Ed Snowden has leaked another trove of documents, and the Huffington Post is generating clicks with it. The upshot is that the NSA monitored the online activities of six people it characterizes as Islamist radicalizers. The NSA built up information on these Islamists’ porn habits, for the purpose of discrediting them.
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a top-secret NSA document. The document, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, identifies six targets, all Muslims, as “exemplars” of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target’s credibility, reputation and authority.
The NSA document, dated Oct. 3, 2012, repeatedly refers to the power of charges of hypocrisy to undermine such a messenger. “A previous SIGINT” — or signals intelligence, the interception of communications — “assessment report on radicalization indicated that radicalizers appear to be particularly vulnerable in the area of authority when their private and public behaviors are not consistent,” the document argues.
None of this is especially new. The allies built up extensive profiles and dossiers on Hitler’s private and even sexual life during World War II, and I’m sure the axis did the same to allied leaders. The Soviets probably had great fun building up files on J. Edgar Hoover and JFK, among others. They didn’t really have to build up a file on Ted Kennedy. Once he left a woman to drown, there wasn’t much they could expose that would have cost him his Massachusetts Senate seat. Maybe they could have run an op outing him as a closet Republican or something, but he was much more useful to them as a senator.
An attached appendix lists the “argument” each surveillance target has made that the NSA says constitutes radicalism, as well the personal “vulnerabilities” the agency believes would leave the targets “open to credibility challenges” if exposed.
One target’s offending argument is that “Non-Muslims are a threat to Islam,” and a vulnerability listed against him is “online promiscuity.” Another target, a foreign citizen the NSA describes as a “respected academic,” holds the offending view that “offensive jihad is justified,” and his vulnerabilities are listed as “online promiscuity” and “publishes articles without checking facts.” A third targeted radical is described as a “well-known media celebrity” based in the Middle East who argues that “the U.S perpetrated the 9/11 attack.” Under vulnerabilities, he is said to lead “a glamorous lifestyle.” A fourth target, who argues that “the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks on itself” is said to be vulnerable to accusations of “deceitful use of funds.” The document expresses the hope that revealing damaging information about the individuals could undermine their perceived “devotion to the jihadist cause.”
The tactic of building up personal information on foreign enemies probably dates back, I don’t know, thousands of years. As long as humans have waged organized warfare. Sun Tzu would surely approve, and said as much when he wrote “Know your enemy.” We remain at war and we pay the NSA to conduct SIGINT on people who wish to harm Americans. That’s it’s job.