DHS Terminates Disinformation Governance Board, Months After ‘Pause’

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
August 25USshare
DHS Terminates Disinformation Governance Board, Months After ‘Pause’
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas arrives for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) change of command ceremony at USCG Headquarters in Washington on June 1, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Aug. 24 announced it has officially put an end to the controversial Disinformation Governance Board, months after the newly-created board was paused amid widespread concern that it would be weaponized against dissenting voices and become a tool for government censorship.

The department announced that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “has terminated the Disinformation Governance Board and rescinded its charter effective today, August 24, 2022.”

The DHS said that it “welcomes” recommendations from the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) subcommittee, which earlier in the day issued recommendations to Mayorkas, including the determination that there is “no need for a separate Disinformation Governance Board.”

“But it is our assessment that the underlying work of Department components on this issue is critical,” the HSAC report reads. “The Department must be able to address the disinformation threat streams that can undermine the security of our homeland.”

The DHS acknowledged that the HSAC “has concluded that countering disinformation that threatens the homeland, and providing the public with accurate information in response, is critical to fulfilling the Department’s missions.”

“With the HSAC recommendations as a guide, the Department will continue to address threat streams that undermine the security of our country consistent with the law, while upholding the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of the American people and promoting transparency in our work,” the DHS said.

Concerns Over Censorship

Mayorkas first announced the Disinformation Governance Board initiative in late April, when he was asked by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at a congressional hearing what the DHS was doing to ensure election security and prevent misinformation in the electoral process, in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms.

“We have just established a Disinformation Governance Board in the Department of Homeland Security to more effectively combat this threat, not only to election security but to our homeland security,” Mayorkas said at the time, adding that the new board would also focus on stopping the spread of misinformation in minority communities.

Shortly after the announcement, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) raised concerns that the board may be used to police speech. “This new board is almost certainly unconstitutional,” he said in a letter on April 28, adding, “It can only be assumed that the sole purpose of this new Disinformation Governance Board will be to marshal the power of the federal government to censor conservative and dissenting speech.” He also accused the Biden administration of treating “competing policy views” as disinformation that has to be investigated and monitored.

About three weeks later, on May 18, Nina Jankowicz, who was tapped by the White House to head the board, said she had submitted her resignation, and confirmed that the board’s work was “paused.” The DHS later that day issued a statement confirming that the board “will not convene and its work will be paused,” but DHS officials will still carry out “critical work across several administrations to address disinformation that threatens the security of our country.”

Nina Jankowicz
Nina Jankowicz testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on misinformation, conspiracy theories and infodemics at a virtual hearing on Oct. 15, 2020, in a still from video. (House Intelligence Committee/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Jankowicz, who served as a disinformation fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, was found to have promoted false information about the alleged Hunter Biden laptop scandal; users found posts she had made on Twitter that claimed the Hunter Biden laptop was part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Multiple media outlets including The Washington Post and The New York Times later published articles verifying and acknowledging the authenticity of Hunter Biden’s laptop. Jankowicz had later defended her previous posts, writing on Twitter: “For those who believe this tweet is a key to all my views, it is simply a direct quote from both candidates during the final presidential debate. If you look at my timeline, you will see I was livetweeting that evening.”

She was also found to have made posts praising the now-discredited “Steele dossier,” which was used to smear former President Donald Trump by alleging that the Trump campaign had ties with Russia. Jankowicz has publicly issued other comments against Trump several times, including a claim that Trump’s presidency would embolden ISIS.

She has also called people who opposed speech codes on social media as “First Amendment zealots.”

A spokesperson for DHS told The Washington Post that Jankowicz was allegedly “subjected to unjustified and vile personal attacks and physical threats,” without elaborating.

Separately, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told the Washington Examiner that Jankowicz was “smeared by bad-faith, right-wing actors against a deeply qualified expert and against efforts to better combat human smuggling and domestic terrorism.”

“Neither Nina Jankowicz nor the board have anything to do with censorship or with removing content from anywhere. Their role is to ensure that national security officials are updated on how misinformation is affecting the threat environment. She has strong credentials and a history of calling out misinformation from both the left and the right,” he told the outlet.

But criticism of the disinformation board has not only come from Republicans or those on the right, but also civil liberties and human rights groups, Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, noted in a May 18 Twitter post.

“There were very good reasons to question and criticize the Biden admin’s initiative. It is not true that all of the critics were right-wing, or disinfo-mongerers, or operating in bad faith,” he said.

NTD Photo
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) speaks during a Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Aug. 3, 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Increased Scrutiny

Following the pause of the Disinformation Governance Board, Republican lawmakers on May 23 demanded in a letter that the DHS release all relevant documents related to the board.

“We were pleased to read reports that you have decided to shut down the board in response to the concerns we raised. But it is important that this mistake is not repeated. We are therefore demanding transparency into the Department’s decision-making process so that we can learn why the Department ever thought creating a disinformation board would be a good idea,” reads the letter, which was signed by Hawley and five other senators.

In early June, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced that he and Hawley had obtained “internal DHS records provided through protected whistleblower disclosures” (pdf) that showed how the Disinformation Governance Board “was designed to exert powerful influence over the government’s efforts to crack down on disinformation in areas where there are ‘clear, objective facts.'”

“However, it remains unclear how DHS defines ‘clear, objective facts,'” the senators said in a release. “Documents show that DHS was not just focused on foreign disinformation but also issues at the heart of longstanding political debate such as theories about the validity of elections, the origins and effects of COVID-19 vaccines, and the efficacy of wearing masks.”

They said that they had issued the DHS an additional letter to “turn over additional materials related to the [Disinformation Governance Board] and DHS efforts to partner with big tech platforms to enforce its agenda.”

The Epoch Times has contacted the DHS for comment.

Katabella Roberts, Jack Phillips, and Naveen Athrappully contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times