Twitter Files: FBI Assisted Ukrainian Government’s Effort to Censor Twitter Accounts, Including Journalists
Twitter Files: FBI Assisted Ukrainian Government’s Effort to Censor Twitter Accounts, Including Journalists

By Ryan Morgan

The FBI assisted a Ukrainian intelligence service in its attempt to block numerous Twitter accounts, including journalists and media outlets, according to internal documents leaked from the social media platform.

On Wednesday, journalist Aaron Maté published the latest installment of the ongoing “Twitter Files” exposé series. Maté’s latest installment of Twitter internal documents and communications highlighted a March 27, 2022, email sent by FBI Special Agent Aleksandr Kobzanets to Yoel Roth, Twitter’s then-Head of Trust and Safety.

“Thank you very much for your time to discuss the assistance to Ukraine,” Kobzanets wrote. “I am including a list of accounts I received over a couple of weeks from the Security Service of Ukraine. These accounts are suspected by the SBU in spreading fear and disinformation. For your review and consideration.”

Maté provided a copy of the alleged SBU list (pdf) that Kobzanets referenced in his email.

“Due to the full-scale war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, the aggressor state uses hybrid methods of war in the form of a powerful information campaign using social media and social networks,” the alleged SBU document states at the top. “In particular, several Twitter accounts have been identified that are used to disseminate disinformation and fake news to inaccurately reflect events in Ukraine, justify war crimes of the Russian authorities on the territory of the Ukrainian state in violation of international law.”

That message from the SBU would have come in the early weeks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24, 2022.

“To stop Russian aggression on the information front, we kindly ask you to take urgent measures to block these Twitter accounts and provide us with user data specified during registration,” the alleged SBU document concludes. “We express our gratitude for the existing level of interaction.”

Other FBI officials were aware of Kobzanets’s communication with Twitter. He copied FBI officials Elvis Chan, Mark Kellett, James Butler, and Nicole Cannavo on the March 27, 2022, email.

The FBI declined an NTD News request for comment on the matter.

Flagged Accounts

In total, the alleged SBU list included 163 unique Twitter profiles. Many of the accounts listed are currently listed as suspended or no longer or appear, with a “This account doesn’t exist” message when searched.

One of the listed accounts that remains active belongs to Semyon Pegov, who runs an outlet called War Gonzo.

In January of 2022, as Ukraine began arming its reserve forces, Pegov concluded that these armed Ukrainians would go on to attack Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, an area that has seen fighting between Ukrainian government supporters and Ukrainian separatists since 2014. StopFake, a Ukrainian website, disputed Pegov’s claim of an imminent attack on the Donbas region as false, asserting that the Ukrainian reserve forces were strictly defensive.

On Feb. 18, 2022, Pegov shared another video purporting to show a Ukrainian separatist leader’s vehicle destroyed in an apparent car-bomb attack. A Ukrainian journalist called that footage into doubt, posting a picture purporting to show the license plate of the destroyed vehicle on an entirely different vehicle.

In May of 2022, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) alleged Pegov staged a video of Russian troops shooting an anti-aircraft gun, claiming they were shooting down Ukrainian drones. RFE/RL is a U.S. government-funded media organization.

Another of the accounts included on the alleged SBU list belongs to Current Time TV, a Russian-language media channel itself produced by RFE/RL in cooperation with the Voice of America (VOA). RFE/RL and VOA are both funded by the U.S. government through the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).

It’s unclear why the Current Time TV social media account might have been flagged by Ukraine’s SBU. NTD News reached out to Current Time TV but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.

Maté also found himself as a subject of his own reporting. The journalist, who writes for The Grayzone and Real Clear Investigations, was among those flagged in the alleged SBU list.

Among a sampling of his Twitter posts between the start of the invasion and the March 27 email, Maté called into question claims of a Russian chemical or biological weapons attack in Ukraine. Maté also described the 2014 ouster of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as a U.S.-backed coup.

In some tweets, Maté referenced neo-Nazi elements within the Ukrainian forces. Ukraine’s Azov Battalion has been widely accused of harboring neo-Nazi elements. This week, The New York Times reported that an official Ukrainian government Twitter account shared an image of a Ukrainian soldier and then deleted it after Nazi iconography was spotted on that soldier’s uniform. Russian President Vladimir Putin has characterized the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “denazification” operation.

In a March 10, 2022 tweet, Maté said Putin was “backed into a corner” prior to invading Ukraine and accused the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of prolonging the fighting in the Donbas region. Maté then added, “Does that justify wrecking Ukraine & Putin’s own country’s economy? No. Even if he didn’t start the crisis, he’s responsible for the consequences of his response, especially to his own people.”

NTD News reached out to the SBU for comment, but the Ukrainian government organization did not respond by the time this article was published.

From NTD News

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