By Diana Glebova
Efforts to track foreign mis- and disinformation under former President Donald Trump have since been “perverted” under President Joe Biden to increasingly monitor what Americans say on social media, former Trump administration officials told the Daily Caller.
Officials from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which was formed in 2018 under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), have exerted previously unknown levels of direct government influence over American speech on tech platforms, a report from the Intercept found.
The crackdown on “misinformation” has allegedly grown even after the dissolution of the Disinformation Governance Board. CISA, FBI, and other government officials have been holding monthly meetings with tech executives and even, in the case of Facebook, been given special access to flag posts online, the outlet reported, citing leaked documents.
Chad Wolf, former acting secretary of the DHS, told the Caller that the report “is very concerning” and that “the federal government has no business in monitoring or regulating the protected free speech of Americans.”
“It’s important to remember, it was Congress that established CISA with overwhelming bipartisan support. CISA’s mission is an important one but it now appears that they have expanded beyond their original mandate from countering foreign threats to looking at mis- and disinformation here in the U.S. That is a slippery slope and an overreach in my opinion,” Wolf said.
Although the creation of CISA in 2018 was “valid,” the body “should not have been allowed” to judge “the content of information,” former acting deputy chief of staff for the DHS under Trump, Lora Ries, told the Caller.
“CISA was created to secure the .gov domain and to communicate with the private sector regarding critical infrastructure. There are valid needs for those functions. The problems arose, however, when CISA staff left their lanes of authority,” Ries said. “What should not have been allowed is CISA entering into the role of judging the content of information, let alone directing others to remove such information based on disfavored content.”
CISA was involved in monitoring election information under the Trump administration, but was targeting foreign, not domestic threats, Ries continued. The effort to monitor elections at all, however, “was a slippery slope easily abused. It is similar to ‘fact-checking,’” she said.
“CISA is supposed to be a collaborative organization, not one to declare whether an election was secure. As such, CISA should point people to their state election officials regarding election information,” Ries added.
The specific social media posts the Biden administration hopes to monitor for “misinformation” include those that cover the withdrawal from Afghanistan, COVID-19, U.S. support for Ukraine and racial justice, the Intercept reported, citing a draft copy of DHS’s Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.
Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in 2021 that the White House was “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation,” but when pressed Wednesday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre denied that the administration was submitting misinformation for Facebook to censor through a portal.
The Biden administration’s CISA spearheaded its focus on monitoring the content of domestic information online as soon as they entered office, Wolf told the Caller. (RELATED: ‘Right To Be Concerned’: Trump-Era DHS Leaders Sound The Alarm Over Biden’s Disinformation Board)
In January of 2021, CISA officials renamed the Countering Foreign Influence Task Force (CFITF) — one of the key bodies countering disinformation founded under Trump and established “within CISA’s predecessor agency,” — to the Mis-, Dis-, and Malinformation (MDM) team, taking “foreign” out of the title.
The most worrying part of the Intercept report, according to Ries, is that the DHS “has lost sight of the real threats our country faces. It is not domestic terrorism. DHS is not prioritizing protecting Americans from foreign terrorism.”
“The Biden Administration has opened our southern border, allowing aliens from over 150 nations into the U.S. An additional 1 million known gotaways have entered the U.S. and the administration admits to apprehending about 100 aliens on the terror watchlist,” she continued. “How many more terrorists entered among the 1 million gotaways these past 21 months? And what will they do to our cybersecurity and critical infrastructure?”
Kash Patel, former National Security Council official under Trump and senior fellow at Center for Renewing America, agrees that the original purpose of CISA was warranted, but said that the Biden administration has “perverted” its purpose so much that Congress “will need to reform” it.
“Given how the Biden administration has perverted the purpose of CISA to collude with Big Tech to establish a domestic censorship regime, the next Congress will need to reform the existing program, reassign authorities, and provide greater oversight, while holding accountable all government officials who used this government power improperly to target Americans with disinformation campaigns,” Patel told the Daily Caller.
Former DHS assistant secretary under Trump, Alexei Woltornist, also said that an investigation is needed, and that “the partnership of the government with the private sector in suppressing free expression is nothing short of authoritarian.”
“This behavior from CISA is not particular to the agency but rather typical of any governmental body. I would be shocked if other federal agencies did not have similar arrangements with big tech,” Woltornist told the Caller. “This is something that every cabinet agency inspector general and relevant congressional committees should investigate.”