A newly released document describes how a group of national security officials worked day and night to flag election-related “misinformation” and “disinformation” and provide it to social media platforms, which Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said shows that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has been “weaponized to suppress domestic free speech.”
As part of efforts by Bailey and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry to uncover what the latter described as “widespread and systematic collusion between Big Tech and Big Government to censor Americans,” Landry on Jan. 19 released the full transcript of the deposition (pdf) of CISA official Brian Scully.
Scully is a key figure in CISA’s Multi-Domain Management (MDM) division, which focuses on the coordination and integration of physical and cyber security efforts across various domains, including the electric grid, transportation systems, and election infrastructure.
The deposition is part of a court-ordered discovery process in a lawsuit filed last year by Missouri and Louisiana against the Biden administration for allegedly colluding with social media giants to suppress Americans’ free speech.
“In our efforts to protect the First Amendment, we deposed Brian Scully of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a key player in the federal gov’s efforts to suppress so-called “mis-, dis-, and mal-information” (MDM) about elections,” Bailey said in a post on social media.
The Epoch Times reached out to CISA with a request for comment on Landry’s and Bailey’s assertions that CISA has been “weaponized” to censor domestic free speech. No response was received by publication.
Scully said in the deposition that the MDM division works to protect America’s critical infrastructure—including election infrastructure—by engaging with federal partners and civil society groups in efforts to mitigate risks.
“In 2020, we did some switchboard work on behalf of election officials,” Scully said, referring to one of the activities of the division.
Switchboard work, he explained, was essentially receiving alerts from elections officials about social media content they deemed to be disinformation and then CISA routing those concerns to social media companies.
Scully said it was mostly for informational awareness purposes, “just to make sure that the social media companies were aware of potential disinformation.” He confirmed, however, that there was an “understanding” that the social media platforms would then apply their moderation policies to the content, suggesting that the content was being primed for suppression.
Scully also said that, for CISA, switchboard work was “very resource intensive,” involving “at least” five other individuals, with Scully as the point man.
“The MDM team took shifts, in terms of receiving and doing,” Scully said.
“Over the course of the election I think we forwarded about 200 emails, total,” Scully said in response to a question about the MDM team “flagging disinformation concerns” to social media platforms.
The deposition lists—but does not include as attachments—a number of exhibits, including emails between CISA and other entities as part of the switchboarding.
Examples of actions taken by social media companies as a result of such flags were shared by Bailey on social media.
“Here, Twitter ‘actioned’ (censored) accounts under their ‘civic integrity policies’ after CISA flags them,” Bailey wrote in a tweet, which shows a redacted screenshot of correspondence between a Twitter employee and someone at CISA, neither of whom are identified.
“Here, we see CISA offers to help the major social media companies connect with local election offices,” Bailey wrote in a separate tweet, with a screenshot showing an unidentified Facebook employee asking to be put in touch with local election offices.
“And as always, if there’s anything we can do to be helpful in the meantime, please let us know!” the Facebook staffer writes.
The deposition also shows that CISA liaised with other entities, including a partner organization to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called the Center for Internet Security (CIS) and the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a collaboration between Stanford University, the University of Washington, Graphika, and Atlantic Council’s DFRLab.
Scully said his understanding was that EIP consisted of several organizations aiming to “better understand what was going on in the information environment around elections.”
The EIP would later release a report on “mis- and disinformation” around the 2020 election which the group said “details how misleading narratives and false claims about voting coalesced into the metanarrative of a ‘stolen election,’ which propelled the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol,” a characterization that perhaps hints at the entity’s political leanings.
Scully said that, given how resource intensive the flagging was for his team, he put EIP in touch with CIS, which he described as a non-profit that oversees election infrastructure information sharing and analysis networks.
“It wasn’t a role we necessarily wanted to play because it’s very resource intensive,” Scully said of the MDM team’s involvement in switchboarding and of his desire to get other parties to take some of the load.
“I would say early on in the process, the switchboarding generally came through CISA,” Scully said. “Later on in the process, it was more of a mixed bag of how the switchboarding worked.”
During the deposition, Scully was asked to comment on various emails, including a “misinformation report” from October 2020 involving CISA that was part of the switchboarding.
“Brian—referring to you—we know many are already aware of this case, but the impact seems to be escalating. Our hope is the platforms can do more to take down the misinformation; correct?” one of the individuals questioning Scully asks, citing the correspondence.
“That’s what it says, correct,” Scully replies, adding later that he forwarded it to Facebook, even though it related to Twitter activity.
“In other words, if the disinformation or misinformation might be spreading to other platforms you would notify not just the platform reported, but other platforms as well,” the individual questioning Scully asked.
“It sounds like it literally jumped platforms,” Scully said of the content, adding that “sometimes we would just … we would share.”
Scully, who for the past several months has served as the MDM team’s “active engagements lead,” said in the deposition that the team’s communications with social media companies had two tracks.
One type of communication involved MDM being briefed by social media companies if they were putting out policy announcements or public reports on policy activities. Asked if the companies were communicating to CISA about things they’re doing in relation to “misinformation and disinformation” on their platforms, Scully explained they don’t call it that but instead refer to it as “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
The second type of communication CISA was involved in was conducting regular “sync meetings” between government and private sector companies, which would involve taking part in coordination calls and setting common agendas, Scully said.
Several years back, these meetings were held on a quarterly basis, then monthly at some point in 2020, and about a month before the 2020 presidential election, they were held biweekly.
He said that representatives from Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google, Reddit, and sometimes LinkedIn and Wikimedia Foundation would take part in these meetings, though he added that “I believe there are others.”
Scully said other agencies were also involved in these meetings, namely: the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the DHS.
These agencies, Scully said, would provide unclassified “high-level reviews or strategic intelligence briefs” or anything else of relevance that they had to share.
“There was never any discussion of specific content,” Scully said, but things at a “high-level” that they were seeing and wanted to flag, such as “actors that might be interested in undermining confidence in the elections.”
“If they were seeing domestic terrorism type threats,” he said as an example, adding that he did not recall any instances in which these other agencies identified specific domestic actors.
Scully said the team stopped doing switchboarding in April 2022, at the direction of CISA head Jen Easterly.
Easterly’s name came up in a recent statement by Landry, who claimed Easterly “believes that the ‘Infrastructure’ in CISA doesn’t mean protecting roads and bridges. It means ‘cognitive infrastructure,’ i.e., suppressing certain kinds of speech.”
Scully said the meetings between CISA and social media companies have been discontinued with no current plans to hold them in 2023.
He also said that the MDM team has no immediate plans to expand its efforts to fight election disinformation going into the 2024 election cycle.
Bailey, commenting on Scully’s deposition, said in a post on Twitter that “this is just the tip of the iceberg. We look forward to releasing more documents.”
From The Epoch Times