Articles

The Air Force created an army of online trolls

Everyone gets Facebook friend requests from strangers. We used to worry about them being identity thieves. Nowadays, those strangers might be spooks.


As opposed to the Air Force's usual "Spooky."

Many experts agree cyberspace is the battleground of the future, and for good reason. We see that future playing out in many ways, even now. There are real cybersecurity threats out there, as the recent hacking of the Office of Personnel Management demonstrates. Experts estimate the cost of information lost to hackers could be as high as $4.6 billion.

This isn't The Pirate Bay sharing films and music via free torrent downloads. This is actual damage from ideological foes like ISIS and North Korea. China alone accounts for 70% of intellectual property theft. One Air Force counter strategy took a play from Russia's playbook: create an online army of trolls.

Russian trolls pump out 135 comments, 50 news article posts, and maintain 6-10 Facebook and Twitter accounts per 12-hour shift. But Russia uses actual humans to do this work, while the Air Force commissioned software to allow one service member to control the same number of online identities, accounts known as "sock puppets," toward purposes not specified.

Unlike the Air Force's official Twitter and Instagram accounts, which rightfully celebrate National Waffle Day.

In 2010, Air Force contractors took bids for developing this software on FedBizOps (which is a real government website, despite sounding like a subsidiary of Cash4Gold) as legally required for potential contractor opportunities. According to the contract synopsis the Air Force wanted:

"50 User Licenses, 10 Personas per user. Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user's situational awareness by displaying real-time local information."

That's 500 people spreading disinformation and propaganda, much more than the mass emails your parents send to all their friends.

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has the same technology. It might even be better than the Air Force's request, as CENTCOM's can fool geolocating services, allowing for misinformation and propaganda (or anything else the software could provide) from anywhere in the world.

"This contract supports classified social media activities outside the U.S., intended to counter violent extremist ideology and enemy propaganda," said Commander Bill Speaks, the chief media officer of CENTCOM's digital engagement team.

In contrast, the Air Force's guidelines for actual humans posting on blogs and social media is actually pretty well constructed.

One of the original bidders for the software was the now-defunct HBGary, whose CEO infamously bragged he was able to take down hacker collective Anonymous, the same collective who subsequently dumped HBGary's secret documents onto the Internet, where it was found HBGary had developed similar software as a part of the U.S. government's ongoing not-so-secret supervillain plan to destroy the Wikileaks website.

Supervillainy is another area dominated by the Russians

Whatever the persona technology was for, it was launched in March 2011, presumably in support of Operation Earnest Voice. For the record, it would be illegal for the Air Force or CENTCOM to use "sock puppet" accounts against American citizens.

NOW: Russia has a 'troll farm' of people posting crazy internet comments all day long >

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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This Microsoft training fast tracks veterans into sweet tech careers

Solaire Brown (formerly Sanderson) was a happy, gung-ho Marine sergeant deployed in Afghanistan when she realized her military career was about to change. She was tasked with finding the right fit for her post-military life – and she knew she wanted to be prepared.

Injuries sustained during mine-resistant vehicle training had led to surgeries and functional recovery and it became clear Brown would no longer be able to operate at the level she expected of herself as a Marine.

Like many of the 200,000 service members exiting the military each year, Brown knew her military training could make her a valuable asset as an employee, but she was unsure of how her skills might specifically translate to employment in the civilian world.

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5 of the dumbest reasons people went to war

"War is a male activity. Organized fighting and killing by groups of women against other groups of women has simply not existed at any point in human history."

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helen of troyShe made her choice. Get over it.

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The men's department.

Although the Air Force has released very limited guidance on what the new branch will do, how it will roll out, or basically anything at all except that it's called the 'Space Force' and will exist one day, the excitement the idea of a space force brings the military community is palpable.

Judged solely by the sheer volume of Space Force memes.

Also Read: 5 boring details a Space Force private will get stuck on

So if you're excited to do your part, you can fully engulf yourself in the burgeoning Space Force culture, you can now enjoy the first Space Force song, sure to be shouted at the top of many a Spaceman's lungs every morning during Space-ic Training.

This songified version of President Trump's Space Force announcement was created by The Gregory Brothers, whose YouTube page is packed with pop culture songification. Due to the popular demand for the song to be made into a ringtone via the popular Air Force Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco, the Gregory Brothers responded immediately.

Thanks Air Force amn/nco/snco.

Check out: Why the name of the space-based branch should be Space Corps

Good luck getting this song out of your head now that it goes off every time your mom or dad calls you. You can get your free Space Force ringtone from The Gregory Brothers at their Patreon page.

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At the bottom of the Marine Corps task organization is the four-person fire team and they are, by far, the most critical asset in the entire hierarchy. The more lethal each individual team, the more lethal the unit as a whole and the ISMIT gives troops the opportunity to practice their shooting skills without firing real bullets on a live range. It's like playing Nintendo Duck Hunt with military guns and honestly, it puts a lot of current virtual reality gaming to shame with its fun factor.

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Each match pits a group of five players against another team of five to either defend or attack a position. Unlike most online shooters, you choose an operator to play that comes with their own special ability that either aids the team or hinders the enemy.

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