GCSB: harvesting Twitter & local journalists?

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The Intercept news agency is reporting this week that a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) development conference at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade Maryland held in 2009 was attended by over ‘100 Second party delegates.’

These second party delegates are the four other members of the Five Eyes (NZ, Australia, Canada and the UK). It is reasonable to assume that key employees of New Zealand’s GCSB were at this conference. This is an annual conference, thus an additional 4 or even 5 years of conferences and developments have happened since.

The topics of discussion at the conference display the degree of political manipulation deployed by these agencies within so-called democratic countries. These include targeting journalists in order to determine who is going to be a useful vehicle for distributing their messages:

The GCHQ document also describes a practice called “credential harvesting,” which NBC described as an effort to “select journalists who could be used to spread information” that the government wants distributed. According to the NBC report, GCHQ agents would employ “electronic snooping to identify non-British journalists who would then be manipulated to feed information to the target of a covert campaign.”

Other stunning revelations from these documents include the use of social media for the dissemination of propaganda. Specifically, they are interested in identifying the top Twitter users in a country, and if those users are in fact located where they believe they are. A new programme called ‘BLACKHOLE’ is the storage and processing facility for all this Twitter data. These agencies are then seeking to ‘craft messages to go viral.’

Along with the propaganda campaigns, the Five Eyes agencies are developing ‘mass messaging, pushing stories, developing aliases’ and using psychological operations (PSYOPS) to manipulate the online world.

Clearly, the implications of these tactics for people and regimes that resist the United States are clear: we have already seen the evidence of mass propaganda campaigns orchestrated against Cuba and Venezuela. It is not yet evident how much New Zealand’s own GCSB is engaging in these tactics with trade partners or Pacific Island ‘friends’. Indeed, it is unclear if such tactics are being deployed against New Zealanders on a personal level either by the GCSB or other Five Eyes agencies.

These revelations about journalistic manipulation should be a call to arms by the NZ fourth estate: there should be no rest for the Government on questions about what these spy agencies are actually doing. The daily deluge of information about the Five Eyes must be applied to NZ’s activities.

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