An explosive investigation by the Washington Post revealed that the Pentagon is conducting a “thorough audit of how it conducts covert information warfare”, after various social media accounts, which his operatives used to target foreign audiences as part of elaborate psychological warfare efforts, were exposed.
The accounts violated the platform’s rules and were eventually taken down by the researchers and the social networks they weaponized.
US defense policy adviser Colin Kahl reportedly demanded that every Pentagon division engaged in “psychological operations online” provides a full account of their activities by October, due to high-level concerns that “attempt to manipulate the public abroad” by the Ministry of Defense have greatly exceeded the bar.
Those fears were apparently stoked by the release of a landmark report in August by social media analytics firm Graphika and Stanford’s Internet Observatory, which found that over the past five years, hundreds of accounts spreading pro-Western narratives – like a recent propaganda blitz that “advanced anti-Russian narratives”, including criticism of the Kremlin’s “imperialist” war in Ukraine – were likely led by the Pentagon’s Centcom unit.
Centcom is responsible for military operations of all kinds in 21 countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central and South Asia. According to Graphika’s report, among the deleted accounts was a fictional Persian-language media outlet that shared content reposted from US state propaganda platforms Voice of America Farsi and Radio Free Europe.
An account was discovered to have posted content claiming that relatives of deceased Afghan refugees had reported that the bodies of their loved ones had been returned from Iran with missing organs. The obvious purpose of the exercise was to prevent Afghans from fleeing to the neighboring country. The reason is unclear, although a defense official told the Washington Post that such activity “to be absolutely a violation of doctrine and training practices.”
Strikingly, the newspaper also learned independently that in 2020 Facebook permanently banned fake accounts, created by Centcom to counter claims that COVID19 may have escaped from the US bioweapons lab at Fort Detrick. . In other cases, the accounts have even promoted information deemed false by fact-checkers.
At times, the Pentagon has gone so far as to use “deep fake” technology to create artificial characters, in the belief that “what appears to be, say, an Afghan woman or an Iranian student might be more persuasive than if they were openly pushed by the US government.”
The only problem is you got caught
The audit commissioned by Kahl is extensive and comprehensive. He wants to know “what types of operations have been carried out, who are they targeted, what tools are used and why military commanders have chosen these tactics, and how effective are they.”
The Post unironically describes concerns about the Pentagon’s psychological warfare tactics as primarily related to those efforts undermining Washington’s purported strategy. “moral height” globally, with an anonymous diplomat quoted as saying:
“Generally speaking, we shouldn’t use the same type of tactics that our adversaries use… We are a society based on a certain set of values. We promote these values around the world and when we use tactics like these, it just undermines our argument about who we are.
Residents of countries in the Global South – including many countries that fall under Centcom’s jurisdiction – might be hesitant to talk about “values.” Given the way the United States has operated in its country through overt intervention and covert interference for decades.
So what really explains the sudden rise in internal concerns about the excesses of the Pentagon’s psychological warfare operations? Clues are littered elsewhere in the Post’s report. For example, one particular passage notes that representatives from Facebook and Twitter contacted the Pentagon directly to notify them that they had been arrested.
As early as the summer of 2020, David Agranovich, Facebook’s director of Global Threat Disruption, who himself spent six years at the Pentagon and then served as director of intelligence on the elite White House National Security Council, reached out to his alumni. colleagues to warn them “If Facebook could detect them, so could US adversaries.”
“His point was, ‘Guys, you got caught. It is a problem.'”
Clearly, senior executives at major social networks consider weaponizing their platforms for information warfare purposes to be entirely acceptable, as long as it’s US military and intelligence operatives who are doing it. are doing, and that they are not “burnt” in the process. On what other occasions Facebook, Twitter and others have provided American spies with helpful insights into improving their operational security and more effectively concealing and conducting their nefarious activities, and how, is an open question.
don’t tread on me
More tellingly, The Post also notes that legislation passed by Congress in December 2019 unleashed the Pentagon to manage “clandestine psychological operations” whom it was previously forbidden to hire, leading superiors to obtain “really excited” and “very keen to use these press authorities” Therefore. Defense contractors were “equally eager to land lucrative classified contracts to enable clandestine influence operations.”
In the process, the swashbuckling tactics of the US military may have penetrated “what the CIA claimed as its secret authority”, which led to Langley becoming “disturbed”. Although The Post does not acknowledge it, it was undoubtedly the loss of the Pentagon.
Spy agencies are notoriously protective of their respective beats. Feuds between the CIA and NSA are a well-known and perpetual phenomenon, along with friction, mistrust, and disputes over who was responsible for what was blamed for some of the intelligence failures that allegedly led to 9/11.
Another entity encroaching on his territory would not be tolerated by Langley – so it would be understandable if the CIA, which famous his 75th birthday on September 18, found it necessary to throw his new rival under the bus for his own purposes.
Graphika, which exposed the Pentagon’s online manipulation operations, is an extremely well-connected company, having conducted high-level work for numerous government agencies. It would be easy for Langley to point his researchers in the right direction, or at least leave a trail of breadcrumbs for them to follow.
In December 1963, former US President Harry S. Truman, who created the Agency by signing the National Security Act of 1947, expressed grave concern about what it had mutated into.
He had initially envisioned an efficient news wire service, providing the Oval Office with regular information to inform foreign policy decisions, but he quickly became “disturbed” that the “discreet intelligence arm of the president” got quickly “has been diverted from its original mission”, and grew up in “an operational and sometimes political branch of government.”
Noting that “This has caused problems and may have compounded our difficulties in several hot spots,” Truman urged that the CIA be brought under control and returned to his original vision. His pleas were ignored – today the Agency is, in many ways, the real government of the United States. And even the mighty Pentagon is not safe.