Just a quick source for anyone who wants to download a collection of (some of) the information leaked by Edward Snowden.
Just a quick source for anyone who wants to download a collection of (some of) the information leaked by Edward Snowden.
I know I missed it.
The Guardian, some time ago, reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) targeted political activists and environmentalists for specific surveillance. According to The Guardian, this domestic spying was motivated in part by the risk of domestic unrest due to climate change. In 2006, the NSA stated:
“Environmental destruction, whether caused by human behavior or cataclysmic mega-disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis. Problems of this scope may overwhelm the capacity of local authorities to respond, and may even overtax national militaries, requiring a larger international response.”
Climate change is controversial, but we know one thing: the NSA is concerned about it.
How risky is it to use the words “bomb,” “plague,” or “gun” online? That was a question we posed, tongue in cheek, with a web toy we built last year called Hello NSA. It offers users suggested tweets that use words that drawn from a list of watchwords that analysts at the Dept. of Homeland Security are instructed to search for on social media. “Stop holding my love hostage,” one of the tweets read. “My emotions are like a tornado of fundamentalist wildfire.”
It was silly, but it was also imagined as an absurdist response to the absurdist ways that dragnet surveillance of the public and non-public Internet jars with our ideas of freedom of speech and privacy.
And yet, after reading the mounting pile of NSA PowerPoints, are all of us as comfortable as we used to be Googling for a word like “anthrax,” even if we were simply looking up our favorite thrash metal band? Maybe not.
According to a new study of Google search trends, searches for terms deemed to be sensitive to government or privacy concerns have dropped “significantly” in the months since Edward Snowden’s revelations in July.
“It seemed very possible that we would see no effect,” MIT economist Catherine Tucker and digital privacy advocate Alex Marthews write. “However, we do in fact see an overall roughly 2.2 percentage point fall in search traffic on ‘high government trouble’-rated search terms.”
Here is the abstract:
This paper uses data from Google Trends on search terms from before and after the surveillance revelations of June 2013 to analyze whether Google users’ search behavior shifted as a result of an exogenous shock in information about how closely their internet searches were being monitored by the U. S. government. We use data from Google Trends on search volume for 282 search terms across eleven different countries. These search terms were independently rated for their degree of privacy-sensitivity along multiple dimensions. Using panel data, our result suggest that cross-nationally, users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the U. S. government. In the U. S., this was the main subset of search terms that were affected. However, internationally there was also a drop in traffic for search terms that were rated as personally sensitive. These results have implications for policy makers in terms of understanding the actual effects on search behavior of disclosures relating to the scale of government surveillance on the Internet and their potential effects on international competitiveness.
Marthews, Alex and Tucker, Catherine, Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior (March 24, 2014). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2412564 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2412564
Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept has released the latest Edward Snowden leak: a Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) slide show, from the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), titled The Art Of Deception: Training for A New Generation of Online Covert Operations. This information demonstrates how GCHQ has gone beyond spying and beyond focusing on threats to national security. Terrorism is no longer the focus. Instead, GCHQ has adopted tactics designed entrap, defame and derail. From Greenwald, How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations:
Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.
Slide 47 from the leak. This is not threat-finding. It is an attack plan. According to Greenwald:
Critically, the “targets” for this deceit and reputation-destruction extend far beyond the customary roster of normal spycraft: hostile nations and their leaders, military agencies, and intelligence services. In fact, the discussion of many of these techniques occurs in the context of using them in lieu of “traditional law enforcement” against people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, “hacktivism”, meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends.
Any shred of optimism regarding the NSA, GCHQ and the “Five Eyes” has gone out the window. The mission has little to do with terrorism and security. They are openly discussing attacking individuals and engaging in corporate espionage. You are not going to stop the next Bin Laden by changing his FaceBook photo or sending mean text messages to his friends. These are tactics specifically used to harm individuals who do not align themselves with government interests.
The leaks illustrate psychological techniques to infiltrate and disrupt groups, disseminate false information, ruin reputations, and misdirect the flow of information on the Internet. We’re not talking al-Qaeda and child pornography on the Darknet. We’re not talking about people who have been charged with any crime. And certainly not about a military target in a war zone. This is about stifling the average man and woman.
But these GCHQ documents are the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends. Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?
Imagine if it were you: an animal rights activist, an anarchist, environmentalist, Second Amendment activist, a member of a militia or an “extreme” religious group, an Orthodox Jew or a Southern Baptist, a homosexual, a tax protester, or a member of an unpopular political party. You become the target. And you find people are spreading lies about you on the Internet, harassing your family, sabotaging your business relationships and attempting to entrap you. All the tactics revealed in these leaks.
And then you find it that it was not just people — it was your own government. You were being attacked by the government you pay for with your taxes. They are spreading false information and attempting to disrupt your work. And you have never committed a crime. In fact, you have never even been charged with a crime. The entire campaign against you is extra-judicial. You have been deemed a domestic enemy of the state.
And you have no recourse, because the government has decided you are the enemy. You cannot fight it in a court, report it to an authority with oversight, open a lawsuit or even confirm for certain that you are a target.
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.
Not long ago a story made the rounds about the National Security Agency’s creepy, Orwellian logo. It is exactly as it seems. This is a real logo, from the NSA/NSO, for a spy satellite. While the octopus motif is used overwhelmingly a negative context, this is not the first time octopus symbolism has been appropriated by a spy agency to represent itself. In 2007, India adopted the symbolism of the octopus in the form of an acronym. Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy, Chief Minister of the Andhra Pradesh cabinet, created the Organization for Counter Terrorist Operations (OCTOPUS). A classic case of choosing the acronym before the name.
The National Reconnaissance Organization satellite carried a secret payload and twelve spy satellites. In yet another Orwellian twist, Karen Furgerson, spokesperson for the NRO, said, “NROL-39 is represented by the octopus, a versatile, adaptable, and highly intelligent creature.” This is transparently disingenuous. It would be neigh impossible not to recognize that the octopus would be viewed in a negative light. The octopus has been used to represent a creeping, strangling force emanating from area. Two very common themes have historically been depictions of communist and Jewish conspiracies. However, the octopus motif is by no means limited to these. It has been used to represent political parties within the United States, the federal government, law enforcement agencies, and most Western countries at one point or another. During WWII it was used by the Japanese to depict the USA, by the Chinese to depict Russia and by the Americans to depict the Japanese. Vulgar Army has dedicated an entire website to the portrayal of the evil octopus as a political motif if you’d like to see examples and read more.
The evil octopus motif is characterized by its grandiosity. Not only does it extend its many tentacles of influence, but it is enormous. The symbolism is not of a small threat, not of something realistic nor lifelike, but exaggerated and eminent. It is often depicted, as for NROL-39, reaching out over the entire world. In other forms of propaganda, it may be reaching out from one country to another. Even at its smallest scale the octopus may still be influencing an entire community or a neighborhood.
The political cartoon above depicts the conspiratorial octopus. Its tentacles are politicians, the narcotics bureau, police officers, drug traffickers and drug pushers. The lone, street-level dealer and the street drug consumer are influenced by the very tip of a tentacle. This was a cartoon from 1979, when the Australian Federal Police Act of 1979 was passed. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was merged with the new organization. Australia, too, has issues with the involvement between government, police and organized crime, serving dual roles as enforcers and importers, in the drug war. In a US American context, the most widely-known example is the CIA’s (alleged) involvement with cocaine trafficking. Cocaine provided the funds for the Contras to act as a US proxy against the Nicaraguan government.
Above is a political cartoon circa 1950, when Presidential Truman declared a State of Emergency to utilize Presidential war powers. The cartoon still resonates in 2014 in the wake of the NSA scandal, the PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo Bay and over a decade of additional encroachments upon liberty. As the cartoon indicates, the Korean War was initially referred to not as a war, but as a “police action,” one that influenced not only military endeavors in Korea but also domestically. The octopus is a spectre, a ghost of the Truman administration sneaking up on the Constitution. The symbolism could not be more clear.
The United States of America itself, including the US military, has also been depicted as a meddling cephalopod. A Latin American anti-war group, SOA Watch, brought the octopus motif into the 21st century. The School of the Americas (SOA), now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is a United States Department Of Defense training center. It was found to have trained and taught torture (or is it enhanced interrogation?) techniques to Latin American forces in the 1980s. It helped prop up pro-US dictatorial regimes. It aided in stamping out free political and religious groups. After the Cold War it shifted its attention to the War on Drugs, which continues to be its primary focus today.
The United States, specifically the US military, is depicted with a human skull in place of the body, dollar signs in its eye sockets. The text in English reads: “Close the school of assassins. Never more. It’s enough.”
A French anti-colonialist propaganda poster uses a similar motif, with a very patriotic octopus who shares similar eyes. In English: “No! France will not be a colonial country. The Americans in America!”
Both share a similar theme. The octopus is, primarily, a representation of the United States of America. It is crossing an ocean or reaching across with its tentacles. It looks out with dollar signs in its eyes, either being driven by profit or seeking gain. And it looks to influence foreign nations against their will. The symbolism is distinctly negative. This brings us back to an initial question. Why an intelligence agency appropriate a motif that has historically been used to depict various entities in a sinister, nefarious fashions?
One can only speculate. Perhaps it is intentionally Orwellian in nature. By appropriating a symbol you control it. It’s a form of Newspeak. The octopus is no longer a slimy predator, but it is, as Furgerson said, a symbol of “versatility” or “adaptability.” Maybe it is deliberately being used for the intimidation factor. Psychology is the name of the game and it is just as important to the NSA that you believe “Nothing is Beyond Our Reach” as it is for the motto to be a reality. If people are not afraid they will not implicitly consent nor comply. Maybe someone pushed a tongue-in-cheek idea through to poke fun at the growing mistrust of the American surveillance apparatus. Maybe someone just likes octopi and appreciates how versatile they are.
The USA may have also passed the point of being redeemable in the public eye. The a recent Gallup poll found that the USA is overwhelmingly viewed internationally as the world’s greatest threat to peace. Perhaps, like an evil organization from a James Bond movie, the USA will embrace its new image and utilize it to the fullest. Fear is an effective tactic. If the new plan is to eschew good PR for results, a shift toward fear-based imagery and terminology may be on the horizon. Maybe the NSA is trying to frighten you.