"install code that could harvest personal information and even display disinformation on handsets."
Wait, you lost me. How is this different from the way Google Play normally operates?
The latest package of documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden details how the intelligence services planned to host man-in-the-middle attacks to install tracking and control software onto Android smartphones. According to a presentation released from the Snowden archive to The Intercept the so-called "5 Eyes" nation's …
Indeed, how is it different to the thousands of fart apps that litter the Android stores (and Apple's store too) that demand access to all types of services and data that have nothing to do with playing a stored farting sound upon demand. Ever stop to wonder why a fart app needs to know your location?
Even more ironically, no doubt many will shriek about this latest "privacy intrusion" on such data-harvesting sites as Facesbook and Twatter.
> The intelligence agencies reasoned that in such a situation then it needed to be able to put out software that could influence actions on the ground. [emphasis added]
Offensive... not just in the whole 'invasion-of-privacy+breach-of-trust' sense, but once an intelligence agency starts to think that it should "influence actions on the ground" it has ceased to gather intelligence and has inserted itself into active operations. This may be uncontroversial, but it means that equally offensive counter-operations are much more likely, i.e. it escalates the conflict. To what extent do governments have oversight when their "intelligence" agencies fan the flames of conflict? Discuss.
"an intelligence agency starts to think that it should "influence actions on the ground"
I think you misunderstand the effect and cause, or take the arm for the head. Intelligence agencies are (or should be) the hand that creates or utilizes a tool to do a job specified by the head (politicians). It is debatable whether they designed the tool to prove their own worth to the politicians (more funding is better than less funding), or because this is simply their job, i.e. developing spy tools fit for a modern world. But it's a far-fetched assumption that the intelligence agency would go to all that trouble developing (and no doubt using) tools just because they themselves decided to meddle in Egypt or Libyan comms or flow of social media revolution, "cause it's like soooo boring" or because "I don't like that moustache very much, do you, John?". In other words - blame the politicians for wanting to "influence actions on the ground" (they always want to, and they think they know better than you and me what is in (our) country's best interest, and they have a point. Sometimes).
>> Intelligence agencies are (or should be) the hand that creates or utilizes a tool to do a job specified by the head (politicians).
I see your point. My (probably simplistic) view is that intelligence agencies should create intelligence tools, and the branches of the armed services should create tools which affect conflicts (also widely known as weapons). For sure, the expertise may exist in the intelligence agency, but blurring the lines between that an offensive operation is not helpful.
I am not sure that you're right that intelligence agencies wouldn't be steering their own course, choosing when and where to intervene without sufficient political oversight. In the UK context, vide Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who firmly believed that the British MI organisations were actively plotting against him.
"...but it's at the expense of the privacy and security of hundreds of millions of users worldwide."
"Ah, but to protect their security, we had to compromise it! Anyway, it's only the bad guys who will object. You aren't objecting, are you...?"