By Jack Phillips
Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley sounded the alarm over the FBI’s recent statement decrying “conspiracy theorists” and “disinformation” after recent installments of the “Twitter Files” revealed that agents were in constant communication with Twitter.
A spokesperson for the FBI told Fox News, in response to several “Twitter Files” installments, said that “conspiracy theorists” are “feeding the American public misinformation” and said they are trying to discredit the bureau and its agents.
That statement, Turley told Fox News, is “disturbing” because the FBI has allegedly “attacked many of us who were raising free speech concerns and called all of us collectively ‘conspiracy theorists spreading disinformation.’
“It was highly inappropriate, because the FBI has said that combatting disinformation is one of its priorities. So, it is a very menacing thing when you have the largest law enforcement agency attacking free speech advocates,” Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University who served as an expert witness during former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment inquiry, told the outlet.
With the reporting around the Twitter Files, Turley noted that new owner Elon Musk “has confirmed that the FBI paid social media companies to help them deal with what they called disinformation, which most of us call censorship.”
“But also that they were in continuous communication, as were other agencies, targeting specific citizens and specific posters to be banned or suspended,” Turley said, referring to disclosures from the files. “That really does smack of an agency relationship and that could violate the first amendment.”
The FBI made its statement to Fox News after several journalists posted screenshots of messages showing how FBI agents communicated with top Twitter officials, namely about potential reports about Hunter Biden.
“What I quickly put together is a pattern where it appears that FBI agents, along with former FBI agents within the company, were engaged in a disinformation campaign aimed at top Twitter and Facebook executives, as well as at top news organization executives to basically prepare them, prime them, get them set up to dismiss Hunter Biden information when it would be released,” journalist Michael Shellenberger wrote.
Another email, dated only last month, showed FBI agent Elvis Chan forwarding a message from the agency’s National Election Command Post to Twitter regarding 25 accounts that were allegedly spreading “misinformation about the upcoming election” on Nov. 8. Days later, the FBI’s San Francisco field office flagged four accounts to Twitter they believed “may potentially constitute violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service for any action or inaction deemed appropriate within Twitter policy,” according to files released by journalist Matt Taibbi that was shared by Musk on Twitter.
In another disclosure this month, one Twitter executive appeared to express alarm over the FBI’s pressure. “They are probing & pushing everywhere they can (including by whispering to congressional staff),” Carlos Monje wrote in January 2020.
Reports have indicated that a number of Big Tech companies have hired retired FBI agents and former intelligence officials. Twitter was no different, having hired former FBI general counsel James Baker, who was recently “exited” by Musk in early December amid reports that he was secretly “vetting” files that were accessed by Taibbi, Shellenberger, and other journalists.
When reached for comment, the FBI also said those messages between the bureau and Twitter show “nothing more than examples of our traditional, longstanding, and ongoing federal government and private sector engagements, which involve numerous companies over multiple sectors and industries. As evidenced in the correspondence, the FBI provides critical information to the private sector in an effort to allow them to protect themselves and their customers.”
But Turley, in an opinion article, said that “it is not clear what is more chilling—the menacing role played by the FBI in Twitter’s censorship program, or its mendacious response to the disclosure of that role” before he called for reforms at the bureau.
“After Watergate, there was bipartisan support for reforming the FBI and intelligence agencies. Today, that cacophony of voices has been replaced by crickets, as much of the media imposes another effective blackout on coverage of the Twitter Files,” he said. “This media silence suggests that the FBI found the ‘sweet spot’ on censorship, supporting the views of the political and media establishment.”