Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Military United States Politics Your Rights Online

US Journalists Targeted By Pentagon Propaganda Contractors 232

Posted by timothy
from the hey-this-feels-creepy dept.
Jeremiah Cornelius writes "While conducting investigative reporting on civilian contractors in the Pentagon's "InfoOps" Internet propaganda operations, two reporters found themselves the subject of a highly targeted, professional media manipulation effort. Reporter Tom Vanden Brook and Editor Ray Locker found that Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments. Websites were registered in their names. Some postings merely copied Vanden Brook's and Locker's previous reporting. Others accused them of being sponsored by the Taliban. 'I find it creepy and cowardly that somebody would hide behind my name and presumably make up other names in an attempt to undermine my credibility,' Vanden Brook said. If these websites were created using federal funds, it could violate federal law prohibiting the production of propaganda for domestic consumption."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

US Journalists Targeted By Pentagon Propaganda Contractors

Comments Filter:
  • by ATMAvatar (648864) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:34PM (#39763915) Journal
    Since when has violating the law deterred the actions of our government? With the wiretapping of people without a warrant, search and seizure of anyone unfortunate enough to require air travel or border crossing, detainment of individuals without due process, to instigating of torture of war prisoners, I'm somewhat surprised we don't hear more stories like this.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:44PM (#39763991)
      In a case like this though, even if it was government funds used to do the work, it will probably come out that it was done by "overly aggressive independent contractors" who "overstepped their bounds" and not by government mandate. Whether that is true or not is a different story - and I won't presume to guess if it was actually done with government knowledge or not. We'll need a lot more facts before that could be determined. However the odds that anyone directly employed by the government will take a fall for it are pretty low.
      • by Zontar The Mindless (9002) <plasticfish,info&gmail,com> on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:05PM (#39764203)

        In a case like this though, even if it was government funds used to do the work, it will probably come out that it was done by "overly aggressive independent contractors" who "overstepped their bounds" and not by government mandate. ...

        Methinks this would be what some call plausible deniability [wikipedia.org].

      • It doesn't make any sense though, professional media manipulators don't register stuff in their target's name. Media manipulators are public relations people, the nearest thing to what these investigators are talking about are astroturfers like MS used to let loose on slashdot. What possible advantage would there be to set up accounts as trivially easy to prove as fake like this? The whole thing smells a bit off.

      • by tunapez (1161697)

        However the odds that anyone directly employed by the government will take a fall for it are pretty low.

        Oh, you saw the GSA hearing on CSPAN today too? I thought I was the only one. What a farce to see grown adults in positions of power playing 'hot potato' to see which dispensable underling will be burnt.

        • by Wakko Warner (324)

          What's even funnier is, I bet half the members on the investigating committee have paid for a hooker on the taxpayer's dime before, too.

    • by pitchpipe (708843) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:50PM (#39764043)

      Since when has violating the law deterred the actions of our government?

      The Constitution has become a piece of paper that the government uses to wipe the asses of the corporations. All of our laws supposedly spring from this document, so why would they feel any different about these 'lesser' laws?

      • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:19PM (#39764319)
        While the corporations are probobly getting treated better than your average citizen, I doubt they really enjoy the way our political environment exists today any more than we do. The problem isn't the rich, or corporations, that's just a red herring thrown at you by the REAL problem: The Democrat and Republican parties. The left blame the rich, the right blame the media. None of it is true. The laws are passed by 2 political parties that have the same goal: Power
        • by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @05:57PM (#39765869) Journal

          The problem isn't the rich, or corporations, that's just a red herring thrown at you by the REAL problem: The Democrat and Republican parties. The left blame the rich, the right blame the media. None of it is true. The laws are passed by 2 political parties that have the same goal: Power

          Which party is trying to enact consumer protection laws, regulations to protect home buyers, regulations to reign in bank fraud?
          Which party passes laws protecting the rights of women and minorities or makes environmental protection a priority?
          I could go on and on, listing substantial policy differences between the Democratic and Republican parties.

          I accept that both parties want power, but it seems like only one party even pretends to have a token interest in using the least bit of that power to protect my interests in even the most minimal of ways.

          • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @06:59PM (#39766263)

            Those aren't your interests. All you are seeing is the futures of Orwell and Huxley fighting it out in real time.

            One comes via fear, force and ignorance, the other comes with a spoonful of sugar and ignorance. The problem is, they are both well on their way to becoming real.

            Liberty will be just as dead if killed through violent oppression (Orwell) or diabetic shock (Huxley).

        • The problem isn't the rich, or corporations, that's just a red herring thrown at you by the REAL problem: The Democrat and Republican parties.

          That's only one political party... The Federalists opposed the Democratic-Republican party, remember? After getting trade with England re-established the Federalist party was shut out for their "Spirit of the Law" thinking, leaving only the Democratic-Republican party as the dominant party... Today it's the only party available. The term False Dichotomy applies somewhat here, except the falseness is in thinking that a choice exists between two when there is only one choice.

          Furthermore, thanks to the

    • by ukemike (956477)

      Since when has violating the law deterred the actions of our government? With the wiretapping of people without a warrant, search and seizure of anyone unfortunate enough to require air travel or border crossing, detainment of individuals without due process, to instigating of torture of war prisoners, I'm somewhat surprised we don't hear more stories like this.

      Hate to say it but all of those things are legal now.

    • Since when has violating the law stopped ANY government?
    • by mounthood (993037) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:13PM (#39764275)

      Since when has violating the law deterred the actions of our government? With the wiretapping of people without a warrant, search and seizure of anyone unfortunate enough to require air travel or border crossing, detainment of individuals without due process, to instigating of torture of war prisoners, I'm somewhat surprised we don't hear more stories like this.

      Don't forget Asset Forfeiture [justice.gov] -- you don't even have to be charged with a crime, much less convicted.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Since when has violating the law deterred the actions of our government?

      There'd be a good argument that the law made a difference on August 9, 1974. However, on September 8, 1974 the powers-that-be effectively put a stop to that kind of subversive precedent.
      (look it up)

      • by sjames (1099)

        A fine example of strike fast [watergate.info] while they're distracted [cnn.com].

      • by psiclops (1011105)

        However, on September 8, 1974 the powers-that-be effectively put a stop to that kind of subversive precedent.
        (look it up)

        Ah-ha! i had always though it an accident, but now i can see that it was really an assassination attempt on Evel Knievel.
        Earlier, Knievel had wanted to jump the Grand Canyon, however apparently the U.S Department of the Interior would not allow it. so what did the subversive Mr. Knievel do? why he purchased land on snake river canyon.

        his downfall was hiring an ex-navy engineer to build the Sky-Cycle. Clearly the government was able to get to him so that he could rig the parachute to deploy early.

        Had you rea

    • by PopeRatzo (965947)

      Since when has violating the law deterred the actions of our government?

      These were contractors for private companies doing the trolling. They were concerned that too much attention to their fat InfoOps boondoggle might kill their golden goose, so they figured they could hassle the journalists into silence or trash their reputations

      Astroturfing and paid shilling is not a government innovation. It's good old Free Market Capitalism at its best: Anything to protect profits.

      • "It's good old government-sponsored Market corporatism at its best: Anything to protect profits."

        FTFY.

        These United States wouldn't know a free market if it sat on our face and started to wiggle.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947)

          These United States wouldn't know a free market if it sat on our face and started to wiggle.

          That's because no free market has ever existed, and no free market could ever exist. It's like "free energy". It can't happen.

          The "pro-free market" political forces are Utopians of the highest order. And as we've learned reading Leviathan, Utopia, etc, Utopians always bring tyranny.

          That's why if you ever hear a politician or a pundit say they are in favor of "free markets" you better run for the hills because they

          • None have tried. Free Energy is a joke, a free market is something that COULD exist. And yes, politicians who say anything about free markets are full of shit. If more people realized that, perhaps things would be better. Of course, a close proximity to a free market (as best as we can see these days) is Hong Kong (both pre and post handover...) It's not surprising that China wouldn't change much of how Hong Kong worked after Britain handed it over.... (We'll see how long that lasts of course...)

            But you ar

  • Is it real at all? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:46PM (#39764015) Journal

    My suspicious side wonders if these reporters created the fake sites themselves to stir up controversy.

    My other suspicious side wonders if it was just spammers copying a bunch of real and popular content to a website in order to do black hat SEO. Even the part about them being "sponsored by the Taliban" could have been stolen from some real comment on their articles.

    • by Alex Belits (437) * on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:10PM (#39764257) Homepage

      The simpler is the lie, the more people believe it. The net result of faking the libel than debunking it is always negative.

    • Sockpuppets for hire (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EnergyScholar (801915) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:28PM (#39764397)
      I hope all readers of Slashdot are already aware of the many 'boutique' consulting firms exist that provide this kind of service. For a fee, they will sell you anything from a single one-topic sock puppet appearance, to an entire social media campaign. I am personally familiar with organizations that provide this service. They definitely operate on Slashdot, and I have been seeing more and more probable sockpuppet appearances here. I strongly encourage all readers to increase personal awareness of this phenomenon. New media, and the shenanigans it makes possible, now requires a new type of media awareness, if one wishes to not be fooled and manipulated.
      • by MountainLogic (92466) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:53PM (#39764617) Homepage
        Anytime energy, climate, guns, oil, taxes, nuclear, smoking, pesticides, pharmaceuticals or evolution gets mentioned you can expect to see the sock puppets come out. I would welcome a corporate flack who shows up and articulately say, "I'm VP at company X and here is what I want to tell you about our product..." Instead all we get is 3rd rate sub-contractor who just copies and paste, perhaps with bad edits, some anti-science drivel. I guess if you have a loosing argument the only choice is to give up on making your case and muddy the waters. Now that I've entered all those keywords, just watch how many sock puppets come out and respond out of context. So welcome shills, but just for kicks please list your employer this time. Any ex-shills out there?
        • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @03:19PM (#39764837)

          Anytime energy, climate, guns, oil, taxes, nuclear, smoking, pesticides, pharmaceuticals or evolution gets mentioned you can expect to see the sock puppets come out.

          From both sides.

      • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:55PM (#39764627)

        Are they hiring? Sounds like fascinating work for a misanthrope like me.

        • by tqk (413719)

          Are they hiring? Sounds like fascinating work for a misanthrope like me.

          I was musing along the same lines, but even more thinking I could do it a hell of a lot better than what I've seen of the current misanthropes' efforts. TFA sounds pretty scattershot and juvenile, IMO. Sort of like contractors doing it from the bar, once they got drunk enough to build up enough false courage.

      • Even with the kinds of services of which you speak, the idea is for them to NOT be obvious, which was the case with these allegations: the web sites in question, which you can still see cached in various places, didn't even pretend to be official or personal sites of the journalists. They just smeared them, and nothing more.

        Of course, anyone who appears to hold a position you disagree with (or runs counter to the predictable Slashdot groupthink) is automatically a sockpuppet, right...?

      • They definitely operate on Slashdot

        That's strong claim. I assume it's supported by strong evidence? I only ask because I personally haven't found any. Nor have I been able to come up with a plausible reason why anyone would think it a good investment to pay them to operate here since the negative opinions of MS. At least then, hitting the opinions of the IT crowd could potentially be effective, since they're pretty much exactly the biggest source of MS's reputation, and definitely some of their biggest cust

      • by IonOtter (629215)

        Don't trust anyone with a UID over six digits!

      • Do they change the little reflector signs on the back of traffic markers?

        I've always wanted to talk to those folks.

      • This is not really that surprising.

        However, having had my debates with Global Warming Deniars, Pro Torture Advocates, People for the Protection of the Rich, and of course, the ever-present Citizens for Oil Company Profits who think that gas prices are about the free market -- I'm not so sure that ALL of this is SEO and Sock puppets.

        Some people are just damn idiots putting sock puppets out of a job. There is something wrong with people who are morons for free.

    • To call this a Pentagon payback campaign is ridiculous. A "highly targeted, professional media manipulation effort"? What, anonymously registering a web site, social media accounts, and similar in a person's name, and then using them in a way so that even the most casual observer could see they weren't the actual people? Give me a break. Anyone who looks at either of the sites can see they weren't even hiding the fact they were trying to smear the reporters. It wasn't even thinly-veiled: it was as overt as

      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        IO is one of our primary tools in conflict, and we shouldn't somehow be ashamed of it

        Well, I strongly disagree: it doesn't matter what the new label for "lying" is, "lying" is a behavior that I do not want my tax dollars to support. I am ashamed that my government lies to anybody.

        • Actually, that's not the purpose of IO in US doctrine. Even MISO (formerly PSYOP) is defined as conveying selected TRUTHFUL information to a foreign audience. That's the whole point.

          Not only that, but we're often fighting adversaries that propagandize and indoctrinate extensively, and routinely target US audiences via the media to serve their own purposes.

          So you can stop being ashamed, now, since "lying" isn't the purpose of IO. If you want to learn about what IO actually is, see: http://www.dtic.mil/doctri [dtic.mil]

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      My suspicious side wonders if these reporters created the fake sites themselves to stir up controversy.

      Whereas my cynical side would be puzzled and even shocked to discover that it wasn't done by unregulated and unaccountable private contractors.

  • by rbrander (73222) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:24PM (#39764369) Homepage

    Tim Weiner, who did a great book on the CIA, was on Jon Stewart the other day, touting his new book on the FBI. Seems the beginning of the plumbers was when J. Edgar Hoover refused to start tapping the phones of all the friends and relatives of groups like The Weathermen. And now the FBI is being asked to tap even more widely and without warrants. The new Surveillance State is, get this, worse than J.Edgar Hoover would tolerate, because it was so blatantly unconstitutional.

    But the FBI tapping is small potatoes. Hit Glenn Greenwald's column at Salon.com for the other day's article on "surveillance state evils"....the NSA, always forbidden to tap Americans, is now tapping, well, everything. Suspicions no longer seem paranoid that the "Total Information Awareness" is indeed being pursued: a new NSA data centre is just hoovering up (pardon the expression) every byte.

    The article goes on to detail a great deal more journalist and activist intimidation than this /. item: people who've spoken out for Wikileaks, done journalism, whatever, getting up against the wall every time they pass through customs, lawyer Jesslyn Radack searched EVERY TIME she goes through TSA even domestically, people threatened with jail and jailhouse-rape.

    It's just bewildering. Is this really the USA? And are it's citizens just taking it? Some freedom-loving people.

    • by Sancho (17056) * on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:46PM (#39764563) Homepage

      It's just bewildering. Is this really the USA? And are it's citizens just taking it? Some freedom-loving people.

      I don't have time to get mad. American Idol's on.

    • by theNAM666 (179776) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:55PM (#39764639)

      >It's just bewildering. Is this really the USA? And are it's citizens just taking it? Some freedom-loving people.

      Congratulations. You've just discovered the difference between public ideology ("greatest country on earth," "home of freedom and democracy") and actual reality ("bow down to your corporate overlords").

      P.S. The journalists' claims are overblown, in the sense that reporting on Apple's manufacturing was overblown. I get interviewed every time I enter the US (because of "leftist affiliations" shall we say). The interrogations are, in the end, professionally and not over the top in a sort of bureaucratically chilling way. If I don't make a fuss or trouble, it's just a series of questions and answers, and they're not going to do an unnecessary invasive search because they're no point / it's inefficient. If you scream and holler and break protocol on your side, I'm sure, you've just set off all the alarm bells and they have to search you, but because you screamed and hollered and they have to search everyone who screams and hollers-- because that's what the bureaucratic playbook says they have to do-- not because you're a journalist who wrote about this or that, but because, in the end, you're making extra trouble.

      In short, don't argue with the cop unless you're prepared for the consequences.

      • by Vitriol+Angst (458300) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @04:49PM (#39765401)

        Yeah, because ONLY terrorists scream and holler about their rights -- and GOOD CITIZENS capitulate.

        What you've just described is a situation where the TSA security theater is merely there to make sure you bend over and say; "thank you sir."

        Security doesn't have shit to do with people making jokes, or making a fuss. The guy who want's to mess you up will stay under the radar and be the most polite person up until the moment of truth.

        In short, don't argue with the cop unless you're prepared for the consequences. -- Right, because we should all have consequences because we demand a Government and Security system that respects us.

        • Yeah, because ONLY terrorists scream and holler about their rights -- and GOOD CITIZENS capitulate.

          No, but only annoying people holler and scream when they are in the middle of the line getting through TSA. Which slows down the entire line and takes even longer to get through. It's good to fight for your rights, but do it in a place that is effective.

          Those people annoy me as much as the TSA.

        • by theNAM666 (179776)

          Ah. It seems you're the post of the day that lives up to your 'nick.

          You miss the point. The point is simply that the journalists in question make overblown claims (and act inappropriately) in order to get attention, when, if they behaved in a courteous manner, they likely wouldn't have the problems when flying.

          Otherwise, I said nothing evaluative about the US's Security Theatre.

    • I wonder if we don't need to offer J Edgar Hoover and apology.

      I know we all THOUGHT he was keeping documents on everyone -- but who asked him to do it? Was he really running things, or was he pressured to track people by folks like McCarthy or Nixon?

      With the prescience of 20/20 hindsight -- I have to wonder about the whole scandal of him dressing in women's undergarments -- because getting caught with some perverse act seems to be MORE of a threat to our CIA or Secret Service organizations than merely assas

    • by Tom (822)

      It's just bewildering. Is this really the USA?

      Is and always has been. The USA was founded by the upper class for their own benefit and run that way. There's a reason it's a republic and not a democracy.

      The new things is that the pendulum has begun to swing back. For a long time, more and more people became a share of the pie, with the blacks and the women allowed to vote, for example.

    • by tqk (413719)

      Seems the beginning of the plumbers was when J. Edgar Hoover refused to start tapping the phones of all the friends and relatives of groups like The Weathermen.

      Hoover just resented them encroaching on his turf.

  • USA Today...the only place I see it is at hotels, free copies at the door of the rooms in the morning. Otherwise, who buys it or reads it?

  • Does not scan (Score:4, Informative)

    by thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) <marc...paradise@@@gmail...com> on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:55PM (#39764633) Homepage Journal

    Tfs: US Journalists Targeted By Pentagon Propaganda Contractors

    Tfa: says that they appear to have been targeted by a misinformation campaign. TFA makes no mention of a connection between the actions and propaganda contractors.

    Might be that they are connected - but nowhere is there proof or even a suggestion of proof for the statement.

    WTF slashdot...

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      but nowhere is there proof or even a suggestion of proof for the statement.

      Did you get to the 4th sentence in TFA?

      For example, Internet domain registries show the website TomVandenBrook.com was created Jan. 7 -- just days after Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook first contacted Pentagon contractors involved in the program. Two weeks after his editor Ray Locker's byline appeared on a story, someone created a similar site, RayLocker.com, through the same company.

      Or how about the 7th and 8th sentences where it is explained that the military talked to the contractors and some of the websites were taken offline "following those inquiries."

      "Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'"
      -xkcd

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @03:33PM (#39764929) Homepage Journal

    Reporter Tom Vanden Brook and Editor Ray Locker found that Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments.

    - I suppose there are criminal laws concerning identity theft and they should be applicable not only when money is stolen from a bank account, but also in these cases, where somebody pretends they are someone else to push agenda.

    I can easily see how in the age of the Internet various agencies, government contractors try to disseminate fake and false information in order to confuse the issue. Who can tell on the Internet what is real and what is not? What opinion does anybody actually hold?

    After all, quite a number of people believe for example that Albert Einstein was a religious person in terms of following some religion, yet there is plenty of his writing where he specifically states that he does not believe in a god.

    Of-course it's easier to steal identity of people who are long gone, so they can't protect themselves and set the record straight, but even with the living it's a huge challenge.

    The Internet can be attacked in many ways, and it is.

    • by tqk (413719)

      After all, quite a number of people believe for example that Albert Einstein was a religious person in terms of following some religion, yet there is plenty of his writing where he specifically states that he does not believe in a god.

      I would say Albert was "spiritual", not religious, as many physicists are, though along the same lines as Ayn Rand's "God damn." It's just a figure of speech.

      He didn't help dissuade anyone with his "God doesn't play dice" crap. God (or nature) certainly does play dice. Darwin proved that conclusively.

  • by br00tus (528477) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @04:35PM (#39765305)

    I did some work on the No Gun Ri article on Wikipedia, which is an incident of Americans massacring Korean civilians during the US war in Korea. It was whitewashed [wikipedia.org] by someone, whose DNS PTR records at the time were 214.13.196.180 host196-180.iraq.centcom.mil . CENTCOM by the way is the organization highlighted in the documentary "Control Room".

    Or we have Fort Benning whitewashing [wikipedia.org] all the Latin American death squads that were trained there, that IP's DNS PTR back then was doim1-358.benning.army.mil - it whitewashed the WHISC article as well. Of course, with September 11th, we now have death squads and terrorists trained by the US government now not just killing indigenous farmers in El Salvador, but killing Americans in the US as well. Good going, guys!

    It's basically like Orwell's Ministry of Truth in 1984. Well not like it, it is exactly that. My tax dollars go to pay the commissars of the US empire to erase the evidence of their massacres from history. Of course, the purpose of making this stuff disappear from history, like the US soldier who went into a village in Afghanistan recently and murdered many civilians, is so that they can portray the US and its military and its multinational corporations as shining white knights out saving the world, not raping and pillaging for plunder, empire and profit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2012 @06:26PM (#39766049)

    USAToday didn't name the people they believe are responsible because they don't have any hard proof linking the smear campaign to them.

    Gawker.com, though, is seemingly not burdened by any such journalistic standards :)

    Meet the Pentagon Contractor That Ran a Disinformation Campaign Against Two USA Today Reporters [gawker.com]

    Last night USA Today reported that two of its staffers, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, were the targets of a smear campaign, including fake Twitter accounts and web sites established in their names, launched by a Pentagon contractor specializing in "information operations." For some reason, the paper declined to name the perpetrator:Leonie Industries

    ...

    Oddly, the USA Today story on the mischief names only "Pentagon contractors" as likely culprits.
    But a source familiar with the story confirms that the contractor responsible is Leonie Industries, an information operations company with more than $90 million in Army contracts in Afghanistan. It's doubly odd that USA Today didn't at least seek comment from Leonie on the disinformation, since Leonie was the primary target of the investigation that apparently sparked the sculduggery, and would be the inescapable suspect to anyone who put two and two together.

    More on Leonie Industries here:

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Leonie_Industries

  • Some posts only need the subject line.

Brain fried -- Core dumped

Working...