The Department of Homeland Security terminated the Disinformation Governance Board on Wednesday after a review and recommendation from the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Disinformation Best Practices and Safeguards Subcommittee.
The HSAC provides organizationally independent advice and recommendations to the Secretary, including the creation and implementation of critical and actionable policies for the security of the homeland; conducts research and provides policy analysis and recommendations on a variety of security issues; and evaluates the impact of security related public and private policies in an attempt to formulate prospective security policies.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced in April that DHS was standing up the new board as part of its multi-component efforts to counter misinformation and disinformation that presents a national security threat, with an emphasis on disinformation driving irregular migration and on nation-state disinformation campaigns such as Russia’s operations. After criticism over the launch, DHS paused the working group nearly a month later.
In a final report issued Wednesday, the HSAC subcommittee said that “there is no need for a separate Disinformation Governance Board.”
“But it is our assessment that the underlying work of Department components on this issue is critical. The Department must be able to address the disinformation threat streams that can undermine the security of our homeland,” the report added. “The Department cannot render effective service to the American people without being able to speak authoritatively and accurately to the public. Critically, this work can and must be undertaken consistent with the law and best practices.”
“To address its Congressionally mandated missions, the Department needs the ability to identify, analyze, and, where necessary, address certain incorrect information, especially but not limited to information that tends to undermine public safety and malicious efforts by foreign governments and foreign actors to manipulate the American public,” the report continued. “We emphasize, in this regard, that the Department of Homeland Security does not have a broad remit to address all inaccurate information or disinformation, nor does it have the authority to silence or sanction anyone’s speech. Rather, its efforts should focus on (a) assessing whether publicly disseminated disinformation impedes missions assigned to the agency by law and (b) disseminating correct information. The Department can and should speak publicly to accurately inform the public of disinformation.”
The subcommittee also recommended bolstering the role of DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis to “furnish to other components guidance and notice of significant disinformation threats to DHS missions, such as: Foreign influence operations; Domestic Violent Extremist-driven disinformation that elevates risks of violence; The identity of high-volume disinformation purveyors; Emerging focal points of disinformation, such as dangerously inaccurate health advice; and Emerging technologies that intensify dissemination and the targeting of disinformation.”
DHS should also promote transparency, communicate consistently, speak clearly, and emphasize principles, the report added, because “disinformation spreads when authoritative voices are absent or untrustworthy.”
DHS said in a statement that the department “welcomes the recommendations of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which has concluded that countering disinformation that threatens the homeland, and providing the public with accurate information in response, is critical to fulfilling the Department’s missions.”
“We thank the Subcommittee for its work, which required extensive fact gathering and analysis over a short period of time,” DHS said. “In accordance with the HSAC’s prior recommendation, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has terminated the Disinformation Governance Board and rescinded its charter effective today, August 24, 2022.”
“With the HSAC recommendations as a guide, the Department will continue to address threat streams that undermine the security of our country consistent with the law, while upholding the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of the American people and promoting transparency in our work.”