DHS Disinformation Governance Board Must Be Watched

May 19, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified on April 27, 2022, during a budget hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, that a Disinformation Governance Board had recently been created to “coordinate countering misinformation related to homeland security.” However, DHS released few details on how the board would function and what powers it would have. 

Hours later, it was announced that  Nina Jankowicz, who previously served as a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, would head the board as executive director. Yesterday, Jankowicz apparently resigned and the pause button put on the board. 

In a May 2 press release, the DHS states, “Disinformation, which is false information that is deliberately spread with the intent to deceive or mislead, can take many forms. 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.” 

And regarding the purpose of the Disinformation Governance Board, DHS gives a vague statement about its purpose: “The Department is deeply committed to doing all of its work in a way that protects Americans’ freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy. In fact, the Disinformation Governance Board is an internal working group that was established with the explicit goal of ensuring these protections are appropriately incorporated across DHS’s disinformation-related work and that rigorous safeguards are in place. The working group also seeks to coordinate the Department’s engagements on this subject with other federal agencies and a diverse range of external stakeholders. The working group does not have any operational authority or capability.”

In 2002, Congress created the DHS to secure America’s border from foreign threats. However, given the background of Jankowicz, the DHS appears to have ironically repurposed itself as the “thought police” in order to target Americans who practice free speech as domestic terrorists. 

For example, Jankowicz’s experience includes her work with StopFake, a U.S. government-funded “anti-disinformation” organization founded in March 2014 after Ukraine’s Maidan protests ousted the country’s president and established a new, U.S.-backed government. Formed by professors and students from the Kyiv Mohyla Journalism School, StopFake states that, “Initially the goal of the project was to verify and refute disinformation and propaganda about events in Ukraine being circulated in the media. Eventually the project grew into an information hub where we examine and analyze all aspects of Kremlin propaganda.” 

Stopfake is also supported by the international Renaissance Foundation, the Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic, the Embassy of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Ukraine and the Sigrid Rausing Trust. On February 22, 2020 StopFake.org joined The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and is Facebook’s official oversight board. 

On January 29, 2017, Jankowicz hosted StopFake Episode 117, whose lead story dealt with Russian propaganda and Ukraine’s volunteer battalions. While Janowicz praised the battalions, an on-screen graphic displayed four paramilitaries: Aidar, Dnipro-1, Donbas, and Azov, a neo-Nazi group. Recently, Facebook reversed its ban on the Azov battalion’s account as well as posts celebrating the neo-Nazi organization. 

Janowicz’s name also appeared in a censored 2018 national security leak which exposed the “Integrity Initiative,” a government-funded NGO that “defended democracy” by recruiting secretive “clusters” of academics, national security bureaucrats, journalists, think tankers, and lobbyists in multiple European countries. These clusters would then be engaged in various ways to address nation-specific threats of so-called “Russian disinformation.” Jankowicz has repeatedly made public statements that the Hunter Biden laptop story was part of a Russian influence campaign and “a fairy tale.” 

On the other hand, when Facebook permanently banned President Donald Trump, Janowicz complained that this punishment was not harsh enough. She tweeted, “Trump is the weed tree that is lobbed off on the surface but has a network of roots underground that will keep him (and his rhetoric) coming back.” 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Though we are pleased that Jankowicz is gone from the so-called Disinformation Governance Board, we must continue to watch and see how this team of ‘disinformation experts’ is rebranded. The DHS, which was created to protect the safety of Americans, is now targeting them for not embracing the Biden administration’s radical agenda.” 

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