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How the FBI Hacked Twitter

The answer begins with Russiagate



After journalist Matt Taibbi published the first batch of internal Twitter documents known as the Twitter files, he tweeted that the company’s deputy general counsel, James Baker, was vetting them.

“The news that Baker was reviewing the ‘Twitter files’ surprised everyone involved,” Taibbi wrote. That apparently included even Twitter’s new boss, Elon Musk, who added that Baker may have deleted some of the files he was supposed to be reviewing.

Baker had been the top lawyer at the FBI when it interfered in the 2016 presidential election. News that he might have been burying evidence of the spy service’s use of a social media company to interfere with the 2020 election, is rightly setting off alarm bells.

In fact, the FBI’s penetration of Twitter constituted just one part of a much larger intelligence operation—one in which the bureau offshored the machinery it used to interfere in the 2016 election and embedded it within the private sector. The resulting behemoth, still being built today, is a public-private consortium made up of U.S. intelligence agencies, Big Tech companies, civil society institutions, and major media organizations that has become the world’s most powerful spy service—one that was powerful enough to disappear the former president of the United States from public life, and that is now powerful enough to do the same or worse to anyone else it chooses.

Records from the Twitter files show that the FBI paid Twitter nearly $3.5 million, apparently for actions in connection with the 2020 election and nominally a payout for the platform’s work censoring “dangerous” content that had been flagged as mis- or disinformation. That “dangerous” content notably included material that threatened Joe Biden and implicated U.S. officials who have been curating the Biden family’s foreign corruption for decades.

The Twitter files have to date focused on FBI and, to a lesser extent, CIA election interference. However a lesser-known U.S. government agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) also played a significant role in shaping the 2020 vote. “CISA is a sub-agency at DHS that was set up to protect real physical infrastructure, like servers, malware and hacking threats,” said former State Department official Mike Benz, now the executive director of the Foundation for Freedom Online. “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 have some insight into CISA’s de facto censorship of Twitter because their private-sector partners boasted about such activities in promotional material. One such public-private partnership was the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a censorship consortium consisting of 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 D.C.-based private company founded by former national security officials. According to a document from the Twitter files release, Graphika is employed by the Senate Intelligence Committee for “narrative analysis and investigations.” For CISA, Graphika and its EIP partners served as an intermediary to censor social media during the 2020 election cycle.

CISA targeted posts questioning the election procedures introduced into the election process on account of COVID-19, like mass mail-in ballots, early voting drop boxes, and lack of voter ID requirements. But instead of going to the platforms directly, CISA filed tickets with EIP, which relayed them to Twitter, Facebook, and other tech companies. In “after-action” reports, the Election Integrity Partnership bragged about censoring Fox News, the New York Post, Breitbart, and other right-leaning publications for social media posts and online links concerning 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.”

Notably, Baker was enlisted in one of the civil-society organizations at the same time he joined Twitter as deputy general counsel. According to Benz, the National Task Force on Election Crises is something like a sister organization to the Transition Integrity Project, the group founded by former Democratic Party officials and Never Trump publicists who war-gamed 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.”

Baker’s presence at Twitter, then, and his review of the Twitter files, was deeply disconcerting. “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 fact, Musk has done more in two months to bring to light crimes committed by U.S. officials than William Barr and John Durham did during their three-year investigation of the FBI’s election interference activities during the 2016 election. Musk now owns what became a crucial component of the national security apparatus that, seen in this light, is worth many times more than the $44 billion he paid for it.

The FBI prepared America’s new public-private censorship regime for the 2020 election by falsely telling Twitter, as well as other social media platforms, press outlets, lawmakers, and staff members of the White House, that Russians were readying a hack and leak operation to dirty the Democratic candidate. Accordingly, when reports of a laptop owned by Hunter Biden and giving evidence of his family’s financial ties with foreign officials were published in October 2020, Twitter blocked them.

In the week before the election, the FBI field office in charge of investigating Hunter Biden sent multiple censorship requests to Twitter. The FBI has “some folks in the Baltimore field office and at [FBI headquarters] that are just doing keyword searches for violations,” a company lawyer wrote in a Nov. 3, 2020, email.

The documents also show that Twitter banished Trump after misrepresenting his posts as incitement to violence. With U.S. intelligence services reportedly using informants to provoke violence during the January 6th protest at the Capitol, the trap closed on Trump. Twitter and Facebook then moved to silence the outgoing president by denying him access to the global communications infrastructure.

The FBI unit designated to coordinate with social media companies during the 2020 election cycle was the Foreign Influence Task Force. It was set up in the fall of 2017 “to identify and counteract malign foreign influence operations” through, “strategic engagement with U.S. technology companies.” During the election cycle, according to the Twitter files, the unit “swelled to 80 agents and corresponded with Twitter to identify alleged foreign influence and election tampering of all kinds.”

The FBI’s chief liaison with Twitter was Elvis Chan, an agent from its Cyber Branch. Based in the San Francisco field office, Chan was also in communication with Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Reddit and LinkedIn. Chan demanded user information that Twitter said it could not release outside of a “legal process.” In exchange, Chan promised to secure temporary security clearances for 30 Twitter employees a month before the election, presumably to give staff the same briefings on alleged Russian information operations provided to U.S. officials in classified settings.

But Twitter executives claimed they found little evidence of Russian activity on the site. So Chan badgered former head of site security Yoel Roth to produce evidence the FBI was serving its advertised mission of combating foreign influence operations when in fact it was focused on violating the First Amendment rights of Americans.

Chan briefed Twitter extensively on an alleged Russian hacking unit, APT28, or Fancy Bear, which was the same outfit 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. Needless to say, the FBI’s reports—and subsequent “disinformation” claims—were themselves blatant disinformation, invented by the FBI, which had been in possession of the laptop for nearly a year.

“The FBI’s penetration of Twitter constituted just one part of a much larger intelligence operation—one in which the bureau offshored the machinery it used to interfere in the 2016 election and embedded it within the private sector.”…


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