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The New Drive for Censorship’s Connection To the Russia Hoax

Home-Blog-Freedom of Speech-The New Drive for Censorship’s Connection To the Russia Hoax

The rise of institutionally supported censorship in America is a growing threat to our First Amendment rights.  During the 1950s, censorship efforts and the associated blacklists were driven by the fear of communist infiltration of American society. This fear was stoked by powerful politicians.  For example, having communist leanings could get you fired from a teaching position under some state laws.  Teaching about communist doctrine could also get you fired.  The belief in the red menace was used by unscrupulous political figures to advance their political careers at the expense of individual civil liberties.  This censorship was connected to the Cold War, but was not an essential part of that struggle, because censorship efforts were later condemned even though the U.S. and USSR remained locked in the Cold War.  Political actors using the Cold War as an excuse for censorship is not the same thing as claiming censorship was needed to fight the Cold War.  The first is true, the second is not.

Today, powerful politicians with the help of intelligence agencies and national security agencies are pushing a new era of censorship.  As an eerie echo of the Cold War, the new rally cry is that censorship is needed to stop foreign disinformation efforts designed to interfere with American elections in a way that benefits Russia.  In the 1950s, it was communist indoctrination that was used to justify censorship; today it is alleged Russian disinformation on social media platforms.  The common denominator is the claim that Americans need to combat Russian influence through censorship.

While those pushing censorship today claim that Russian disinformation is a serious threat, it appears that agencies like the FBI and the CIA have been the chief purveyors of disinformation expressly designed to interfere with American elections.  This does not mean that Russia does not try to influence US elections, but it appears that agencies like the FBI and CIA are much better than the Russians at interfering with US elections.  Now, the disinformation efforts by the FBI and other federal agencies are being used to support a massive push to censor the social media accounts of Americans while blaming the Russians.  In other words, the FBI and CIA run disinformation campaigns, and then those campaigns are used by powerful politicians and institutions to erect a massive new censorship regime.  How did this start?

During the 2016 Presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, news stories began to circulate that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government to manipulate the election and that Donald Trump was, himself, colluding with the Russians.  These politically driven claims should have died in the dustbin of history, but the FBI launched its Crossfire Hurricane investigation which gave credibility to the incredible.  We now know that the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation was started in order to validate the false claims about collusion in order to help the Hillary Clinton campaign.  The Report just issued by Special Counsel, John Durham, that investigated the Crossfire Hurricane investigation shows that (a) there was no basis for the FBI’s launching the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, (b) the FBI violated its own internal rules when it launched the investigation, (c) the senior FBI officials that opened the investigation had extreme antipathy toward Trump and did not want him to win the election, (d) the Steele Dossier that fueled the investigation was itself a disinformation effort funded by the Clinton campaign, (e) FBI leadership knew or easily could have learned about the Steele Dossier’s connection to the Clinton campaign, (f) the CIA had gathered information showing that the Clinton campaign had solicited the Steele Dossier to deflect attention from Clinton’s use of an unsecure server for her email communications, (g) President Obama and other top officials were briefed about these efforts but did nothing to stop the disinformation campaign, and (h) the FBI pursued its investigation without verifying the allegations contained in the Steele Dossier.  Put differently, the FBI ran its own disinformation campaign to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election with the implicit approval of the Obama administration.

The FBI investigation and the ensuing hysteria about Russian collusion and interference with the presidential election would lead to a level of vitriol, suspicion and animosity that is almost unique in American history.  The existence of the FBI investigation was used by many political and media figures to press the claim that Russia interfered in the election, that Trump engaged in treason, and that anyone disagreeing with these allegations was either a stooge of the Russians or were themselves collaborating with the Russians.  Large news organizations presented so-called news reports on an almost daily basis claiming that the 2016 election was manipulated by the Russians, that Trump colluded with the Russians, and that Trump was possibly a Russian intelligence asset.  A vast number of these news articles were based on “anonymous” sources that almost certainly originated from the FBI and other federal agencies.  The hysteria led to the appointment of Robert Muller as a special counsel to investigate possible collusion.  This hysteria distorted the American political process and American foreign policy for years.

One result of this hysteria was the demand, by many of the same political figures who pushed the FBI’s disinformation program, for a censorship program designed to prevent foreign disinformation.  It was claimed that Russian controlled bots were flooding social media in an effort to manipulate public opinion on key election issues.  This led to a new cottage industry designed to address this alleged threat.  Entities linked to the State Department and the Defense Department were developing tools social media companies could use to identify supposedly suspicious accounts so the social media companies could censor those accounts.  What can only be described as the irony of history, the FBI acted as a clearinghouse for many different federal intelligence agencies and others in creating lists of accounts Twitter should censor during the last presidential election for spreading disinformation.

Even the State Department got involved.  The State Department’s Global Engagement Center, for example, funded an entity called the U.S.-Paris Tech Challenge that then provided funds to another entity called the Global Disinformation Index.  The Global Disinformation Index (“GDI”) created an index that purported to identify social media accounts that were spreading disinformation.  GDI’s index rated U.S. news and commentary entities, and apparently disproportionately deemed conservative organizations as unreliable.

The Hamilton 68 Project created massive lists of social media accounts that it claimed were Russian controlled bots spreading disinformation.  A former FBI counterterrorism analysist played a role in the creation of the Hamilton 68 Project and would go on to head the organization.  The lists prepared by the Hamilton 68 Project were heavily relied upon by media organizations to push the narrative about widespread Russian bots manipulating U.S. public opinion.  These lists included large numbers of legitimate Twitter accounts held by conservatives, which the Hamilton 68 Project falsely claimed were Russian bots.

During the 2020 election, the FBI went to various social media companies in a so-called effort to warn them about the risk of a Russian foreign disinformation effort.  The FBI, at this point, had a copy of the Hunter Biden laptop that contained numerous emails suggesting Hunter Biden was involved in corrupt influence peddling operations with foreign actors for the benefit of the Biden family, including Joe Biden.  Possibly a coincidence, but the FBI was also monitoring Rudy Giuliani’s communications (a Trump ally) on a supposedly unrelated matter and may have been aware of his efforts to pass along Hunter Biden laptop hard drive to the New York Post.

When the New York Post published its reports on the information contained in the Hunter Biden laptop, social media platforms immediately took steps to censor the story.  The Biden campaign then apparently worked with former intelligence and national security officials and the CIA to spread the false narrative (i.e., disinformation) that the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation.  This resulted in a letter signed by over 50 former intelligence and national security officials that strongly suggested the Hunter Biden laptop was a Russian disinformation operation.  The Hunter Biden laptop was not disinformation, but the letter from the intelligence and national security officials was.  The censorship of the New York Post’s reporting continued, and this may have significantly impacted the presidential election.

The irony of the Russian disinformation narrative is that the FBI and CIA created the specter of Russian disinformation for partisan political purposes, and then the federal government used the resulting hysteria to push a censorship program directed at political opponents.  Censorship does not just happen.  The Russia collusion hoax started a hysteria, and the consequences of that hysteria are still reverberating throughout the country.  While the initial hysteria was bad, the reverberations are, in many ways, worse.  Intelligence and national security agencies and powerful political actors are now using the initial furor to systematically attack First Amendment rights.  The most perverse aspect of this whole spectacle is that false claims of disinformation are used to justify censorship to facilitate the continued use of disinformation for political purposes.  In the process, the First Amendments rights of many Americans are violated.

Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of our collective progress. It empowers individuals to voice their opinions, challenge prevailing norms, and engage in meaningful dialogue that drives social change. Every American deserves the right to express themselves without fear of censorship or retribution. In this digital age, where social media platforms play a significant role in public discourse, we are learning to navigate the complexities of online speech rights. If you’ve faced unjust censorship or other infringements on your freedom of speech, it is important to enlist the help of an experienced Chicago civil rights attorney. Contact The Law Offices of George M. Sanders today.

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