New Twitter Files drop: the FBI was a liaison for all sorts of government agencies
The First Amendment is clear: The government may not regulate speech—yet that’s precisely what the latest Twitter Files from Matt Taibbi show the FBI did. In the lead-up to the 2020 election, acting on behalf of itself and other agencies, the FBI had Twitter censor anything that it deemed “misinformation.” Additionally, beginning in 2022, the FBI asked Twitter to shut down hundreds of accounts that countered the Biden administration’s Ukraine narrative. In other words, the government was doing indirectly, via Twitter, that which it cannot do directly: censoring speech with which it disagrees.
Matt Taibbi dropped the latest thread yesterday afternoon. (For your convenience, I’ve appended below the text of the thread without any images. You can find the thread with images here.) Taibbi opened by reminding his readers about the FBI’s snotty response to the last Twitter thread, which had shown that the FBI was putting its thumb on the scale regarding information related to the 2020 election:
https://t.co/oYzosVQ8YF didn’t refute allegations. Instead, it decried “conspiracy theorists” publishing “misinformation,” whose “sole aim” is to “discredit the agency.” pic.twitter.com/bEndZ9qj7i— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 24, 2022
4.The files show the FBI acting as doorman to a vast program of social media surveillance and censorship, encompassing agencies across the federal government – from the State Department to the Pentagon to the CIA.— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 24, 2022
Ostensibly, the FBI was working to monitor foreign influence on the election—which was a response to the Russia Hoax. As all of you recall, the Russia Hoax falsely claimed that, in 2016, the Russians, working in cahoots with Donald Trump, had flooded social media with false information intended to destroy Hillary’s candidacy.
To make sure the thing that hadn’t happened never happened again, the FBI formed a large Foreign Intelligence Task Force (“FITF”) to work with social media companies to block any foreign government’s effort to dominate the airwaves and mess with an American election. (One could say that messing with American elections is a job best done domestically.) The problem at Twitter, as even the partisan Yoel Roth (Twitter’s “safety” director) acknowledged, was that there was no evidence in 2020 that the Russians were up to their old tricks (the same “old” tricks that they’d never done before).
That was okay with the FBI. As Taibbi’s Twitter File drop shows, the FBI used the access the FITF gave it to flood Twitter with requests asking it to shut down posts or accounts with “misinformation,” even if they weren’t foreign. The word for that is censorship. The government cannot censor political speech—and it cannot avoid that absolute proscription by requesting or bullying a third party into censoring the speech on the government’s behalf. But that’s precisely what happened: FBI asked for censorship, and Twitter said “yes.”
Even worse, the FBI was acting as a conduit for other government agencies, most notably the CIA. The CIA’s involvement is especially disturbing, given that it has no mandate at all to operate within America. Its involvement in policing domestic “misinformation” is deeply concerning. In that vein, Harry Truman was already concerned in 1963 that the CIA was exceeding its mandate and involving itself in domestic politics:
Back on Dec. 22, 1963, exactly a month after the Kennedy assassination, former President Harry Truman wrote in the Washington Post that “for some time I have been disturbed by the way [the] CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.” He added, “We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.”
Nor did the government’s interference with free speech end with the election. Taibbi also says that it continued to block any accounts that gave Americans views contrary to the government’s on such issues as Ukraine, China, and Venezuela. Again, that’s called censorship, and it’s unconstitutional for the government to do it directly or indirectly.
As you contemplate how our government has slipped ever so gently into Stasi-like censorship, remember that it wasn’t just doing this with Twitter. If Elon Musk were to purchase other social media companies, it would show the same thing.
It's demoralizing to learn that our security apparatus has functioned as a chief censor, ensuring that an election outcome favors the permanent state’s interest. What’s even more demoralizing is to realize that, unless the American people rise up and swamp the next election with more votes than can ever be cheated out of existence, the deep state will have succeeded in overthrowing the American government and installing in its place a left-wing technocracy.
Image by Andrea Widburg
TEXT (WITHOUT IMAGES) OF MATT TAIBBI’S LATEST TWITTER THREAD
1.THREAD: The Twitter Files
TWITTER AND "OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCIES"
After weeks of “Twitter Files” reports detailing close coordination between the FBI and Twitter in moderating social media content, the Bureau issued a statement Wednesday.
2.It didn’t refute allegations. Instead, it decried “conspiracy theorists” publishing “misinformation,” whose “sole aim” is to “discredit the agency.”
3.They must think us unambitious, if our “sole aim” is to discredit the FBI. After all, a whole range of government agencies discredit themselves in the #TwitterFiles. Why stop with one?
4.The files show the FBI acting as doorman to a vast program of social media surveillance and censorship, encompassing agencies across the federal government – from the State Department to the Pentagon to the CIA.
5.The operation is far bigger than the reported 80 members of the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF), which also facilitates requests from a wide array of smaller actors - from local cops to media to state governments.
6.Twitter had so much contact with so many agencies that executives lost track. Is today the DOD, and tomorrow the FBI? Is it the weekly call, or the monthly meeting? It was dizzying.
7.A chief end result was that thousands of official “reports” flowed to Twitter from all over, through the FITF and the FBI’s San Francisco field office.
8.On June 29th, 2020, San Francisco FBI agent Elvis Chan wrote to pair of Twitter execs asking if he could invite an “OGA” to an upcoming conference:
9.OGA, or “Other Government Organization,” can be a euphemism for CIA, according to multiple former intelligence officials and contractors. Chuckles one: “They think it's mysterious, but it's just conspicuous."
10.“Other Government Agency (the place where I worked for 27 years),” says retired CIA officer Ray McGovern.
11. It was an open secret at Twitter that one of its executives was ex-CIA, which is why Chan referred to that executive’s “former employer.”
12.The first Twitter executive abandoned any pretense to stealth and emailed that the employee “used to work for the CIA, so that is Elvis’s question.”
13.Senior legal executive Stacia Cardille, whose alertness stood out among Twitter leaders, replied, “I know” and “I thought my silence was understood.”
14.Cardille then passes on conference details to recently-hired ex-FBI lawyer Jim Baker.
15.“I invited the FBI and the CIA virtually will attend too,” Cardille says to Baker, adding pointedly: “No need for you to attend.”
16.The government was in constant contact not just with Twitter but with virtually every major tech firm.
17. These included Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon, Reddit, even Pinterest, and many others. Industry players also held regular meetings without government.
18.One of the most common forums was a regular meeting of the multi-agency Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF), attended by spates of executives, FBI personnel, and – nearly always – one or two attendees marked “OGA.”
19.The FITF meeting agendas virtually always included, at or near the beginning, an “OGA briefing,” usually about foreign matters (hold that thought).
20. Despite its official remit being “Foreign Influence,” the FITF and the SF FBI office became conduit for mountains of domestic moderation requests, from state governments, even local police:
21. Many requests arrived via Teleporter, a one-way platform in which many communications were timed to vanish:
22.Especially as the election approached in 2020, the FITF/FBI overwhelmed Twitter with requests, sending lists of hundreds of problem accounts:
23. Email after email came from the San Francisco office heading into the election, often adorned with an Excel attachment:
24. There were so many government requests, Twitter employees had to improvise a system for prioritizing/triaging them:
25. The FBI was clearly tailoring searches to Twitter’s policies. FBI complaints were almost always depicted somewhere as a “possible terms of service violation," even in the subject line:
26. Twitter executives noticed the FBI appeared to be aasigning personnel to look for Twitter violations.
27.“They have some folks in the Baltimore field office and at HQ that are just doing keyword searches for violations. This is probably the 10th request I have dealt with in the last 5 days,” remarked Cardille.
28. Even ex-FBI lawyer Jim Baker agreed: “Odd that they are searching for violations of our policies.”
29.The New York FBI office even sent requests for the “user IDs and handles” of a long list of accounts named in a Daily Beast article. Senior executives say they are “supportive” and “completely comfortable” doing so.
30. It seemed to strike no one as strange that a “Foreign Influence” task force was forwarding thousands of mostly domestic reports, along with the DHS, about the fringiest material:
31. “Foreign meddling” had been the ostensible justification for expanded moderation since platforms like Twitter were dragged to the Hill by the Senate in 2017:
32. Yet behind the scenes, Twitter executives struggled against government claims of foreign interference supposedly occurring on their platform and others:
33. The #TwitterFiles show execs under constant pressure to validate theories of foreign influence – and unable to find evidence for key assertions.
34. “Found no links to Russia,” says one analyst, but suggests he could “brainstorm” to “find a stronger connection.”
35. “Extremely tenuous circumstantial chance of being related,” says another.
36. “No real matches using the info,” says former Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth in another case, noting some links were “clearly Russian,” but another was a “house rental in South Carolina?”
37. In another case, Roth concludes a series of Venezuelan pro-Maduro accounts are unrelated to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, because they’re too high-volume:
38.The Venezuelans “were extremely high-volume tweeters… pretty uncharacteristic of a lot of the other IRA activity,” Roth says.
39. In a key email, news that the State Department was making a wobbly public assertion of Russian influence led an exec – the same one with the “OGA” past - to make a damning admission:
40. “Due to a lack of technical evidence on our end, I've generally left it be, waiting for more evidence,” he says. “Our window on that is closing, given that government partners are becoming more aggressive on attribution.”
41. Translation: “more aggressive” “government partners” had closed Twitter’s “window” of independence.
42. “Other Government Agencies” ended up sharing intelligence through the FBI and FITF not just with Twitter, but with Yahoo!, Twitch, Clouldfare, LinkedIn, even Wikimedia:
43. Former CIA agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou believes he recognizes the formatting of these reports.
44.“Looks right on to me,” Kiriakou says, noting that “what was cut off above [the “tearline”] was the originating CIA office and all the copied offices.”
45. Many people wonder if Internet platforms receive direction from intelligence agencies about moderation of foreign policy news stories. It appears Twitter did, in some cases by way of the FITF/FBI.
46. These reports are far more factually controversial than domestic counterparts.
47. One intel report lists accounts tied to “Ukraine ‘neo-Nazi’ Propaganda.’” This includes assertions that Joe Biden helped orchestrate a coup in 2014 and “put his son on the board of Burisma.”
48. Another report asserts a list of accounts accusing the “Biden administration” of “corruption” in vaccine distribution are part of a Russian influence campaign:
49. Often intelligence came in the form of brief reports, followed by long lists of accounts simply deemed to be pro-Maduro, pro-Cuba, pro-Russia, etc. This one batch had over 1000 accounts marked for digital execution:
50. One report says a site “documenting purported rights abuses committed by Ukrainians” is directed by Russian agents:
51. Intel about the shady origin of these accounts might be true. But so might at least some of the information in them – about neo-Nazis, rights abuses in Donbas, even about our own government. Should we block such material?
52. This is a difficult speech dilemma. Should the government be allowed to try to prevent Americans (and others) from seeing pro-Maduro or anti-Ukrainian accounts?
53. Often intel reports are just long lists of newspapers, tweets or YouTube videos guilty of “anti-Ukraine narratives”:
54. Sometimes - not always -Twitter and YouTube blocked the accounts. But now we know for sure what Roth meant by “the Bureau (and by extension the IC).”
55. The line between “misinformation” and “distorting propaganda” is thin. Are we comfortable with so many companies receiving so many reports from a “more aggressive” government?
56.The CIA has yet to comment on the nature of its relationship to tech companies like Twitter. Twitter had no input into anything I did or wrote. The searches were carried out by third parties, so what I saw could be limited.
Watch @bariweiss, @ShellenbergerMD, @lhfang, and this space for more, on issues ranging from Covid-19 to Twitter's relationship to congress, and more.