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Context of '1999 and After: New Video Manipulation Technologies Raise Fears of Mass Deception'

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Press reports warn that newly-developed digital data manipulation software which automate the creation of fake pictures, videos, or audio recordings could be used for political deception or military advantage. Moviegoers are used to elaborate special effects, but until recently that required expensive and time-consuming, frame-by-frame, post-production work. Now, however, software developed since the mid-1990s permit much faster, even real-time, special effects. Real-time video manipulation allows the deletion of people or objects from a live broadcast or the insertion of pre-recorded images. The technology has commercial applications: it is used in sports broadcasting to generate a virtual “first-down” line or virtual billboards. It is also used, more controversially, in some news programming (see January 13, 2000). A related technology called “digital morphing” is now available to create virtual characters who can convincingly imitate real-life persons, as in the film “Forrest Gump”. Voice morphing, a technology developed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, allows the creation of computer speech based on a short recording of someone’s voice. The virtual voice can be surprisingly life-like: the robotic intonations are a thing of the past. For intelligence agencies and PSYOPS (psychological operations) personnel the new techniques are potential weapons of the future. While the public at large is familiar with edited or “photoshopped” images, it is not yet aware of the possibilities for audio or real-time video deception. [Washington Post, 2/1/1999; Technology Review, 7/2000]

Timeline Tags: US Military

Virtual First DownVirtual First Down [Source: Princeton Video Image]Following the publication of a front-page article in the New York Times on the use of fake, digitally-created images in some CBS programs like “The Early Show”, CBS executives call a press conference to defend and explain the practice. While the technology has been used in sports broadcasting for several years now (see 1999 and After), many are troubled by its use in news programs. CBS Television used the technology developed by Princeton Video Image to superimpose a digitally created CBS logo to block out an NBC-sponsored sign in Times Square during its news coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations. Dan Rather, the CBS anchor, calls that “a mistake”. “At the very least we should have pointed out to viewers that we were doing it.” Both NBC and ABC told the New York Times that they had not used the technology in their news broadcasting. But CBS defends the practice. “Anytime there’s an NBC logo up on our network we’ll block it again”, says Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS Television. Andrew Heyward, the president of the news division, acknowledges the potential for abuse or deception: “He said that he understood the argument against the use of the technology—which is widely employed in sports and some entertainment shows—on news programs. The danger is ‘that it looks too real and therefore it’s wrong or potentially wrong,’ he said. ‘I certainly agree it’s potentially subject to abuse.’ He noted that advances in computer-generated techniques had made things like missiles hitting Baghdad and airplanes crashing look so real that it was incumbent on networks to underscore that these were not real images. ‘We’re not sitting here rubbing our hands, saying how can we use this again,’ Mr. Heyward said. ‘We are not in the deception business. We’re in the reality business; we’re in the accuracy business. To the extent that this technology interferes with that core belief we’re not going to do it. We will absolutely take seriously the use of this tool.’” [New York Times, 1/12/2000; New York Times, 1/13/2000; Independent, 1/24/2000; New York Times, 1/27/2000]

Entity Tags: Dan Rather, Andrew Heyward, Princeton Video Image, Inc., CBS News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The Washington Post reports on major improvements of the CIA’s intelligence gathering capability “in recent years.” A new program called Oasis uses “automated speech recognition” technology to turn audio feeds into formatted, searchable text. It can distinguish one voice from another and differentiates “speaker 1” from “speaker 2” in transcripts. Software called Fluent performs “cross lingual” searches, translates difficult languages like Chinese and Japanese (apparently such software is much better than similar publicly available software), and even automatically assesses the contextual importance. Other new software can turn a suspect’s “life story into a three-dimensional diagram of linked phone calls, bank deposits and plane trips,” while still other software can efficiently and quickly process vast amounts of video, audio, and written data. [Washington Post, 3/26/2001] However, the government will later report that a number of messages about the 9/11 attacks, such as one stating “tomorrow is the zero hour,” are not translated until after 9/11 because analysts were “too swamped.” [ABC News, 6/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Oasis, Fluent

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In mid-September 2007, the CIA informs the prosecution team from the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial that it has one video recordings of a high-ranking detainee interrogation. The CIA had previously claimed it had no video recordings of any interrogations when in fact it did (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The CIA then initiates a review and unearths another video and an audio recording several days later. The prosecutors will subsequently inform the judge, but say that the error did not influence the outcome of the trial, as Moussaoui pleaded guilty, but the death penalty was not imposed. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 pdf file; Reuters, 11/13/2007] Lawyers who prosecuted Zacarias Moussaoui view these two videotapes and listen to the one audiotape. The names of the one to three detainees who were recorded are not known. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 pdf file] However, they were enemy combatants that could not testify at the trial, and substitutions for testimony were submitted in the trial on behalf of five enemy combatants: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Khallad bin Attash, Hambali, and Mohamed al-Khatani. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 pdf file; Reuters, 11/13/2007] Shortly after this, the CIA discloses that it had destroyed some similar videotapes in 2005 (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007). Apparently this indicates some videotapes have survived the destruction.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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