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Black Blog Ops

Blogs are popular and influential, but could they be used for political dirty tricks? Or worse?

12:00 AM, Jun 17, 2004 • By HUGH HEWITT
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WHEN WILL George Smiley and Karla begin to blog?

Smiley and Karla are the two central characters from John Le Carre's finest set of Cold War intelligence thrillers. Smiley was the best of the operatives, patiently wending his way through misinformation and misdirection, deceptions and deceits.

In the era of Reagan, everything had to be understood as admitting of at least two interpretations. Was your information genuine or planted, or did the Soviets or East Germans or someone else want you to think it was planted, and would you let them know that you knew? It was wonderful stuff--moles, tradecraft, honeypots, and Cubans attached to the United Nations.

Fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are a much less suspicious people when it comes to disinformation. Which brings us to the blogosphere.

Time magazine discovered blogs this week, with an extensive article on their proliferation and impact. "Not that long ago, blogs were one of those annoying buzz words that you could safely get away with ignoring," the authors admit. But not anymore. They go on to declare that "Bloggers are inverting the cozy media hierarchies of yore."

True enough. Like a reverse Atlantis, a new archipelago of opinion and news providers has risen up from nowhere to drive stories and news cycles. So we should be asking about the potential for deception in the format. The web is widely used and relied upon. It would not be hard for intelligence services from around the world to build blogs with an intent to deceive or manipulate, putting out solid content to gain an initial audience before using it to disseminate disinformation intentionally.

Similarly, the inevitable backstab blog has to be on some political consultant's mind. Get it started and growing as a pro candidate X blog. Build an audience via tried and true techniques --including the purchase of blog-ads-- and then, late in a campaign, have the blog turn on candidate X. If any of the high profile lefties at work today--the Daily Kos or Atrios, for example--were to suddenly turn on Kerry, citing implausibility fatigue, for example--that would be news and a blow to Kerry. Could Kos really be working for Rove? The costs of starting a blog are so low that the mischief potential is quite high.

ALSO, a portion of the war on terror is being fought over the internet, with radical Islamist groups routinely employing websites to project their messages and their demands. How long before our intelligence services or those of our allies begin to turn that technology back upon the terrorists. Or might the People's Republic of China--always in the vanguard of espionage--figure out that pro-PRC blogs might be a good thing to subsidize for the long haul, perhaps without owning up to the sponsorship?

In recent months, the Belmont Club has exploded onto the blogging scene, powered by impressive analysis of the war and its stakes. In less than six months, more than 1,100,000 visitors have stopped by to sample "Wretchard's" writings. I have had an email exchange with Wretchard, and believe him to be what he says he is--just an amateur analyst making his views known. But his success got me to thinking about the potential for the use of blogs to shape opinions by dressing partisans up as new and anonymous sources. Which then got me to thinking about governments using the new medium to play public opinion. Which led to the idea of hostile movements doing the same.



Calling James Jesus Angleton. It is a brave new blogging world, and mischief beyond the easily spotted inanities of the MoveOn.org crowd will no doubt follow.



Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.