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U.S. House lawmakers accused the Biden Administration in a new report on Monday of conspiring with Big Tech to directly undermine American citizens’ First Amendment rights by censoring free speech through government-funded third-party intermediaries.
The House Weaponization Subcommittee released an interim staff report detailing how President Joe Biden’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allegedly used the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to surveil and censor Americans’ speech on social media in the run-up to the 2020 election and the 2022 midterm elections.
“CISA must be reined in, as must the Biden Administration’s ‘whole-of-government’ approach to social media censorship,” lawmakers wrote in the report. “Every American has the right to express his or her opinion online, and to receive information from others. Government classifications of opinions as ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation’ do not nullify the First Amendment’s guarantees.”
The subcommittee report comes on the heels of the Twitter Files and other reports, which also accused the federal government of pressuring and colluding with Big Tech to censor certain viewpoints from American citizens, primarily those who questioned pandemic-related information or the authenticity of the 2020 presidential election.
Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) and other lawmakers obtained non-public documents that reveal how CISA — initially intended to focus on protecting critical infrastructure and countering cybersecurity threats — allegedly began working closely with the federal government on domestic surveillance and operations to censor parties on social media.
Former President Trump created the agency after signing into law the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act of 2018. However, in the years since its creation, the subcommittee found that by 2020, CISA began “routinely” colluding with Big Tech and government-funded third parties by reporting social media posts that allegedly spread “disinformation” — further corroborating previous reports from Twitter Files journalists Matt Taibbi, Michael Shellenberger, and others.
According to the report, the agency exploited its connections with Big Tech and government-funded non-profits to censor by proxy — to circumvent the First Amendment’s prohibition against government-induced censorship. Such ways included creating reporting “portals,” which the government funneled so-called misinformation reports to social media platforms.
In 2021, CISA formed a since-disbanded “mis, dis, and malformation” (MDM) team, which included University of Washington Associate Professor Kate Starbird, who co-founderd the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, as well as former Chief Legal Officer of Twitter Vijaya Gadd, and former assistant general counsel and legal adviser for the CIA Suzanne Spaulding.
The subcommittee says then-incoming President Biden transitioned the agency to focus more on the newly formed team to target domestic sources in addition to countering foreign influence. By the following year, the subcommittee accused CISA of attempting to “camouflage its activities, duplicitously claiming it serves a purely ‘informational’ role.”
Several other allegations exposed in the DHS sub-agency were documented in the report, including the consideration of creating and deploying a physical “anti-misinformation rapid response team” nationwide to local election officials’ jurisdictions who were “struggling with specific information threats.”
Geoff Hale, the director of CISA’s Election Security Initiative, called the idea “fascinating,” according to the report.
The committee, however, argued that the most damning part of CISA’s censorship efforts was its alleged cover-up of unconstitutional activities, which it conducted by removing any wrongdoing evidence and hiding it from the American public.
Between April and May 2022, the Biden Administration attempted to create the now-infamous “Disinformation Governance Board,” which quickly disbanded after severe public backlash. Shortly after the administration pulled the plug on the group, Missouri and Louisiana Attorney Generals filed a lawsuit against the president’s administration revealing direct pressure from the White House to censor vaccine-skeptical content on social media.
However, lawmakers said meeting notes from the MDM Subcommittee during that time “demonstrate that its members and CISA were fully aware of these developments and discussed how CISA could outsource its MDM-related activities to third parties so as to bypass the First Amendment and ‘avoid the appearance of government propaganda.'”
The report alleges that CISA’s former CIA legal advisor and MDM Subcommittee member Suzanne Spaulding agonized that it was “only a matter of time before someone realizes we exist and starts asking about our work.”
CISA outsourced to the nonprofit The Center for Internet Security (CIS), which served as a the agency’s “mouthpiece,” the report reads. The report also notes that the agency has funded CIS, spending $27 million in FY 2024 for CIS’s Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing & Analysis Center.
CISA then also scrubbed its website of references to its domestic surveillance and censorship activities to avoid more public scrutiny.
The report criticized CISA’s “repeated violations of the First Amendment” and “attempts to cover up its surveillance and censorship operations will not rectify the damage inflicted on the American people by government-induced censorship”: “Neither CISA’s scrubbing of its website, nor the Biden Administration’s stalling of records requests can conceal the true nature of CISA’s work in ‘combating MDM,'” the report says.
“A free and democratic society is impossible under a government that acts as the ultimate arbiter of truth in political discourse,” the report adds. “To better inform legislative efforts to end government censorship on the Internet and protect Americans’ rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the Committee and Select Subcommittee will continue to investigate the extent of CISA’s and other Executive Branch agencies’ interactions with social media platforms.”
CISA Executive Director Brandon Wales told The Daily Wire in an email the agency denied the House Weaponization Subcommittee’s report.
“CISA does not and has never censored speech or facilitated censorship; any such claims are patently false,” Wales said. “Every day, the men and women of CISA execute the agency’s mission of reducing risk to U.S. critical infrastructure in a way that protects Americans’ freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy.”
“In response to concerns from election officials of all parties regarding foreign influence operations and disinformation that may impact the security of election infrastructure, CISA mitigates the risk of disinformation by sharing information on election literacy and election security with the public and by amplifying the trusted voices of election officials across the nation,” he added.