The White House on Monday asserted that a recently-convened board on misinformation under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be "nonpartisan and apolitical," amid concerns it may threaten free speech.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about how the board would operate, in relation to combating disinformation from cartels and disinformation from extremist groups.
"How exactly would this board combat that? Would it just be factchecks, publishing guidance, or, you know, what would Americans actually see when it comes to the work of this board?" a reporter asked.
Psaki said the Disinformation Governance Board is "continuing work done by the [Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)] back to 2020."
"So, what this would do is continue that work, and it would help coordinate internal activities from the department related to disinformation that poses a threat to the homeland," she said.
CISA was established in November 2018 after then-President Donald Trump signed into law the CISA Act of 2018. The declared objectives of CISA included to coordinate cybersecurity matters across all levels of government and improve cybersecurity protections for the government against hackers.
Trump in November 2020 fired then-CISA Director Chris Kreb after the agency said the 2020 presidential election was the "most secure in American history" and that "There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised." At the time, CISA omitted to mention that Dominion Voting Systems, whose machines a number of states use, was part of one of the councils that put out the statement.
Psaki told reporters on Monday the overarching objective of the Disinformation Governance Board "is not to adjudicate what is true or false online or otherwise," adding, "It will operate in a nonpartisan and apolitical manner."
"It’s basically meant to coordinate a lot of the ongoing work that is happening," she added. "The focus is on disinformation that threatens the homeland, as I noted—things that would incite violent extremism, you know, human traffickers and other transnational criminal organizations, any efforts at malign foreign influence, anything that would endanger individuals during emergencies.
"So, a lot of this work is really about work that people may not see every day that’s ongoing by the Department of Homeland Security."
While Psaki's asserted the board would be "nonpartisan and apolitical," Nina Jankowicz, who was appointed executive director of the board, had previously expressed support for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.
She also previously made several public statements against Trump, and in 2020 praised former U.K. spy Christopher Steele, who in 2016 co-authored a discredited dossier about Trump that was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
More recently, weeks prior to the 2020 election, Jankowicz posted on social media disputing news reports about Hunter Biden's laptop, suggesting it was a "Russian influence op."
Jankowicz is a Russian disinformation expert who served as a Disinformation Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington. According to her website, she is an "internationally-recognized expert on disinformation and democratization."
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas revealed news of the Disinformation Governance Board during a congressional hearing on April 27. He said it would prevent interference in U.S. elections and homeland security, as well as prevent online misinformation among minority communities in the lead-up to the U.S. midterm elections.
The board's announcement comes after Elon Musk, who is against censorship and supports free speech, reached a deal to purchase Twitter and make it private. The board has been likened by critics to the "Ministry of Truth" as described in George Orwell's novel 1984. More than a dozen Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns over the new initiative.
On Sunday, Mayorkas told Fox News the board will address disinformation that poses a "security threat to the homeland," which may come from countries like China, Russia, and Iran, as well as from Mexican cartels. He asserted that the board's work would not infringe on free speech, civil liberties, or civil rights.