Operation Earnest Voice is a planned astroturfing campaign by the US government. The aim of the initiative is to use sockpuppets to spread pro-American propaganda on social networking sites based outside of the US. According to the United States Military Central Command (CENTCOM), the US-based Facebook and Twitter networks are not targeted by the program, although US laws do not prohibit US state agencies from spreading propaganda among US citizens as according to the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012. However, Isaac R. Porche, a researcher at the RAND corporation, claims it would not be easy to exclude US audiences when dealing with internet communications.
Details of the program
The US government signed a $2.8m contract with the Ntrepid web-security company to develop a specialized software, allowing agents of the government to post propaganda on “foreign-language websites”.
Main characteristics of the software, as stated in the software development request, are:
- 50 user “operator” licenses, 10 sockpuppets controllable by each user.
- Sockpuppets are to be “replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent”. Sockpuppets are to “be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world.”
- A special secure VPN, allowing sockpuppets to appear to be posting from “randomly selected IP addresses,” in order to “hide the existence of the operation.”
- 50 static IP addresses to enable government agencies to “manage their persistent online personas,” with identities of government and enterprise organizations protected which will allow for different state agents to use the same sockpuppet, and easily switch between different sockpuppets to “look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization.”
- 9 private servers, “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.” These servers should use commercial hosting centers around the world.
- Virtual machine environments, deleted after each session termination, to avoid interaction with “any virus, worm, or malicious software.”