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Ben Weingarten

Federalist Senior Contributor; Claremont Institute Fellow

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CISA is stripping us of our First Amendment rights

Jul 05, 2023

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The House Judiciary Committee and Select Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government released a report accusing the Critical Infrastructure and Cybersecurity Agency (CISA) of colluding with big tech and “disinformation” partners to censor conservative Americans. CISA is responsible for federal cybersecurity and, according to Straight Arrow News contributor Ben Weingarten, is the “linchpin in the federal government’s efforts to police speech.” He argues we risk losing our rights to free speech if government agencies like CISA persist in labeling social media posts as misinformation.

The Weaponization Committee report lays out the story we’ve been at pains to tell about how a DHS sub-agency tasked with cybersecurity and infrastructure security went from targeting foreign adversary information operations to treating domestic wrong-thinkers as the adversary — taking an interest in Americans’ tweets and Facebook posts running afoul of elite opinion on election integrity or COVID-19 mitigation measures as essentially mini-digital terrorist attacks, and coordinating and colluding with the national security state, social media companies, and anti-disinformation think tanks and research NGOs, who also colluded with and coordinated with social media companies to purge the content. 

All of this came as the Biden administration and like-minded legislators themselves hectored and threatened by law and regulation the social media companies to moderate content they didn’t like.

America’s mass public private censorship regime is now firmly in Congress’s crosshairs. 

 

For the latest evidence look no further than a critical new report from the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, on CISA. 

 

As we’ve covered, and as I testified before Congress in May, CISA is the linchpin of federal government-led efforts to surveil and police your speech directly and by proxy, under banner of combating purportedly dangerous, dis- and mal- information. 

 

The Weaponization Committee report lays out the story we’ve been at pains to tell about how a DHS sub-agency tasked with cybersecurity and infrastructure security went from targeting foreign adversary information operations to treating domestic wrong thinkers as the adversary — taking an interest in Americans’ tweets and Facebook posts running afoul of elite opinion on election integrity or COVID-19 mitigation measures as essentially mini-digital terrorist attacks, and coordinating and colluding with the national security state, social media companies, and anti disinformation think tanks and research NGOs, who also colluded with and coordinated with social media companies to purge the content. 

 

All of this came as the Biden administration and like minded legislators themselves hectored and threatened by law and regulation the social media companies to moderate content they didn’t like. 

 

The Weaponization Committee report adds new color to this story. 

 

It shows that even like-minded third parties were shocked at CISA’s efforts to target domestic speech. A November 4, 2020 email shows an exchange between a CISA official and an employee at the German Marshall Fund whereby the latter says, “obviously what we’re seeing domestically, particularly around mail-in fraud, is very concerning, but I know that’s outside your purview.” The CISA employee replies, “mail fraud disinfo is inbounds for us this time, domestic or foreign; so if you see something you’re worried about, let us know.” 

 

CISA Cybersecurity Advisory Subcommittee on MDM, founded in 2021, comprised of big tech representatives and third party speech policing partners, cast aside concerns about the First Amendment issues of targeting domestic speech. In August 2022 conversations about “identifying domestic actors,” memorialized in meeting minutes, a former CIA legal adviser, Suzanne Spaulding, indicated “CISA should be sensitive to domestic distinctions, but cannot focus too heavily on such limitations,” with the Director of CISA’s election Security Initiative, Geoff Hale “urging CISA to be actor-agnostic in their work combating mis- and dis- information.”

 

Hale “and the MDM subcommittee urged action in the domestic space, even in the face of opposition from state and local election administration officials.” State election officials according to the report urged CISA to “remain within their operational admission limits. CISA specifically should stick with misinformation and disinformation as related to cybersecurity issues,” one official wrote, with another official cautioning “that the public could grow to distrust government agencies if they’re not careful in the ways they interact with election related issues.” The MDM subcommittee seemed to shrug it off. 

 

CISA even “explore[d] the idea of how” it “could develop a rapid response team to deploy … in-person to local election officials’ jurisdictions struggling with specific informational threats” during a June 2022 meeting of the subcommittee. Hale reportedly called this a “fascinating idea.” 

 

The report shows the worldview of critical players in the Censorship Industrial Complex, like Kate Starbird as well. The leader of the University of Washington’s Center for an informed public — a key cog in the critical CISA-tied surveillance and censorship partner, the Election Integrity Partnership, Starbird scoffed in a May 2022 email that “current public discourse … seems to accept malinformation as ‘speech’ and within democratic norms.” Malinformation, by the way, is factual speech that supports narratives antithetical to those favored by authorities. 

 

The report details CISA’s efforts to fund outside organizations that create platforms for collecting offending MDM content and social media, and forwarding it to social media companies for censorship, as privileged partners. One such organization was the Center for Internet Security. Its Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center, EI-ISAC, according to the report, “facilitated a Democratic state government official’s attempt to censor core political speech by sitting Republican US Senator” Ted Cruz funded with your tax dollars. 

 

The report details that “on numerous occasions CISA officials and MDM subcommittee members … acknowledge that CISA was not authorized to conduct the kind of surveillance and censorship it was conducting … those involved routinely attempted to conceive methods by which CISA could surreptitiously outsource its surveillance and censorship to non-governmental third parties.” 

 

“It’s only a matter of time before someone realizes we exist and starts asking about our work,” the aforementioned Spaulding warned in a May 2022 email. 

 

Indeed, we have. The report is a product of ongoing investigatory efforts underway at the Weaponization Subcommittee which has subpoenaed CISA, a subpoena “CISA still has not adequately complied with,” according to the committee, and issued document requests, up to and including at least one subpoena, covering CISA’s non governmental partners and like minded allies. 

 

The House Homeland Security Committee — before which I testified — recently issued document requests to the aforementioned EI-ISAC. 

 

Other committees have also sought relevant information about government wide censorship efforts. House Republicans have also started to pursue legislative remedies. The House Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act, a pivotal piece of annual legislation, that would block the federal funding of supposed fact checkers and counter disinformation organizations that have gotten conservative media outfits blacklisted and demonetized. The Homeland Security Committee adopted an amendment in its annual appropriations bill, one I supported including in testimony to funding DHS speech policing, or its funding of third party speech police.

 

This regime must be dismantled if we’re to save our First Amendment.

 

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