Twitter has been accused of collaborating with the FBI to censor users and spy on those who posed a threat to the Biden campaign. Court documents show that the social media company worked with the DOJ to intercept the communications of certain users and provided the FBI with access to personal data and behavior of its users. This is how the FBI hacked twitter.
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After journalist Matt Taibbi shared the initial release of internal Twitter documents called the Twitter files, he posted on Twitter that the company’s deputy general counsel, James Baker, was reviewing them.
“The news that Baker was reviewing the ‘Twitter files’ surprised everyone involved,” Taibbi stated. This reportedly included even Twitter’s CEO, Elon Musk, who noted that Baker may have erased some of the documents he was assigned to review.
Baker was previously the chief lawyer at the FBI when it intervened in the 2016 presidential election. The news that he may have been hiding evidence of the intelligence agency’s use of a social media company to manipulate the 2020 election is understandably causing concern.
In reality, the FBI’s infiltration of Twitter was just one aspect of a much larger intelligence operation – one in which the bureau outsourced the tools it used to interfere in the 2016 election and embedded them within the private sector. The resulting giant, which is still being constructed, is a public-private consortium consisting of US intelligence agencies, Big Tech firms, civil society organizations, and major media companies that has become the most powerful intelligence service in the world – one that was strong enough to erase the former president of the United States from public life and is now capable of doing the same or worse to anyone else it chooses.
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According to records from the Twitter files, the FBI paid Twitter almost $3.5 million, allegedly in relation to the 2020 election and supposedly as compensation for the platform’s efforts in censoring content that had been flagged as mis- or disinformation and deemed “dangerous.” This “dangerous” content included material that was damaging to Joe Biden and implicated US officials who have been involved in the Biden family’s foreign corruption for decades.
The FBI and, to a lesser extent, CIA election intervention have been the main topics of the Twitter files thus far. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a lesser-known U.S. government organization, nevertheless, also had a big impact on the 2020 election. According to Mike Benz, a former employee of the State Department who is now the executive director of the Foundation for Freedom Online, “CISA is a sub-agency at DHS that was set up to protect real physical infrastructure, like servers, malware and hacking threats.” “But they expanded ‘infrastructure’ to mean us, the U.S. electorate. So ‘disinformation’ threatened infrastructure and that’s how cybersecurity became cyber-censorship. CISA’s mandate went from stopping threats of Russian malware to stopping tweets from accounts that questioned the integrity of mail-in voting.”
We are aware of CISA’s covert censorship of Twitter due to their private sector partners boasting about it in promotional materials. An example of such a public-private partnership is the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a censorship consortium that includes the Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, and Graphika – a private company based in Washington D.C. founded by former national security officials. A document from the Twitter files release reveals that Graphika is hired by the Senate Intelligence Committee for “narrative analysis and investigations.” During the 2020 election cycle, Graphika and its EIP partners functioned as intermediaries for CISA in censoring social media.
CISA aimed to suppress posts that raised doubts about the election procedures implemented due to COVID-19, such as mass mail-in ballots, early voting drop boxes, and the lack of voter ID requirements. However, instead of contacting the platforms directly, CISA filed tickets with EIP, which then forwarded them to Twitter, Facebook, and other tech companies. In “after-action” reports, the Election Integrity Partnership boasted about censoring Fox News, the New York Post, Breitbart, and other conservative publications for social media posts and online links related to the integrity of the 2020 election.
The censorship industry is based on a “whole of society model,” said Benz. “It unifies the government and the private sector, as well as civil society in the form of academia and NGOs and news organizations, including fact-checking organizations. All these projects with catchphrases like building resilience, media literacy, cognitive security, etc., are all part of a broad partnership to help censor opponents of the Biden administration.”
It is worth noting that Baker was part of one of the civil society organizations at the same time as he became deputy general counsel at Twitter. Benz stated that the National Task Force on Election Crises is similar to the Transition Integrity Project – a group founded by former Democratic Party officials and Never Trump publicists who simulated post-2020-election scenarios. “The outfit Baker was part of,” said Benz, “effectively handled the public messaging for an organization that threatened street violence and counseled violating the constitution to thwart a Trump victory.”
Then, Baker’s visit to Twitter and his examination of the Twitter files were extremely unsettling. “This is who is inside Twitter,” the journalist and filmmaker Mike Cernovich tweeted at Elon Musk this spring. “He facilitated fraud.”
Musk replied: “Sounds pretty bad.”
In reality, Musk has accomplished more in two months in exposing crimes committed by US officials than William Barr and John Durham did during their three-year investigation of the FBI’s election interference activities in the 2016 election. Musk now owns what has become a crucial part of the national security apparatus that, when viewed in this context, is worth significantly more than the $44 billion he paid for it.
The FBI laid the groundwork for America’s new public-private censorship system for the 2020 election by falsely warning Twitter, as well as other social media platforms, media outlets, legislators, and White House staff that Russians were preparing a hack and leak operation to damage the Democratic candidate. As a result, when reports of a laptop owned by Hunter Biden and containing evidence of his family’s financial connections with foreign officials were published in October 2020, Twitter blocked them.
The FBI field office looking into Hunter Biden issued Twitter several suppression requests within the final week before the election. An email from a corporate lawyer dated November 3, 2020, stated that the FBI has “some folks in the Baltimore field office and at [FBI headquarters] that are just doing keyword searches for violations.”
The documents also indicate that Twitter banned Trump after falsely claiming that his posts were inciting violence. With US intelligence agencies reportedly using informants to incite violence during the January 6th protest at the Capitol, the trap was set for Trump. Twitter and Facebook then silenced the outgoing president by depriving him of access to the global communications infrastructure.
The Foreign Influence Task Force was the FBI squad tasked with coordinating with social media corporations during the 2020 election season. It was founded in the fall of 2017 with the goal of “to identify and counteract malign foreign influence operations” by “strategic engagement with U.S. technology companies.” According to the Twitter data, the team “swelled to 80 agents and corresponded with Twitter to identify alleged foreign influence and election tampering of all kinds” during the election cycle.
Elvis Chan, an agent from the FBI’s Cyber Branch based in the San Francisco field office, was the Bureau’s primary point of contact with Twitter. Chan also communicated with Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Reddit, and LinkedIn. Chan requested user information that Twitter said it could not disclose outside of a “legal process.” In return, Chan offered to secure temporary security clearances for 30 Twitter employees a month before the election, likely to provide staff with the same classified briefings on alleged Russian information operations given to US officials.
However, Twitter executives claimed they found little evidence of Russian activity on the site. Therefore, Chan pressured former head of site security Yoel Roth to provide evidence that the FBI was fulfilling its stated mission of combating foreign influence operations, when in reality it was focused on violating the First Amendment rights of Americans.
Chan extensively briefed Twitter on an alleged Russian hacking unit, APT28, or Fancy Bear, which was the same group that was claimed by Hillary Clinton campaign contractors to have hacked and leaked Democratic National Committee emails in 2016. According to Roth, the FBI had “primed” him to attribute reports about Hunter Biden’s laptop to an APT28 hack-and-leak operation. It goes without saying that the FBI’s reports – and subsequent “disinformation” claims – were themselves blatant disinformation, fabricated by the FBI, which had had the laptop in its possession for almost a year.
Twitter was more than just a one-way mirror: it appears that the FBI also embedded its own spy structure within the social media company to extract the personal data and behavior of users. Dozens of former intelligence officials were placed within Twitter following the election of Donald Trump. Some of them had active top secret security clearances. Twitter’s director of strategy was Dawn Burton, former FBI Director James Comey’s deputy chief of staff. Most notably, Baker himself appears to have led the FBI’s internal organization at the platform. Attempts to contact Baker for comment on this story were unsuccessful.
Baker left the FBI in 2018 amid suspicion. In 2017, the Justice Department investigated him for leaking to the press, and the Republican-led House of Representatives later investigated him for his role in Russiagate. Former congressional officials claim that as part of the bureau’s 2016 investigation of the Trump campaign, Baker wrote the warrant to spy on Trump’s inner circle.
After he left the law enforcement agency, CNN hired him as a legal analyst in recognition of his “resistance” activities, which helped boost the network’s ratings to record levels. The Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. brought Baker on board to contribute to its collusion-conspiracy website “Lawfare.” The DOJ investigated him again in 2019 for leaking to the media while at the FBI. In June 2020, Baker joined Twitter as deputy general counsel. With his security clearances still active, he acted as Twitter’s liaison with US intelligence agencies, where he reinforced the FBI’s external pressure from within Twitter to censor the Biden laptop story.
Under Baker, Twitter not only censored the opposition but also spied on them. Recently released court documents reveal that Twitter worked with the DOJ to intercept the communications of users who might pose a threat to the Biden campaign, such as Tara Reade, the former Biden Senate staffer who claimed that Biden sexually assaulted her decades ago. The DOJ subpoenaed her Twitter account, possibly to give the company an excuse to find out which journalists had contacted her about her allegations.
As we learn more and more from the “Twitter Files,” it is becoming all too obvious that Federal agencies such as the FBI viewed the First Amendment of our Constitution as an annoyance and an impediment. In Friday’s release from the pre-Musk era, journalist Matt Taibbi makes an astute observation: Twitter was essentially a FBI subsidiary.