…as the Snowden revelations have demonstrated, what the NSA and US military cannot do legally, they will do illegally. And if the military or NSA are not doing it, then some other agency — or perhaps arms-length private intelligence contractors — are doing legally or illegally.
In 2011, activists claiming to belong to Anonymous hacked private intelligence contractor HBGary. The resulting treasure trove of leaked documents, among other things, proved the US military had ordered persona management software — sometimes called "Metal Gear" — that would allow, per installation, fifty people to control up to 500 fake Twitter accounts. The contracts stipulated that the sock puppet accounts be “replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally, and geographically consistent.”
Since then, automated and fake Twitter activity has soared. Research suggests that at least ten percent of all Twitter accounts are automated or fake. Last year, it was revealed that the South Korean National Intelligence Service pumped out 1.2 million fake tweets in a bid to swing an election toward their preferred presidential candidate. A similar phenomenon occurred during the 2011 Russian elections — although the Russian government’s involvement was never proven.
The NSA and US military are no doubt engaged in comparable tactics. No legal prohibition exists for the use of propaganda overseas. If the NSA wants to run a Twitter botnet of sock puppet accounts to influence public opinion in, say, Australia (a country that suffers from decades of covert American manipulation), there’s no legal barrier stopping them from doing so.
But what about propaganda on Twitter aimed at the US domestic population? The 2013 NDAA legalized the use of some propaganda domestically, specifically propaganda created by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (or BBG, the producers of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe). These changes to the law did not, contrary to much reporting at the time, authorize the US military to engage in domestic propaganda, or to target US citizens.
Just one problem, notes Kade Crockford of the ACLU’s Privacy SOS project. “The military operates on the ‘reasonable belief’ test — is this person or group American or not? But online, how do you tell who is and is not an American? Twitter bios can lie, and what about people who use VPNs or TOR to mask their IP addresses?” To say nothing of the six million US citizens who live abroad.
And what if the US government is producing propaganda in English aimed at other English-speaking countries? “Most people in the US speak English. That means online, Americans will be exposed to that propaganda,” Crockford notes. “If this is, in fact, the case, it would be a lot more problematic than, say, propaganda in Chinese or Russian or Arabic.”
More, at The Medium