Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the department’s newly created Disinformation Governance Board over the weekend, and denied criticisms that the board will police free speech.
The Disinformation Governance Board has already received intense criticism, particularly from Republican politicians like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who blasted the board as “the first Federal Speech Police.” In a series of interviews, Mayorkas said the criticisms aren’t true and the new government disinformation board will not seek to infringe upon free speech.
“Those criticisms are precisely the opposite of what this small working group within the Department of Homeland Security will do,” Mayorkas told host Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday. “And I think we probably could have done a better job of communicating what it does and does not do.
The new government board “works to ensure that the way in which we address threats, the connectivity between threats and acts of violence are addressed without infringing on free speech — protecting civil rights and civil liberties, the right of privacy,” Mayorkas told Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday.
“The fact is that disinformation that creates a threat to the security of the homeland is our responsibility to address,” Mayorkas added during the CNN interview. “And this department has been addressing it for years, throughout the years of the prior administration, on an ongoing basis, disinformation from Russia, China, Iran.”
In another interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mayorkas again said the new effort will go about its work “in a way that does not infringe on free speech, does not infringe on civil liberties.”
Last week, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted, “The Administration that activated the FBI against parents at school board meetings now has created a government Disinformation Board to monitor all Americans’ speech. It’s a disgrace. Joe Biden & Secretary Mayorkas: dissolve this monstrosity immediately.”
In his Sunday interview with CNN, Mayorkas was asked if the new DHS disinformation board would monitor U.S. citizens. Mayorkas said “No.”
“What it will do is gather together best practices in addressing the threat of disinformation from foreign state adversaries, from the cartels, and disseminate those best practices to the operators that have been executing in addressing this threat for years,” Mayorkas added.
Criticism of the Disinformation Governance Board didn’t just come from Republicans. Former Hawaii Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard compared the new office to the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
Mayorkas also responded to criticisms over the decision to appoint Nina Jankowicz as the executive director of the new DHS disinformation office.
“Republicans are criticizing your decision, the administration’s decision to choose Nina Jankowicz to lead this disinformation board. They say she is not somebody who is neutral,” Bash said. “Your response?”
“Eminently qualified, a renowned expert in the field of disinformation,” Mayorkas said.
“And neutral?” Bash asked again.
“Absolutely so,” Mayorkas replied.
While Mayorkas defended Jankowicz as a politically neutral choice to lead the new effort, many of her past tweets show open criticisms of former President Donald Trump.
Ahead of the 2020 U.S. election, Jankowicz authored an op-ed in The Atlantic titled “Trump’s Version of Poll Watching Sounds Like Thuggery.” In response to a November 2021 report about Trump allies endorsing supporters to fill local election board seats throughout the country, Jankowicz retweeted the op-ed with the caption, “Yep. Sadly I feared this would happen when the Trump campaign injected violence into election observation last year. Now, far from just sending observers, they’re infecting the process itself.”
In September 2020 amid weeks of riots in Portland, Oregon in which participants set fires in and around police buildings, Jankowicz tweeted, “Trump talking about how he would ‘put out that fire’ in Portland is the language of authoritarianism. It means the violent clearing of protestors, arrest without cause, abuse of human rights. That’s [not] law enforcement, that’s lawlessness.”
She also cast doubts about the New York Post’s controversial October 2020 reporting about the contents of a laptop reportedly belonging to Hunter Biden. Jankowicz said it should be viewed as a product of President Donald Trump’s campaign. The New York Post was suppressed by social media platforms and declared a Russian information operation at the time, but the laptop’s contents have since been authenticated by other news outlets.
Jankowicz also appeared to perform a song in tribute to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) after she gained media attention when then-Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused her of breaking Senate rules to disparage Jeff Sessions during a February 2017 confirmation hearing on his Attorney General nomination.