Monday, September 26, 2011

Echelon 2 - Persona Management and Operation "Earnest Voice"

Echelon 2

CENTCOM is the United States Central Military Command. CENTCOM have been issuing solicitations for military contractors to provide surveillance, Persona Management, and attribution capabilities to the US Military since at least 2010, when the USAF called for intelligence contractors to bid on the production of persona management software to be run out of several Air Force bases maintained joinly with CENTCOM. The main CENTCOM operation involving the use of persona management seems to be known internally as Operation Earnest Voice. After the persona management issue came to light in February of 2011 after e-mails taken from HBGary were analyzed by journalists and Anonymous activists, Gen. Petraeus addressed Congress on the subject; the transcript is here.

"Guernica: What other ways does the military spin American citizens and journalists?

Michael Hastings: The U.S. mission that trains Afghans is called NTM-A/CSTC-A, it’s an $11.6 million a year mission and their sole purpose is to train the Afghan army and police. But one of their major initiatives this year was getting all of their officers on Facebook. So the question is, Why are these people who are there to train the Afghans being pressured to be on Facebook? Again, it sounds benign until you realize that the military’s concern isn’t the Afghans, it’s convincing the American people that we should be in Afghanistan.
Guernica: How is being on Facebook supposed to accomplish that?

Michael Hastings: Soldiers can put up pictures and say “See how happy the Afghans are because of our presence here.” It’s a way to directly influence the American people using propaganda. But one of the absurdly comic things… I had this chart that listed the top 100 Facebook users in this one command. Over a two-month period they used ninety-nine days’ worth of Facebook and forty-five gigabytes—so much that the base’s network slowed down. This is all taxpayer-funded. And then you have this new program that they’re developing, which I didn’t get into in my story. A $200 million contract just got awarded to develop software to provide the Department of Defense with all these sock puppets who have fake Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Guernica: Explain that.

Michael Hastings: A new software is being developed so the psychological operations guys and the Pentagon’s strategic communications guys—and we don’t really know who’s running it—but this is all totally out in the open. It’s this new program that will allow them to have like ten fake Twitter accounts and ten Facebook accounts so you can pretend…
Guernica: So you’re saying people at the DOD will be creating phony users on Facebook and Twitter?
Michael Hastings: Exactly. It’s called Operation Earnest Voice. It’s incredible when you think of the power of this. Why not create ten fake Libyan Twitter users and then get one journalist to follow them. But the problem is, of course, it corrupts the entire process. One of the caveats is that [the DOD says] anything they write is going to be in a foreign language so it won’t affect Americans. But that doesn’t make any sense because: A) it can be translated pretty easily, and B) Americans also speak other languages."

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