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Facebook removes suspected secret US military ops accounts; Pentagon orders massive review: Report

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the media on Afghanistan, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
September 19, 2022

A new report on Monday revealed Facebook removed fake accounts suspected of being used by the U.S. military for secret psychological operations, people familiar with the matter said. The action prompted the Pentagon to order an audit of how the Department of Defense conducts secret information warfare online. 

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U.S. Central Command is facing scrutiny linked to military-linked accounts among more than 150 fake accounts that Facebook and Twitter have taken down, two officials familiar with the matter said, according to The Washington Post on Monday. Internet researchers Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory revealed last month that social media platforms removed the fake accounts; however, the researchers did not attribute the bogus profiles and sites to the U.S. military. 

People familiar with the matter said the accounts were removed over the past two or three years, including some that were recent. Among the accounts were those that pushed anti-Russia narratives, calling the Kremlin “imperialist” for its war with Ukraine and warning that the conflict could impact Asian nations. 

Last week, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl directed top military officials to turn over information related to online psychological operations by October. The order comes after the Biden administration expressed concern over the Pentagon’s attempted manipulation of foreign audiences online, multiple defense and administration officials familiar with the situation said.

Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement that the U.S. military’s secret information operations “support our national security priorities” and are conducted according to relevant laws and policies.

“We are committed to enforcing those safeguards,” he added.

Several U.S. officials said the White House has argued that the policies which allow the Pentagon to conduct secret operations on social media are too broad and put the United States’ reputation at risk. 

“Our adversaries are absolutely operating in the information domain,” said a second senior defense official. “There are some who think we shouldn’t do anything clandestine in that space. Ceding an entire domain to an adversary would be unwise. But we need stronger policy guardrails.”

Earlier this month, new details from a lawsuit revealed that the Biden administration colluded with social media companies to censor Americans in an effort that involved at least 45 federal officials at the White House, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, State Department, Treasury Department, U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and more.