The broad public-private censorship enterprise that aimed to suppress purported “mis-, dis- and malinformation” on social media platforms started almost immediately after the surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016 and included U.S. and U.K. military contractors, according to leaked internal files from the Cyber Threat Intelligence League (CTIL).
The intel group allegedly sought members familiar with “influence operations” that included “active measures” and “psyops.”
Twitter Files journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger obtained the “large trove of new documents, including strategy documents, training videos, presentations, and internal messages” from a “highly credible whistleblower.”
Shellenberger, Taibbi and Tablet editor Alex Gutentag reported on the findings in the first CTIL Files report published on Substack.
According to the trio, the files “offer the missing-link answers to key questions not addressed” by the Twitter Files or the Facebook Files released by Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) over the summer.
The US and UK military and intelligence contractors were allegedly recruited to participate in the CTIL “through monthly cybersecurity meetings hosted by” the Department of Homeland Security. The group was led by former UK defense researcher, Sara-Jayne “SJ” Terp, according to the report.
Internal CTIL Slack messages show that beginning in 2018, “Terp, her colleagues, and officials from DHS and Facebook all working closely together in the censorship process,” the trio reported.
CTIL’s activities reportedly were “ramped up a year before the COVID-19 pandemic,” and included plans to sue and cut off financial services to dissenters.
Terp’s plan, which she shared in presentations to information security and cybersecurity groups in 2019, was to create “Misinfosec communities” that would include government.
Both public records and the whistleblower’s documents suggest that she achieved this. In April 2020, Chris Krebs, then-Director of CISA, announced on Twitter and in multiple articles, that CISA was partnering with CTIL. “It’s really an information exchange,” said Krebs.
“CTIL’s approach to ‘disinformation’ went far beyond censorship,” the journalists reported.
The documents show that the group engaged in offensive operations to influence public opinion, discussing ways to promote “counter-messaging,” co-opt hashtags, dilute disfavored messaging, create sock puppet accounts, and infiltrate private invite-only groups.
In one suggested list of survey questions, CTIL proposed asking members or potential members, “Have you worked with influence operations (e.g. disinformation, hate speech, other digital harms etc) previously?” The survey then asked whether these influence operations included “active measures” and “psyops.”
Shellenberger and Taibbi testifed about these latest revelations before the House Judiciary Committee’s Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee on Thursday, a year after the first Twitter Files report.
“Two days ago, my colleagues and I published the first batch of internal files from “The Cyber Threat Intelligence League,” which show US and UK military contractors working in 2019 and 2020 to both censor and turn sophisticated psychological operations and disinformation tactics, developed abroad, against the American people,” Shellenberger said in his opening statement.
“But the First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging freedom of speech, the Supreme Court has ruled that the government ‘may not induce, encourage or promote private persons to accomplish what it is constitutionally forbidden to accomplish,’ and there is now a large body of evidence proving that the government did precisely that,” the journalist continued.
Shellenberger added that the whistleblower who delivered the CTIL Files to the journalists told them that CTIL’s leader, SJ Terp., was “in the room” at the Obama White House in 2017 when she received the instructions to create a counter-disinformation project to stop a “repeat of 2016.”
Emails from CISA’s NGO and social media partners show that CISA created the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) in 2020, which involved the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) and other US government contractors. EIP and its successor, the Virality Project (VP), urged Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to censor social media posts by ordinary citizens and elected officials alike.
In 2020, the Department of Homeland Security’s CISA violated the First Amendment and interfered in the election, while in 2021, CISA and the White House violated the First Amendment and undermined America’s response to the Covid pandemic by demanding that Facebook and Twitter censor content that Facebook said was “often-true,” including about vaccine side effects.
But the abuses of power my colleagues and I have documented go well beyond censorship. They also include what appears to be an effort by government officials and contractors, including the FBI, to frame certain individuals as posing a threat of domestic terrorism for their political beliefs. All of this is profoundly unAmerican. One’s commitment to free speech means nothing if it does not extend to your political enemies.
"One's commitment to free speech means nothing if it does not extend to your political enemies."@Shellenberger details how the federal government worked with social media platforms to censor conservative speech in his opening statement at today's hearing. pic.twitter.com/FOqYyi6rYc
— Weaponization Committee (@Weaponization) November 30, 2023
“This was one of the most sophisticated disinformation operations that I’ve ever seen,” Shellenberger told Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). “I’ve been involved in progressive causes for over 30 years and I’ve never seen anything so organized or anything so focused on a particular goal and had so many people that came from military intelligence organizations,” he said, adding, “It gave me the creeps just reading about it.”
Government-funded organizations were flagging official congressional accounts, including mine, to get posts censored on social media. If the government will attempt to censor a member of Congress's communications to his constituents, the government will censor anyone. pic.twitter.com/kvD3s9XlMv
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) November 30, 2023
Thursday morning, Jordan released on X the “YouTube Files” detailing how the Biden administration worked with employees of Google-owned YouTube in 2021 to target alleged “misinformation” relating to the COVID-19 virus and its vaccinations.
THE YOUTUBE FILES PART 1. BIDEN WHITE HOUSE PRESSURED YOUTUBE TO CENSOR AMERICANS.
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) November 30, 2023
Jordan also subpoenaed two former Biden White House officials, Robert Flaherty and Andrew Slavitt, for their roles in the regime’s censorship efforts, Semafor reported..
House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, first initiated testimony of Robert Flaherty, the former White House digital strategist now serving as Biden’s deputy campaign manager, and Andrew Slavitt, a former senior advisor to the Biden administration’s pandemic response team, in June and September respectively. Flaherty is the subject of a federal censorship lawsuit brought by the state of Missouri against the Biden administration.
In the letters, Jordan called their reasons for declining to appear before the committee — the pair said lawmakers should instead contact the White House — “unpersuasive.”
“As detailed in previous correspondence to you and your counsel, the Committee has obtained documents that demonstrate the central role you played in communicating the Biden White House’s censorship efforts to social media companies, including the White House’s demands to censor true information, memes, satire, and other constitutionally protected forms of expression,” the cover letters to the subpoenas read.
Shellenberger concluded his opening statement by encouraging Congress to defund and dismantle the governmental organizations involved in the censorship enterprise.
“That includes phasing out funding for the National Science Foundation’s Track F, ‘Trust & Authenticity in Communication Systems,’ and its ‘Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC)’ track,” he said. “I would also encourage Congress to abolish CISA in DHS. Short of taking those steps, I would encourage significant guard rails and oversight to prevent such censorship from happening again.”