personality. This may be used to blend in among, or infiltrate, subversive elements by the use of mirroring, mimicry, and accommodation. Not my words — these are from the leaked files. What they imply is that, by profiling the psychological traits of individuals based on operating system choice, browser usage and, of course, websites visited, intelligence may be able to learn more about targets. Perhaps even blend in among them. Particular websites targeted, according to the documents, are Blogger, FaceBook and YouTube.
This has a chilling effect. Knowing this one must ask: if someone expresses agreement with you on a subversive issue, such as anti-state activism or NSA spying, do they really agree or is this an intelligence operative engaging in — as the leak states — mirroring, mimicry, and accommodation to gain your trust.
Again, it sounds like crazy conspiracy theory talk. And yet there it is.
Most of the information from Greenwald and Gallagher regarding this leak focuses on: the bulk collection of IP addresses, state desire to prosecute WikiLeaks, and state desire to classify WikiLeaks as a “malicious foreign actor.” There is little discussion of the bulk psychological profiling. Here are the three frames that I find most interesting:
This is the based on the Five Factor Model of personality — the theory, roughly, that individual personalities consist of varied levels of extroversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, and openness to experience. The idea may be that by understanding the personality traits of unknown or anonymous individual targets it will be easier to identify, infiltrate or manipulate said targets. For example, the Internet Explorer user may be more susceptible to manipulations that play off of his or her higher conscientiousness. The Firefox user may be more susceptible to ploys involving his or her greater neuroticism.
I am skeptical as to how much information this alone can provide, or how useful it would be. But that seems to be the general idea.
Here is the next:
This follows a slide of a FaceBook page that has been blacked out. According to the leaked documents, the NSA is able to monitor FaceBook “likes” in real time. The slide show does not describe each slide in depth. All we know is that this is in the context of FaceBook and real-time monitoring of “likes.” This is my guess: by viewing what articles, comments or information a target on FaceBook “likes” this provides a degree of certainty of the target’s profile. As a result, disclosure of who the target is, what the target’s beliefs, feelings or thoughts are, and so on.
This is the next slide. It describes the psychological basis and application of an infiltration technique. What I mean by this is gaining the confidence or trust of a target for intelligence purposes. This could be used to enter into the group or the subculture. It could also be used to gain information about the target. We have four levels of “feeling out” the target: superficial, intimate, personal and core. The core, being accepted into the group or gaining the desired information, is the goal.
Above, top left, explains the psychological basis for how this is done: mirroring, mimicry and accommodation. This is psychological terminology you may be familiar with. These concepts largely involve liking, rapport building, and persuasion. Mirroring, for example, occurs naturally when two people are attracted to one another. Research has shown that people naturally mirror the postures, facial expressions and tone of those they like. Intentional mirroring and mimicry can be techniques to build rapport or persuade. For a bit more information on mimicry and mirroring from Psychology Today: Mimicry and Mirroring Can be Good… or Bad.
Accommodation is an idea popularized by Jean Piaget in his model of child cognitive development. It is the change in mental concepts to integrate new ones. However, the term may be used here simply as an additional rapport-building technique. In this context, accommodation is similar to reciprocity. These are also persuasion and rapport building techniques.
And there it is: traditional spycraft. The harvesting of bulk data is used to locate potential targets may be new, but old fashioned psychological manipulation is still what gets you through the door.