The Department of Homeland Security‘s ill-fated disinformation board would have been part of an effort to work with private social media platforms to police their content, two senators revealed Wednesday, citing new documents provided to them by a whistleblower.
The documents described the issues that led DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to want to create the board. Among them were such heated topics as debates over the coronavirus pandemic and efficacy of vaccines, and what Homeland Security described as “conspiracy theories about the validity and security of elections.”
The documents also suggested the board would play the role of policy cop at Homeland Security, with input on disinformation budgets and a role in how the department engages with “private sector stakeholders.”
“DHS should not in any way seek to enlist the private sector to curb or silence opposing viewpoints,” said Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who released the documents with a letter demanding more answers from Mr. Mayorkas.
The documents they released included a 2021 memo for Mr. Mayorkas suggesting the creation of the disinformation board, a January 2022 memo with a charter establishing the board, and a schedule from April describing one of the board leader’s meetings with Twitter executives.
The topics included “operationalizing public-private partnerships between DHS and Twitter” and informing the tech giant of the new disinformation governing board.
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Homeland Security did not return a request for comment. The department announced on May 18 that it was suspending the disinformation board.
The documents suggest a robust role for the governance board, which Mr. Mayorkas and department officials had insisted was more of an internal cop for his own people.
Mr. Mayorkas said its goal was to ensure the department‘s ongoing efforts to control misinformation and disinformation were complying with the Constitution and laws governing speech and civil liberties.
But the rollout was botched from the start, with Mr. Mayorkas first suggesting the board would engage with the private sector, and department officials later walking that back.
Further damaging to the board was the decision to pick Nina Jankowicz as executive director.
The senators, in their letter, called her “a known trafficker of foreign disinformation and liberal conspiracies.” They cited her peddling erroneous information about the origins of a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, son of President Biden, and furthering a now-debunked claim that former President Donald Trump had a “secret” computer server to communicate with a Russian bank.
“So this begs the question, if the (former) executive director of the DGB is incapable of determining what is and is not disinformation, how could the DGB ever [have] expected to function properly under her leadership?” the senators said in their letter.
They demanded documents to expand on the plans to “operationalize” the department‘s relationships with private companies such as Twitter.
Faced with tremendous pushback, Mr. Mayorkas ordered a “pause” on the board and assigned two former senior officials, one from the Clinton administration and one from the George W. Bush administration, to lead a review of what the department should do next.
It’s not clear whether the pause is an attempt to quietly sideline the board or a chance to revive it under more favorable circumstances.
Whatever the future path, Ms. Jankowicz won’t be part of it. She resigned as executive director when Mr. Mayorkas imposed the pause.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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