1. TWITTER FILES #17
New Knowledge, the Global Engagement Center, and State-Sponsored Blacklists
2. On June 8, 2021, an analyst at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab wrote to Twitter:
“Hi guys. Attached you will find… around 40k twitter accounts that our researchers suspect are engaging in inauthentic behavior… and Hindu nationalism more broadly.”
3. DFRLab said it suspected 40,000 accounts of being “paid employees or possibly volunteers” of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
But the list was full of ordinary Americans, many with no connection to India and no clue about Indian politics. docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d…
4. “I have no connection to any Hindu folks... Just a Reagan Republican here in CT,” replied “Bobby Hailstone.”
“A Hindu nationalist? I’ve never even been out of this country. Let alone the state of NJ,” said “Lady_DI816.”
“These people are insane!” said “Krista Woods.”
5. Twitter agreed, one reason many of the accounts remain active. “Thanks, Andy,” replied Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth. “I spot-checked a number of these accounts, and virtually all appear to be real people.”
7. DFRLab is funded by the U.S. Government, specifically the Global Engagement Center (GEC).
Director Graham Brookie denies DFRLab it uses tax money to track Americans, saying its GEC grants have "an exclusively international focus.”
8. But Americans on DFR’s list, like Marysel Urbanik, are unconvinced its focus is “exclusively international.”
“This is un-American,” says Urbanik, who immigrated from Castro’s Cuba. “They do this in places that don’t believe in free speech.”
9. The Global Engagement Center is usually listed as a State Department entity.
Created in Obama’s last year, GEC is an interagency group “within” State, whose initial partners included FBI, DHS, NSA, CIA, DARPA, Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and others.
10. GEC’s mandate: “To recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign... disinformation.”
On the surface, it’s the same mission the United States Information Agency (USIA) fulfilled for decades, with a catch. USIA focused on foreign “disinfo.”
GEC’s focus is wider.
11. “It’s an incubator for the domestic disinformation complex,” says a former intelligence source. “All the shit we pulled in other countries since the Cold War, some morons decided to bring home.”
12.GEC could have avoided controversy by focusing on exposing/answering “disinformation” with research and a more public approach, as USIA did. Instead, it funded a secret list of subcontractors and helped pioneer an insidious – and idiotic – new form of blacklisting.
GEC asks Twitter to review 499 accounts as “foreign” disinformation, for reasons that include using Signal to communicate and tweeting the hashtag, #IraniansDebateWithBiden
14. Here are 5500 names GEC told Twitter it believed were “Chinese… accounts” engaged in “state-backed coordinated manipulation.” It takes about negative ten seconds to find non-Chinese figures: docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u…
15. GEC’s “Chinese” list included multiple Western government accounts and at least three CNN employees based abroad. “Not exactly Anderson’s besties, but CNN assets if you will,” quipped Twitter’s Patrick Conlon.
"A total crock,” added Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth.
16.GEC passed some good information to Twitter, but mostly not. The root problem was exemplified by a much-circulated 2020 report, “Russian Pillars of Disinformation and Propaganda.”
17.This GEC report was contradictory. On one hand, it offered reasoned evidence that a specific outlet like the “Strategic Culture Foundation” was partnered with the Russian Foreign Ministry, which would make it a true "proxy site."
18.The same report advanced a far lazier idea.
Along with state actors, groups that “generate their own momentum” should also be seen as parts of a propaganda “ecosystem."
Independence, GEC said, should not “confuse those trying to discern the truth.”
19. The “ecosystem” is not a new concept. It’s been with us since Salem: guilt by association.
As one Twitter exec put it: “‘If you retweet a news source linked to Russia, you become Russia-linked,’ does not exactly resonate as a sound research approach.”
20.GEC sent Twitter a series of reports on a series of topics, often employing the “ecosystem” concept.
Its report on France “attributes membership in the yellow vest movement as being Russia-aligned,” is how Twitter’s Aaron Rodericks put it.
21.GEC’s report on China was “more entertainment value than anything,” said Rodericks. “It equates anything pro-China, but also anything against China in Italy, as part of Russia's strategy.”
22. Twitter staffers had professionalism. They tended to look at least once before declaring a thing foreign disinformation. This made them a tough crowd for GEC.
Fortunately, there's an easier mark: the news media.
23.GEC’s game: create an alarmist report, send it to the slower animals in journalism’s herd, and wait as reporters bang on Twitter’s door, demanding to know why this or that “ecosystem” isn’t obliterated.
Twitter emails ooze frustration at such queries. UGGG! reads one.
25.Twitter disagreed with GEC’s alert about Russian “disinfo” in South America, which appeared to confused cause and effect.
As Rodericks put it, “I believe what they mean is: ‘there was a surge in accounts that agreed with Moscow-aligned narratives' = Moscow controlled.”
26. Roth noted Bret Schafer of the Alliance for Securing Democracy was quoted in Frenkel’s story and said: “Seems like ASD are back at their old tricks.”
27. Roth was referring to the fact that the ASD created Hamilton 68, another guilt-by-association scheme detailed in Twitter Files #15. The Hamilton “dashboard” claimed to track accounts linked to “Russian influence activities,” but the list was largely made up of Americans.
28. The Hamilton 68 dashboard creator, J.M. Berger, was on the GEC payroll until June of 2017, just before the dashboard’s launch. Hamilton claimed the list was “the fruit of more than three years of observation.”
Berger “unequivocally” denies working on Hamilton for GEC.
30. The Hamilton 68 dashboard employed digital alchemy to create streams of headlines tying Americans to “foreign” disinformation.
The “ecosystem” reports GEC and many "disinformation" laboratories feed reporters are often just subtler versions of the same thing.
31. In a crucial in-house Q&A in mid-2017, Roth was asked if it was possible to detect “Russian fingerprints” using Twitter’s public data. Though “you can make inferences,” he said, “in short, no.”
32. Twitter therefore knew from the first days of the “foreign interference” mania that the media zone was flooded with bad actors playing up cyber-threats for political or financial reasons, GEC included.
33. “GEC has doubled their budget by aggressively overstating threats through unverified accusations that can't be replicated either by external academics or by Twitter,” wrote Rodericks.
34.The same is true of New Knowledge, the scandal-plagued company staffed by former NSA officials that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) hired to do “expert” assessments of the initial batches of “suspect” Facebook and Twitter accounts.
35. When Twitter saw New Knowledge and its reporter-worshipped “disinformation” gurus like Jonathon Morgan and Renee DiResta were making analytical leaps they felt were impossible, they knew something was off.
36. After Politico cited a New Knowledge report to the SSCI as evidence for what it called a “sweeping effort to sow divisions,” Twitter dug in. NK pointed to five supposedly Russian accounts it said were “relatively easy to find with the Twitter public API."
37. Roth said two of the five accounts were a “small Indonesian content farm… just commercial spam. (Would suspend but don’t want to throw fire on the NK report by making anyone think they’re correct.) Becca account is an American and not at all suspicious.”
38.Twitter’s Nick Pickles: “New Knowledge’s pitch... pick accounts that they have deemed to be IRA controlled, and then spin up bigger macro analysis... stories about ‘2000 Russian accounts tweeting about Kavanagh/Walkway/Caravan’ [were] often based on media activity from NK.”
39. Just like Hamilton 68, GEC and New Knowledge littered the media landscape with flawed or flat-out wrong news stories. Exacerbating matters, Americans in both cases paid taxes to become the subject of these manipulative operations.
40. Particularly egregious: a New Knowledge report to the Senate on Russian interference was leaked just days before it was outed in a scheme to fake Russian influence in an Alabama election, and no media outlets issued retractions.
No SSCI staff have commented, either.
41. Foreign cyber-threats exist, and there are sophisticated ways of detecting them. But GEC and its subcontractors don’t use those, instead deploying junk science that often lumps true bad actors in with organic opinion.
42.“Disinformation studies” has mostly become a con, where non-experts mesmerize reporters with what one former GEC staffer calls “hairball” charts, usually measuring something idiotic – like who follows two Chinese diplomats, or shares an Iranian “FREE PALESTINE” meme.
43.The Washington Examiner and @Gabe Kaminsky
just profiled a GEC-funded NGO in the UK that algorithmically scores media outlets by "risk."
How does downranking the Daily Wire to help the New York Times get more ad revenue counter “foreign” disinformation?
IG report shows GEC was initially obligated $98.7 million, of which roughly $80 million came from the Pentagon. It reportedly gave to at least 39 different organizations, whose names were redacted.
Why is this list secret?
45. Twitter comms official Ian Plunkett wrote years ago that “misinformation, like [countering violent extremism, or CVE] before it, is becoming a cottage industry.”
Disinformation is the counterterrorism mission, rebranded for domestic targets.
46. Reauthorization for GEC’s funding is up for a vote this year. Can we at least stop paying to blacklist ourselves?
47. The #TwitterFiles
were prepared by a third party, so material may have been left out. Thanks to @Michael Shellenberger
and the team at Racket.News
, who’ll have more on this all month.
48. NOTE: Just before publication, Graham Brookie of DFRLab wrote to clarify about the 40,000 India names: “We didn’t publish this from a former researcher because we lacked confidence in its findings.”
49. I asked Brookie if he’d made this lack of confidence clear to the Reuters reporter whose story based on that research is still live and uncorrected online: reuters.com/article/facebo…
He hasn’t replied.
50. For more on these and other #TwitterFiles
topics, @Michael Shellenberger
and I will be testifying in the House on Thursday, March 9, at 10 a.m. We're humbled and grateful to @Rep. Jim Jordan
and @House Judiciary GOP
for the invitation.
Again, apologies: here is the “India List” dropbox.com/scl/fi/d31y158…