(May 3, 2022)
In his Congressional testimony on Wednesday, April 27, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the creation of a Disinformation Governance Board. According to his testimony, this Board is one of “many different efforts underway to equip local communities to identify individuals who very well could be descending into violence by reason of ideologies of hate, false narratives or other disinformation and misinformation propagated on social media and other platforms.”
While Secretary Mayorkas has since explained that the Board’s efforts focus on misinformation related to illegal immigration and election tampering by foreign powers, the Department’s fact sheet for the Board (available here) shows that its powers are nearly unlimited. According to the fact sheet, “the Department identifies disinformation (defined by DHS as “false information that is deliberately spread with the intent to deceive or mislead”) that threatens the homeland through publicly available sources, research conducted by academic and other institutions, and information shared by other federal agencies and partners. DHS then shares factual information related to its mission to potentially impacted people and organizations.” The fact sheet further states, “When it comes to DHS’s work, the Department is focused on disinformation that threatens the security of the American people, including disinformation spread by foreign states such as Russia, China, and Iran, or other adversaries such as transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling organizations. Such malicious actors often spread disinformation to exploit vulnerable individuals and the American public, including during national emergencies.”
The Administration’s choice to head the Disinformation Governance Board is Nina Jancowicz, who is a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank. She has spent much of her career focused on Eastern European issues, including advising the Ukrainian foreign ministry. Her appointment has resulted in extensive conservative backlash, due to her frequent left-leaning comments, her support of liberal politicians, and her dismissal of the Hunter Biden laptop scandal as a “Trump campaign product”.
Conservative responses to the announcement have been swift and emphatic, ranging from comparisons to Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (1984) to promises of decisive action. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) tweeted, “The same party that spent years promoting the Russia collusion hoax, suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story, & equated parents to terrorists believes it has credibility to control your speech. Biden must immediately abandon his plan to create an Orwellian Ministry of Truth.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) described the Board’s mission as “speech police” and tweeted, “Nothing else we are working on will matter if we don’t put an end to the Biden’s Ministry of Truth”. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) stated, “This new board is almost certainly unconstitutional and should be dissolved immediately.” Representative Mike Turner (R-Ohio), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Representative John Katko (R-New York), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent Mayorkas a letter expressing their “profound concern” over the formation of the board and requesting further information. The letter may be seen here.
Today, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and several other prominent Republicans, including Idaho’s Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, presented legislation designed to defund both the current Disinformation Governance Board and any similar efforts. The full text of the bill may be read here. “The Biden administration wants a government agency dedicated to cracking down on what its subjects can say, an idea popular with Orwellian governments everywhere. This board is unconstitutional and un-American—my bill puts a stop to it”, said Cotton.