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DHS officially ends disinfo board after ‘speech police’ backlash

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas participates in a virtual conference Feb. 23, 2021. (Department of Homeland Security/Released)
August 26, 2022

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has officially ended the charter for its so-called Disinformation Governance Board this week after critics raised concerns about censorship and the board’s partisan leadership.

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“In accordance with the [Homeland Security Advisory Council’s] prior recommendation, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has terminated the Disinformation Governance Board and rescinded its charter effective today, August 24, 2022,” a DHS statement said on Wednesday.

Mayorkas paused the Disinformation Governance Board in May, just three weeks after the DHS unveiled the office. The decision came amid concerns about the board’s true function and resurfaced partisan comments by the board’s inaugural director, Nina Jankowicz.

In her 2020 book, “How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict,” Jankowicz wrote “Election meddling wasn’t the only reason Donald Trump won the [2016] election, but it was a significant contributing factor” and wrote that Trump used the term “fake news” to “describe any narrative they find politically inconvenient.”

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 October of 2020, Jankowicz cast doubts about the New York Post’s controversial October 2020 reporting about the contents of a laptop reportedly belonging to Hunter Biden. The New York Post’s reporting was initially suppressed on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter ahead of the 2020 election but information found on the laptop has since been authenticated by the New York Times and Washington Post.

Jankowicz also has a record of singing tributes to progressive Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and show-tune-style accusations that President Donald Trump’s attorney and ally Rudy Giuliani of shared “bad intel from Ukraine.”

Mayorkas had defended Jankowicz as “eminently qualified, a renowned expert in the field of disinformation” and “absolutely” neutral. He also insisted the board will not “monitor American citizens.” 

Documents provided by a whistleblower to Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and Charles Grassley in June indicated that the new board would indeed address the spread of alleged disinformation domestically, including through so-called “domestic violent extremists” (DVEs). The documents stated these DVEs “often amplify and exploit narratives that already exist in public discourse, such as disinformation surrounding the validity of the 2020 election underpinning calls to violence on January 6, 2021.”

The leaked documents also described instructions to meet with Twitter to discuss a “public-private partnership” to counter misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation (referred to in the documents as MDM) and “countering DVE.”

Hawley and Grassley wrote that the leaked documents showed the assurances that the DGB would be focused on foreign disinformation sources, “some of the examples of disinformation given in the memo relate not only to foreign disinformation but issues that have been at the heart of domestic political discourse for the past several years,” raising concerns of domestic speech censorship.

Despite announcing a decision to terminate the disinformation governance board on Wednesday, the DHS said the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) “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.