The origins of the Censorship Industry has been veiled in mystery. Now, we have our first glimpses into how it all began.
In the aftermath of Brexit and Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, which shocked the global elites and hardened them into taking aggressive action, a shadowy network of researchers was formed to do nothing less than police the Internet for state-disapproved narratives.
Michael Shellenberger, along with Alex Gutentag and Matt Taibbi, unearthed the disturbing trove of documents in their Substack named Public and tried to unravel the nascent scheme create the “Censorship Industrial Complex.”
THE CTIL FILES #1
Many people insist that governments aren't involved in censorship, but they are. And now, a whistleblower has come forward with an explosive new trove of documents, rivaling or exceeding the Twitter Files and Facebook Files in scale and importance. pic.twitter.com/tqgSQjPIuT
— Michael Shellenberger (@shellenberger) November 28, 2023
Shellenberger, dubbing these the CTIL Files, said that, “Many people insist that governments aren’t involved in censorship, but they are. And now, a whistleblower has come forward with an explosive new trove of documents, rivaling or exceeding the Twitter Files and Facebook Files in scale and importance.”
The investigative journalists then connect the embryonic censorship plans to a trio of shadowy researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Now, a large trove of new documents, including strategy documents, training videos, presentations, and internal messages, reveal that, in 2019, US and UK military and intelligence contractors led by a former UK defense researcher, Sara-Jayne “SJ” Terp, developed the sweeping censorship framework. These contractors co-led CTIL, which partnered with CISA in the spring of 2020.
In truth, the building of the Censorship Industrial Complex began even earlier — in 2018.
The documents reveal a budding nexus between the military, intelligence, and CISA with the Department of Homeland Security and social media platform Facebook.
Internal CTIL Slack messages show Terp, her colleagues, and officials from DHS and Facebook all working closely together in the censorship process.
The CTIL framework and the public-private model are the seeds of what both the US and UK would put into place in 2020 and 2021, including masking censorship within cybersecurity institutions and counter-disinformation agendas; a heavy focus on stopping disfavored narratives, not just wrong facts; and pressuring social media platforms to take down information or take other actions to prevent content from going viral.
In the spring of 2020, CTIL began tracking and reporting disfavored content on social media, such as anti-lockdown narratives like “all jobs are essential,” “we won’t stay home,” and “open America now.” CTIL created a law enforcement channel for reporting content as part of these efforts. The organization also did research on individuals posting anti-lockdown hashtags like #freeCA and kept a spreadsheet with details from their Twitter bios. The group also discussed requesting “takedowns” and reporting website domains to registrars.
While the public-private partnership model has become a favorite method of circumventing constitutional protections for American citizens, it has now fully blossomed into fascism, the CTIL files show.
The CTIL group did not just advocate censorship of state-disapproved narratives, it also advocated psychological warfare against domestic populations to manipulate public opinion.
CTIL’s approach to “disinformation” went far beyond censorship. The documents show that the group engaged in offensive operations to influence public opinion, discussing ways to promote “counter-messaging,” co-opt hashtags, dilute disfavored messaging, create sock puppet accounts, and infiltrate private invite-only groups.
In one suggested list of survey questions, CTIL proposed asking members or potential members, “Have you worked with influence operations (e.g. disinformation, hate speech, other digital harms etc) previously?” The survey then asked whether these influence operations included “active measures” and “psyops.”
The veteran independent journalists aver that these files from from a “highly credible whistleblower” and they were “able to independently verify their legitimacy through extensive cross-checking of information to publicly available sources.”
The report adds that the whistleblower “said they were recruited to participate in CTIL through monthly cybersecurity meetings hosted by DHS,” explaining how the researchers were able to obtain the files.
As has become typical for government agencies that don’t feel they owe the public an explanation, the report notes that the FBI, CISA, Terp and the other key CTIL leaders, did not comment on the report.
But one person involved, Bonnie Smalley, replied over Linked in, saying, “all i can comment on is that i joined cti league which is unaffiliated with any govt orgs because i wanted to combat the inject bleach nonsense online during covid…. i can assure you that we had nothing to do with the govt though,” Shellenberger remarked.
Even left-wing biased Politifact has debunked the distorted report that Donald Trump told people to drink or inject bleach in a “fact check.” Thus, this “fact checker” apparently cannot even get the basic facts of stories right.
Shellenberger’s report, however, states that “the documents suggest that government employees were engaged members of CTIL. One individual who worked for DHS, Justin Frappier, was extremely active in CTIL, participating in regular meetings and leading trainings.”
It gets even worse. CTIL had ostensible ambitions to become part of the federal government, accompanied by taxpayer dollars, massive empowerment, and access to extensive data being gathered on Americans.
CTIL’s ultimate goal, said the whistleblower, ”was to become part of the federal government. In our weekly meetings, they made it clear that they were building these organizations within the federal government, and if you built the first iteration, we could secure a job for you.”
The investigative report finds reason to believe that CTIL was largely able to achieve its goal of becoming embedded in the American people’s government.
Terp’s plan, which she shared in presentations to information security and cybersecurity groups in 2019, was to create “Misinfosec communities” that would include government.
Both public records and the whistleblower’s documents suggest that she achieved this. In April 2020, Chris Krebs, then-Director of CISA, announced on Twitter and in multiple articles, that CISA was partnering with CTIL. “It’s really an information exchange,” said Krebs.
The documents also show that Terp and her colleagues, through a group called MisinfoSec Working Group, which included DiResta, created a censorship, influence, and anti-disinformation strategy called Adversarial Misinformation and Influence Tactics and Techniques (AMITT). They wrote AMITT by adapting a cybersecurity framework developed by MITRE, a major defense and intelligence contractor that has an annual budget of $1 to $2 billion in government funding.
Terp later used AMITT to develop the DISARM framework, which the World Health Organization then employed in “countering anti-vaccination campaigns across Europe.”
Terp then invoked the Orwellian term “cognitive security,” apparently to mean populace’s whose worldviews align with those of government narratives.
A key component of Terp’s work through CTIL, MisinfoSec, and AMITT was to insert the concept of “cognitive security” into the fields of cybersecurity and information security.
The research paints a picture of a Censorship Industry that has gotten entirely out-of-control.
The sum total of the documents is a clear picture of a highly coordinated and sophisticated effort by the US and UK governments to build a domestic censorship effort and influence operations similar to the ones they have used in foreign countries. At one point, Terp openly referenced her work “in the background” on social media issues related to the Arab Spring. Another time, the whistleblower said, she expressed her own apparent surprise that she would ever use such tactics, developed for foreign nationals, against American citizens.
As Shellenberger pointed out, referencing the whistleblower’s statements, roughly 12-20 active people involved in CTIL worked at the FBI or CISA.
“For a while, they had their agency seals — FBI, CISA, whatever — next to your name,” on the Slack messaging service, said the whistleblower. Terp “had a CISA badge that went away at some point,” the whistleblower said.
This is by no means out of the norm. Dozens of former national security officials have gone to work for social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter after leaving government service. Social media has been thoroughly infiltrated by intelligence actors, which partly explains the hostility against Elon Musk’s relatively free speech platform X after a partial purge of such state actors from Twitter.
Shellenberger, Taibbi, and others will testify before the House Weaponization Committee on Thursday at 10 a.m.
Thursday. 10:00 a.m. ET. pic.twitter.com/UVa9HvRnTm
— Weaponization Committee (@Weaponization) November 27, 2023
The disturbing report comes after a movement for Congress defund Newsguard, a purported ‘fact checker’ that unconstitutionally works with the Defense Department and State Department, that is being led by the Free Speech Alliance. The FSA also seeks to pressure the government to cease all operations with Misinformation Police like Newsguard, CTIL, and the Global Disinformation Index.
These narrative policers essentially black list independent journalists and center-right publishers and seek to get them delisted with advertisers.
Elon Musk’s X has also been targeted by Newsguard, prompting him to remark, that it is “a propaganda shop that will produce any lies you want if you pay them enough money.”