There is a major investigation going on over at the Pentagon looking into the military agency creating fake social media accounts to spread Pro-American messaging and disinformation online.
According to a report by The Washington Post, Twitter and Meta (Facebook) both identified networks of fake accounts believed to be connected to the U.S. military.
Colin Kahl, the undersecretary for policy within the Department of Defense, has ordered all branches of the military that conduct online influence campaigns to provide a full account of their operations by October, the Post reported.
An August report from social network analysis firm Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory uncovered a series of influence operations that aimed to “promote pro-Western narratives” in countries like Russia, China, and Afghanistan, The Verge reported.
Clandestine psychological operations, or “psyops,” is nothing new for the military, but in these cases, the military is accused of recently using fabricated online personas and fake media outlets.
This potential scandal is being compared to the tactics of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence services which as accused of spreading disinformation, pushing false and misleading political narratives worldwide.
Twitter, Instagram and Facebook took down the potentially fake accounts–nearly 230 accounts from across platforms– but the researchers did not specify when the takedowns occurred, Gizmodo reported. Insiders say it was within the past two or three years.
Among the accounts taken down was a made-up Persian-language media site that shared content reposted from the U.S.-funded Voice of America Farsi and Radio Free Europe. Another, it said, was linked to a Twitter handle that in the past had claimed to operate on behalf of Central Command (Centcom), an official website of the U.S. government. According to its website, its mission “directs and enables military operations and activities with allies and partners to increase regional security and stability in support of enduring U.S. interests.”
Another fake account posted an “inflammatory” tweet claiming that relatives of deceased Afghan refugees had seen bodies being returned from Iran with missing organs, according to the report.
Centcom has not admitted that these accounts were created by its personnel or contractors, but the department has long been involved in secret online engagement.
in 2011, it was reported that a California corporation had been awarded a contract with Centcom to develop what is described as an “online persona management service” that will allow one U.S. serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.
The Centcom contract directs that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 U.S.-based controllers should be able to operate false identities “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries,” The Guardian reported.
Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley host a Ukraine Defense group virtually from the Pentagon, July 20, 2022. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)https://www.flickr.com/photos/secdef/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ Hacker image: Getty