Hate speech on spy agency chat room catches Hill’s attention

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The House and Senate intelligence oversight committees are looking into hate speech that has flourished in spy agency chat rooms over the past five years, spokespersons said. SpyTalk. The House Armed Services Committee is also “aware of these allegations and we are working with the appropriate agencies to assess the complaint,” said panel spokesman Caleb H. Randall-Bodman.

Dan Gilmore, who worked in an administrative group overseeing internal chat rooms for the classified Intelink system for more than a decade beginning in 2011, said that at the end of the third year of the Trump administration, the system was on fire with inflammatory hate-filled comments, especially on “eChirp,” the intelligence community’s Twitter clone.

“I was the admin of this app and after a few years it became a trash can fire” of hate speech directed at minorities, women, gays, transgenders and Muslims, wrote Gilmore, a 30-year veteran of Navy and NSA cryptosystems. March 10 in an extraordinary public post on its own website. Gilmore was an NSA contractor from 1999 until he was kicked out last July “because I made someone look bad,” he wrote.

“Professionalism has been thrown out the window and flame wars have become routine,” he said. In one SpyTalk interview last week, he said he “cannot quantify” the extent to which hate speech in message boards was representative of all IC staff, but he wrote on his blog that ‘”There were numerous employees at the CIA, DIA, NSA and other IC agencies who openly declared that the January 6 terrorist attack on our Capitol was justified.

The Senate Intelligence Committee “is aware of and is investigating the allegations,” which were reported exclusively by SpyTalk on March 11, said committee spokeswoman Rachel Cohen. “We have contacted DoD and IC agencies.” The House Standing Select Committee on Intelligence “is also aware of and concerned about these reports, and has requested additional information,” said committee spokeswoman Lauren French. Both declined to give further details.

(IC is the acronym for the Intelligence Community, which is made up of 18 organizations, including two independent agencies, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, and the CIA. The FBI is also part of the IC.)

The FBI declined to comment. The CIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Senate Armed Services Committee did not respond to a request for comment. The National Security Agency, ODNI and the Pentagon all declined to comment on the allegations.

Austin’s Limits

The Pentagon’s silence runs counter to its very public stance on countering extremism in the ranks. No less than Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has expressed concern about far-right sentiment in the military services. In the aftermath of the Capitol uprising on January 6, 2020, he ordered a so-called one-day resignation in the military for leaders to address the problem of extremism with the troops. Since then, the ministry has issued new guidelines. While membership of an extremist organization, for example, is not prohibited, participation in activities on its part is. This extends to social media posts, where “liking” or sharing a post deemed extremist or anti-government could result in some type of disciplinary action.

The DoD also prohibits the use of a government communications system to support extremist activity or knowingly accessing Internet websites or other materials that promote or advocate extremist activity, according to its “Report on countering extremist activities within the Ministry of Defense” of December 20, 2021.”

It is unclear whether the ban would extend to NSA military personnel who can participate in Intelink’s classified chat rooms.

“Hate speech was rampant on our apps,” wrote Gilmore, whose identity and credentials were verified by another Pentagon contractor. “I am not hyperbolic. Racist, homophobic, transphobic, islamophobic [sic]and misogynistic speech was displayed in many of our apps.

Tara Lemieux, a senior cybersecurity evaluator for the Department of Defense who worked for the Intelink program from 2012 to 2016, corroborated much of Gilmore’s characterization of chatter. She said she was “personally appalled that any language supporting the overthrow of our U.S. government – or offering support for the January 6 insurrection – would be allowed on Intelink services and horrified that contractors and/or employees who made these comments did not have their Top Secret security clearance and their access immediately suspended.

“The NSA is probably hoping this will go away,” Lemieux added. “It is unacceptable and the [US intelligence community] must take immediate and meaningful action, because there is no room for personal bias in matters of national security.

In previous years, before President Donald Trump showed sympathy for white supremacists and neo-Nazis, partisan political commentary on Intelink channels was prohibited, said Lemieux. “I…remember how quickly we reacted to take down content that didn’t meet standard acceptance. In years past, for example, they jumped through hoops with their hair on fire if you were talking about political candidates.

CIA veterans also said SpyTalk such partisan political speech in office was rare until Trump took office and named former Republican congressman Mike Pompeo as director. Pro-Trump sentiment has emerged primarily in the action arms of counterterrorism programs, made up largely of veterans, they said.

echo chambers

Comments from other current or past IC staff who have read Gilmore’s post have been overwhelmingly supportive.

“Thank you so much for speaking up! I am a black woman who has worked in the NSA and other elements of the IC,” wrote one woman who identified herself as “Mia.”

“As someone who witnessed your thankless work throwing water on the dumpster fire, all I can say is that your efforts were noted and appreciated by the base” , said another, who identified himself as “Chris”. “The only thing that concerns me more than the routine [sic] the extremism you see in places where it should never exist is the resounding silence of leaders.

It’s doubtful that the incendiary chatter on Intelink represents IC’s largest workforce, any more than Twitter’s echo chamber of outrage is a reflection of America as a whole. But there is a parallel, says Gilmore.

Jobs

“I don’t think there are as many jobs in IC as there are on Twitter,” he said. SpyTalk in an interview. “The IC eliminates the whack jobs for good. Unfortunately, once these people are there and they are given a microphone and a podium, a podium that is no longer moderated, then all of a sudden they are allowed to get away with what they think they can get away with.

“They’re like little kids,” Gilmore added. “They are testing the border. They’re like, ‘Can I get away with saying that?’ And they kept doing it over and over and over again.

“I knew it was bad, but not so bad,” says Luis Rueda, who spent nearly 30 years in the CIA’s Clandestine Services Division and still keeps in touch with former colleagues. “There are a bunch of diehard Trumpers in IC,” he said. SpyTalk. “A lot of things have come to light during the mask and vax warrants.” They included “both staff and contractors. They worked in the same units with vocal right-wingers who talked about stolen elections, liberals, [George] Soros, etc.

Rueda’s comments align with the views of other concerned CIA and FBI veterans who have worked closely with US special operations units.

Former FBI Special Agent Tom O’Connor, who spent 23 years with the bureau investigating domestic extremism, found such developments disturbing.

“It wouldn’t be so disturbing if the comments weren’t from former law enforcement and military personnel,” he says, “people who I believe have or had the ability to see evidence and facts . Obviously, many bought into the rhetoric and misinformation. »

Leadership vacuum

Michael German, a former FBI special agent who went undercover with white supremacist groups in the early 1990s, shares O’Connor’s concerns. He points to racist, misogynistic and other inappropriate comments in Customs and Border Protection chat rooms and a secret Facebook page discovered three years ago. It is disturbing to him that “persistent” white supremacist sentiment has seeped from the fringes of American society into the ranks and even the upper echelons of some law enforcement agencies. He describes the failure of repression as inexcusable.

Authorities “imagine this to be an issue that requires giving law enforcement and the military more power to scour social media, or to engage in some sort of snooping activity. broader investigation, rather than acknowledging that this racist activity is in plain sight,” German, now a colleague, said. at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, says SpyTalk. “People at these agencies know there is a problem because they are part of the systems where these hateful ideas are discussed.”

But Brian Murphy, a famous former FBI counterterrorism agent who served as head of DHS Intelligence and Analysis in the Trump administration — and later accused the agency of politicizing intelligence — called police chat rooms “a little tricky”.

“They have the right to free speech, but their behavior can get them in trouble,” he said in an email. “In other words, in the public domain, there are more restrictions. What they say internally, especially on one-to-one chats, is generally fine, unless they’re discussing committing crimes.

While acknowledging the challenge of neutralizing hate speech in a nation founded on the fundamental principle of free speech – that is the First Amendment to the US Constitution – many veteran IC staff warn that some thing needs to be done to weed out bad actors in law enforcement and intelligence. .

“My fear is that it will only get worse as we approach the 2022 and 2024 election cycle,” says O’Connor, former head of the FBI Agents Association.

“The failure to follow facts and evidence has clearly migrated from the extreme to the mainstream,” he said.

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