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Report: The FBI’s Collusion With Ukraine to Censor Speech Goes Even Deeper Than It Seems

Here we go again. Another story has emerged showing how federal agencies attempted to pressure Twitter’s leadership before Elon Musk into censoring certain viewpoints on the platform. What is noteworthy about this story is that it shows once again how the FBI was working on behalf of the Ukrainian government to silence Americans and Canadians – including journalists – on the platform.

Leaked emails obtained by The Grayzone website reveal that the FBI assisted Ukrainian intelligence in censoring social media users and obtaining their personal information. In March 2022, the FBI provided Twitter with a list of accounts, including journalists, that Ukraine’s Security Service suspected of spreading disinformation. Twitter declined to censor the journalists but agreed to review the accounts for authenticity, expressing concerns about targeting American and Canadian journalists.

In March 2022, an FBI Special Agent sent Twitter a list of accounts on behalf of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Ukraine’s main intelligence agency. The accounts, the FBI wrote, “are suspected by the SBU in spreading fear and disinformation.” In an attached memo, the SBU asked Twitter to remove the accounts and hand over their user data.

The Ukrainian government’s FBI-enabled targets extend to members of the media. The SBU list that the FBI provided to Twitter included my name and Twitter profile. In its response to the FBI, Twitter agreed to review the accounts for “inauthenticity” but raised concerns about the inclusion of me and other “American and Canadian journalists.”

The Grayzone writes that Yoel Roth, the company’s Head of Trust and Safety at the time, indicated that he would consider suspending accounts under certain circumstances:

Roth then suggested that he would be open to suspending authentic accounts if it could be proven that they have a hidden tie to a foreign government. Journalists “who cover the conflict with a pro-Russian stance are unlikely to be found in violation of our rules absent other context that might establish some kind of covert/deceptive association between them and a government,” Roth wrote. “Any additional information or context in those areas is of course welcome and appreciated.”

Others that Ukraine targeted for censorship included several Russian politicians and journalists. In essence, the objective was to enlist the aid of the FBI to pressure Twitter, and likely other social media companies, to silence any prominent account that spoke against Ukraine’s interests.

This story echoes revelations coming from independent journalist Lee Fang, who reported on a conversation he had with a senior Ukrainian official who confirmed the partnership between the country’s government and the FBI. “Once we have a trace or evidence of disinformation campaigns via Facebook or other resources that are from the U.S., we pass this information to the FBI, along with writing directly to Facebook,” the official told Fang.

Now, we have yet another report showing that the FBI has been trying to censor content on social media at the behest of a foreign government. Not only was the agency intent on suppressing content on elections and COVID-19 that was not government-approved, it also helped a foreign power crackdown on dissenting viewpoints.

This collaboration represents a clear violation of free speech principles and raises questions about the extent to which the FBI is willing to compromise journalistic integrity, free speech, and independence. At this point, there is no telling how far the Bureau will go to support the government’s agenda. Targeting journalists based on their coverage of conflicts, particularly those deemed “pro-Russian,” is a dangerous precedent that threatens the fundamental tenets of a free society.

The lack of transparency surrounding the collaboration is equally troubling. When questioned about the matter, The Grayzone reports the FBI declined to provide any specific details or comment on the veracity of the leaked correspondence. Such silence only deepens suspicions and lets us further know that the agency is not on our side.

The collaborative efforts between the FBI and Ukrainian intelligence to censor social media users not only undermine founding principles but also set a dangerous precedent for other governments seeking to stifle dissent and control the narrative.

The inclusion of journalists on the censorship list demonstrates a clear disregard for press freedom and the crucial role journalists play in holding governments accountable. By targeting journalists based on their coverage and attempting to suppress alternative viewpoints, the FBI and Ukrainian intelligence are stifling the free exchange of ideas and undermining the democratic process. This is the type of authoritarianism that we must contend with if we want a free society. Our federal government is not our friend. The sooner more of us realize this, the better off we will be.

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