FBI Allegedly Aided Russian Censorship Efforts

Commentary Just 10 days after federal Judge Terry A. Doughty issued a stirring Independence Day injunction freezing government speech policing efforts in the landmark Missouri v. Biden case, an appellate court temporarily stayed his order, restoring the fed-led censorship apparatus. That means the Biden administration can resume the speech-stifling activities that induced social media companies to suppress Wrongthink at an industrial scale, perpetrating what Judge Doughty called perhaps the “most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history.” These speech-stifling activities may even include pressing social media companies to censor Americans on behalf of foreign powers—among them hostile ones—if a stunning new report (pdf) from the House Judiciary Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government is any indication. The report details that in March 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the FBI conveyed requests from Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the SBU, to major social media platforms to take down thousands of accounts and posts purportedly associated with Russian influence operations. The FBI apparently neither vetted the SBU’s anti-disinformation-driven requests to determine who the agency was targeting, nor what the agency was targeting. Otherwise, the inescapable conclusion, based on the report, is that the FBI wittingly worked with the foreign intelligence service to violate Americans’ First Amendment rights, and effectively advance not only that service’s interests, but apparently Russia’s interests. As the Weaponization Subcommittee’s report shows, the SBU’s takedown requests included among them Americans’ accounts and posts. Amazingly, one of these accounts was @usaporusski, the official Russian-language account of the U.S. State Department. Other accounts targeted for censorship belonged to American journalists. Twitter flagged this issue for the FBI when, in reviewing an SBU takedown request forwarded to it by the Bureau, it found American journalists among those suspected of “spreading fear and disinformation.” When informed of the targeting of the journalists, the FBI showed little concern. “Understood,” said the FBI agent who had forwarded the SBU’s censorship. “Whatever your review determines and action Twitter deem is appropriate [sic].” As for the nature of the content the SBU targeted, the agency flagged accounts for censorship for “discrediting the SBU leadership” and “promoting the shift of legitimate power,” in the agencies’ words. That is, a foreign security agency brazenly asked an American security agency to push for silencing people to protect the foreign security agency’s reputation—and an American security agency apparently honored that request. More astonishing is that despite the U.S. government’s support for Ukraine, the FBI passed along requests to social media companies to censor content supportive of Ukraine, as well as speech “critical of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion” of the Eastern European nation, according to the Weaponization Subcommittee’s probe. Why was the FBI in essence doing the Kremlin’s bidding when cooperating with Ukraine’s intelligence agency? Apparently, because that agency itself was corrupted by the Kremlin. As the report shows, the SBU was birthed from the Soviet-era KGB following the Soviet Union’s collapse, including inheriting “its original staff, structure, and modus operandi.” Since its advent, it has not only closely cooperated with its Russian counterpart, the FSB, but Russia has penetrated the service. This could be seen, for example, in Russian forces’ February 2022 success in capturing Chernobyl with ease, attributed largely to Russia’s influence over the SBU and Ukraine’s security apparatus. Russia’s infiltration of the SBU seems to have persisted through the period during which it was issuing the takedown requests to the FBI. In July 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suspended the head of the SBU due to widespread findings of suspected treason in the agency’s ranks. Mr. Zelenskyy disclosed that authorities had opened “651 cases of alleged treason and collaboration … against individuals in law enforcement and in the prosecutor’s office.” The day prior to the suspension, authorities arrested the former head of the SBU’s Main Department in Crimea on charges of treason. The close confidante of the soon-to-be-suspended SBU head had reportedly withheld knowledge of Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine from his agency’s central office. It’s worth noting that the FBI was no mere passive observer as a conduit for the SBU’s takedown requests. In at least one instance, after Meta didn’t immediately respond to such a request, an FBI official asked the platform “if these accounts were taken down,” or “if you need some legal process from us”—which is to say, FBI-concocted justification to legitimize the censorship. “Put simply,” the Weaponization Subcommittee report says, “the FBI

FBI Allegedly Aided Russian Censorship Efforts

Commentary

Just 10 days after federal Judge Terry A. Doughty issued a stirring Independence Day injunction freezing government speech policing efforts in the landmark Missouri v. Biden case, an appellate court temporarily stayed his order, restoring the fed-led censorship apparatus.

That means the Biden administration can resume the speech-stifling activities that induced social media companies to suppress Wrongthink at an industrial scale, perpetrating what Judge Doughty called perhaps the “most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history.”

These speech-stifling activities may even include pressing social media companies to censor Americans on behalf of foreign powers—among them hostile ones—if a stunning new report (pdf) from the House Judiciary Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government is any indication.

The report details that in March 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the FBI conveyed requests from Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the SBU, to major social media platforms to take down thousands of accounts and posts purportedly associated with Russian influence operations.

The FBI apparently neither vetted the SBU’s anti-disinformation-driven requests to determine who the agency was targeting, nor what the agency was targeting. Otherwise, the inescapable conclusion, based on the report, is that the FBI wittingly worked with the foreign intelligence service to violate Americans’ First Amendment rights, and effectively advance not only that service’s interests, but apparently Russia’s interests.

As the Weaponization Subcommittee’s report shows, the SBU’s takedown requests included among them Americans’ accounts and posts. Amazingly, one of these accounts was @usaporusski, the official Russian-language account of the U.S. State Department. Other accounts targeted for censorship belonged to American journalists.

Twitter flagged this issue for the FBI when, in reviewing an SBU takedown request forwarded to it by the Bureau, it found American journalists among those suspected of “spreading fear and disinformation.” When informed of the targeting of the journalists, the FBI showed little concern. “Understood,” said the FBI agent who had forwarded the SBU’s censorship. “Whatever your review determines and action Twitter deem is appropriate [sic].”

As for the nature of the content the SBU targeted, the agency flagged accounts for censorship for “discrediting the SBU leadership” and “promoting the shift of legitimate power,” in the agencies’ words.

That is, a foreign security agency brazenly asked an American security agency to push for silencing people to protect the foreign security agency’s reputation—and an American security agency apparently honored that request.

More astonishing is that despite the U.S. government’s support for Ukraine, the FBI passed along requests to social media companies to censor content supportive of Ukraine, as well as speech “critical of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion” of the Eastern European nation, according to the Weaponization Subcommittee’s probe.

Why was the FBI in essence doing the Kremlin’s bidding when cooperating with Ukraine’s intelligence agency?

Apparently, because that agency itself was corrupted by the Kremlin.

As the report shows, the SBU was birthed from the Soviet-era KGB following the Soviet Union’s collapse, including inheriting “its original staff, structure, and modus operandi.” Since its advent, it has not only closely cooperated with its Russian counterpart, the FSB, but Russia has penetrated the service.

This could be seen, for example, in Russian forces’ February 2022 success in capturing Chernobyl with ease, attributed largely to Russia’s influence over the SBU and Ukraine’s security apparatus.

Russia’s infiltration of the SBU seems to have persisted through the period during which it was issuing the takedown requests to the FBI.

In July 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suspended the head of the SBU due to widespread findings of suspected treason in the agency’s ranks. Mr. Zelenskyy disclosed that authorities had opened “651 cases of alleged treason and collaboration … against individuals in law enforcement and in the prosecutor’s office.”

The day prior to the suspension, authorities arrested the former head of the SBU’s Main Department in Crimea on charges of treason. The close confidante of the soon-to-be-suspended SBU head had reportedly withheld knowledge of Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine from his agency’s central office.

It’s worth noting that the FBI was no mere passive observer as a conduit for the SBU’s takedown requests. In at least one instance, after Meta didn’t immediately respond to such a request, an FBI official asked the platform “if these accounts were taken down,” or “if you need some legal process from us”—which is to say, FBI-concocted justification to legitimize the censorship.

“Put simply,” the Weaponization Subcommittee report says, “the FBI worked with and on behalf of a foreign intelligence agency—widely known to be compromised by Moscow at the time—and directly abetted efforts to censor Americans engaging in protected speech. As a result, the FBI agents’ actions had the potential to render substantial aid to the Kremlin’s war effort.”

The report raises myriad questions, none of which FBI Director Christopher Wray provided sufficient answers to during a recent hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

Under questioning from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Director Wray disputed the idea that the FBI pushed social media platforms to censor Americans. He claimed he was unaware of the FBI’s request on behalf of the SBU to Meta to take down the State Department’s Russian-language Instagram account. Wray described the SBU as a “longstanding good partner of the FBI,” and would only admit that “we did pass through information from the SBU to social media” when communications were strained following the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian-born Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) asked the FBI director if the Bureau was doing anything to investigate how it could have been manipulated, or co-opted, by a Russian-infiltrated agency, in passing along the SBU’s unvetted censorship requests to social media platforms.

“I’m not sure there’s an investigation that is directly on point to what you’re saying,” said Wray.

Rep. Spartz pressed Director Wray as to whether the FBI had taken any corrective measures, either in its handling of takedown requests from foreign agencies broadly, or its collaboration with the SBU in particular, in light of the Weaponization Subcommittee report revelations.

Wray didn’t answer the questions.

In so doing, he has opened up many other disturbing ones.

Among them:

  • Have other U.S. national security or foreign policy agencies received censorship requests from foreign counterparts and conveyed them to social media platforms?
  • Which foreign counterparts sent those requests?
  • On what grounds did they call for the targets to be censored?
  • Did they target Americans?
  • Did the U.S. government recipients of the censorship requests vet them before forwarding the requests along to social media platforms?
  • What further action did the U.S. counterparts take after originally forwarding said requests?
  • How did social media companies respond to those requests?
  • Are these efforts still ongoing?

In pursuing the mass public-private censorship apparatus foisted on Americans, congressional investigators appear now to have stumbled upon another scandal: that of either the gross negligence or rank incompetence of national security authorities in handling information received by foreign counterparts, and, perhaps worse, their total disregard for Americans targeted by them.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.