The Pentagon has ordered an extensive audit of the way it conducts the clandestine information warfare after major social media companies identified and removed fake accounts suspected of being run by the US military from the web, violating the platforms’ rules.
Colin Kahldeputy secretary of defense for policy, last week instructed military commanders involved in online psychological operations to submit a full accounting of their activities by next month, after the White House and some federal agencies expressed growing concern about the attempted manipulation of the Defense Department from overseas hearings, according to several defense and administration officials familiar with the matter.
Internet researchers graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory revealed last month that Twitter Y Facebook In recent years, more than 150 fake media characters and sites created in USA. Although investigators did not attribute the fake accounts to the US military, two officials familiar with the matter said the United States Central Command he is among those whose activities are being examined. Like others interviewed for this report, they spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations.
Investigators did not specify when the recalls occurred, but people familiar with the matter said they occurred within the last two to three years. Some were recent, they said, referring to posts from the summer advancing anti-Russian narratives by citing the war.”imperialist” of Kremlin in Ukraine and warning of the direct impact of the conflict in the countries of Central Asia. Significantly, fictional characters – employing tactics used by countries such as Russia Y China– did not gain much traction, and that open accounts attracted more followers.
The centcombased in Tampais responsible for military operations in 21 countries of middle East, North Africa Y Central Asia and of South. A spokesman declined to comment.
Air Force Brigadier General patrick ryderpress secretary of the Pentagon, said in a statement that the military’s information operations “support our national security priorities” and must be conducted in accordance with relevant laws and policies. “We are committed to enforcing those safeguards“, said.
According to the investigators’ report, the deleted accounts included a fabricated Persian-language media site that shared forwarded content from the Voice of America Farsi Y Radio Free Europefinanced by USA. Another, according to the report, was linked to a Twitter which in the past had claimed to operate on behalf of the centcom.
A fake account posted an incendiary tweet claiming that relatives of deceased Afghan refugees had denounced the return of bodies since Iran with missing organs, according to the report. The tweet linked to a video that was part of an article posted on a website affiliated with the US military.
centcom it has not commented on whether these accounts were created by its staff or by contractors. If the organ harvesting tweet is proven to be from centcoma defense official said, would be “absolutely a violation of doctrine and training practices”.
Regardless of the report Washington Post has learned that in 2020 Facebook deactivated fictional characters created by the centcom to counter misinformation spread by China which suggested that the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19 It had been created in a US Army laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland, according to officials familiar with the matter. Pseudo-profiles – active in groups of Facebook who conversed in Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, officials said – were used to amplify truthful information from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the origin of the virus in China.
The US government’s use of fake social media accounts, while authorized by law and policy, has sparked controversy within the US government. Joe Bidenand the White House has pressed the Pentagon to clarify and justify its policies. To White Houseto organizations such as the Department of State and even some officials of the Defense Department they are concerned that the policies are too broad, allowing leeway for tactics that, even if used to spread truthful information, risk eroding the credibility of USAseveral US officials said.
“Our adversaries are operating absolutely in the information domaina second senior defense official said. “There are some who think we shouldn’t do anything clandestine in that space. Giving up an entire domain to an adversary would not be wise. But we need a stronger surveillance policy.”
A spokeswoman for National Security Councilwhich is part of the White Housedeclined to comment.
kahl unveiled its review at a virtual meeting convened by the National Security Council on Tuesday, saying he wants to know what types of operations have been carried out, who they are targeting, what tools are being used and why military commanders have chosen those tactics, and how effective they have been, several officials said.
The message was essentially:They have to justify to me why they are doing this kind of thing”, said the first defense official.
The politics and doctrine of Pentagon they discourage the military from spreading falsehoods, but there are no specific rules that require the use of truthful information in psychological operations. For example, the military sometimes uses fiction and satire for persuasive purposes, but messages are generally assumed to be factual, officials said.
In 2020, officials from Facebook Y Twitter they contacted him Pentagon to raise concern about the fake accounts they were having to remove, suspecting they were associated with the military. That summer, David Agranovichdirector of Facebook for global threat disruption, spoke with Christopher C Millerthen deputy director of Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflictwhich oversees influencer operations policy, warning him that if Facebook could find out, so could Facebook’s adversaries. USAsaid several people familiar with the conversation.
“His point”, said one person, “was ‘Guys, you’ve been caught. That is a problem’”.
Before Miller could take action, he was appointed to lead another agency: the National Counterterrorism Center. Then came the November election and time ran out for the Trump administration to address the issue, though Miller spent the last weeks of the presidency of donald trump as Acting Secretary of Defense.
With the rise of Russia Y China as strategic competitors, military commanders have wanted to fight back, even online. And Congress has supported it. Frustrated by perceived legal obstacles to the ability of the Defense Department to carry out clandestine activities in cyberspace, Congress passed a law in late 2019 stating that the military could carry out operations in the “information environment” to defend USA and to deal with foreign disinformation aimed at undermining their interests. The measure, known as Section 1631allows the military to carry out clandestine psychological operations without crossing what the CIA has claimed as its covert authorityalleviating some of the frictions that had hampered such operations previously.
“The combat commanders got very excited”, the first defense officer recalled. “They were very eager to use these new authorities. Defense contractors were equally eager to secure lucrative classified contracts to enable clandestine influence operations.”
At the same time, the official said, military leaders were not trained to oversee “technically complex operations carried out by contractors” or coordinate such activities with other interested parties in the government of USA.
Last year, with a new administration, Agranovichof Facebook, tried again. This time she took her complaint to the president’s deputy national security adviser. Biden for cyber matters, Anne Neuberger. Agranovichwho had worked in the NSC under the command of Trumphe told Neuberger that Facebook was removing the fake accounts because they violated the company’s terms of service, according to people familiar with the exchange.
The accounts were easily detected by Facebook, which since the Russian campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election has improved its ability to identify fake characters and sites. In some cases, the company had removed profiles, which appeared to be associated with the military, that promoted information deemed false by fact-checkers, a person familiar with the matter said.
Agranovich He also spoke with officials of the Pentagon. His message was: “We know what the Department of Defense is doing. Violate our policies. We will enforce our policies,” so “the Department of Defense should stop doing that,” said a US official briefed on the matter.
In response to the concerns of the White House, kahl ordered a review of the Military Information Support Operationsor MISO, the name of the Pentagon for psychological operations. One draft concluded that policies, training and supervision needed to be more stringent, and that coordination with other agencies, such as the Department of State and the INCshould be strengthened, according to officials.
The review also found that while there were cases where the military promoted fictitious informationwere the result of inadequate oversight of contractors and staff training, and not systemic problems, officials said.
The address of Pentagon did little with the review, two officials said, before graphika Y Stanford released their report on August 24, prompting an avalanche of news and questions for the military.
The Department of State and the INC they have expressed concern about the use of clandestine tactics by the military. State officials have warned the Department of Defense: “Hey, don’t amplify our policies by using fake personas, because we don’t want to be seen as creating bogus grassroots efforts.”, said the first Defense official.
One diplomat put it this way:In general, we should not employ the same type of tactics that our opponents use because, ultimately, our morale is high. We are a society built on a set of values. We promote those values around the world, and when we use tactics like these, it only undermines our argument about who we are.”.
Psychological operations to promote the narrative of USA overseas are nothing new in the military, but the popularity of Western social media around the world has led to an expansion of tactics, including the use of artificial people and images – sometimes called “deep fakes”. The logic is that views expressed by what appears to be, say, an Afghan woman or an Iranian student may be more persuasive than if they were openly pushed by the US government. USA.
Most of the army’s influence operations are open, promoting the policies of USA in middle East, Asia and other places under his own name, officials said. And there are valid reasons to use clandestine tactics, such as trying to infiltrate a closed terrorist chat group, they said.
A key question for high-level policymakers now is whether the military’s execution of clandestine influence operations is working. “Is it worth squeezing the juice? Does our approach really have the ROI potential we hoped for or is it just causing more challenges?” said one person familiar with the debate.
The report of graphika Y Stanford suggests that clandestine activity did not have much of an impact. He notes that the “vast majority of posts and tweets” reviewed received “no more than a handful of comments.” likes either retweets”, and only 19% of the invented accounts had more than 1,000 followers. “Revealingly,” the report stated that “the two most followed assets in the data provided by Twitter they were open accounts publicly declaring a connection to the US military.”
Clandestine influence operations play a supporting role to military operationsbut it must be a narrow paper with a “intrusive monitoring” by military and civilian leaders, said Michael Lumpkina former senior official of the Pentagon who handles information operations policy and a former head of the State Department’s Center for Global Engagement. “Otherwise we risk making more enemies than friends.”
(C) The Washington Post.-
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