Facing an increasing backlash against the Biden administration’s Disinformation Governing Board (DGB), Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised it would not monitor Americans. It was not enough. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was forced to put the DGB on “pause,” and its director, Nina Jankowicz, resigned under public pressure.
Now DHS says it is “reviewing” the board while “continuing” its “critical work…to address disinformation.”
No matter what happens with the board, it is hard to take Mayorkas’s promise not to monitor Americans seriously. Several recent cases of the federal government spying on Americans as well as DHS’s own actions were certain to make people skeptical.
For example, in February of this year, DHS issued a National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin, a memo prioritizing “false or misleading narratives” as a top domestic security threat. The bulletin states that “there is widespread online proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding unsubstantiated widespread election fraud and COVID-19.”
This bulletin clearly referenced Americans inside our borders. Also, unlike with the DGB, DHS made no promise to not monitor Americans’ speech. (My organization, the Center to Advance Security in America, submitted several Freedom of Information Act requests for records regarding the NTAS bulletin and the DGB.)
Don’t forget Carter Page, either. Page was an advisor to the Donald Trump 2016 campaign. In 2016-17 the government investigated him on suspicion of being an intermediary between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. A later inspector general’s report identified “at least 17 significant errors or omissions” in the application for a warrant to surveil Page. A Department of Justice attorney was convicted of falsifying a document that led to a Page warrant.
Also recall the James Clapper spying scandal. Clapper, the director of national intelligence under President Obama, responded, “No, sir” and “not wittingly,” when asked at a Senate hearing if the National Security Agency was collecting “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans without a specific warrant. About three months after making that claim, documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed Clapper’s answer was untruthful, as the NSA was in fact collecting in bulk domestic call records, along with various internet communications.
There is also the CIA spying scandal. Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are privy to classified information, have warned about the existence of a secret bulk collection program that the CIA has operated “outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection,” and without oversight by the courts or Congress.
The secret program appears related to bulk data swept up by the CIA in terrorism operations, including information on Americans, according to a heavily blacked-out report from a CIA oversight board that was declassified at the urging of the two senators.
Then there is Biden Attorney General Merrick Garland’s infamous school board memo. The memo directed the FBI to involve itself in local school board meetings under the auspices of anti-terrorism statutes due to supposed threats and violence directed against board members.
However, concerns that the FBI and DOJ were actually targeting the speech of parents were heightened, when, on October 14, 2021, another memo, released by the U.S. attorney in Montana, directed law enforcement to “contact the FBI” if a parent calls a member of a school board simply “with intent to annoy.” He claimed that “may serve as a basis for a prosecution” under federal law.
Garland and the Biden Department of Justice and FBI were forced to disavow the latter memo, since it appeared to directly target simple and non-threatening speech. During testimony, Garland assured Congress the memo would not be used to target parents for policy disagreements. Yet information recently obtained from FBI whistleblowers indicates the FBI had targeted and labeled dozens of investigations into parents with a threat tag, based on their associations and speech, including statements opposing mask and vaccine mandates.
As if to pour fuel on this fire, the woman DHS chose to lead the DGB was proven to be a proud and vocal proponent of censorship. Jankowicz has a history of attaching the “disinformation” label to speech she doesn’t like, regardless of its veracity.
With a record like this, would you trust Mayorkas’s promise that the DGB won’t monitor the speech of the American people? Neither would I.