The entity responsible for some of America's most secretive military operations, SOCOM is also gearing up to hack people's internet-connected devices in order to eavesdrop on how they respond to said propaganda – will they believe the deepfakes are real?
The news comes at a time of intense global debate over the use of technologically sophisticated "disinformation" campaigns, their effectiveness on the masses, and the ethics of their use. The United States government is constantly warning about the risk of deepfakes while at the same time deploying them as weapons against the population.
For SOCOM to be using deepfakes in this manner is unprecedented. Never before has any government openly signaled its intentions to use the highly controversial technology as an offensive weapon for unleashing next-generation propaganda.
"When it comes to disinformation, the Pentagon should not be fighting fire with fire," says Chris Meserole, head of the Brookings Institution's Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative.
"At a time when digital propaganda is on the rise globally, the U.S. should be doing everything it can to strengthen democracy by building support for shared notions of truth and reality. Deepfakes do the opposite. By casting doubt on the credibility of all content and information, whether real or synthetic, they ultimately erode the foundation of democracy itself."
(Related: The media also uses deepfakes to trick the public into believing lies.)
According to Meserole, such technology should only be leveraged and used for targeted military and intelligence operations after it has undergone proper review and oversight. As you might imagine, this has not happened with SOCOM's deployment of deepfake weapons technology.
"If deepfakes are going to be leveraged for targeted military and intelligence operations, then their use needs to be subject to review and oversight," Meserole is further quoted as saying.
First published in 2020, a pitch document published by SOCOM's Directorate of Science and Technology contains a wish list of next-generation toys, so to speak, that the military-industrial complex hopes to deploy so its most elite soldiers can more effectively "hunt and kill their targets using lasers, robots, holographs, and other sophisticated hardware."
Last October, SOCOM released an updated version of this wish list that contains a new section about "Advanced technologies for use in Military Information Support Operations (MISO)," which The Intercept says is "a Pentagon euphemism for its global propaganda and deception efforts."
The one simple paragraph that was added outlines with further clarity SOCOM's efforts to obtain more advanced methods of carrying out "influence operations, digital deception, communication disruption, and disinformation campaigns at the tactical edge and operational levels."
SOCOM is also seeking "a next generation capability to collect disparate data through public and open-source information streams such as social media, local media, etc. to enable MISO to craft and direct influence operations."
Up until now, SOCOM has mostly operated in the shadows, unbeknownst to the average person. It is comprised of elite units from many branches of the military including the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, leading the most sensitive military operations in the world's most lethal nations.
"While American special forces are widely known for splashy exploits like the Navy SEALs' killing of Osama bin Laden, their history is one of secret missions, subterfuge, sabotage, and disruption campaigns," writes Sam Biddle for The Intercept.
"SOCOM's 'next generation' disinformation ambitions are only part of a long, vast history of deception efforts on the part of the U.S. military and intelligence apparatuses."
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