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Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011, 12:07 pm

The Pentagon’s New Weapon: Social Media ‘Sock Puppets’ (and Other News from the Em

By David Szydloski

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By David Szydloski

  • More news is coming out about Bradley Manning's treatment and the hypocrisy of the Obama Administration in dealing with his case. Glenn Greenwald continues to do a great job, not only while writing about Manning's case, but also attacking those who defend the administration's stance on this issue. Wired's Threat Level has a good write up on Manning's father, Brian Manning, who himself served in the armed forces, and was interviewed on PBS' Frontline last week.

    After having his clothes regularly stripped from him at night, Manning's lawyer has confirmed that he is now wearing a "smock" normally reserved for individuals on suicide watch, which Manning is not. In all likelihood the garment looks something like this.

    (Also related to Manning's case is the resignation of State Department Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley who, while speaking at MIT on March 10, called the treatment of Manning "stupid and ridiculous and counterproductive.")

  • Raymond Davis—the CIA contractor arrested on January 27 for killing two men who he claims were trying to rob him--was released from Pakistani custody on March 16. The arrangement had been in the works for some time, and involved both Pakistani and U.S. officials putting pressure on the Lahore High Court to delay ruling on Mr. Davis' case. The deal also included a promise to pay "blood money" to the families of the men Davis killed, though the exact amount is unclear.

  • Social networks aren't just for tweens, your parents, and crass commercialism—the U.S. government has been using them for more than just "poking" civilian and foreign groups around the world. This week, The Guardian has a write-up on software the Pentagon is working with a California software company to create. It creates fake users—also known as 'sock puppets'—on social media websites in order to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda." Though spokesperson for US Central Command (CENTCOM) has said that the program is only going to be used on non-English websites as "as it would be unlawful to 'address US audiences' with such technology," it is not clear what, if any, precautions will be in place to protect American citizens from its use. (Also no word yet on how the government is using social networks to implement super-liminal messages.)

  • The House Armed Services Committee on Afghanistan asked Gen. David Petraeus for concrete details about the first planned troop withdrawal that is scheduled to take place in July. Petraeus insisted that, based on the successes of U.S. and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) campaigns against Taliban, allied forces would still be able to meet the goal, established by NATO at last year's Lisbon Summit, of completely transferring control to Afghan armed services by 2014.

    And, though he would not give concrete numbers, Petraeus did state that the first cuts will include combat forces—though it's likely that they will be mostly comprised of logistics specialists.

    We got the first glance at how this process will work today, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced plans to transfer authority from international to Afghan forces in seven different areas of the country, beginning this July. "We...understand that the people of Afghanistan no longer desire to see others defend their country for them," the Christian Science Monitor quoted Karzai as saying. The coming transition will apparently be “irreversible.” Let's hope so.

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