The Guardian this morning is reporting that a new Los Angeles-based company, Ntrepid, has been awarded a $2.76 million contract to create fake identities that would spread pro-American propaganda on social networking sites. The program, run by the US military, is part of Operation Earnest Voice, according to the UK daily newspaper.
The new contract requires that the operation would use one server in the US and eight servers outside the United States in order to appear as if messages on social networking sites were coming from different areas of the world. The US home for the operation would be MacDill AirForce Base outside Tampa, Florida.
The Guardian quotes Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks as stating that "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."
According to the the spokesman, the fake personalities used online would be speaking in a foreign language, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu or Pashto, for instance, as using English to deceive a US audience might be unlawful.
The company involved in the new contract, Ntrepid, maintains a website home page, but nothing else. However, the company's LinkedIn page describes itself this way: "Ntrepid Corporation provides national security and law enforcement customers with software, hardware, and managed services for cyber operations, analytics, linguistics, and tagging & tracking."
Wired previously wrote about Ntrepid a little over a week ago though it appears the story did not get much play.
The first news source to write about this was RawStory with a story that appeared on February 22nd. Their story points out that Ntrepid's chief technology officer, Lance Cottrell, also runs a blog called /the privacy blog/.
The Guardian story appearing today as the lead story on the paper's website was written by Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain. The Guardian's headline states "exclusive". It should be noted that the story does not mention either the RawStory or Wired stories that have previously appeared online.
The article mentioned above does not quote any representatives from any social networking sites, but I would think that if a popular site was known to house US military personnel with fake personalities that could seriously influence the site's growth and credibility. Social networking sites are vulnerable to the whims of their young users now, imagine in the commercial consequences of the US military's involvement in popular websites.
Sock puppets, the US military, Facebook and Twitter -- it could get ugly (if it's not already).
Aside: I've gotten some feedback concerning my headline here. The saying "to front page a story" goes way back. It's an awkward phrase, to be sure, and it is used so seldom now-a-days that I could not find any other examples online of someone using it. Should it be "front-pages" a story, or "front page's" a story. Any ideas (other than dumping the usage)?