The latest report from Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept hit the Internet this morning and contained slides using a term made popular by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones during mass-shootings and the Boston terror attack: "false flag operation." While the newly released NSA slides don’t even remotely use the term in the same way as Jones, it is surprising to see it on actual, secret government documents. The slides are from a presentation given to the NSA and other intelligence agencies by the Government Communications Headquarters in Britain and outline how it deals with online protestors or “hacktivists.”
In this case, however, “false flag operation” is not about staging a disastrous event in the real world in order to take away your guns or haul you off to FEMA camps but instead is a calculated effort by U.S. intelligence agencies to discredit a person who has not been tried or convicted of any crime.
Like Alex Jones, these people are often only guilty of expressing themselves espousing “false and damaging ‘conspiracy theories’ about the government,” according to Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor and “close Obama adviser.” These “false flag” operations involve posting damning content online and then attributing it to the person they are trying to discredit. The slides also outline covert operations in online chat rooms and the old spy standby “the honeypot” or luring the target to a place on the internet or in the real world with promises of sex.
Despite what people may think of hacktivists — like those with 4Chan or Anonymous — their method of protest is not actually hacking. Instead, they essentially flood a site with traffic so that it goes offline for a time. No data is lost or retrieved and all it does is cause a little inconvenience to the site’s users. In fact, unless the site loses more than $5000 in business (or the denial of service attack actually causes physical harm to someone), it’s not even illegal.
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As Greenwald says, “Whatever else is true, no government should be able to engage in these tactics: what justification is there for having government agencies target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltrate online political communities, and develop techniques for manipulating online discourse?”