Operation Earnest Voice, Wikipedia page (current as of November 2017), describes a request for proposal put out by a branch of the federal government to create an application whereby agents could put on persistant created personas in order to engage in propaganda and intelligence operations online. In other words, it’s a system for astroturfing, sock-puppets and shills.
Linking out to Archive.org version of the June 2010 fbo.gov proposal, we can see the technical specifications for the desired application. Essential components include:
- 50 User Licenses, 10 Personas per user.
- Personas include “background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent.”
- Personas must be able to appear to be from any part of the world.
- Personas must be able to interact and operate on social media services.
- VPN option enabling daily, automatic randomized IP addressing.
- Ability to blend traffic with outside sources for cover.
- Static, persistent and identity-protected IP option.
- Unique servers in each part of the world to direct traffic through.
- Remote access through a secure desktop environment. “Every session uses a clean Virtual Machine (VM) image. […] Upon session termination, the VM is deleted and any virus, worm, or malicious software that the user inadvertently downloaded is destroyed.”
It appears to be a complete solution, enabling 50 agents to appear to be at least 500 unique actors online.
I’m still a little unclear as to what the current restrictions such a program would face where individuals in domestic United States might be exposed, at least in terms of propaganda efforts. Wikipedia quote, which sounds technically probably true:
“Isaac R. Porche, a researcher at the RAND corporation, claims it would not be easy to exclude US audiences when dealing with internet communications.”
“The software is used for what the military calls “information operations” that use “classified social media activities outside the United States to counter violent extremist ideology and enemy propaganda,” Centcom spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks told The Washington Times.
Information operations include activities designed “to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision-making while protecting our own,” according to Pentagon documents. Such activities include disinformation campaigns, or military deception; computer network operations, or hacking; and what used to be called psychological warfare operations or “psy-ops,” but is now referred to as “military information support operations.””
That article (2011) also claims:
“Cmdr. Speaks said the Central Command program operates only on overseas social media sites.
“We do not target U.S. audiences, and we do not conduct these activities on sites owned by U.S. companies,” he said.”
It’s possible the 2012 Smith-Mundt Modernization Act changed their operating parameters, but I’m still verifying that…
I don’t trust Huffington Post too much as a source, but there is an interesting quote by them on the private sector equivalents of the Earnest Voice software in also a March 2011 article:
“Last month, hacker group Anonymous unloaded a batch of 50,000 emails from security firm HBGary, where documents indicated that the firm was in the process of developing their own persona management software. The document outlined some of the proposed strategies for creating verisimilitude:
“Using hashtags and gaming some location based check-in services we can make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise, as one example. There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas.”
I will try to follow up on this HBGary reference in a separate article.