Warning to Scottish independence movement: GCHQ boasts of using “false flag operations” to manipulate online discourse and activism and generate outcomes it considers desirable, says journalist Glen Greenwald

THE Scottish independence movement should consider the implications of leaked GCHQ documents that boast of using ‘“false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else)  to manipulate online discourse and activism and generate outcomes it considers desirable’,  Glenn Greenwald – the journalist who broke the Snowden revelations –  has claimed in a series of reports published in 2014.

Image: GCHQ headquarters, Cheltenham England, released by Ministry of Defence under an Open Government Licence v1.0

What is GCHQ?

The UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is the centre for Her Majesty’s Government’s Signal Intelligence activities, responsible for gathering, analysing and distributing intelligence, collected from intercepted communications between people and from electronic communications.

According to its website, GCHQ employs over 6,000 people and has a budget, in combination with other security services organisations Military Intelligence, Section 5 (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) of over £2.5 billion per year:

‘Employing over 6,000 people from a range of diverse backgrounds, we strive to keep Britain safe and secure by working with our partners in the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and MI5. Our headquarters is based in Cheltenham, with regional hubs in Scarborough, Bude, Harrogate and Manchester.’

Greenwald’s article based on leaked security documents suggests that:

‘Among the core self-identified purposes of [GCHQ’s previously secret unit] JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable.”

“… the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. ‘

Democracy under threat

Arguably, the pro-Scottish independence YES campaign dominated online campaigning during the lead-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

However, if GCHQ is prepared to use the kinds of tactics mentioned above, this should worry the Scottish independence movement, particularly in light of recent concerns raised by experts at the London School of Economics (LSE) about the implications of unregulated online political campaigning and what this means for the UK’s electoral processes.

‘Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the [London School of Economics (LSE)], who heads [a] group made up of leading experts in the field, said that new forms of online campaigning had not only changed the ways that political parties target voters but, crucially, had also altered the ability of big money interests to manipulate political debate.’

‘”There is a real danger that public trust in the democratic process will be lost. There is real potential for foreign influence. We have now the ability to manipulate public opinion on a level we have never seen before. And the current framework is weak and helpless.”’

In light of a possible Scottish independence referendum in 2018-19 and given that Scottish independence is, by its nature, an existential threat to the UK state, it is worth considering how anti-independence forces might try and control the online campaigning environment in the future.

Interestingly,  from a Scottish perspective and in connection with Greenwald‘s report, GCHQ mentions the “UK” as one of its security priorities. GCHQ states on it’s FAQs web page:

‘… we all [GCHQ, MI5 and MI6] work to protect the UK, its citizens, and interests at home and abroad, against a variety of threats. Where GCHQ specialises in gaining intelligence from communications, MI5 and MI6 both deal with human intelligence. MI5 focuses their efforts within the UK and MI6 focuses on gathering intelligence outside the UK.

Leaked tactics

The following are relevant excerpts taken from Greenwald‘s report (NOTE: the following paragraphs are not in the original order in which they were published – read the original report in full here: https://theintercept.com/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipulation/).

‘… these GCHQ documents are the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations”’

‘I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.’

‘Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of articles about “dirty trick” tactics used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group).’

‘GCHQ describes the purpose of JTRIG in starkly clear terms: “using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world,” including “information ops (influence or disruption).”’

‘Critically, the “targets” for this deceit and reputation-destruction extend far beyond the customary roster of normal spycraft … In fact, the discussion of many of these techniques occurs in the context of using them in lieu of “traditional law enforcement” against people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, “hacktivism”, meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends.’

‘Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable.’

‘… the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. ‘

‘… Gabriella Coleman of McGill University told me, “targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent.” Pointing to this study she published, Professor Coleman vehemently contested the assertion that “there is anything terrorist/violent in their actions.”’

‘Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation. Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.’

Respectful debate key to healthy Scottish political system

Even if the kind of tactics, highlighted above, are not used directly by UK security services against pro-independece campaigners, it is always possible that other anti-independence actors could use these methods. Therefore, and in light of the fundamentally serious concerns raised here by Greenwald, campaigners involved in the YES movement would do well to consider how best they might handle these kinds of tactics.

One obvious conclusion is that threatening or abusive language or violent behaviour, can and will be used to undermine the Scottish independence movement.

Anyone indulging in such language or behaviour – either claiming to be pro or anti-independence – is working against the interests of the people of Scotland and, of course, the Scottish independence movement.

As Scotland’s First Minster,  Nicola Sturgeon, recently said:

“The Scottish Government has a special responsibility to build consensus where we can,” she said. “So I will ensure that at all times we make our case not just with passion and conviction, but with courtesy, empathy and respect.”

Read Greenwald‘s original report in full here: https://theintercept.com/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipulation/

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Tale of two stories: open source investigation into the #SyriaStrikes

OPEN SOURCE INVESTIGATION in the immediate aftermath of the US response to the recent gas attack in  Syria published yesterday (7th Apr 2017).

Last night, James Corbett, of the Corbett Report, published a summary of the contributions  he has received to his ongoing Open Source investigation into the recent gas attack in Syria and subsequent US missile attack on a Syrian air force base in the country.

The summary concludes with the following:

So what happened? Well, we have two stories to choose from.

The warmonger’s story is that Assad, being the most insane and suicidal leader in the history of the world, decided to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and gas some of his own citizens just as the world was contemplating leaving him alone.

The alternative story is that an airstrike on Idlib hit a chemical weapons stockpile that the terrorists had stored there, thus releasing the material on their own population.

Points in favor of the alternative story are numerous. They include:

  • The fact that the previous chemical weapons “red line” incident turned out to be a rebel attack, not a Syrian government attack.
  • The fact that the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stockpile was confirmed destroyed in 2014.
  • The fact that Seymour Hersh has confirmed that Hillary Clinton had approved sending sarin gas to the Libyan “rebels.”
  • And the fact that all of the information about the latest attack has come from The White Helmets, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other organizations that are funded by and in the interest of the US, UK and other belligerent governments.

So we arrive back at the key question about this series of events: cui bono?

Well, the warmongers get their Path to Persia.

But it’s not all bad news. At least we can laugh at the site of CNN anchors being shocked speechless by an unscripted moment of reality.

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Former CIA officer suggests that the narrative that Assad or Russia did it is a “sham,”

[AUDIO] The link below is to a conversation between the Managing Director of the Libertarian Institute and host of Antiwar Radio on Pacifica, Scott Horton and former CIA officer, Philip Giraldi, talking about the recent gas attack in Syria.

‘Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, says that “military and intelligence personnel,” “intimately familiar” with the intelligence, say that the narrative that Assad or Russia did it is a “sham,” instead endorsing the Russian narrative that Assad’s forces had bombed a storage facility. Giraldi’s intelligence sources are “astonished” about the government and media narrative and are considering going public out of concern over the danger of worse war there. Giraldi also observes that the Assad regime had no motive to do such a thing at this time.’

Click on the link below to listen to the full conversation.

4/6/17 Philip Giraldi says IC-Military Doubt Assad Gas Narrative

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Former British Ambassador to Syria says Idlib gas attack is possibly all “FAKE NEWS”

IN THIS MASH-UP VIDEO below, former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, says Idlib gas attack in Syria is possibly all “FAKE NEWS”, while Daniel McAdams, executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, asks why Assad would risk snatching defeat from the jaws of victory:

The mash-up above is made up of the most interesting sections of the two videos below.

The first video is former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, speaking on Sky News, saying he believes it is:

“highly unlikely” that Russia or the Assad regime was behind the gas attack in Idlib and that it is possible it is all “FAKE NEWS”

Former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, speaking on Sky News


The second video is Daniel McAdams, executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity talking with former Texas congressman, Ron Paul. Mr Paul says to Mr McAdams during the conversation:

“It makes no sense, even if you were totally separate from this and take no sides of this and you were just an analyst, it doesn’t make sense for Assad under these conditions to all of the sudden use poison gasses,” Paul continued. “I think it’s zero chance that he would have done this deliberately.”

Syria Gas Attack: Assad’s Doing…Or False Flag?

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Former British Ambassador expresses doubts about the US narrative regarding Syrian gas attack incident

Former British Ambassador, Craig Murray, commenting two days ago (6th Apr 17) on the gas attack incident in Syria expressed his doubts about the US narrative about the event. He wrote:

“What did happen I do not profess to know. There are at least eleven major identifiable state and non-state forces involved in the fighting around Idlib. In going through them all and considering opportunity and motive for each, I continually find that those whose motive would be false flag stand to benefit a great deal more than those who might have been seeking military advantage.

“I am therefore for now unconvinced that this was a deliberate use of chemical weapons by Assad forces. I do not rule it out, but it would take much more concrete evidence than currently offered to prove they did something so strongly and obviously against their own interest. But western governments and media have determined to make that the narrative, so the truth is, as so often in modern geo-politics, entirely incidental to the course of future events.”

Read Mr Murray’s full post at: https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2017/04/the-balance-of-probabilities/comment-page-4/#comment-667153

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Ecuador sees off Presidential bid by former banker Guillermo Lasso

Ecuador has voted against electing former banker with  alleged connections to offshore tax havens  President. Former banker, Guillermo Lasso’s bid for Presidency looks to have filed, The Canary has reported today.

https://pixabay.com/en/lizard-galapagos-echse-ecuador-2113966/

The Canary reports that:

“University of Missouri-Kansas City associate professor William K. Black wrote on 2 April, the election saw “Ecuador’s Tax Evading Oligarchs Try to Reconquer the Nation”. Black described Lasso, for example, as:

“a wealthy banker who runs a bank in Panama that is a leader in aiding Ecuador’s oligarchs to evade taxation through offshore tax havens. Lasso’s platform is the standard right-wing recipe that caused Ecuador’s recurrent economic, social, and political crises. Lasso proposes tax cuts for the wealthy, large cuts to education, health, and infrastructure, and financial deregulation… He is under investigation by Ecuador’s equivalent of the IRS for aiding tax evasion.”

“Given that Ecuadorians voted in February to bar all politicians and civil servants from having assets in tax havens, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Lasso didn’t manage to win the presidential election.”

Full story here:  https://www.thecanary.co/2017/04/04/sigh-relief-wikileaks-founder-julian-assange-echoes-across-internet/

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Protecting The City’s interests at heart of tensions over Gibraltar says City University Professor

Well surprise surprise, it is about protecting The City’s interests!

CommonSpace reporting today that Professor Richard Murphy at City University has suggested that tensions between the UK and Spain, over Gibraltar, are connected with the rocks tax heaven status.

Photos by Mark Freeth: https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetheimage/16394955099/
Photo by Mark Freeth: https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetheimage/16394955099/

‘Spain aggrieved at Gibraltar’s tax status – claims leading economics expert

‘THE SOLUTION TO A FUTURE CLASH between the Tory Westminster Government and Spain over the position of British overseas territory Gibraltar is to change its tax rules, according to an economics professor and leading campaigner for tax reform.

‘Richard Murphy, Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, has said that it’s Gibraltar’s “tax haven” policies that lie at the heart of political disputes over the rock’s position.

‘“The truth is it probably does not matter enormously to Spain to get Gibraltar back,” he said.

‘“On the other hand having a location at its southern tip deliberately run as a tax haven with the intention of undermining its tax revenues must be deeply aggravating, and that’s a precisely fair summary of what the UK is permitting. Of course Spain is rightly upset about that. And the EU is for this reason right to support Spain.”

‘“So the issue comes down to a straightforward question of why Spain should be expected to live with a hostile tax haven seeking to undermine its laws and taxes as its immediate neighbour and the answer is, quite reasonably, that this should not be happening,” he added.

‘“In which case the solution is to take the tax haven out of Gibraltar. At which point, I suggest, there won’t be much left to fight over.”’

See full article here: https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/10706/economics-professor-root-gibraltar-stramash-its-tax-haven-role

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Scotland’s culture secretary says new media “good thing for our society and our democracy”

‘Addressing the National Union of Journalists event, [Scotland’s culture secretary] Ms Hyslop [said] new media platforms like The Ferret and Common Space were’ operating with “innovative business models and are at the forefront of exploring ways in which journalism can adapt to the opportunities created by the digital economy.”

‘Ms Hyslop told the conference: “A greater diversity of voices can only be a good thing for our society and our democracy.”‘

Read full article at: http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/fiona-hyslop-strong-media-needed-to-separate-fact-from-opinion-in-indyref2-1-4409161

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