Own up! Which one of you is a USA spy?
US propaganda to be spread via 500 fake social network accounts
The US military is developing 500 fake social networking profiles to spread American propaganda in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The $2.76 million (£1.71 million) project, spearheaded by the US Central Command, will involve the creation of an “online persona management service” that allows one US serviceman to control ten “persona” — or fake identities — each.
Once developed, the software will be licensed to 50 users who will be able to set up 500 identities, known colloquially as “sock puppets”, on popular websites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Sophisticated tracking software will allow the US to insert a fake identity virtually anywhere in the world. From there the military could provide ostensibly live commentary on real events, such as protests, even when thousands of miles away. Chat rooms, blog posts, tweets and other social media can all be infiltrated.
Each identity would come with its own detailed backstory, “replete with history, supporting details and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent”, according to a document released by the Central Command. Encrypted technology will allow each “puppet” to operate “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries”.
Commander Bill Speaks, of Central Command, told The Times that the contract “involved no violations of laws in the US or elsewhere”. He said: “The activities are classified, but the programme is to counter violent extremism and enemy propoganda.”
There was a “false impression” that the programme would be used to target US and British audiences, he said. “That’s simply not true.”
US attempts to manipulate social networks follow similar efforts by more repressive regimes, from Tehran to Beijing. Twenty months ago the Iranian police tracked the electronic trails left by activists of the Green Revolution, monitoring them through fake Twitter accounts. Such electronic surveillance led led to thousands of arrests in the crackdown that followed the protests.
“The Iranian Government has become much more adept at using the Internet to go after activists,” Faraz Sanei, who tracks Iran at Human Rights Watch, told The New York Times in January. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard controls a “cyber army” of hackers that it can unleash against opponents, he said.
The US contract, which was awarded to Ntrepid, a newly formed US corporation, calls for “traffic mixing”, a process that blends a user’s traffic with that of many others outside the military. The technique “provides excellent cover and powerful deniability”, Central Command noted.
According to the US website Crunch Gear, Ntrepid’s website is registered to a company called Domains By Proxy, whose slogan is: “Remember, your identity is nobody’s business but ours.”