Kiwi spies taught online tricks

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 15:14 26/02/2014

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Prime Minister John Key says he has no details on briefings that documents released by US whistleblower Edward Snowden show were given to Kiwi spooks.

Key would not confirm or deny the briefings, which were revealed overnight by author and journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked with MSNBC to reveal the documents.

"The law states very clearly that for SIS or GCSB [Government Communications Security Bureau] to undertake surveillance against New Zealanders it has to be with warranted authority," Key said this afternoon.

"In my view that will involve a very small group of New Zealanders from time to time."

The Government is bracing itself for more leaks from the Snowden archive.

"I don't know what Snowden has ... what they chose to release and when, who knows?" Key said.

"They are of no great consequence, I don't think."

The documents show Kiwi spooks were briefed on setting honey traps and internet "dirty tricks" to "control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp" online discourse.

GCSB agents – part of the Five Eyes intelligence network – were briefed by counterparts from the ultra-secret Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group.

A slide-show presentation, called The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations, was given at a top secret spy conference in 2012.

It outlined sex and dirty tricks cyber operations used by JTRIG, a unit of the British signals intelligence agency GCHQ, which focused on cyber forensics, espionage and covert operations. GCHQ described the purpose of the unit as "using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world", including "information ops (influence or disruption)".

According to the slides, JTRIG conducted "honey traps", sent computer viruses, deleted the online presence of targets and engaged in cyber-attacks on the "hacktivist" collective Anonymous.

One carried the title "Cyber offensive session: pushing the boundaries and action against hacktivism" revealing the agency was going after online political activists.

The presentation outlined tactics to destroy the reputation of targets online. It detailed how agents could get another country to "believe a secret" by placing information on a compromised computer or making it visible on networks under surveillance.

A JTRIG tool, called AMBASSADORS RECEPTION, involved sending a virus to someone's computer to stop it functioning. It would delete emails, encrypt files, make the screen shake, deny service or stop logins.

Other methods were deployed to "stop someone communicating", bombarding their phone with text messages and calls – in some cases every 10 seconds, deleting their online presence and blocking up their fax machines.

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According to the presentation these tactics were used in Afghanistan, "significantly disrupting Taliban operations".

Changing a profile photo on social networking sites "can take paranoia to a whole new level".

A honey trap was described as "a great option" and "very successful when it works". Writing false blogs, pretending to be a "victim" of a target worked in "serious crime ops" and in Iran, the conference was told.

The presentation also outlined "info ops" to discredit a company by leaking confidential information to rival firms and the press, posting negative information to online forums and stopping deals or ruining business relationships.

The documents were presented to the GCSB, NSA and agents from Australia and Canada.

Greenwald wrote on The Intercept website that the agencies were "attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate and warp online discourse, and in doing so are compromising the integrity of the internet itself".

Greenwald called the tactics "extremist" and pointed out they do not only target hostile nations or spy agencies, terrorists or nation security threats, but also "people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or ... those who use online protest activity for political ends".

He added: "It is not difficult to see how dangerous it is to have secret government agencies being able to target any individuals they want – who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes."

- Stuff

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