Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday, demanding more information about the agency’s expanding disinformation authority.
Lankford — the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee on government operations and border management — wrote to Mayorkas as reports found that DHS is expanding its disinformation authority across several DHS sub-agencies.
Lankford stated that the DHS is engaging in mission creep by expanding into “contentious areas” such as the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and even coordinating with private social media and technology companies to “deem what is disinformation.”
The expansion is a disturbing trend where the federal government goes from combatting foreign interference to controlling national narratives and debate under the guise of security. DHS appears to be taking such steps by entrenching disinformation police throughout many of its critical missions and speaking to contentious areas like the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The concerns are further compounded by reports that DHS is continuing to coordinate with private technology and social media companies to deem what is disinformation. As a result, many citizens are rightfully troubled about the slow creep of information control.
DHS hasn’t given Congress and the American people clear answers about its full intent to combat disinformation. Instead Members of Congress are left to read news reports and leaked documents from whistleblowers that paint a politicized attempt to silence certain viewpoints. I urge you to set expansion of disinformation authorities aside and provide timely answers to Congress.
Lankford emphasized that DHS is expanding its role despite the DHS’s affirmation and subsequent response to an Office of Inspector General report which found that there is “no need” for the Disinformation Governance Board’s existence.
Lankford demanded the following:
- Please detail how DHS plans to use advanced data analytics technology and what sub-departments are going to be tasked with implementation and oversight of the technology.
- What, if any, public-private partnerships is DHS planning to enter into for analyzing data on online platforms?
- Please detail the process that DHS and Facebook have created to report disinformation. Is Meta’s third party fact-checking program involved in DHS’s work to report disinformation? If so, in what role?
- Please list the NGOs that DHS is consulting or contracting with to assess the impacts of disinformation. Additionally, please detail what funding is being used for such purposes.
- Please provide a detailed chart on any new roles and responsibilities of each DHS office and component for combatting disinformation. Additionally, please detail how each expansion of authority aligns with the mission of DHS. Do the definitions of “disinformation” and “misinformation” change depending on the authority of the office or component?
- Please detail how DHS decided to target disinformation on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Additionally, please list examples of disinformation about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and what authority decides whether the information is inaccurate.
- Please detail DHS’s continued role regarding COVID-19 disinformation and origins of the pandemic.
- Please provide a chart detailing the roles and responsibilities of Under Secretary Silvers regarding combatting disinformation at DHS.
- Please provide the difference of missions between the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force and DHS’s work to combat disinformation.
- Please provide the difference of missions between the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and DHS’s work to combat disinformation.
Internal DHS documents obtained by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) found that the DHS had plans for its planned Disinformation Governance Board to coordinate with big tech conglomerates to monitor domestic speech about issues including election integrity and the coronavirus.
Sean Moran is a congressional reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.