Operation Earnest Voice

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Operation Earnest Voice (or OEV) is an ironically-titled program run by CENTCOM which is known to make use of Persona Management software. As was noted by The Guardian in one of the first articles to investigate the persona management issue at length:

"The multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a programme called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces. Since then, OEV is reported to have expanded into a $200m programme and is thought to have been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East."

In the same way that OEV is run by CENTCOM, so do other COCOMs have their own VOICE programs.

Background

In 2010 David Petraeus, then head of CENTCOM, gave evidence to the US Senate's Armed Aervices Committee detailing the remit of Operation Earnest Voice. His testimony in relation to OEV in full:

"Operation Earnest Voice (OEV) is the critical program of record we use to synchronize and oversee our Information Operations activities, to counter our adversaries’ ideology and propaganda in the AOR, and to amplify credible voices in the region, all in close coordination with the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. OEV provides CENTCOM direct communication capabilities to a regional audience through traditional media as well as trans-regional websites and public affairs regional blogging. Strategic, long term effects are achieved through our supporting Building Partnership Capacity programs, humanitarian relief efforts, demining activities, Cooperative Defense Initiatives, and counterterrorist operations. The audience analysis and assessment component of OEV provides critical cultural understanding required to 45 connect with the region’s population, tell us which techniques are effective over time and which are not, and gives us the long term ability to assess our success or failure in the war of ideas. Full and enduring funding of OEV and other Defense Department information operations efforts will best enable us to communicate our strategic messages and to counter those of our adversaries."

[Full text ]

James N. Mattis, current commander of CENTCOM, testifying before the United States Armed Services Committee, 1 March 2011:

"CENTCOM Activities in the Information Environment: Consistent with the guidance provided by Secretary Gates last December, we conduct Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which synchronizes and oversees all of our Information Operations activities. OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda. Full funding of OEV supports all activities associated with degrading the enemy narrative, including web engagement and web-based product distribution capabilities. The effective engagement of our enemies in cyberspace requires the ability for us to conduct a full-spectrum of traditional military activities against them in that domain, including all aspects of Information Operations and Strategic Communication. We coordinate with the Joint Staff, the Interagency, the Intelligence Community, and our coalition partners to examine the adversary’s use of cyberspace and identify techniques, tactics and procedures we can use to counter the adversary in the cyber domain."

[Full text ]

CENTCOM Solicitation for Persona Management Software

Persuant to this 'information operation activity', on June 22, 2010, CENTCOM issued an official solicitation for software companies to bid for a contract creating a 'persona management service'. This solicitation contained the following requirements for Government sockpuppetry software:

  • Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly[sic] consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and Automatic, 15 days after response without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be date able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through Archive Date: conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a July 17, 2010 user friendly application environment to maximize the user's situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.
  • VPN provides the ability for users to daily and automatically obtain randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet. The daily rotation of the user s IP address prevents compromise during observation of likely or targeted web sites or services
  • Virtual Private Servers[...]Provides CONUS or OCONUS points of presence locations that are setup for each customer based on the geographic area of operations the customer is operating within and which allow a customer?s online persona(s) to appear to originate from. Ability to provide virtual private servers that are procured using commercial hosting centers around the world and which are established anonymously. Once procured, the geosite is incorporated into the network and integrated within the customers environment and ready for use by the customer

(This is a partial list, The full solicitation can be read here )

One winner of the contract to produce such software was Ntrepid, a software company which was incorporated [25th October 2010] in San Diego, California. Ntrepid are using their own Metal Gear software to provide the sockpuppetry, VPN, and other capabilities to fulfil their contract with CENTCOM.

Other CENTCOM Contracts

Other companies thought to be contracted to weaponise social media on behalf of CENTCOM include:

Links

Anonymous: Government contractor has weaponized social media - 18.3.2011