This news item should have gotten a lot more coverage than it did. The Pentagon has launched a programme under which their operatives will be creating thousands of false identities on social networks to engage in “conversations” with people in the ME, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. The idea is to use software as a force multiplier and as a means to conduct urdu, pushto, darri and arabic conversations with people in this region in a way that causes them to believe they are speaking to a native and/or a friend. These conversations then seek to expose those who might have views with which the Pentagon disagrees. Since the entire program will be run under wraps, it is not possible to get a real sense of what opinions and thoughts will raise red flags. It is also not possible to entirely understand the manner in which these conversations will be had.
It is not hard to see how a system like this can suffer from widespread abuse. If you engage with hundreds of thousands of people in the region – a region which is clearly not very happy with America’s foreign policy – and “design” conversations to entrap and ensnare, then thousands of perfectly innocent people with charged emotions may end up falling prey.
There are also other fears… what if the profiles being made are not just fictitious people you may not know (and might be more guarded with), but hijacked profiles or real people you are in fact connected with? You might think you’re talking to a friend who may turn out to be someone sitting in Langley or inside the Pentagon. Since networks like Facebook do not prevent two profiles with the same name being created, your friend, “Ahmad Khan”, for example, may have had his name, profile and his picture copied by a third party which then seeks to extend a “Friend” request. You may think Ahmad accidentally deleted you and is just readding you, or forgot the password to his previous account and has made a new one. However, behind this hijacked identity anyone could be pulling the strings and causing you to expose information you do not trust them with.
The world is increasingly becoming a 1984-like control freak society driven and controlled by paranoid individuals. For it is not the people who resist such control that are paranoid, but those who suspect each and every person in this region of ill intentions. And those who would go so far as to spend millions of dollars in a false-identity information gathering programme directed at millions of citizens of sovereign countries, while they reside in their own homes. A liberal interpretation of cyber warfare may include such a campaign as an assault on the citizens of an entire region. Either way, the only defence against abuse of such a system and attempts at entrapment, are to maintain a responsible and limited online persona. No point having your words taken out of context by trigger happy intelligence agencies prowling the ‘net…