A victory in a disinformation board battle, but not yet the war
Moaning Myrtles frontwoman Nina Jankowicz has been stuffed under the cloak of invisibility again.
The Biden administration announced on April 27 that it had recruited Jankowicz to head a new “disinformation governance board” under the Department of Homeland Security. Just three weeks later, Jankowicz is out and the project has been put on “pause,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed last Wednesday.
Conservatives were quick to declare victory over Biden’s “Ministry of Truth.” Sure, the ongoing pressure campaign of jokes and memes made even liberals uncomfortable with the new DHS outfit and put the government on its heels. But the left, and the administrative state that protects its interests, care little about how conservatives respond to efforts to control information. Controlling information is and will always be more important to turning the American system upside down, as if political enemies hate them a little more.
There is still political utility to bully progressives when they attempt something this brazen and stupid, but the jokes themselves were not what ultimately led to the Biden administration’s decision to pause the Disinformation Governance Board. The government decided to delay and regroup for much more practical reasons. The project was half-baked, its mission unclear, and its infrastructure underdeveloped, making the Disinformation Governance Board difficult to sell.
After the Senate voted to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as DHS secretary on February 2, 2021, referring specifically to January 6, the new secretary decided it was time to put a stop to “misinformation”, “disinformation” and any other form of information to focus with a negative prefix. Step One: Establish a task force to consider how DHS might address malicious activity online. The group, which is overseen by the department’s Office of Policy and Office of Intelligence and Analysis, pondered a range of issues from suspected Russian intelligence officials posting false claims about the US election on social media to People smugglers using social media to lure new victims.
In an attempt to bring all of these disparate narratives to life, the group concluded that departments within DHS lacked the information-sharing capabilities to coordinate a coherent response, or adequate guidelines to ensure cross-departmental coordination was appropriate he follows. The answer to the problem of the working group? Another working group, of course. John Cohen, then a senior counterterrorism official at DHS, was part of the first task force, according to Politico, and wrote a memo establishing the second.
At the time, no one at DHS seemed to think this was a big deal. “They don’t sit there and say, ‘Hey, what are we supposed to do about Russian disinformation that’s focused on X, Y and Z?'” Cohen said Politically. “They focus on, ‘Hey, information is being gathered and collated under different legal authorities. What is the appropriate way to share this information so that we do not get in trouble with these legal authorities?’”
But the working group apparently couldn’t work out the details before the existence of the Disinformation Governance Board became public in late April.
Mayorkas boasted to the board shortly after its existence became public during a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. Responding to a question from Democratic Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood about misinformation campaigns targeting minority communities, Mayorkas said DHS recently established a disinformation governance board that aims to “pool the resources of (DHS) to address this threat.” .
Mayorkas told the subcommittee that Undersecretary for Policy Rob Silvers and Deputy General Counsel Jennifer Gaskill would co-chair. Politically was the first to report that Nina Jankowicz would serve as executive director of the board. When the ill-named board and its ill-elected executive director were predictably panned, the administration went on the defensive. Then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Jankowicz, calling her “an expert on online disinformation … with extensive qualifications.”
“This is work that helps address unauthorized terrorism and other threats and see disinformation and misinformation being pushed to fuel and amplify it. So that’s all we think has been going on for a while,” Psaki said. Description of the board to the media on April 29.
“For anyone critical of this, I haven’t heard them criticize the work under the former president, which is interesting in context,” Psaki added, although her comments are backed by reports such as Politico’s May 5 report were undermined. suggesting that the changing of the guard at DHS sparked DHS’ strong interest in disinformation.
In her April 29 briefing, Psaki also referenced a factsheet that provides more information about the board’s work. The board’s “principal responsibility,” Psaki said, summing up the DHS handout, claimed “is to establish best practices to ensure efforts to understand and respond to disinformation are done in a manner that respects privacy.” , which protects civil rights and civil liberties.” However, the only Disinformation Governance Board fact sheet listed on the DHS website was released on May 2.
The May 2 fact sheet shows how vague the mandate of the Disinformation Governance Board was. The fact sheet claims that DHS “focuses on disinformation that threatens the safety of the American people, including disinformation propagated by foreign states such as Russia, China and Iran or other adversaries such as transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling organizations.” Such malicious actors often spread disinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals and the American public, including during national emergencies.”
The fact sheet cites three prominent examples of how components of DHS have fought disinformation: the CBP’s fight against people smugglers, FEMA’s attempts to quash disinformation about fake shelters during Hurricane Sandy, and the efforts of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency ( CISA), to prevent the spread of Russian disinformation.
The Disinformation Governance Board was established, according to the factsheet, “with the express aim of ensuring that these safeguards are appropriately integrated into DHS’s disinformation work and that strong safeguards are in place. The working group also seeks to coordinate the department’s engagement on this issue with other federal agencies and various external stakeholders.”
However, the fact sheet also notes that “the working group has no operational authority or capability”.
So, without “any operational authority or capability,” the Disinformation Governance Board was supposed to shut down disinformation from Russia, China, Iran, people smugglers, US border policy, the war in Ukraine, 2020 election fraud, coronavirus, race, etc., as well as national disasters and climate change ? During “protect[ing] Freedom of Speech, Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, and American Privacy,” as the leaflet states?
The Disinformation Governance Board’s broad and vague mandate made it difficult for the administration to defend the board and briefly explain what it would do. Mayorkas made the rounds on the Sunday shows shortly after the board was announced, mostly bringing up points from the fact sheet with his own spin. He said CNN’s Dana Bash on pstatus of the union that the Board is “committed to ensuring that the way we deal with threats, the link between threats and acts of violence, is addressed without violating freedom of expression – the protection of civil rights and liberties, the right to privacy.”
Pressing the board, Mayorkas said: “We probably could have communicated better what he does and doesn’t do,” his critics put forward a narrative that “is exactly the opposite of what this small working group within the Ministry of Der Homeland Security will do.” On NBC’s Meet the pressMayorkas said more or less the same thing, that the board would counter disinformation “in a way that does not violate freedom of expression and civil liberties,” again admitting, “We could have communicated better what it is and what it isn’t.” “
To put together a better communications strategy and create an entity capable of meeting the plethora of goals the Biden administration has set out for the Disinformation Governance Board, a DHS Advisory Board will review the project and within 75 days make recommendations. While the conservatives enjoy nabbing Jankowicz for really teaching the Biden administration “How to Lose Information Warfare,” they only won the first battle. Though likely under a new name and leadership, the Disinformation Governance Board will likely return, more dangerous to American liberties than ever before.