Western countries have been running so-called troll farms against other states for a long time and may now be only seeking to expand operations by developing new software, says former MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon.
The US army is looking for help to access and respond to foreign social media platforms. The software needs to interpret the sentiment within a social media post, and distinguish between negative and positive.
Arabic, Farsi, Russian and Korean are among the languages targeted. It must translate from them, and back to them. The request came from the US Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM).
RT:What’s the need for such software?
Annie Machon: The most obvious interpretation would be that this is a pushback against the allegations that have been made consistently for the last 18 months about so-called “Russian troll farms” influencing elections across the west. It is interesting to see the languages that they are advertising for – the language of Iran, of course, North Korea and Russia. So that will be a sort of giveaway about which countries they want to be targeting.
Having said that though, the timing to me is interesting, because for sure the West has been running so-called troll farms against the other countries as well for a long time. So are they just trying to expand their operations by developing this new software? Or they are trying to disingenuously suggest to people that they haven’t done it before? ‘Only the big bad Russians, only the big bad Chinese have run troll farms’. And they’re beginning to develop this software…
I would say as well, personally the first time I became aware of the concept of troll farms and astroturfing, which is creating fake grassroots movements commenting online, was over a decade ago. And that was coming out of Israel. All our countries do this.
RT:Would such software be a threat, or would it be just used for snooping?
AM: I think it is one to try and influence people’s attitudes, certain issues. So that can potentially be a threat. That is what America has been saying about the so-called Russian hacking of the American election last year. Yes, it can be used for snooping too. Interestingly, it was only a couple of weeks ago I think, that WikiLeaks revealed a program from GCHQ, which is the UK Government Communications Headquarters, our listening post, which was doing the same sort of trolling and developing the same sort of software between the years 2009-2010. So Britain certainly has been doing exactly the same thing for almost a decade as well.
RT:The US Army Intelligence and Security Command collect intelligence for combat operations. So how would this new software be useful?
AM: We know that America has this kill list that is signed off by the American President every Tuesday morning, where they can go out and target so-called terrorist suspects across the North Africa, across Central Asia, across the Middle East and take them out with drone strikes. There is no due process, there is no rule of law in this – it is just what the intelligence agencies assessed to be problematic people who might well be involved in terrorist attacks in the future. And they are assassinated. We’ve seen this drone program take out whole villages, village councils, wedding parties right across great swathes of the planet. So if they are beginning to use this new algorithmic software in this way that can potentially target people, I think people need to become very much even more frightened.
RT:The US has continually accused Russia of using bots and troll factories to influence US social media… Isn’t this an attempt to do the same? Isn’t it double standards here?
AM: Of course it is double standards. As I said, they are probably just expanding a pre-existing program. So if GCHQ in the UK has been doing this since at least 2009, there is no doubt that the NSA (National Security Agency) in America will have been doing the same sort of thing. So they might just be trying to recruit and expand an existing program. Or they might be disingenuously trying to indicate that of course they have never done it before, but they are having to do it now in response to the so-called Russian troll farms and Israeli troll farms or whatever. It is interesting timing and particularly after WikiLeaks revealing what GCHQ has been getting up to.