British spies build fake websites, impersonate people, and create “persuasive” YouTube videos to disrupt their targets’ activities, according to documents obtained by The Intercept.
JTRIG, or the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, is part of British spy agency GCHQ, and was first revealed publicly in documents leaked by exiled NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
A newly published document dating from 2011, which Business Insider has been unable to independently verify, appears to shed more light on the secretive group’s activities.
In one section, the document lists a number of the tactics that JTRIG staff have employed. These include:
- Uploading YouTube videos containing “persuasive” communications (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter, delay or disrupt)
- Setting up Facebook groups, forums, blogs and Twitter accounts that encourage and monitor discussion on a topic (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter, delay or disrupt)
- Establishing online aliases/personalities who support the communications or messages in YouTube videos, Facebook groups, forums, blogs etc
- Establishing online aliases/personalities who support other aliases
- Sending spoof emails and text messages from a fake person or mimicking a real person (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deceive, deter, delay or disrupt)
- Providing spoof online resources such as magazines and books that provide inaccurate information (to disrupt, delay, deceive, discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter or denigrate/degrade)
- Providing online access to uncensored material (to disrupt)
- Sending instant messages to specific individuals giving them instructions for accessing uncensored websites
- Setting up spoof trade sites (or sellers) that may take a customer’s money and/or send customers degraded or spoof products (to deny, disrupt, degrade/denigrate, delay, deceive, discredit, dissuade or deter)
- Interrupting (i.e., filtering, deleting, creating or modifying) communications between real customers and traders (to deny, disrupt, delay, deceive, dissuade or deter)
- Taking over control of online websites (to deny, disrupt, discredit or delay)
- Denial of telephone and computer service (to deny, delay or disrupt)
- Hosting targets’ online communications/websites for collecting SIGINT (to ;disrupt, delay, deter or deny)
- Contacting host websites asking them to remove material (to deny, disrupt, delay, dissuade or deter)
These techniques are deployed against a number of law enforcement targets, including suspects believed to be engaged in “online credit card fraud and child exploitation.” It also co-operates with other domestic British law enforcement agencies, and helps “[provide] evidence for judicial outcomes” and monitoring domestic terrorist groups.
The documents also go into detail about psychological research that could be used to help promote JTRIG’s goals. “Theories and research in the field of social psychology may prove particularly useful for informing JTRIG’s effects and online HUMINT operations,” one document says, identifying topics including “conformity,” “obedience,” and “psychological profiling” as “particularly relevant for social influence.”
In short: The documents — if accurate — demonstrate how the British spy agency uses sophisticated psychological techniques to try and shape the flow of information online to achieve its strategic goals.
When reached for comment, a GCHQ spokesperson provided Business Insider with the following statement:
It is longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position. In addition, the UK’s interception regime is entirely compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.