FBI Helped Ukraine’s Intel Service Flag US Government Account as ‘Disinformation’: House Report

FBI Helped Ukraine’s Intel Service Flag US Government Account as ‘Disinformation’: House Report
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building in Washington on June 28, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

A verified U.S. State Department account got caught up in a Ukrainian intelligence service’s efforts to suppress alleged Russian disinformation on social media, according to a new report (pdf) by the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.

According to the new committee report, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) forwarded to the FBI lists of social media accounts they said had “spread Russian disinformation.” The Ukrainian intelligence service asked the FBI to pass along these lists of social media accounts to their contacts with big tech companies in Silicon Valley, and, according to the House report, the FBI complied.

Included on these SBU lists of suspected Russian disinformation accounts were accounts operated by American and Canadian journalists as well as one verified Instagram account belonging to the U.S. State Department, @usaporusski, the State Department’s official Russian-language account. The State Department account was included in a spreadsheet of suspect social media accounts that the SBU forwarded along on March 1, 2022.

The SBU said the accounts on their spreadsheet were “distribut[ing] content that promotes war, inaccurately reflects events in Ukraine, justifies Russian war crimes in Ukraine in violation of international law.”

According to the House report, neither the FBI nor the SBU provided any details about how the State Department account was involved in spreading disinformation.

“These examples show either that the FBI did not meaningfully vet the SBU’s lists or that the FBI endorsed the SBU’s censorship requests knowing full well that they contained American accounts,” the House report reads.

The House report indicated Instagram’s parent company, Meta Platforms, Inc., provided few details to investigators about how it handled these requests from the SBU. NTD News reached out to Meta about the incident but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.

Western Journalists Targeted in SBU Lists

The House report comes about a month after Canadian journalist Aaron Maté published a series of internal communications from Twitter as part of the ongoing “Twitter Files” series. In his Twitter thread, Maté described how his Twitter account was among dozens included on SBU lists of suspected disinformation sources that FBI officials forwarded along to Twitter employees in 2022.

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).

The new House report did not reference Maté’s Twitter Files reporting or that the U.S. government-linked Current Time TV was flagged for potential censorship by SBU officials.

The House report did describe an American journalist for a self-styled socialist publication whom the SBU also flagged.

The House document also noted reporting by journalist Lee Fang, who spoke with an SBU official in April of this year. Ilia Vitiuk, who has served as the head of the SBU’s Department of Cyber and Information Security, reportedly told Fang that the SBU tends to flag accounts that might include negative reporting about Ukraine, regardless of whether they’ve repeated any information that’s actually factually flawed.

According to Mr. Fang’s reporting, when asked about how he identifies disinformation, the Ukrainian intelligence official said, “‘Everything that is against our country, consider it a fake, even if it’s not.’ Right now, for our victory, it is important to have that kind of understanding.”

According to the House report, after receiving a list of flagged accounts, Twitter’s then Trust and Safety Team leader reached out to FBI Special Agent Aleksandr Kobzanets, an Assistant Legal Attaché for the FBI who worked in Kyiv, Ukraine, from 2020 to 2022. In March 2022, Mr. Roth notified the FBI agent that some of the flagged accounts belonged to American and Canadian journalists and asked for “any additional information or context.” Mr. Kobzanets replied in a March 28, 2022 email that it was “[u]nlikely there will be any additional information or context.”

Ukrainian Intel Service Infiltrated By Russia: Report

The House report provided no conclusive answer as to why the social media accounts for U.S. government organizations and Western journalists were flagged by Ukrainian intelligence officials for potential censorship.

While Mr. Vitiuk’s willingness to classify “everything that is against our country” as disinformation suggests a censorship stance that favors the Ukrainian government, the House report posits that the SBU may also be harboring pro-Russian factions bent on disrupting the Ukrainian government.

In the same section where the House report notes the flagging of the U.S. State Department’s Instagram account, the report states, “the SBU was widely infiltrated by Russian-aligned forces during this period.” The House report describes how the SBU had close ties with Russia during the reign of the Soviet Union and how the Ukrainian intelligence service worked closely with the Soviet-era KGB and then the FSB, the KGB’s successor organization, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The House report states that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy purged some of the SBU’s leadership in July of 2022 after the FBI had already forwarded numerous SBU communications to U.S. social media companies. The Ukrainian president dismissed the head of the SBU, Ivan Bakanov, citing “the large number of SBU staff suspected of treason.” Mr. Zelenskyy said that “651 cases of alleged treason and collaboration have been opened against individuals in law enforcement and in the prosecutor’s office” throughout Ukraine.

The House report said, “The extent of Russian influence remaining in the SBU today is unclear.”

“The FBI worked with and on behalf of a foreign intelligence agency—widely known to be compromised by Moscow at the time55—and directly abetted efforts to censor Americans engaging in protected speech,” the House report added. “As a result, the FBI agents’ actions had the potential to render substantial aid to the Kremlin’s war effort.”

NTD News reached out to the FBI for comment on the findings from the House report, but the agency did not respond by the time this article was published.

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