National Security

Republicans demand docs from paused DHS disinformation board

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) makes a statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting to move the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson out of committee on Monday, April 4, 2022.
Greg Nash
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) makes a statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting to move the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson out of committee on Monday, April 4, 2022.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and four Senate GOP colleagues are demanding documents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) related to its now paused disinformation board.

DHS last week froze the work of its controversial Disinformation Governance Board, and its leader has resigned. But the letter indicates Republicans plan to continue their oversight of a board that has been a popular punching bag for the party.

“We were pleased to read reports that you have decided to shut down the board in response to the concerns we raised. But it is important that this mistake is not repeated. We are therefore demanding transparency into the Department’s decision-making process so that we can learn why the Department ever thought creating a disinformation board would be a good idea,” Hawley wrote in the letter also signed by Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and James Lankford (Okla.).

The letter asks for any communications about forming the board, any legal review that preceded its creation, and any discussion of who to appoint as its leader.

The board, created just three weeks ago, never formally met. DHS officials have complained the board was “grossly and intentionally mischaracterized.”

It was designed to coordinate disinformation work at DHS that has been ongoing for a decade on topics as diverse as migration and natural disasters, with an eye to protecting civil liberties.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers earlier this month that “it was quite disconcerting, frankly, that the disinformation work that was well underway for many years across different independent administrations was not guided by guardrails.”

But while free speech and civil rights groups largely argued that DHS was not transparent enough in outlining the board’s mission to adequately evaluate it, the GOP was quick to borrow a phrase from George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” in labeling it the “Ministry of Truth.”

Disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz was tapped to lead the board, but like the entity itself, became a focus of Republican criticism focused on her past comments on social media.

That included comments on a story involving a laptop owned by President Biden’s son Hunter Biden that echoed the opinion of national security experts at the time that the laptop was part of a Russian influence operation.

“It is deeply disappointing that mischaracterizations of the board became a distraction from the Department’s vital work, and indeed, along with recent events globally and nationally, embodies why it is necessary,” Jankowicz wrote in a statement.

While the board is on hiatus, its mission will be reviewed by the DHS’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, which is led by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a George W. Bush appointee, and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, a Clinton administration official.

It’s not clear whether the board will continue its work after the review.

Republicans were not alone in their concern over the board.

“Some of the criticism of the Biden admin’s Disinfo Governance Board came from civil liberties and human rights groups,” Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, tweeted the day the board’s pause was announced, noting he did not support the personal attacks on Jankowicz.

“There were very good reasons to question and criticize the Biden admin’s initiative. It is not true that all of the critics were right-wing, or disinfo-mongerers, or operating in bad faith.”

Tags Department of Homeland Security Disinformation board Disinformation Governance Board James Lankford Josh Hawley Josh Hawley Nina Jankowicz Rand Paul Rick Scott Rick Scott Ron Johnson

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