The Department of Homeland Security’s advisory council on Wednesday gave a final, unanimous rejection to Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ plans to create a disinformation board, but said the department does need to play a role in combatting disinformation.
That means stepping up technology to detect and counter new disinformation efforts that interfere with the department’s jobs, said Michael Chertoff, a former DHS secretary whom Mr. Mayorkas tapped to lead a review of his ideas.
But he and co-chair Jamie Gorelick said that doesn’t mean the department should police disinformation writ large.
“They don’t have a red pencil to correct everything in the world that’s not true,” Mr. Chertoff said.
Mr. Chertoff and Ms. Gorelick were tapped to lead a review of the department’s handling of disinformation in May, after Mr. Mayorkas’ catastrophic rollout of his plans for a disinformation governance board.
They released an interim report in July that said such a board wasn’t needed, and on Wednesday, the full Homeland Security Advisory Council adopted that recommendation by unanimous voice vote.
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The report now goes to Mr. Mayorkas.
He had put his disinformation board idea on hold after his botched rollout and the feverish pushback.
Republicans said the board sounded like something out of George Orwell’s “1984,” particularly with the participation of Nina Jankowicz, who had been tapped to head the effort despite a lengthy history of spreading questionable claims herself.
She quit when Mr. Mayorkas hit the pause button.
Ms. Gorelick, who served as the No. 2 person at the Justice Department in the Clinton administration, and Mr. Chertoff, who served at Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration, said the department’s mission should guide what it does in the future.
And they said that’s pretty much what already happens.
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They pointed to Customs and Border Protection’s efforts to combat the smuggling cartels that try to convince would-be migrants to make the journey to the U.S., and to Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency, which monitors foreign efforts to sow dissent in American politics.
They said the word “disinformation” often sparks intense reactions, but Mr. Chertoff said, “It was our sense that the actual work of the department has been exaggerated, and the real work is extremely straightforward.”
They said the department should follow basic principles of communicating what it’s doing, making sure that communication is done in plain language, and explaining to the public “the importance of truth.”
The report also urged the department’s legal offices to take an active interest in what agencies are doing to make sure civil liberties are being respected.
Mr. Mayorkas had said that was a chief goal of creating the disinformation board in the first place.