You have to admire the Biden administration’s chutzpah. Just as the left is having conniption fits over the possibility that entrepreneur Elon Musk might buy one of the left’s favored social media “disinformation sites” as a way to pull it kicking and screaming into the open public arena, government gatekeepers at the massive Department of Homeland Security announced the birth of an “official” disinformation office.
The public first learned of this new office, the “Disinformation Governance Board” or “DGB,” on April 27 when DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas almost casually mentioned it while he was testifying before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee considering the department’s 2023 budget. The on-the-record mention about DGB that took place between Mayorkas and Democratic Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood, appeared to have been orchestrated beforehand, and was neatly slipped in during a conversation about “minority communities . . . being targeted [by] misinformation”; itself a rather odd topic to crop up during a hearing about Homeland Security’s budget.
Unlike other “review boards” created by federal agencies, such as the Homeland Security Department’s February 3, 2022 announcement in the Federal Register that a “Cyber Safety Review Board” had been established, no such formal announcement accompanied the birth of this new “disinformation” bureaucracy. The omission was not likely the result of a bureaucratic oversight, but rather a tacit acknowledgment of the extremely controversial nature of the new “governance” board.
It also is hardly to be considered a coincidence that DGB’s birth announcement came just two days after Musk’s announced plan to buy the giant social media platform Twitter. The unconventional manner by which the Biden administration unveiled the existence of the DGB appears timed in response to Musk’s Twitter gambit; it reflects the terror his move generated in the minds of the political Left, which has long relied on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to frame and convey its agenda, while simultaneously weakening its conservative rivals.
The controversial — actually, constitutionally disturbing — nature of this new board was compounded later the same day of its announcement, when Politico reported that an openly proud “disinformation fellow” from the liberal Woodrow Wilson Center — Nina Jankowicz — would be the newly created office’s inaugural executive director. If establishing the DGB was not a serious and not-so-subtle move to squelch information the administration finds distasteful or otherwise problematic, placing Jankowicz at its helm would be laughable. But it is not humorous in the least.
On the one hand, placing a buffoon like Jankowicz in charge of the DGB will tend to undermine any future credibility DGB might conceivably develop. Jankowicz has a history of employing social media in ways both serious and childish to criticize and lampoon Donald Trump and otherwise serious matters as the Hunter Biden laptop story (now revealed as a very tangible potential national security breach).
However, placing anyone in command of a component of the huge and well-funded Department of Homeland Security, and empowering that office to search for, identify, defend against, and if necessary, neutralize, “disinformation” — which by any definition is amorphous — can be at best chilling, and at worst, an investigative cudgel with which to penalize an administration’s political enemies.
The history of government agencies empowered to gather and database information on American citizens and institutions has not been kind to constitutional principles. By coincidence, just the day before Mayorkas’ revealing testimony, another federal agency that for decades has been gathering information on untold numbers of banking transactions by citizens and businesses — the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or “FinCEN” — was the subject of another congressional oversight hearing concerned with such broad data-basing powers.
Given the trajectory being travelled by the Biden administration, emphasizing the need for the sternest measures possible to combat “disinformation,” and considering the political headwinds bearing down on Democrats as the country closes in on the November elections, it is unlikely either the U.S. House or Senate will take steps before then to rein in this latest agency, which even some Democrats have compared to George Orwell’s dystopian “Ministry of Truth” from “1984.”
If the DGB is in fact allowed to remain nestled within the massive bureaucracy at Homeland Security for any length of time and comes to enjoy a continuing budget, it likely will some day morph into at least a poor man’s version of that Orwellian ministry.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.