Evidence suggests that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has misled the Senate about the purpose and motivation behind the formation of the “recently-paused” Disinformation Governance Board (DGB). A June 7 letter with corroborating attached documents written by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) to DHS Secretary Mayorkas refers to disclosures from a whistleblower. The whistleblower shared that the DGB was designed to have a much greater and, arguably, underhanded and potentially unconstitutional role in the way critical information is handled and communicated. More saliently, the DGB planned to consult and coordinate with social media outlets to help decide what and how that information is featured.

Grassley and Hawley’s letter mentioned the 3-hour May 4 testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs when Mayorkas explained the DGB was a mere “working group.” During a heated exchange with Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Mayorkas repeatedly denied the DGB was the “truth police” but rather the “office with this working group ensure[s] there are guardrails, definitions, and standards to make sure that the free speech rights, the civil liberties, and privacy rights of individuals are ensured.” However, Paul pointedly argued that history has proven “the U.S. government is one of the biggest disseminators of disinformation,” and the American people are smart enough to figure out the truth. He added he didn’t want any guardrails and wished the government “would have nothing to do with [being the arbiter] of speech.”

The letter further states the scope of the DGB was much greater than communicated based on the DHS preoccupation with the “significant threat mis-, dis-, and mal-information (MDM)” poses to our homeland security.

A September 29, 2021, letter seeking approval for a DGB Charter from Robert Silvers, Under Secretary, Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans to Jonathan Meyer, General Counsel, on the subject of the DGB, explains how they sought to coordinate their preoccupation with MDM to build “resilience” against such information in the public arena. The stated purpose of the Board was to “coordinate efforts to counter MDM” in a way that would “develop and coordinate intra-departmental governance policies, standards and best practice related to MDM work and that could coordinate efforts to engage private sector stakeholders.” Silvers promised in the same letter that the Board’s guidance would “include[d] protections that ensure compliance with applicable law and policy and protect individuals’ privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.” Silver also noted at the time that “chartering the Board would provide structure and oversight to critical efforts already underway” to formulate a plan to define and manage MDM in a way that protects the constitutional rights of citizens.

Notes Show Off the Record Coordination with Twitter Executives

Per the Grassley/Hawley letter, internal documents describe more active, ongoing involvement in evolving issues from the DGB, social media, Big Tech, and CISA. The DGB was expected to function as a “coordination and deconfliction mechanism…conven[ing] to discuss threats, assessments, response actions, and engagements as often as warranted.”

Notes show evidence of plans to meet in person with Twitter executives Nick Pickles, Head of Policy, and Yoel Roth, Head of Site Integrity, “for XX minutes on public-private partnerships, MDM and countering DVE (Domestic Violent Extremists) and Irregular Migration.” The proposed meeting was to be “off the record and closed [to the] press” and was planned to “operationalize”  the “Department’s relationships with private social media companies to implement its public policy goals.” While it is unclear whether such a meeting took place, the notes state a meeting already took place with Jessica Herrera-Flanagan, Twitter’s VP of Public Policy and Philanthropy for the Americas. Also mentioned was former DGB Executive Director Nina Jankowicz’s relationship with “Nick and Yoel.”

Released Notes/Twitter works with DGB

Jankowicz Appointment Called Into Question

One of the more important highlights of the discussion centered on Jankowicz’s appropriateness for the job of Executive Director—specifically her history of posts on Twitter. Grassley and Hawley question her appointment, given they believe her to be a “known trafficker of foreign disinformation and liberal conspiracy theories.” By way of example, they cited her tweets on the Hunter Biden laptop and her now provably debunked claims that “President Trump had a secret server to communicate with Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank.” Mayorkas admitted in his responses in his May 4 testimony that he didn’t know Jankowicz called the Hunter Biden laptop information “Russian Disinformation.”

Grassley/Hawley Letter

Election Disinformation from CISA

One of the notable issues discussed in the correspondence about the DGB is the DHS and CISA were materially concerned about MDM being disseminated about the 2020 election. Those who dared discuss potential vulnerabilities in the election were often censored, shut down completely, or a special notice was plastered over the social media post indicating the information was misleading or disinformation. CISA, the agency and its director at the time—now dedicated to “16 critical infrastructure sectors” including the category of election infrastructure security—initially denied the election was vulnerable to hacking. Since the November 2020 election and for two years after, the message from CISA was that 2020 was “the most secure election” in history.

Now, two years later, ahead of the 2022 mid-terms, CISA admits there are vulnerabilities in the election machines. The same was true for other DHS “unsanctioned” topics like COVID-19, Vaccines, Masks, and CRT, to name a few.

Discussion Notes/Election
MDM Sharing Elections
CISA

The documents also show discussions about “the links between MDM and all forms of violent terrorism,” specifically focusing on Domestic Violent Terrorism (DVE). “We are working to improve our ability to identify narratives that are playing out online in efforts to counter the threat that is increasingly manifesting through various digital forums,” the discussion continued. The establishment by the DHS of the “new Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3) is also mentioned, and the administration’s priority to focus on DVEs as the most prominent threat to the homeland.

Whistleblower Testimony and Documents Contradict the Charter

The DHS has been manifestly disingenuous in its responses and actions concerning the purpose and scope of the DGB Charter. Hawley and Grassley elucidate that stakeholders in the DHS repeatedly contradict themselves, proven in the “whistleblower allegations and the documents” reviewed. Hawley wrote a letter on April 28 signaling his sincere concerns over the formation of the DGB. Just a few days later, Mayorkas, in his May testimony, denied the purpose of the DGB was to be the arbiter of truth. Rather, he stated its purpose was only to set the record straight on MDM that poses an imminent threat to critical infrastructures like MDM surrounding FEMA’s delivery of vaccines or border issues.

Grassley and Hawley write that the DHS sought to take an “active role in coordinating the censorship of viewpoints that it determines, according to an unknown standard, to be “MDM” by enlisting the help of social media companies and big tech.” The “pre-decisional deliberative” discussion for the Charter states specifically that the “board’s role would not be prescriptive, instead providing components with guidelines and minimum safeguards applicable across disinformation missions, regardless of the topic…with sensitivities to…the First Amendment and Privacy Act requirements.” However, it appears its role would not be as limited or internal as the DHS would want us to believe.

Predeliberative Discussion DGB

The Charter indirectly admits its potential coordination with Big Tech with its statement that the DGB should “serv[e] as the Department’s internal and external point of contact for coordination with state, local, and territorial partners, the private sector, and nongovernmental actors regarding MDM.” They arguably could be perceived as trouncing on First Amendment rights with their proactive plans to control what the public sees and hears and where they see and hear it.