Originally published June 8, 2023 2:00 pm PDT
In a startling revelation, leaked communications suggest that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been facilitating a Ukrainian intelligence drive aimed at censoring Twitter users and harvesting their personal data.
Notably, the list of individuals targeted included journalists from the United States and Canada.
The revelations come from the latest ‘Twitter Files’ drop, written by journalist Aaron Maté.
A trove of leaked emails indicates that in March 2022, an FBI Special Agent provided Twitter with a list of accounts flagged by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU).
The FBI conveyed the SBU’s suspicion that these accounts were contributing to a climate of “fear and disinformation.”
Alongside this, a memo from the SBU requested Twitter to ban these accounts and divulge their user data.
Interestingly, the FBI’s involvement in Ukraine’s push for social media censorship extends to members of the press.
As per the leaked documents, the SBU’s list, sent to Twitter via the FBI, included journalists from America and Canada.
Responding to this request, Twitter promised to review the accounts for inauthenticity while expressing concerns about the inclusion of American and Canadian journalists.
These revelations are among the most explicit instances of censorship requests revealed thus far from the Twitter Files, according to Maté.
The request for censorship from the FBI was dispatched in an email on March 27th, 2022, from FBI Special Agent Aleksandr Kobzanets, the Assistant Legal Attaché at the US Embassy in Kyiv, to two Twitter executives, with four of his FBI colleagues copied.
The SBU document appended to the email included 163 Twitter accounts, accused of spreading “disinformation and fake news to inaccurately reflect events in Ukraine” and justifying the alleged “war crimes of the Russian authorities” on Ukrainian territory.
They were reporting information contrary to the mainstream narrative.
The SBU urged Twitter to block these accounts and provide user data, which would disclose the users’ phone number, date of birth, and email address to both the FBI and SBU.
Responding to the request, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s then-Head of Trust and Safety, assured the FBI that Twitter would “review the reported accounts under our Rules.”
However, he cautioned that the list included a few journalist accounts, leading the review to prioritize identifying “potential inauthenticity.”
Roth was open to suspending genuine accounts if it could be shown they have clandestine ties to a foreign government, stating that journalists 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.”
In response, Special Agent Kobzanets acknowledged Twitter’s response with the words, “Understood. Whatever your review determines and action Twitter deem[s] is appropriate.”
However, he hinted that the FBI would not provide additional context to establish connections between journalists and foreign governments.
This collaboration between the FBI and the SBU on censorship is one of the most recent instances of Ukrainian state-linked efforts to suppress foreign voices.
For instance, the Ukrainian website Myrotvorets lists what it calls “enemies of Ukraine,” and it recently included journalists and Youtube hosts, Maté notes.
Furthermore, last year, The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal and Maté had a speaking invitation withdrawn from a tech/media conference after the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded our cancellation.
Moreover, the FBI’s collaboration with Ukrainian intelligence to censor Twitter users builds on the previous report that the FBI has been pressuring Facebook to remove posts and accounts deemed by the SBU to be Russian “disinformation.”
A senior Ukrainian official in contact with the FBI broadly defined “disinformation” as viewpoints that “simply contradict the Ukrainian government’s narrative.”