Michael Isikoff, Chief Investigative Correspondent of Yahoo News, reported earlier this month what could become a worrisome trend that could undermine the public’s faith in civil discourse. Here’s his article: https://www.yahoo.com/news/the-authors-are-real-the-articles-are-fake-who-is-behind-the-sinister-cgs-website-174814055.html?soc_src=mail&soc_trk=ma
Forgeries have a longstanding tradition among hostile intelligence services. The KGB and its acolytes were active in creating physical forgeries across the globe in an effort to attack democracy in general.
This contemporary online wrinkle on forgeries makes classical counterintelligence methods of detecting physical ones (incorrect inks, cheap/inauthentic paper, physical fingerprints) obsolete, but there are still signs you can look for:
- Does it make sense for this writer to publish in this particular journal/blog/other outlet? Two CIA alumni with whom I worked, Paul Pillar, a professor at Georgetown who was a senior CIA official, and Bruce Riedel, a senior intelligence analyst and National Security Council official now working at Brookings, are major names in intelligence/national security scholarship. You would more expect to see their bylines in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, or op-ed pages of the New York Times and Washington Post. Why would they publish in a comparatively unknown online outlet?
- Is the language used by the writer of their style, or is it similar to a non-native speaker or Nigerian prince with an investment strategy just for you?
- What are the credentials of the online outlet? Have you heard of them? Where are they located? Who runs them? If you are unable to divine this information from their Contact Us and About Us, and if you have never heard of them, you might be looking at a forgery factory.
- What is the intellectual/policy message being offered in the text of the article? Is it consonant with the previous scholarship of the author, or is there a discernable political bias that conflicts with their earlier writings?
Isikoff offers some useful speculation on who is behind this particular forgery. Even if the effectiveness of CGS is now neutralized by exposure of its methods, tributary sites can be expected to pop up elsewhere.
The hijacking of the personas of Paul and Bruce raises the question: How do you know who really wrote something? It’s particularly vital in the case of entries such as this one, in which the site’s curators offer a modicum of anonymity to authors who request it for various reasons (not limited to concerns about being harassed, hacked, and false-attributed). Here’s a partial solution to the problem of whether you can trust our postings: Our stable of anonymous writers, including Diogenes (an update, in the time of alt-facts, of the philosopher who is still searching for the honest man), FNU MNU LNU (first name unknown, etc., a name famous for obscurity in intelligence circles) and Publius (the collective nom de plume used by the authors of the Federalist Papers—Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—not to be confused with Publius Decius Mus, the alias taken by White House staffer Michael Anton), will use these pseudonyms only herein. (We won’t be using Anonymous—Michael Scheuer has already cornered the market for CIA alumni’s use of that alias.) If you see these names anywhere else, it’s not us, and could well be the type of hijacked persona used in the CGS forgeries.
By the way, the online forgeries technique can also be used against your online persona, even if you aren’t a prominent pundit. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are often spoofed by fraudulent mirrors of the sites of real individuals, for various unknown, sometimes malicious purposes. Make sure you are whom social media says you are.
We also suggest that you not go to the site mentioned in the Isikoff piece. It is possible that it will load cookies and other malware on your computer, keep a record of your IP address, or download your personal information. Plus so doing only encourages them by adding to their click-counter’s tallies.