Michael Shellenberger, Alex Gutentag, and Matt Taibbi have published a series of articles on PUBLIC, starting on Nov. 28, that document U.K. and U.S. military contractors in violation of the first amendment rights of American citizens. Their new exposés include information provided by a whistleblower who has come forward with “an explosive new trove of documents, rivaling or exceeding the Twitter Files and Facebook Files in scale and importance.” The documents are in line with the Pentagon’s shift from merely information warfare to that of cognitive warfare—not just the control of information, but the control of how you process that information—such as the “Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment,” published by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The documents “describe the activities of an ‘anti-disinformation’ group called the Cyber Threat Intelligence League, or CTIL, that officially began as the volunteer project of data scientists and defense and intelligence veterans but whose tactics over time appear to have been absorbed into multiple official projects, including those of the Department of Homeland Security.” Shellenberger et al. say that the documents explain “that while such activities overseas are ‘typically’ done by ‘the CIA and NSA and the Department of Defense,’ censorship efforts ‘against Americans’ have to be done using private partners because the government doesn’t have the ‘legal authority.’” The whistleblower also “alleges that a leader of CTI League, a ‘former’ British intelligence analyst, was ‘in the room’ at the Obama White House in 2017 when she received the instructions to create a counter-disinformation project to stop a ‘repeat of 2016.’”
The documents show that in 2019, “U.S. and U.K. military and intelligence contractors led by a former U.K. defense researcher, Sara-Jayne ‘SJ’ Terp, developed the sweeping censorship framework.” SJ Terp worked closely with Pablo Breuer, a self-described “change agent” and a leader within U.S. Special Operations Command Donovan Group, and together at CTIL, they partnered with DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the spring of 2020. “In June 2018, Terp attended a ten-day military exercise organized by the U.S. Special Operations Command, where she says she first met Breuer and discussed modern disinformation campaigns on social media.” Shellenberger, Taibbi, and Gutentag say that CTIL’s approach to disinformation went far beyond censorship. “The documents show that the group engaged in offensive operations to influence public opinion, discussing ways to promote ‘counter-messaging,’ co-opt hashtags, dilute disfavored messaging, create sock puppet accounts, and infiltrate private invite-only groups.” A key component of Terp’s work through CTIL, was to insert the concept of “cognitive security” into the fields of cybersecurity and information security.