A June 17 report by the Intercept disclosed this new strategy initiated by the Army Protective Services Battalion (APSB). It defended the measures as necessary under its mission of defending top U.S. generals from "assassination, kidnapping, injury or embarrassment."
But Trending Politics pointed out that the said mission has been used against online criticism of the military in the past few years. Based on government procurement records from September 2022 reviewed by the Intercept, the strategy opens the U.S. Army's enormous resources to spying on anyone it considers having made "direct, indirect, and veiled" threats and or expressed "negative sentiment" of its leadership.
The September 2022 documents mention access to Twitter's "firehose," allowing the Army to look into public tweets and Twitter users without restriction. Investigations into sites such as 4chan, Reddit, YouTube and the social media platform VKontakte are also mentioned. Moreover, internet chat platforms such as Discord and Telegram will also be searched for the purpose of "identifying counter-terrorism and counter-extremism and radicalization" – albeit it is not clear what those terms would exactly mean.
The APSB has also rolled out the surveillance strategy outside of leading social media platforms. According to the Intercept, it would now involve "signal-rich discussions from illicit threat-actor communities and access to around-the-clock conversations within threat-actor channels," public research, CCTV feeds, radio stations, news outlets, personal records, hacked information, web cameras and cellular location data.
Citing the procurement document, the Intercept also noted how the Army would try to conceal its online presence through imitation and deceit to stay undetected. It would reportedly utilize "mis-attribution" to deceive people about the person actually behind the keyboard. To achieve this goal, the Army would make use of false web browser data and foreign-based servers that would handle Army internet traffic.
The outlet also revealed in another report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had been using a paid program called Flashpoint to impersonate "extremists" for data-gathering purposes. Under the new surveillance strategy, it won't be long until APSB personnel make use of the service to spy on Americans.
"In relation to extremist forums, Flashpoint has maintained mis-attributable personas for years on these platforms. Through these personas, Flashpoint has captured and scraped the contents of these forums," the FBI memo said. (Related: FBI admits collusion with CIA and NSA to spy on Americans.)
According to the report, the FBI "does not want to advertise they are seeking this type of data collection." In a similar vein, the APSB does not want to advertise its interest in broad data collection.
Ilia Siatitsa, program director at the London-based Privacy International, told the Intercept: "There may be legally valid reasons to intrude on someone's privacy by searching for, collecting and analyzing publicly available information, particularly when it pertains to serious crimes and terrorist threats."
“However, expressing 'positive or negative sentiment towards a senior high-risk individual' cannot be deemed sufficient grounds for government agencies to conduct surveillance operations, even going as far as 'pinpointing exact locations' of individuals. The ability to express opinions, criticize, make assumptions, or form value judgments — especially regarding public officials — is a quintessential part of democratic society."
In a June 20 piece for LifeSiteNews, UK-based writer Frank Wright noted that the fiasco "helps to clarify why the Army wants to maintain itself undercover online, and in the real world as it publicizes for help to further demolish the privacy and security of private citizens."
"This is simply another extension of an already vast national security state surveillance operation on the citizens of the formerly free world."
Watch this segment from "The Bottom Line with Dagen & Duffy" about intelligence agencies buying data on Americans.
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