The FBI colluded with a Russian-infiltrated intelligence agency in Ukraine to censor American speech, according to a new document out Monday.
In an interim report published by the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, House investigators exposed the FBI’s cooperation with foreign agents to orchestrate online censorship.
“The Committee’s analysis of these ‘disinformation’ registries revealed that the FBI, at the request of the [Security Service of Ukraine (SBU)], flagged for social media companies the authentic accounts of Americans, including a verified U.S. State Department account and those belonging to American journalists,” the report reads. “At times, the FBI would even follow up with the relevant platform to ensure that ‘these accounts were taken down.'”
The SBU was notoriously infiltrated by the Kremlin’s Federal Security Service (FSB), whose agents were instrumental in President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In March last year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky fired the head of the SBU’s Crimean branch, who is accused of being a double agent. Ivan Bakanov, who ran the entire SBU, was let go in July last year over the service’s status as a compromised agency.
The FBI, lawmakers added, “had no legal justification for facilitating the censorship of Americans’ protected speech on social media.”
House investigators compiled the report based on subpoenas to Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and Alphabet, which oversees Google and YouTube.
“The inclusion of American accounts on the SBU’s lists indicates that the FBI either did not properly vet the SBU’s requests or was aware of their domestic nature, and nonetheless carried them out,” lawmakers concluded.
At the heart of the operation was FBI Agent Elvis Chan in the San Francisco field office, who served as the “primary liaison” between the FBI and Silicon Valley. Chan also coordinated meetings between the FBI and social media companies during both the 2020 and 2022 elections. House investigators reported the SBU wasn’t purged of Russian agents until months after the Ukrainian security service began colluding with the FBI to censor U.S. citizens.
The FBI and SBU reportedly sent “massive spreadsheets” that contained “thousands of accounts” for censorship to Meta. The FBI also “facilitated” the SBU’s requests for censorship on Alphabet platforms. Posts flagged for removal were often supportive of Ukraine and critical of Putin.
One episode of censorship on Instagram included the suspension of a verified account run by the State Department with the username “@usaporusski.”
“Neither the FBI nor the SBU provides an explanation as to how the U.S. State Department account was ‘involved in disinformation,'” lawmakers noted.
One censorship request also included an American journalist whose name has been redacted.
The government coordination with Silicon Valley ran so deep that Meta even proposed a “24/7 channel” with foreign agents to facilitate censorship. The operation continued at least into May, even after Twitter’s Yoel Roth warned U.S. officials about the SBU’s targeting of American accounts.
“The full extent of the FBI’s collaboration with the SBU to censor American speech is unknown,” investigators wrote, but added, “To be clear, the FBI’s participation in the SBU’s censorship enterprise was a willing and intentional choice by the FBI, involving no fewer than seven agents across the Bureau.”