UK spy agency to launch offensive cyber operation against anti-vaccine propaganda


BRITAIN’S SIGNALS INTELLIGENCE AGENCY is preparing to launch a major offensive cyber operation against state-sponsored propaganda aimed at undermining research on the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the London-based Times newspaper, which published the information about the purported cyber operation, it will be aimed mostly against disinformation campaigns coming out of Russia.

The alleged disinformation campaigns appear to be targeting research taking place at Oxford University, which seeks to create an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus. A main theme in these campaigns promotes the claim that the vaccine will turn those who take it in to chimpanzees. Dozens of memes around this theme are said to have flooded Russian social media websites, with English-language translations making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Times reports that the British government considers shutting down the alleged Russian disinformation campaign a strategic priority, which grows in significance the closer British scientists get to their goal of creating a successful vaccine against the pandemic. London has therefore ordered the British Army’s 77th Brigade, which specializes in information operations, to launch an online campaign that will counter deceptive narratives about a potential vaccine against the coronavirus.

Whitehall has also mobilized the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency, which focuses on cyber-security, to launch offensive operations against the sources of the disinformation, says The Times. The paper cites a government source as saying that the spy agency will be using tools originally developed to monitor and incapacitate websites and other online platforms used by the Islamic State for recruitment.

According to the paper, the operational mandate of the 77th Brigade and GCHQ prevents them from tackling disinformation and misinformation originating from ordinary social media users, rather than state agencies. Additionally, the offensive cyber campaign cannot target websites that are based in Britain’s so-called Five Eyes allies, namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Instead, British spies are required to notify their Five Eyes counterparts, so they can take action instead.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 November 2020 | Permalink

2 Responses to UK spy agency to launch offensive cyber operation against anti-vaccine propaganda

  1. Pete says:

    The UK government offensive cyber operation against State based anti-vaccine propaganda, will be/no doubt is being, duplicated by the Five Eye partners and other Western governments (France, Germany, Israel, etc).

    A major problem is defining which anti-vaccine sites are actually “state-sponsored”. Russian intelligence is adept at harnessing “cutout” bloggers, and perhaps even using Wikileaks, to spread messages that angers, disrupts and thereby weakens the Western alliance.

  2. Hecks says:

    Things go much further than that Pete. Some states and agencies have been running intelligence operations targeting individuals on social media for the last decade, ramping up from 2012 onwards. Typical behaviour that these social media users may have noticed, is difficulty posting about specific topics in the period between mid 2015 to late 2016. Whilst these social media users themselves, may have put this difficulty down to their own governments keeping tabs and limiting their own behaviour, in that time frame, they were not on the radar as being targets for domestic surveillance. They were, however, of use to foreign entitities who were using the conspiracy movement to forment domestic unrest in other countries.

    At this point, it doesn’t really matter which sites are state sponsered and which aren’t. The line, for all intents and purposes, is now indistinguishable.

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