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Tipsheet

Yet Another Batch of Twitter Files Released, This Time on COVID Cover-Up

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

On Tuesday afternoon, Matt Taibbi released another edition of the Twitter Files, to do with "How Twitter Let the Intelligence Community In" with regards to Russian disinformation. Later that same day, Taibbi released another edition, this time to do with "Twitter and the FBI 'Belly Button,'" with the meaning behind the name revealed towards the end of the thread. This even longer and more intense batch has to do with COVID cover-up, with the virus having been covered before in previous editions. This time, however, Taibbi revealed how COVID tweets were flagged as misinformation associated with Russia.

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Taibbi's thread provides evidence, including screenshots, of how the Global Engagement Center (GEC), which he describes as "a fledgling analytic/intelligence arms of the State Department," claimed to the media in February of 2020 that this was just one more thing to have to do with Russia. "Russian Disinformation Apparatus Taking Advantage of Coronavirus Concerns," the report's title read.

Accounts were flagged as "Russian personals and proxies," even if they made claims which are now looking to be increasingly true, such as "Describing the Coronavirus as an engineered bioweapon" and blaming "research conducted at the Wuhan institute."

The former claim was addressed as a possibility in a congressional report last month released by Republican staff members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who were then in the minority, and a subsequent press call.

The latter has been emerging as not just a possibility, but a likelihood, for years now. Yet when Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) tried to address it, for instance, he was treated as a pariah, with The New York Times, also in February 2020, declaring his warnings to be "a fringe theory."

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As has now been confirmed, it wasn't just the mainstream media trying to downplay such possibilities and likelihoods. 

Speaking of the mainstream media, the GEC highlighted articles such as Arthur Macmillan and Shaun Tandon's February 22, 2020 piece for AFP, "Russia-linked disinformation campaign fueling coronavirus alarm, US says." Another piece included Betsy Woodruff Swan's piece for POLITICO from April 21, 2020, "State report: Russian, Chinese and Iranian disinformation narratives echo one another."

A name that will no doubt be familiar to those who have read up on previous batches of the Twitter Files, Yoel Roth, also comes up. Roth had served as the Trust and Safety Chief. Researchers from Clemson had pointed out that Twitter that they "haven't made an attribution to Russia in some time," which Roth said was "revelatory of their motives."

Roth is also revealed to have asked researchers to work with them first before going to the media about stories on foreign interference. Twitter also sought to reduce those agencies that had access to Roth, with such a suggestion mentioned by Policy Director Carlos Monje. 

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In what led to what Taibbi describes as "a rare public disagreement between Twitter and state officials," the GEC looked to get further involved in moderating content, what Roth describes as these agencies "inserting themselves into the conversations we've had with DHS, FBI, ODNI, and others."

While GEC did agree to let Twitter know when they would go to the press, an executive did lament that the "delta between when they share material and when they go to the press continues to be problematic."

Ensuing disagreements followed between platforms such as Twitter, and Google and Facebook, when it came to GEC's inclusion.

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The matter became even more political, with Roth acknowledging that an election was coming, including the 2020 presidential election which former and potentially future President Donald Trump lost. 

As Taibbi fittingly reminds, Twitter had been used to "rolling over for Democratic Party requests" when it comes to accounts supposedly "Russia-linked" in the name of politics. 

But, as Roth wrote in an email from June 9, 2020, "Especially as the election heats up in the coming months, introducing an actor like GEC into what has to date been a stable and (relatively) trusted group of practitioners and experts poses major risks, and could undermine a cannel of significant importance to our election security efforts."

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As mentioned, it is towards the end of the thread when the "belly button" phrasing is mentioned. Several tweets reveal the back and forth about whether the GEC would involve other agencies such as the FBI and CIA, and whether the agency could "rely on the FBI to be the belly button of the USG."

Agent Chan sent Roth a list of Signal numbers. From there, Twitter only got more requests from more agencies. 

A Democratic politician who has been particularly critical of the Twitter Files and its current CEO, Elon Musk, also makes his way later into the thread, in this case Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). The congressman asked for Paul Sperry of The New York Post to be banned. While Twitter initially refused, Sperry was later suspended. Twitter also honored requests for bans from the GEC. So much for standing up to them!

"Schiff" has been trending on Twitter on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning as a result of his mention in the thread. 

Subsequent tweets go further in depth about these requests. 

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The last few tweets detail how this led up even more directly to the 2020 presidential election, and that there was were so many requests that Twitter had a hard time keeping up. 

Taibbi also reminds readers how this all relates to another batch, this previous one coming from Michael Shellenberger, describing Twitter as having been "essentially... an overwhelmed subcontractor." He also added that "Twitter wasn't just paid. For the amount of work they did for the government, they were underpaid."

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This most recent thread is now Taibbi's pinned tweet. 

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