The “nerve center” of the federal government’s censorship operations admitted ahead of the 2020 election that mass mail-in voting comes with risks but flagged online posts highlighting such insecurities to Big Tech companies for censorship anyway.
A series of internal documents obtained via open records request by America First Legal (AFL) show that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, was aware of the risks associated with unsupervised mail-in voting in the months leading up to the 2020 election. It was during this same time that the agency was classifying social media posts highlighting these risks as “disinformation” and flagging them for censorship.
The communications unearthed by AFL reveal that by September 2020, CISA officials knew there was no evidence to support the claim that in-person voting “increase[d] the spread of COVID-19” and were “aware that mass ‘vote-by-mail’ schemes” presented difficulties to election officials. Among the “major challenges” highlighted by the agency were the “process of mailing and returning ballots,” “high numbers of improperly completed ballots,” and “the shortage of personnel to process ballots in a prompt manner.”
By October 2020, CISA had crafted a six-point list titled, “Mail-In Voting Risk: Infrastructure and Process,” which detailed insecurities present in mass mail-in voting operations and offered “compensating controls” election officials could use to manage them.
One of these risks is that “Inbound mail-in ballot processes and tabulation take longer than in-person processing, causing tabulation of results to occur more slowly and resulting in more ballots to tabulate following election night.” Under the “compensating controls” section accompanying that specific issue, CISA noted that “Election officials, media, candidates, and NGOs are educating voters and setting the expectation that it will take days, if not weeks, to determine the outcome of many races.”
Recall that it took several days after the Nov. 3, 2020, contest before Joe Biden was declared the winner. This was in large part due to states such as Pennsylvania and Nevada still counting ballots days after Election Day.
But it wasn’t just CISA officials who were informed of such risks. An Oct. 30, 2020, email indicates the agency shared the aforementioned concerns regarding mail-in voting with members of the corporate press during an “unclassified media tour” that same day.
Rather than report this information to the American public, self-professed “news” organizations such as The Washington Post — which had staff attend the tour — published articles in the days following the Oct. 30 briefing dismissing mail-in balloting’s many liabilities and praising CISA for its “independence from [President Donald] Trump.”
“Officials including Krebs have also scrupulously avoided criticizing or even explicitly correcting Trump’s unfounded attacks on the election’s legitimacy — even as their own assessments often directly contradict his statements about the security of mail ballots and other topics,” the Post’s Joseph Marks wrote.
Despite its own admission that mail-in voting presented challenges and potential hazards to effective election administration, CISA worked extensively to compel Big Tech platforms to censor posts underscoring such points leading up to the 2020 election. According to AFL, the agency contracted consulting firm Deloitte to “report on ‘Daily Social Media Trends’ relating to the U.S. Election — including narratives relating to ‘Vote-By-Mail’ — and to flag specific social media posts for CISA’s awareness and attention.”
Included in the posts Deloitte sent to CISA was an Oct. 30, 2020, tweet issued by Trump, in which the then-president claimed there were “Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA.” Deloitte also flagged a post from an unnamed conservative pundit who, as the consulting firm described, “accused Twitter of ‘SUPPRESSING’ a story about the Democratic presidential nominee’s son to help the nominee win the election.”
That post was in reference to Big Tech’s censorship of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story. On Twitter (now known as X), users were not permitted to share the story, even via direct message. The platform further removed links and issued alerts that it may be “unsafe.” Meanwhile, Facebook announced shortly after the story broke that it would be “reducing [the story’s] distribution” pending verification by third-party “fact-checkers.”
Despite having authenticated the laptop in late 2019, the FBI was also heavily involved in these platforms’ suppression of the story.
CISA’s use of Deloitte to flag so-called “disinformation” online further confirms the findings unearthed in an interim report released by House Republicans in November. According to that analysis, CISA — along with the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) — colluded with Stanford University to pressure Big Tech companies into censoring what they claimed was “disinformation” during the 2020 election. At the heart of this operation was the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), “a consortium of ‘disinformation’ academics” spearheaded by the Stanford Internet Observatory that coordinated with DHS and GEC “to monitor and censor Americans’ online speech” ahead of the 2020 contest.
Created “at the request” of CISA, EIP allowed federal officials to “launder [their] censorship activities in hopes of bypassing both the First Amendment and public scrutiny.” As documented in the interim report, this operation aimed to censor “true information, jokes and satire, and political opinions” and submitted flagged posts from prominent conservative figures to Big Tech companies for censorship. Among those targeted were The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway and Sean Davis.