Is the GOP Responding to the Texas Crisis with Disinformation?

*epilepsy warning*|Hatemail: Newsletter and intel from the LaBac Hacker Collective

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A Note About the Crisis in Texas…

The situation in Texas grows increasingly dire and communities are navigating threatening weather conditions in the middle of a global pandemic. We humbly suggest that readers (with means and capacity) consider making a donation to Austin Disaster Relief Network, Austin Mutual Aid, Cooperation Denton, North Texas Covid-19 Mutual Aid, or one of the many other aid networks listed here and here.

A Wind Turbine Disinformation Campaign?

Millions of Texas residents continue to face power outages in the midst of a record winter storm and officials are anticipating more outages to come. As of Wednesday evening, about 2.3 million households still lacked power, and the number of deaths related to the dangerous weather conditions is growing.

With a second winter storm on its way, officials are scrambling to address regional water shortages – a result of broken pipes and water main breaks likely exacerbated by the freezing temperatures. Following the previous storm in 2011, officials failed to address the known concerns and limitations of the existing infrastructure. At the forefront of this collision is the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a council in which a third of the members do not reside in the state of Texas.

In all of this, it appears that conservative lawmakers and pundits are turning the unfolding crisis into a case against federalization and sustainable infrastructure projects such as the Green New Deal. (It just so happens that this anti-sustainability talking point has been used before by GOP politicians during similar mass power-outages).  

In a Twitter thread posted on Tuesday evening, Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw wrote that frozen wind turbines were the “#1” cause for the power outages across the state, linking a Forbes think-piece by contributor Sal Gilbertie as evidence. In the piece, Gilbertie argues against a large-scale move to renewables in favor of more “traditional” energy sources – seeing as “[i]ncidental reports coming out of Texas indicate” that winter weather had impaired many turbines – but he conveniently fails to mention that the “traditional” energy sources of gas, coal, and nuclear energy have also critically broken down from the cold. (In a “follow-up” piece published two days later, Gilbertie lauded the resilience of wind turbines coming back online faster than both gas and nuclear energies). 

Also on Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in an interview on Fox News that the infrastructure collapse around frozen turbines in the state “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal” and has proven sustainable energy to be unreliable compared to gas and coal. Abbott has since altered his message amid calls to clarify his statements following criticism that they bolstered inaccurate claims that wind turbines are responsible for the current cascading infrastructure failures … and because he himself publicly admitted before the interview that gas and coal generators had failed.

Both Crenshaw and Abbot’s recent comments eerily echo more explicit and outlandish misinformation that had been circulating earlier in the week, such as separate social media posts made by Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert and conservative commentator Steven Crowder, in which they falsely implied Texas was using helicopters (and supposedly a lot of fossil fuel) to de-ice frozen turbines. 

These claims are bizarre given Texas’s energy dependency on natural gas – not some Green New Deal-style energy infrastructure – and emerging news that the mass blackout was the result of a preventable large-scale preparation and design failure unrelated to frozen turbines specifically. 

The inconsistency between fact and this odd turbine narrative raises the possibility that conservatives are purposely spreading disinformation about the situation in Texas to further their anti-Green New Deal agenda. 

But it’s distressing to think that supposed community leaders would obscure information, or outright lie, about an ongoing crisis in order to score political narrative points against “the libs” … so instead we’ll leave you with this charming, informational song by Wilson Center Disinformation Fellow Nina Jankowicz.

Nation-State Security 

  • [Tampa Bay Times] [U.S. NCSC] A supervisor at a water treatment facility in Florida received a scare when his computer cursor began moving on its own and started altering the concentration of chemicals. The hacker briefly gained control over the sodium hydroxide levels in the water before a facility operator noticed the breach and was able to cut the hackers’ access before the town’s entire water supply was contaminated. This incident has larger implications for the security of critical infrastructure as many of these small town facilities do not have the resources for robust cyber security. 

  • [U.S. Dept. of Justice] [The Verge] Who said crime doesn’t pay? In a major announcement by the Justice Department, three North Korean military hackers have been charged with participating in an extensive criminal cyber campaign ranging from destructive cyberattacks to stealing more than 1.3 billion in money and cryptocurrency from major financial institutions. To put 1.3 billion into context, that is over 5% of the DPRK’s annual GDP and more than 25% of their annual military expenditure. 

  • [Bleeping Computer] [Security Boulevard] Russian internet and search company Yandex announced that one of their system administrators enabled unauthorized access to thousands of users' email boxes. They discovered this insider threat during one of their routine security reviews and notified affected parties. 

Social Media and Silicon Valley

  • [NPR] Parler, the online so-called free speech platform that became a haven for neo-nazis, is back online after being blocked last month following the Jan. 6 insurrection. SkySilk, a web infrastructure based in California is hosting the platform and promises to include an anti-troll feature into the platform to block out content that attacks individuals based on race, sex, or sexual orientation. Users can still view such content if they want but why would you!? … Unless you’re a NAZI!

  • [New York Times] A comprehensive dive into the messages and data behind /r/Unemployment highlights the struggles everyday Americans are going through during these unprecedented times. The subreddit provides a sounding board for unemployed people to seek advice, but is also very much a litmus test for the amount of financial pain people are currently experiencing.

  • [Wall Street Journal] [Reuters] There is a legal, moral, and philosophical war between Apple and Facebook right now. While it’s been brewing for years, tensions are currently at an all-time high as Apple seeks to cut Facebook off from data collection features, a move that could levy a hefty blow to Facebook’s advertising business. We recommend this Wall Street Journal explainer on the rivalry between the two tech giants, and this Reuters article on how Facebook is funding Epic to create a proxy battle against Apple in the EU.

  • [New York Times] A highly influential blog has been guiding the most powerful people on the planet whilst going mostly unnoticed by the rest of the world. Slate Star Codex has many similarities with the “intellectual dark web” in that it is a host of contrarian, against-the-grain viewpoints that nonetheless have caught the attention of those in tech who can truly determine humanity’s fate.

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