In the middle of the UK’s fast-tracked debate on rushing through ‘emergency’ snooping legislation, Glen Greenwald has released documents (available in full here) showing GCHQ’s toolkit for underhandedly manipulating information available on the internet.
These covert tools allow GCHQ to:
- ‘Artificially increase traffic to a website’ (GATEWAY)
- ‘Change outcome of online polls’ (UNDERPASS)
- ‘Spoof… emails from Blackberry targets (SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE)
- ‘Masquerade Facebook Wall Posts for individuals or entire countries (CLEAN SWEEP)
- Artificially ‘increase website hits/rankings (BOMB BAY)
- ‘Amplif[y] a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube)’ (GESTATOR)
Greewald reveals in an article in The Intercept that these tools were created by GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), ‘and constitute some of the most startling methods of propaganda and internet deception contained within the Snowden archive.’
In addition to a suite of scary surveillance tools (such as the ability to spy on eBay, YouTube and Facebook users), charming JTRIG tactics revealed in the documents include ‘fake honey traps’ and ‘fake victim blog posts’.
Tellingly, no mention is made in the document of legal restrictions, or the extent to which the tools have been deployed.
When asked by Greewald to comment on the article,
‘GCHQ refused to provide any comment on the record beyond its standard boilerplate, in which it claims that it acts “in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework” and is subject to “rigorous oversight.”
Greenwald describes both claims as being ‘questionable’, noting that,
‘Several GCHQ memos published last fall by The Guardian revealed that the agency was eager to keep its activities secret not to protect national security, but because “our main concern is that references to agency practices (ie, the scale of interception and deletion) could lead to damaging public debate which might lead to legal challenges against the current regime.”’
He also points outs that an EU parliamentary inquiry earlier this year concluded that GCHQ activities were likely illegal, and that the idea of legal oversight is meaningless when senior cabinet members were in ‘utter ignorance’ GHCQ’s Tempura program.