Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas revealed that his department is working to create tools to help America’s children figure out when they’re being fed dangerous “disinformation.”
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson declined to divulge details, suggesting more would be known “in the coming weeks.” But a former top department official said it sounded like an attempt at “propagandizing” children.
Mr. Mayorkas, at a Senate hearing on domestic violence last week, was asked if he would be open to working to create a commission to help the public see through disinformation.
“We are eager to have additional resources and additional vehicles to address misinformation and disinformation. I should say that our department is partnering with the Department of Education to develop a program in the K-12 arena,” the secretary said.
The conversation then turned to Russian attempts to use disinformation to foment political chaos in the U.S. The contours of what Mr. Mayorkas has in mind are unclear, and it’s unclear when the departments began the task.
The Education Department didn’t respond to inquiries on its role.
Having Mr. Mayorkas’ department weigh in as an arbiter of truth is an “alarming” idea, said Lora Ries, a former acting chief of staff at Homeland Security.
“The mission of DHS is to protect the homeland. It is not the Ministry of Truth nor should it be involved in K-12 curriculum,” she said.
Ken Cuccinelli, who was acting deputy secretary in the Trump administration, said the move isn’t a carryover from the Trump team.
“There was no previous work on that subject of which I am aware, as we did not view it as an appropriate role in DHS to engage in propagandizing to children,” he said.
Mr. Mayorkas’ plans caught Congress by surprise. Lawmakers’ offices said they didn’t have a clue what the secretary is working on.
It comes as the Biden administration has made waves with other education plans, offering grants to schools that agree to teach critical race theory, which argues racism remains embedded in America’s institutions, or the 1619 Project, a New York Times assessment of American history that argues the country’s core foundation was slavery.
Mr. Mayorkas’ focus on disinformation also comes as his department is pulled in other directions, with ransomware hacks and a border mess that both Republicans and Democrats label a crisis — though Mr. Mayorkas refuses to use that label. He also stands accused of giving misleading testimony to Congress about the border situation.
During the hearing, he testified that immigrants being caught crossing the border illegally “do have a court date.” But Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, said that contradicted information the department gave the panel.
Mr. Mayorkas’ education revelation came in response to a question from Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, who had suggested a commission be formed to “provide information literacy tools” to the public. He said there’s a particular need for that sort of education for the nation’s veterans and active-duty troops.
Attorney General Merrick Garland suggested the idea might have merit.
“I think all forms of civics education that help provide education about misinformation that can lead to radicalization or misinformation in general would be helpful,” he said.
Mr. Mayorkas also said he was open to such a commission, said he would welcome “additional resources and additional vehicles,” and divulged his effort aimed at schoolchildren.