Newly leaked documents indicate that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has quietly proceeded with its online censorship effort despite suspending the infamous Disinformation Governance Board, dubbed the “Ministry of Truth” in May 2022.
Still, it appears to just be the tip of the iceberg.
The DHS is broadening efforts to suppress speech it considers dangerous, as per The Intercept, which analyzed a trove of leaks and lawsuit documents earlier this week. After public backlash forced the DHS to suspend its Disinformation Governance Board, the federal agency continued to monitor social media from the shadows.
The documents indicated that Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, created a special portal for the DHS and other federal officials to request content moderation on a wide range of topics, including “the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of US support to Ukraine,” according to a draft copy of the DHS’ Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.
“The US government and its allies, including media gatekeepers and educational institutions and global corporations, have become the judges and juries of ‘misinformation.’ And Big Tech is their executioner,” Techno Fog, the alias of a lawyer and popular legal observer on Twitter, wrote on his/her blog.
Edward Snowden Was First to Warn the World
The Monday exposure wasn’t a bolt from the blue, given that former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle on Big Tech cooperation with US federal agents in 2013. Snowden presented documents which appeared to confirm that major US tech companies including Yahoo, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and AOL participated in the NSA’s broad spying program known as Prism.
However, Big Tech rushed to claim that they did not know about a surveillance practice that reportedly gives the NSA unlimited access to their customers’ data, with some asserting to the press that they had never heard the term “Prism.” Furthermore, US tech companies issued a joint statement and sent it to then-President Barack Obama and Congress demanding sweeping changes to US surveillance laws. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” the letter read.
Still, Rajesh De, the NSA general counsel, revealed in March 2014 that US tech giants were fully aware of the agency’s collection of data. According to him, the NSA harvested communications content and associated metadata under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008 with the knowledge of Big Tech.
Silencing American Conservatives and Trump
Disturbing revelations about US federal agencies working in cahoots with Silicon Valley giants did not stop this cooperation, but quite the contrary. Since Donald Trump assumed the Oval Office in January 2017, Big Tech has adopted a series of policies curbing free speech and banning accounts mostly on the right side of the US political aisle. Then-President Trump repeatedly lambasted Twitter and Facebook for political bias and silencing “conservative views… even from a President of the United States.”
In 2018, conservative watchdog Project Veritas issued a series of hidden-camera interviews with Big Tech employees, who confessed that their platforms had implemented special algorithms to “shadow-ban” and “down-rank” conservatives.
In May 2020, Twitter started to editorialize some of Trump’s tweets by flagging them as false information. The purge of conservatives coincided with a longstanding campaign waged by the Democratic Party against Trump, including the controversial “Operation Crossfire Hurricane,” which was awash with strange errors and outright violations of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) rules by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as two impeachment proceedings by the Dem-held House of Representatives. Eventually, the then-US president was permanently banned from Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms following the Capitol protests of January 6, 2021.
Hunter Biden’s Laptop From Hell: Classy Damage Control Op
However, it was not only censorship of conservatives, but also suppression of damning information concerning prominent Democratic figures, most notably, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Starting from October 14, 2020, the New York Post published a series of exposés stemming from Hunter Biden’s laptop, later branded the “laptop from hell,” which shed light on his murky deals with foreign moneybags and alleged trading of his father’s political influence for cold, hard cash.
Almost immediately, Twitter and Facebook stepped in to limit the circulation of the bombshell article. However, Twitter went even further, completely banning the sharing of the newspaper’s Biden story. For their part, 51 ex-top intelligence officials on October 19, 2020 issued a letter titled “Public Statement on the Hunter Biden Emails,” in which they claimed that Hunter’s “laptop from hell” had “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” The letter was widely cited by US Democratic politicians and mainstream media to downplay and marginalize the bombshell.
As it turned out later, the suppression of the Hunter story had all the earmarks of the classic damage control operation, which involved Big Tech, mainstream media, the US intelligence establishment, and Democratic officials. The content of Hunter Biden’s hard disk has been proven to be genuine by forensic analysts.
COVID, ‘Big Lie’ & ‘Domestic Terrorists’
Under Joe Biden, the attacks on dissenters under the guise of the fight against “disinformation” have gone further. In July 2021, then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki prompted a wave of criticism from the GOP over supposed collusion between the White House and Big Tech. She specifically told journalists that “it shouldn’t come as any surprise that we’re regularly in touch with social media platforms.”
Social media giants stepped up flagging and banning dissenters over questioning the origins and the government’s handling of the COVID pandemic or discussing supposed voting irregularities and election fraud branded by the Biden administration as “Big Lie.” Thus, in July 2021, Twitter permanently suspended several accounts dedicated to audits of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Wisconsin, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia.
Earlier, in May 2021, it was reported that the Biden administration planned to task private firms with infiltrating private social media groups to monitor so-called “domestic terrorists” after the January 6, 2021 Capitol protests. These private contractors were meant to work for US federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which are limited in how they can spy on US citizens online without a warrant.
Brothers in Arms: Big Tech and Cyber Op Units
In August 2021, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) announced the creation of the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC) initiative, bringing together federal intelligence and military agencies, state and local governments, as well as Big Tech to defend “national critical functions from cyber intrusions.” The JCDC initiative was aimed at implementing “whole-of-nation defense plans” to address cyber risks, share information within the newly established agency, and conduct “coordinated defensive cyber operations.”
The creation of the JCDC followed a series of ransomware attacks, some of which were groundlessly attributed to Russia, that reportedly targeted US infrastructure and government entities. US observers expressed skepticism over Big Tech’s growing cooperation with federal government agencies and suggested that the “Russian bugaboo” was used as a pretext to further crack down on free speech in the US.
The approach manifested itself after the beginning of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, when Russian media outlets were banned by Big Tech from their platforms, while Russian-speaking netizens were subjected to massive psy-ops on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, Russian-speaking users were “attacked” by ads featuring gruesome images of dead bodies and mocking Russians; calling on Russian citizens to take to the streets; and threatening Russians with the imminent collapse of their banking system and the state. Facebook also announced that it would loosen its community standards on hate speech when it came to addressing Russian military and civilian officials.
Musk’s Twitter: The Bird is Still in a Cage
The acquisition of Twitter by billionaire Elon Musk, who has called himself a “free speech absolutist,” prompted speculation that the Tesla CEO could loosen Twitter’s censorship rules and free many from the platform’s “jail.”
Scott Ritter, a military analyst, WMD whistleblower, and former US Marine Corps intelligence officer, who was banned on Twitter for challenging the US official narrative on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, decided to check this out. He created a new account using his name and photograph and posted a test tweet saying that the Bucha war crime was committed by Kiev and falsely attributed to Russia.
On November 1, Ritter said in a video post on Telegram that his new Twitter account had been banned again in less than 24 hours, despite the “free speech absolutist” taking over the platform. “It appears that the bird has not been set free,” Ritter said. The former intelligence officer noted that perhaps Musk needs time to sort it all out, but until then “the bird is in a cage.”
“Free speech is absolute and if you are a free speech absolutist in America that means you attach free speech to where it should be properly attached, the Constitution of the United States,” Scott Ritter said.