by Sharon Rondeau

(Dec. 21, 2022) — In a release Tuesday by The Intercept‘s Lee Fang, the newest “Twitter Files” demonstrate that CENTCOM, or “U.S. Central Command” asked for and received special treatment from the social-media platform, which violated its own policies to maintain the military’s preferred “covert identities.”

On its website, CENTCOM states it “directs and enables military operations and activities with allies and partners to increase regional security and stability in support of enduring U.S. interests,” with three “Command Priorities” to “Deter Iran,” “Counter Violent Extremist Organizations,” and “Compete Strategically.”

Its social media use includes Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, a Facebook subsidiary. Here, CENTCOM offers advice to the general public on “Security for Social Media.”

Fang titled the release, “How Twitter Quietly Aided the Pentagon’s Covert Online PsyOp Campaign.” The narrative begins, “Despite promises to shut down covert state-run propaganda networks, Twitter docs show that the social media giant directly assisted the U.S. military’s influence operations.”

In his next tweets, Fang pointed out that Twitter representatives told Congress the company had committed to “rapidly identify and shut down all state-backed covert information operations & deceptive propaganda” but that it acceded to requests from CENTCOM to “whitelist” and provide “priority service” in order to “amplify certain accounts.”

“Whitelisting” the accounts, Fang wrote, “provides verification status to the accounts w/o the blue check, meaning they are exempt from spam/abuse flags, more visible/likely to trend on hashtags.”

“The CENTCOM accounts on the list tweeted frequently about U.S. military priorities in the Middle East,” Fang wrote, displaying images accompanying them in 2017, “including promoting anti-Iran messages, promotion of the Saudi Arabia-U.S. backed war in Yemen, and ‘accurate’ U.S. drone strikes that claimed to only hit terrorists.”

That information was followed by, “CENTCOM then shifted strategies & deleted disclosures of ties to the Twitter accounts…”

Fast-forwarding in time, Fang reported, “…many emails from throughout 2020 show that high-level Twitter executives were well aware of DoD’s vast network of fake accounts & covert propaganda and did not suspend the accounts.” Fang provided the examples of former FBI General Counsel James Baker, then working as a lead attorney at Twitter, as having “mused in a July 2020 email, about an upcoming DoD meeting, that the Pentagon used ‘poor tradecraft’ in setting up its network, and were seeking strategies for not exposing the accounts that are ‘linked to each other or to DoD or the USG.’”

His next tweet and accompanying “PRIVILEGED & CONFIDENTIAL” email state that Stacia Cardille, a subordinate to Baker, on July 8, 2020 expressed the opinion that the DOD could be “overclassifying” its tweets “to obfuscate their activity in this space.”

Fang’s disclosures end with #21, detailing CENTCOM’s use of “deep fake images and memes against U.S. foreign adversaries” not only on Twitter, but also Facebook, Telegram and other social media discovered by the Stanford Internet Observatory, “a cross-disciplinary initiative comprised of research, teaching and policy engagement addressing the abuse of today’s information technologies, with a particular focus on social media. This includes the spread of disinformation, cybersecurity breaches, and terrorist propaganda.”

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