by Robert Romano
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the censorship agency everyone has been talking about, has scrubbed its Misinformation, Disinformation and Malinformation (MDM) webpage, https://cisa.gov/mdm to remove any mentions of interacting with “appropriate social media platforms” to “route disinformation concerns”.
How malinformative, to use the agency’s jargon. Malinformation, per the agency, “is based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.” By removing mentions and the context of the agency’s stated history of interacting with social media platforms, the agency is apparently attempting to mislead, harm and manipulate the public into believing it never did those things in the first place.
Fortunately, web archives—which have yet to be censored—keep a handy archive of governmental and private websites for the whole world to see, a time capsule of sorts. Here is CISA’s MDM page from Feb. 20, 2023 at http://web.archive.org/web/20230220065334/cisa.gov/mdm.
Similarly, CISA’s election security page at https://www.cisa.gov/election-security has been scrubbed from its earlier iteration. An archived version of the page from Feb. 20, 2023 is still available at http://web.archive.org/web/20230220031118/https://www.cisa.gov/election-security.
So too has its so-called Rumor Control page at https://www.cisa.gov/rumorcontrol been changed, which can still be found at http://web.archive.org/web/20230220062536/https://www.cisa.gov/rumorcontrol.
So, what are they hiding?
On the old website, CISA admitted that it “rout[es] disinformation concerns” to “appropriate social media platforms”: “The [Mis, Dis, Malinformation] MDM team serves as a switchboard for routing disinformation concerns to appropriate social media platforms and law enforcement,” according to the agency’s website.
This has been going on since 2018: “This activity began in 2018, supporting state and local election officials to mitigate disinformation about the time, place, and manner of voting.”
And it was expanded in 2020: “For the 2020 election, CISA expanded the breadth of reporting to include other state and local officials and more social media platforms.”
The agency was bragging about its “rapport” with Big Tech firms in censoring speech so they’re on the same page: “This activity leverages the rapport the MDM team has with the social media platforms to enable shared situational awareness.”
During the pandemic, CISA also targeted Covid “disinformation” too: “COVID-19…create[d] opportunities for adversaries to act maliciously. The MDM team supports…private sector partners’ COVID-19 response…via regular reporting and analysis of key pandemic-related MDM trends.”
In early May 2020 the agency even issued a disinformation warning against “potentially extremely harmful suggestions to drink bleach” after a controversial April 23, 2020 press conference by former President Donald Trump where he was talking about the potential use of solar light and other disinfectants to kill Covid on surfaces when Trump proposed using solar light to treat the virus. The agency’s MDM warning on bleach coincided with news reports suggesting Trump had been referring not to solar light, but to bleach.
The reason the agency was ever able to do this, or even existed for that matter, was because in 2018, after Republicans had lost control of the House, and in the lame duck session, Congress unanimously passed legislation in the closing days of the Republican-controlled House on a voice vote and in the Senate on unanimous consent, H.R. 3359, that authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to disseminate information to the private sector including Big Tech social media companies in a bid to combat potential foreign and domestic terrorists.
No debate. No objections. But there was a brand new agency whose implied purpose it turns out was to censor the American people and, very specifically, Republicans.
The law authorizes CISA to “To access, receive, and analyze law enforcement information, intelligence information, and other information from agencies of the Federal Government, State and local government agencies (including law enforcement agencies), and private sector entities, and to integrate such information, in support of the mission responsibilities of the Department and the functions of the National Counterterrorism Center established under section 119 of the National Security Act of 1947 [50 U.S.C. 3056], in order to… identify and assess the nature and scope of terrorist threats to the homeland;…detect and identify threats of terrorism against the United States; and … understand such threats in light of actual and potential vulnerabilities of the homeland.”
The law also allows CISA to “disseminate, as appropriate, information analyzed by the Department within the Department, to other agencies of the Federal Government with responsibilities relating to homeland security, and to agencies of State and local governments and private sector entities with such responsibilities in order to assist in the deterrence, prevention, preemption of, or response to, terrorist attacks against the United States.”
But those are counterterrorism provisions, you might be wondering. Yes, exactly.
The implication is that the Department of Homeland Security, if you were objecting to tyrannical Covid policies including vaccine mandates, mask mandates, economic lockdowns and so forth, thought you were a terrorist. That, if you were questioning the outcome of the narrowly contested 2020 presidential election, or thought that mail-in ballots were rife for potential abuse and/or fraud, that you were a terrorist. That, if you were questioning the BS Russiagate investigation, or oppose U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine, you are a terrorist. And so forth.
The list of potential and actual abuses by agencies to “rout[e] disinformation concerns” to “appropriate social media platforms” is practically endless, a nonstop grab bag of national security policies the American people via their elected representatives are supposed to have a say in and oppose if they wish, but whose voices were being shadowbanned, deplatformed and removed from search engines as governmental agencies took it upon themselves to be the nation’s fact checker.
Now, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is offering legislation, H.R. 140, in an attempt to rein it in, not by rolling back the provisions of law outlined above, but by adding an additional prohibition against censorship by federal employees on interactive computer services under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Apparently the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and of the press was unclear to officials.
It includes a giant loophole for law enforcement to carry on business as usual by stating “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit an employee from engaging in lawful actions within the official authority of such employee for the purpose of exercising legitimate law enforcement functions”. The problem originally was that the agency was using its counterterrorism mission to target regular Americans’ speech on interactive computer services. H.R. 140 does restrict censorship, but the law enforcement exception could be construed to allow the original provisions to continue.
UPDATE, 3/9/2023, 3:45 p.m.: On March 8, the legislation, including this specific provision as originally proposed was modified with an amendment by U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) that now states “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit an employee from engaging in lawful actions against unlawful speech within the official authority of such employee for the purpose of exercising legitimate law enforcement functions.” This amendment significantly narrowed the scope of what law enforcement would be allowed to target to only include actions against “unlawful” speech, for example against the unlawful disclosure of classified information, child pornography and so forth.
But Congress could still go further in future attempts to rein this in. Maybe include an additional provision against CISA’s MDM operations to “rout[e] disinformation concerns to… social media platforms”? Perhaps another provision that rolls back the agency’s authority to gather intelligence on U.S. citizens without any warrant via social media platforms and interactive computer services? Also, maybe cut off the agency’s authority to provide intelligence and other information on the American people who are otherwise not being accused of any crimes in a court of law to social media platforms and interactive computer services?
The criminal exceptions outlined in the House Republican bill notwithstanding, counterterrorism operations by DHS and other agencies including the FBI are against potential lawbreakers. That is how this was able to function in the first place.
Law enforcement agencies should have to get a warrant accusing somebody of posting information for recruiting terrorists, or directing terrorist activities. Right now, it’s a free-for-all where agencies can target anything under the guise of counterterrorism. Creating a loophole for that activity to continue could lead to bigger problems downstream. They don’t think opposing Covid policies, or the 2020 election results, is protected speech at all, even though it is.
The agency has been saying the whole time that it’s not the entity engaging in the censorship, those are private sector social media companies. They’re merely showing them where the misinformation, disinformation and malinformation is, and then they decide.
Ironically, when Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on May 4, 2022 in questioning from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), specifically outlined the criteria that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Disinformation Governance Board, which he called a “working group,” uses to identify disinformation “through social media”.
Specifically, Mayorkas said DHS becomes involved “when there is a connectivity between disinformation and threats to the security of the homeland.” The context, since the agency might complain about that—don’t want to get shadowbanned!—was “Allow me to share when we become involved in the Department of Homeland Security. We become involved when disinformation poses a threat to the security of our country. It is when there is a connectivity to a threat to our country.”
To which, Sen. Paul asked, “Do you think Covid disinformation threatens our national security?… What about Covid disinformation? Is that in your bailiwick for your Disinformation Governance Board?”
Here, Mayorkas became defensive, saying, “It’s not for us to take it down… Senator, we are not the public health experts to make those determinations.” But, then Mayorkas contradictorily questioned what he should do if a social media post falsely claimed that Covid vaccines contained fentanyl, asking, “should I sit back and take that, or should I actually disseminate accurate information?”
But, again, citizens opposing Covid vaccines or lockdowns or masks, or opposing the use of mail-in ballots, on social media are not a security threat. That is dissent protected by the First Amendment to public policy questions that elected and appointed officials deal with all the time.
The true implication of Mayorkas’ testimony and the law Congress created in 2018, which only allows for the dissemination of information to the private sector including social media “to assist in the deterrence, prevention, preemption of, or response to, terrorist attacks against the United States,” is that DHS considers opposition to Covid policies including the use of mail-in ballots a terrorist threat.
Mayorkas concluded the questioning with Sen. Paul by declaring, “We are not the truth police.”
Yes, they are. They admitted that the “MDM team serves as a switchboard for routing disinformation concerns to appropriate social media platforms” and now they’re scrubbing their websites so you won’t be able to find it. Now, they’re censoring themselves, too.
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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.
Photo “CISA Logo” by CISA.