New whistleblower documents, obtained by U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), expose shocking new details about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) planned Disinformation Governance Board. The documents reveal that DHS drafted plans for the Disinformation Governance Board as early as September 2021 and explored the possibility of partnerships with Big Tech companies like Twitter to assist in their efforts.
In a new letter to Secretary Mayorkas, Senators Hawley and Grassley call for DHS to release all internal communications related to the Disinformation Governance Board and to clarify why he did not fully explain the Disinformation Governance Board’s role in his testimony before Congress.
“The First Amendment of the Constitution was designed precisely so that the government could not censor opposing viewpoints – even if those viewpoints were false. DHS should not in any way seek to enlist the private sector to curb or silence opposing viewpoints. It is therefore imperative for DHS to provide additional clarity regarding its policies and procedures for identifying and addressing ‘MDM,’ as well as its efforts to ‘operationalize’ public-private partnerships and the steps it is taking to ensure that it does not infringe on the constitutional rights of American citizens,” the senators wrote.
On May 4, 2022, Secretary Mayorkas testified under oath to Senator Hawley that the Disinformation Governance Board “had not yet begun its work.” On May 1, 2022, the Secretary told the news media that the Board would be focused on disinformation “from foreign state adversaries [and] the cartels” and would not monitor American citizens. At the White House on May 2, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki claimed that the Board would be focused on “human traffickers and other transnational criminal organizations.”
In spite of the administration’s claims, the new whistleblower documents reveal:
- The Disinformation Governance Board was originally conceived in part to monitor domestic speech regarding “conspiracy theories about the validity and security of elections” and “disinformation related to the origins and effects of COVID-19 vaccines or the efficacy of masks.”
- DHS planned for a partnership with Twitter to suppress disfavored content and planned a meeting with Twitter executives exploring the concept.
- The Disinformation Governance Board charter was drafted in January 2022 and personally signed by Secretary Mayorkas on February 24, 2022. The document states that the charter goes into effect immediately upon the Secretary’s signing of the document.
- Despite the Secretary’s assertion that the Board had not yet begun its work, a planned meeting with social media executives appears to have been staffed by Nina Jankowicz.
- DHS officials appear to have prepared legislation to codify a “Rumor Control Program of the Department of Homeland Security to Counter Misinformation, Disinformation, and Malinformation,” including a public-facing website known as “Rumor Control.”
Read the letter here and all whistleblower records here.
Senator Josh Hawley: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. Thanks for holding this hearing.
I would hope that as we discuss violent extremism, that one thing that we could all agree on is that it is wrong and dangerous for any political actor and certainly any executive administration try to leverage the threat of violent extremism to mislead Congress, to go after political opponents, or to threaten the speech and First Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. But unfortunately that is exactly what the Biden Administration has done. And we have new insight into that today because of the actions of a patriotic whistleblower who contacted my office, along with Senator Grassley a short time ago, and provided to us documents from the Department of Homeland Security relating to that agency’s disinformation board, that secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified about, sitting right there just a few weeks ago, but according to the documents that I have in my hand here that Senator Grassley and I have now made public. The testimony that Secretary Mayorkas gave to this committee, under oath I might add, was, in many respects, deeply misleading, deeply misleading. And the information we’ve now learned about the administration’s efforts to track and sensor American speech is deeply shocking, and I’d like to take a moment to go through what this whistleblower, who I thank for that person’s patriotism, to go through what these documents disclosed.
You know, Secretary Mayorkas said that the efforts of the department with the disinformation board were new, in response to my questions about whether there were documents, meetings, meeting minutes, other documents related to the disinformation board. He suggested that there weren’t any because the board hadn’t met. Well, in fact, we now know that the Department of Homeland Security began working on standing up this board as early as last year. In a memorandum dated September 13, 2021 the Undersecretary of DHS writes to the Secretary, to Mayorkas, about the need for the disinformation board and here’s the interesting thing, they explicitly site domestic violent extremism as a reason to stand up the censorship board, but it quickly goes far beyond that. In the same paragraph they talk about the need for this disinformation board to monitor and to counter so-called this information about the COVID vaccine, about people who are raising questions about the efficacy of masks, about people who are raising questions about the origins of COVID. So, in other words the Department of Homeland Security is contemplating a disinformation board that will track the speech of Americans and classify it as disinformation if you raise a question about the COVID vaccine, about the origins of COVID, about the efficacy of masks, which, by the way, this Administration has reversed itself on numerous times. The documents go on. The disinformation board is necessary, this memorandum says, because of those who question election integrity, because of those who have questions about January 6th.
So now we get to the nub of it. We see that, in fact, this disinformation board, from the beginning, was meant to track and go after political speech that this Administration did not favor. And for an executive department to do that, and frankly to mislead this committee about it, is hdeeply deeply disturbing, and it’s wrong. I mean it’s just plain wrong.
As we look through the documents, you see that what the Secretary told the committee about the disinformation boards operation is just not true. He repeatedly told this committee that the disinformation board would be just a working group, just to working group. That’s not what the document say. There is a charter, a proposed charter, that the Secretary himself signed personally on February 24, 2022, that describe the disinformation board as having the authority to set up guidelines, it has governance authority over how the department will classify what is disinformation, over what their response to disinformation should be, over who is doing what in terms of counter, so countering disinformation, which remember includes questions about COVID or questions about election integrity, or questions about masks. The idea about that this is just a working group is, frankly, completely contradicted by the documents that the whistleblower turned over to us and that the Secretary himself signed.
And can I just say again, for the Secretary to sit in that chair and tell me that he wasn’t really aware of any documents related to the disinformation board when he has personally signed charters, when he is personally reviewed memoranda dating back months, is misleading at best.
There’s also information in these documents about attempted coordination, planned coordination by the disinformation board with the big tech monopolies. There are meeting notes here, proposed plans of action for members of the disinformation board, members of the administration, to meet with big tech executives to discuss sharing information about disinformation and tracking analytics of American citizens who are using the big tech, the big tech companies platforms, and engaging in so-called disinformation. This is a big tech administration alliance to track speech. It’s here in the documents. Now, I asked secretary Mayorkas if there had been any contact with the big tech companies. He said he wasn’t aware of any. I sent a letter following his testimony to Secretary Mayorkas putting this question to him directly, and interestingly the Department’s draft responses to my letter are also in these documents. Now, I’ll say for the record, he has not yet, the department has not yet officially responded, but their draft responses are here in the whistleblower documents and they continue the misleading half-truths, they continue in those documents to characterize this as a working group, false. They say, I say has the DHS conferred with any private social media company in the operation of this board? They repeat the idea that the, that the board is merely an internal working group and then they say the creation of the board, the creation of the board, was not discussed with any external entities. That’s because we now know that they were discussing the operation of the board with big tech companies. They were seeking to partner and get analytics on law-abiding Americans.
Mr. Chairman, my time is nearly expired. I would ask unanimous consent that my letter with Senator Grassley along with the attachments be entered into the record.
Chairman: Without objection. We haven’t reviewed any of the documents but without objection
Senator Josh Hawley: This is, this is startling information. This committee needs to hold a hearing to follow up on the testimony that the Secretary gave on the inconsistencies that we now find in these documents, and on, frankly, this administration’s concerted efforts to mislead the American public about its own attempts to track and sensor, and frankly, punish, American speech, which is deeply antithetical to the First Amendment, deeply antithetical to our Constitutional principles, and deeply wrong.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.