In the weeks since its formation has been mentioned, there is still very little known about the mission and operation of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) “Disinformation Board.”
The Board, which critics have likened to George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” in his novel on the dangers of authoritarian government, 1984, was announced in late April, but DHS has released few details on how the Board will function and what powers it will have.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has been heavily criticized — mostly by Republicans — since the announcement of the Board’s formation, which is officially known as the “Disinformation Governance Board.” It does sound rather Orwellian!
Republican members of Congress have already called for the Board to be disbanded. Some civil liberties advocates also worry that the group could violate freedom of speech.
With disinformation campaigns working to shape opinions on issues ranging from the war in Ukraine to the presidential election in the United States, the rocky start for the Board may undermine its effectiveness and hurt the efforts to staunch the harm that false narratives can cause.
“It is just an episodic failure,” said Brian Murphy, a former director of Homeland Security’s intelligence arm, of the Board’s launch. “And it has set the true disinformation professionals, wherever they live, back.”
Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, Mayorkas said the Board would examine how DHS currently counters disinformation and make sure the agency “does not infringe on freedom of speech, rights of privacy, civil rights and civil liberties.” DHS already has an office of civil rights and civil liberties.
“It is going to establish what should have been established years ago: standards, definitions, guidelines, and policies,” he said.
However, the Board’s bungled rollout could also hurt existing efforts to identify and stop foreign disinformation campaigns, which have been labeled a national security threat by both Republican and Democratic administrations.
To date, DHS has not provided Congress with detailed written plans on the objectives of the Board or how it intends to carry out its mission beyond a summary the department sent to Capitol Hill on Apr. 27, the same day DHS publicly announced the creation of the Board.
The Board’s creation spurred outrage across social media, with dozens of conservative pundits and Republican politicians dubbing it the “Ministry of Truth,” a reference to the government agency responsible for creating propaganda in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” The term “Ministry of Truth” trended on Twitter for hours last week.
Trying to tamp down concerns about “thought police,” Mayorkas said in a television interview on CNN on May 1 that “we in the Department of Homeland Security don’t monitor American citizens.”
But, in fact, DHS does just that. The sprawling department, which was initially created in response to the security failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, has broad authorities to track and collect data on American citizens, and it has repeatedly been accused of misusing those powers.