The presentation is called The Art of Deception, Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations and was given by GCHQ’s Human Science Operation Cell (HSOC), linked to the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), whose existence was uncovered by Greenwald via the documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.[Initially I won’t reproduce any of the presentation itself, but you can see the whole thing here]
While the textual content of the presentation is not online, we can infer from the slides that the powerpoint outlines applied techniques for deploying psychology, deception, illusion, dissimulation, magic, religion and belief in their intelligence and counter-intelligence operations. These are the tools of the trade for the Mirage Men.
And, sure enough, scroll down to pages 35 to 37 in Strand 2: Influence and Information Operations and you will find three slides of UFO photographs…
If you’ve made it to this blog in the first place, then you don’t need me to explain why this is interesting.
While we don’t want to fall into the trap of confirmation bias that they refer to in slide 11, it is tempting to read the images as demonstrating that GCHQ consider the UFO subject, its attendant beliefs, and the vocal community surrounding it, to be a useful field of operations for their activities.
The slides of UFOs and classic flying saucers might illustrate the ways that people have a tendency to see what they want to see, or want to believe in, and the ways in which their perceptions can be managed with just a few contextual nudges.
Slide 24 ‘Gambits of Deception’ lays out the building blocks of a classic Mirage Men-style deception operation, whereby all the elements of attention, perception, content, affect and behaviour modification can be shaped and steered. These are the magician’s secret weapons; as the card reads, in order to obtain their desired outcome the successful illusionist will need to “control attention / mask & mimic / exploit prior beliefs / create cognitive stress (and then) channel behaviour”.
One of the many fascinating things about this document is how little has changed since 1950, when RAND published their own paper on the subject – Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare‘ [which I have written about here and discuss in my own presentation, The Abuses of Enchantment.]
RAND’s paper discusses a similar modus operandi for the ‘strategic influence and disruption’ of targets, and also references the work of wartime magician Neville Maskelyn, and CIA illusionist John Mulholland. One key difference is that while the GCHQ document appears to be making explicit reference to the UFO subject, the RAND paper, prepared for the US Air Force, conspicuously avoids the subject.
Amongst many other things, this presentation – concerned as it is with exploiting online communities with specific sets of beliefs – might have direct implications relating to the SERPO “extraterrestrial exchange” documents that were circulated in 2005 and, indeed, for almost any other online dissemination point for UFO information (except this one of course).
Expect more on this fascinating new development over the coming weeks, but for now we can say with confidence that while their tools and their language may have changed over the past 60 years, the methods of the Mirage Men remain the same. And they are still out there.