DHS Disinformation Governance Board Officially Ends

Aug 26, 2022

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Wednesday that it would officially terminate its Disinformation Governance Board after only four months. The announcement came after the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC)  released its final report from its Disinformation Best Practices and Safeguards Subcommittee. 

The DHS stated, “The Department welcomes the recommendations of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which 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. We thank the Subcommittee for its work, which required extensive fact gathering and analysis over a short period of time. In accordance with the HSAC’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Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has terminated the Disinformation Governance Board and rescinded its charter effective today, August 24, 2022. 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.” 

In its final report of the Disinformation Best Practices and Safeguards Subcommittee, the HSAC states that a “disinformation campaign occurs when a person, group of people, or entity (i.e., a ‘threat actor’ or a hostile nation) coordinates to distribute false or misleading information while concealing the true objectives of the campaign.” 

The report also states, “Congress created the Department to fulfill important national missions, including countering terrorism and threats to the security of the country, securing our borders, protecting the nation’s cybersecurity and critical infrastructure (including election infrastructure), and providing rapid and effective responses to natural disasters, among others. Its authorities are grounded in the statutes creating each of its components.” 

However, as an example of “the spread of disinformation that poses threats to these missions” includes election security. “Disinformation undermines confidence in the security of U.S. elections. False statements on this topic have had significant operational impacts on U.S. elections and election offices through increased threats to election workers, which has led to increased attrition of election workers.”

However, despite the termination of the Disinformation Governance Board, the HSAC recommends that the “DHS should bolster the role of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis” and it “should serve as a principal channel for obtaining disinformation warnings from the U.S. Intelligence Community and from other entities.” 

“We previously recommended to the full Council—and the Council has accepted our recommendation—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 Department must be able to address the disinformation threat streams that can undermine the security of our homeland,” the report states.

On April 27, 2022, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified 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. However, Jankowicz soon resigned after her background was revealed and the pause button put on the Disinformation Governance Board. 

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.” 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.” 

Then in May 2022, the Biden administration announced that Michael Chertoff will lead the Disinformation Governance Board. Chertoff is a co-author of the Patriot Act, the first of many changes to surveillance laws that made it easier for the government to spy on ordinary Americans by expanding the authority to monitor phone and email communications, collect bank and credit reporting records, and track activity on the internet.  Chertoff has pushed some of the biggest disinformation stories of the last few years, including the Russia-Trump hoax perpetrated by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and statements that Hunter Biden's laptop was “fake,” “the 2020 election was the most secure in U.S. history,” and he compared the events of Jan. 6, 2021, to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. 

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

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Though we are pleased that the Disinformation Governance Board is officially shut down, we must make sure this censorship attempt is not rebranded. The DHS was originally created to protect the safety of Americans. Targeting innocent citizens for not embracing the Biden administration’s radical agenda is unacceptable.” 

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