Glenn Greenwald’s latest headline screams: How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations.
But again we find the article itself does not support the almost comically paranoid headline, and again the source for the claim is a series of PowerPoint slides with very little detail and no context.
The documents appear to be British studies and training documents about online manipulation and social engineering techniques (also known as “trolling”), to be used internally by GCHQ. There is not a single shred of evidence in these documents to show that any GCHQ agent is “infiltrating” anything; no programs, no cases, no reports, nothing.
And Greenwald acknowledges this — but as usual, you have to read down to paragraph 18 after tons of overheated commentary to find it:
We submitted numerous questions to GCHQ, including: (1) Does GCHQ in fact engage in “false flag operations” where material is posted to the Internet and falsely attributed to someone else?; (2) Does GCHQ engage in efforts to influence or manipulate political discourse online?; and (3) Does GCHQ’s mandate include targeting common criminals (such as boiler room operators), or only foreign threats?
As usual, they ignored those questions and opted instead to send their vague and nonresponsive boilerplate: “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”
Yes, that’s correct — Greenwald does not know whether any of the techniques explained in these documents were ever used by GCHQ in the real world. There’s certainly no evidence of it in the PowerPoint slides he published here; so how can he justify the statement made by his headline?
But he actually goes even further in the conclusion to the article:
Claims that government agencies are infiltrating online communities and engaging in “false flag operations” to discredit targets are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt they are doing precisely that.
In reality, the documents show no proof — or even any evidence — that “government agencies” are infiltrating anything, but Greenwald has done his best to obscure this crucial point with his usual reams of exaggerated verbiage.
But I do have to admit it’s more than a little ironic that someone who was himself caught red-handed using sock puppets (false identities) to manipulate online communities is pointing fingers at “government agencies.”
Misleading, hyperbolic headlines totally unsupported by evidence — is this the future of journalism?
UPDATE at 2/25/14 1:54:06 pm
Bob Cesca points out another problem with generalizing and leaping to conclusions from PowerPoint slides: