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We’ve identified multiple connections between the people in CTIL censorship initiative and those who promoted counterpopulist conspiracy theories
Democrats and the mainstream media claim that “anti-disinformation” groups are simply independent researchers who aim to protect the public from harmful mis- and disinformation. These groups, they say, are not politically biased and have merely engaged in public-private partnerships with the government, so their work cannot be considered a First Amendment violation.
Yet over the last few weeks, Public and Racket have documented how US and UK military contractors developed the idea for a censorship partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This partnership, the Cyber Threat Intelligence League (CTIL), was the precursor for future public-private censorship efforts. It involved DHS and Department of Defense (DOD) employees and took direct steps to get content removed from social media.
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Some CTIL members appeared to be concerned with real cyber threats, such as ransomware attacks on hospitals, and some of the group’s activities may have been appropriate cybersecurity measures.
But the leader of CTIL’s disinformation team, Sara-Jayne Terp, spoke openly about her plans to embed thought control, or “cognitive security,” within cybersecurity organizations. And now Public has discovered that CTIL also had ties to the Russian collusion narrative that aimed to delegitimize Donald Trump’s presidency.
Last week, Matt Taibbi reported that CTIL’s Terp had previously worked with Jonathon Morgan, the person who created the Hamilton 68 project, which spread the conspiracy theory that Trump supporters and right-wing populists on social media were secretly Russian bots. “The impact of Hamilton on the domestic news landscape almost can’t be calculated,” explained Taibbi. MSNBC, he wrote, invoked Hamilton 68 at least 279 times to exaggerate the threat of Russian disinformation.
Public has now found further evidence of CTIL’s ties to Russiagate. CTIL member Eric Brogdon put “Zetalyitcs” in his display name, suggesting that he may have worked for Zetalytics when he attempted to have a Facebook user suspended for organizing an anti-lockdown protest.
Zetalytics’ chief data scientist, April Lorenzen, was the source of a report linking Russia’s Alfa Bank to the Trump Organization. This report has since been discredited and investigated by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), which sought a prosecution based on the scandal.
Lorenzen did not respond to Public’s request for comment.
Hilary Clinton’s campaign manager testified to the DOJ last year that she had signed off on sharing the Alfa Bank claims with the media. Evidence also suggests that the Clinton campaign tried to press the FBI, the CIA, and the Obama administration to look into the Alfa Bank allegations.
Internal emails show that the Clinton operatives knew the ties between Trump and Russia were, in their words, a “red herring,” but hyped the conspiracy theory to federal investigators anyway.
As such, both the Clinton campaign and CTIL actively used Zetalytics. In fact, CTIL’s “Big Book of Disinformation Response” stated that the group was monitoring newly created website domains using Zetalytics. Other Files show that CTIL repeatedly used Zetalytics’ services to track domains related to Covid and vaccine skepticism.
Instructions for the kind of “anti-disinformation” work CTIL may have come directly from the Obama administration. According to the whistleblower who delivered the CTIL Files to Public and Racket, Terp claimed that Obama White House officials told her to initiate a project to prevent a “repeat of 2016.”
Renée DiResta, who says she met with tech companies in the White House in 2016, was part of the team that created the disinformation framework CTIL used. DiResta would go on to in 2018, lead the Russian disinformation hype at Morgan’s firm, New Knowledge. And then, in 2020 and 2021, DiResta, who hid her time as a CIA Fellow until Public exposed it, oversaw mass censorship on behalf of DHS.
[Top image: Jonathon Morgan, New Knowledge (left); Sarah-Jaye Terp, Cyber Threat Intelligence League (center); April Lorenzen, Zetalytics (right)]