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article imageUS military using ‘sock puppets’ to spread online propaganda

By Lynn Herrmann     Mar 22, 2011 in Politics
Washington - Software being developed by the US military will allow it to create fake personas to covertly manipulate social media, influence online discussions and spread pro-American propaganda "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries."
US Central Command (Centcom) has awarded a contract to a California corporation to create an “Online Persona Management Service” allowing users to have multiple online personas, or sock puppets, from the same workstation. These multiple “cyber presences” will have the ability to appear from any location in the world, interacting “through conventional online services and social media platforms,” and will only be used on non-American websites, according to contract stipulations.
The Guardian reports that Centcom has confirmed the awarding of a $2.7 million contract to Ntrepid, a new corporation registered in Los Angeles. Centcom did not disclose whether the project is currently operating nor would it discuss any contracts related to the subject.
The software, once developed, will allow US military personnel to operate around the clock, from “the same workstation” and give each serviceman or woman the ability to control up to 10 separate identities at the same time.
The contract states that
Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries.
The software will also include a Secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) allowing users to obtain randomly selected IP addresses for internet access. A daily rotation of those IP addresses will prevent “compromise during observation of likely or targeted web sites or services, while hiding the existence of the operation.”
According to the contract specifications, this type of “traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability.”
The multi-persona contract is believed to be part of a program called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), first created in Iraq and used as a psychological weapon against al-Qaida’s online presence and other anti-American elements. The Guardian notes OEV is now believed to be a $200 million program used against jihadists throughout the Middle East.
Last year, speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. David Petraeus, then Centcom commander, called OEV “the critical program of record” and said it was used to “counter extremist ideology and propaganda and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard,” according to his Posture Statement before the committee.
Petraeus’ successor, Gen. James Mattis, told the same committee this month that OEV “supports all activities associated with degrading the enemy narrative, including web engagement and web-based product distribution capabilities,” according to his committee statement (pdf).
The Guardian reports Centcom has said the new software is not designed for English conversations. Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: “The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the U.S.” He added it is unlawful to “address US audiences” with the technology. The languages the new software addresses include Arabic, Pashto, Farsi and Urdu.
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