Disinformation Board: Mayorkas Announces New Arbiter of Truth at DHS

Disinformation Board: Mayorkas Announces New Arbiter of Truth at DHS

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced to lawmakers the formation of a new Mis-Dis- Malinformation (MDM) board at the DHS. Its executive director will be Wilson Center fellow Nina Jankowicz. Mayorkas informally announced the appointment at the April 27 House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security during his response that began with a question from Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ohio) about “disinformation campaigns” from foreign adversaries targeting “people of color.” Underwood then expanded her question to include her concerns over disinformation campaigns targeting Spanish-speaking voters because of a “newer trend that we saw in the 2020 election and already in the 2022 midterms.” She cited a report on the “disinformation tactics used by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) to interfere in the election.”

Her excerpted statement reads:

Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ohio)

“More than African Americans, a newer trend that we saw in the 2020 election and already in the 2022 midterms is that disinformation is being heavily targeted at Spanish-speaking voters, sparking and fueling conspiracy theories. DHS—its components play a big role in addressing mis and disinformation in Spanish and other languages. Can you share what steps you’ve taken and what future plans you have to address Spanish language, mis, and disinformation through a department-wide approach?” 

Notably, a March 2021 joint report from DHS and the Department of Homeland security on foreign interference in the 2020 election stated:

“No evidence that any foreign government-affiliated actor prevented voting, changed votes, or disrupted the ability to tally votes or to transmit election results in a timely manner; altered any technical aspect of the voting process; or otherwise compromised the integrity of voter registration information of any ballots cast during 2020 federal elections.”

The 2021 report also found that there was “no evidence…not through intelligence collection on the foreign actors themselves, not through physical security and cybersecurity monitoring of voting systems across the country, not through post-election audits, and not through any other means—that a foreign government or other actors compromised election infrastructure to manipulate election results.”

Mayorkas explained that he has engaged “a number of different offices in this critical effort,” including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) election infrastructure initiatives.

This is not the first time this administration’s disinformation campaign has cropped up. UncoverDC reported on CISA’s “MDM framework” for a “resilient infrastructure” on March 10. Mayorkas added it is Homeland Security’s Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans—Co-Chaired by Rob Silvers with deputy General Counsel Jennifer Daskal—that is leading ” a just recently constituted misinformation, disinformation governance board” to help pool resources from various agencies within DHS.

Underwood also highlighted in her discussion with Mayorkas the ongoing “threat of racially or ethnically motivated, violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white man,” with “white supremacists being the most lethal domestic violent extremism movement in the homeland.” Mayorkas confirmed the statement, responding that it is “a national priority area for FEMA grant programs” with a special section to address “this domestic terrorism threat.

In an April 27 tweet, Jankowicz announced that the “cat’s out of the bag,” explaining she has been doing work leading up to her appointment “for the past two months.” Another tweet on the same day stated, “one of the key reasons the Board has been established is to maintain the Dept’s commitment to protecting free speech, privacy, civil rights, & civil liberties.”

Her statement seems to be, on its face, somewhat ironic given the record levels of censorship on social media before, during, and after the 2020 election that often favored left-leaning biases. This new Board could contribute to further erosion of free speech because of the federal, top-down determinations of what is and is not true or “approved” information.

Since the announcement, the conversation about the new “Ministry of Truth” has exploded on social media. The “Ministry of Truth” refers to the famous authoritarian Big Brother government called Ingsoc described in the well-known dystopian novel 1984. A TikTok video posted by Fox News shows Jankowicz singing about the dangers of “information laundering” to the tune of a familiar Mary Poppins song. She says information laundering through Congress or a mainstream outlet” is how you “hide a little lie.”

Many comments, including the one contained in a tweet by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute, point out what is not obvious to many in the Biden administration. Hamid states that “having a Disinformation Governance Board operating out of the Department of Homeland Security is not exactly a reassuring thought. How is this even up for debate? The government should not be involved in deciding what is true and false.”

However, other comments indicate support for the disinformation Board, calling the use of the term “Ministry of Truth” a “right-wing label” used by the “right-wing propaganda machine.”

Interestingly enough, back when Trump was President, Jankowicz voiced some concerns over the Executive Branch having a say over what is true or false, using Poland as an example of “anti-democratic online governance.”

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