According to documents obtained by Daily Caller News Foundation, a panel of advisors from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which helped the federal government combat misinformation, pushed to include left-wing organizations and individuals in its efforts.
Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Authority (CISA) Cybersecurity Advisory Committee (CSAC), Protecting Critical Infrastructure From Misinformation and Disinformation Subcommittee was established in December 2021 to give CISA recommendations on how to address misinformation and disinformation (MDM), ahead of the 2022 midterm election. The DCNF obtained internal meeting minutes, emails, and notes through a public records request and found that committee members often pushed for the inclusion of left-wing groups or individuals associated with Democratic causes in order to support their efforts.
This subcommittee was comprised of DHS officials, Vijaya Gadde (ex-chief legal officer Twitter), Kate Starbird, a University of Washington professor, and Suzanne Spaulding, a former DHS official and Center of Strategic and International Studies adviser (CSIS).
Gadde was often criticized for her censorship of conservatives on Twitter while she was at the platform. According to journalist Matt Taibbi’s internal Twitter communications, Gadde played an important role in Twitter’s censoring the New York Post’s true story about President Joe Biden’s business dealings. The newspaper had obtained a copy the younger Biden’s laptop.
Starbird, however, is vocally pursuing left-wing activism. She urged her followers to vote Democrats in a Facebook posting excoriating Republicans as well as former President Donald Trump. Starbird described Trump’s speech with “undertones of white supremacy and ethnonationalism”.
According to initial recommendations of the committee published June 2022, these members were given the task of guiding CISA in how to combat misinformation and disinformation that was perceived to be threatening “critical functions of democracy”, including public health, elections, and financial systems. These recommendations included working with non-governmental sources to reduce misinformation and bankroll research. CISA accepted some of these recommendations but declined to actively identify threats.
To support their work, the subcommittee used “misinformation research” from partisan organizations. Subcommittee members also suggested that they recruit progressive researchers to “socialize the work of the committee. They also recommended enlisting major Democratic donors to help fund CISA’s efforts.
The DHS doesn’t censor content, but it does advise its partners, including social media companies on how to fight information deemed threatening and flags examples to these platforms. This is according to The Intercept reporting and the agency’s website. According to The Intercept, tech companies meet regularly with CISA and intelligence agents on the topic.
A spokesperson for CISA denied that the agency had requested the removal of content in a statement to DCNF.
The spokesman stated that CISA offers broad guidance on disinformation and foreign influence tactics. It also mitigates the risk from foreign influence and misinformation by sharing accurate information and amplifying the voices of state- and local election offices regarding issues related to election security.
“Government working behind-the scenes actors to censor speech shouldn’t alarm anyone – regardless of their political affiliation,” Republican Missouri Senator Eric Schmitt told the DCNF. He sued the Biden administration for alleged censorship in Missouri during his tenure as Missouri’s attorney-general. “The Department of Homeland Security does not have the right to suppress Americans’ freedom of expression.”
Research And Resources
The DCNF has compiled a list of CSAC resources that are “for official use only”. It includes groups like the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), which helps to censor conservatives online.
GDI is a U.K.-based firm that aims “disrupting the business model disinformation” by demonetizing conservative news sites. According to the Washington Examiner blacklists are provided to adtech companies, which then can “defund or downrank” disinformation offenders.
According to internal documents, these blacklists are overwhelmingly made up of conservative news organizations, as reported by the Washington Examiner. A DCNF investigation found that GDI was funded by the U.S. State Department.
CISA described GDI in a document as a “recently funded research [project] that includes activities (such as detecting/analyzing misinformation campaigns) that align with CISA’s mission.”
This label was also attached to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which is a State Department-funded agency that advocates for censorship right-leaning speech. A DCNF investigation has revealed that this label was previously attached to the document.
Tim Squirrell, spokesperson for ISD, stated that the school had not shared its research with CISA and has never been funded by them.
The Aspen Institute’s commissions for this report included many left-wing activists as well as pro-censorship advocates, according to a DCNF investigation.
Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, was a member of the commission. Color of Change is a significant donor and advocate for left-wing causes. It receives funding from well-known liberal donors such as Soros. It also attempts to demonetize or censor conservatives.
Subcommittee members discussed the possibility of recruiting a subject matter expert from a progressive civil rights and civil liberty angle to help with input on the recommendations of subcommittee. Twitter’s Gadde created a list to recruit progressive actors, according to the action items in the meeting minutes. He also suggested that a list be compiled of “civil society” groups in a June 7 meeting.
The email containing the list of groups to which the members were referring was obtained by DCNF. It was sent from Gadde on June 7, at 8:07 AM, to other members. It includes the aforementioned Global Disinformation Index and Harvard’s Shorenstein Center and First Draft as well as several other organizations. Starbird had earlier referred to the “key stakeholders” groups in an email exchange but said they would not be helping the subcommittee make its initial recommendations.
The Shorenstein Center has been reported to have partnered with Democrat-linked dark-money operations to finance its MDM research. Grants from the New Venture Fund (a liberal dark-money organization managed by Arabella Advisors and Democrat-linked) paid for two research projects at center. One, titled “The True costs of Misinformation,” featured researchers who argued for online censorship as well as criticized conservative ideas.
Omidyar Network also supports the center financially.
First Draft, a nonprofit coalition of media-related organizations is supported by left-wing megadonors. According to the group’s website, Craig Newmark Philanthropies funded the group’s efforts against electoral misinformation in 2020. Pierre Omidyar-affiliated funds as well as Soros’ Open Society Foundations, are listed as backers.
Claire Wardle, ex-executive director of First Draft, was also included in a “potential briefer biography” list for the committee.
First Draft took part in an Aspen Institute exercise that was held just weeks prior to the Hunter Biden laptop story being censored. This exercise was for media organizations and was meant to coordinate a response on a “hacked story” about Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
According to documents released by Michael Shellenberger, the exercise was called “The Burisma leak”. It involved hypothetical leaks that occurred in October 2020. They showed that Hunter Biden had made more money at Burisma than previously disclosed. Also, he had spoken with his father about his work there.
It is unclear how many progressive experts or groups were contacted. The DCNF did not respond to their request for comment.
Unofficial CISA spokesperson did not respond to questions about the role of these groups in CISA’s activities.
According to DCNF documents, the groups were not able to appear to have been present at any subcommittee meetings.
Subcommittee member Spaulding suggested that Craig Newmark could be a point of contact for funding anti-disinformation resource centres across the country. This was during a meeting held on August 30. In the email, Spaulding suggested that Newmark contact the Cato Institute (a libertarian think-tank) about the existence and future plans for the committee.
According to InfluenceWatch, Newmark, a tech mogul and founder Craigslist, is a significant donor to left-wing causes as well as Democratic candidates. He contributed approximately $1 million to ProPublica and Mother Jones for progressive news outlets ProPublica, and Mother Jones for about $1 million, respectively.
He has also donated significant amounts to Democratic candidates. He donated $100,000 to the Biden Victory Fund, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to other Democratic committees.
It is not clear whether any communication took place between Newmark and the subcommittee. Eric Phillips, a spokesperson for Craig Newmark Philanthropies told the DCNF that Newmark wasn’t involved in the efforts of the subcommittee. Starbird says she cannot recall any communication with Newmark.
Newmark donated $1 million to the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public. Starbird is a professor there. CSIS received approximately $200,000 to $499999 from Newmark, who is also a senior advisor. Starbird personally thanked Newmark in a statement about the grant.
Newmark also funded a study to try to downplay the censorship of conservatives online, calling it “disinformation.”
Starbird stated that she opposed government-directed censorship on specific content on social media platforms. There are however a few exceptions.
Gadde and Spaulding didn’t respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.