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Idaho senators back bill to defund Homeland Security 'Disinformation Board'

The Dept. of Homeland Security says its working group protects free speech. Several Republican senators disagree.
Credit: AP
US Capitol building

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — U.S. Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo of Idaho are among co-sponsors of legislation to prohibit the use of federal funds for establishing a Disinformation Governance Board at the Department of Homeland Security.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, introduced the bill Tuesday. It also bars the DHS from using federal funds for establishing or supporting "any other similar entity."

"The Biden Administration wants a government agency dedicated to cracking down on what its subjects can say, an idea popular with Orwellian governments everywhere," Cotton said, referring to the George Orwell science fiction novel, 1984, which was published in 1949.

"The Administration has created a 'Disinformation Board' in the name of protecting the U.S. from threats. However, the real threat to our democracy is giving unelected bureaucrats the power to chill free speech," said Risch.

A news release from the Dept. of Homeland Security states the department is charged with safeguarding the nation against threats to its security, "including threats exacerbated by disinformation." Disinformation refers to the deliberate spread of false information.

"In fact, the Disinformation Governance Board is an internal working group that was established with the explicit goal of ensuring these protections are appropriately incorporated across DHS’s disinformation-related work and that rigorous safeguards are in place. The working group also seeks to coordinate the Department’s engagements on this subject with other federal agencies and a diverse range of external stakeholders. The working group does not have any operational authority or capability," the DHS states in its release.

Like Cotton, Sen. Crapo also referred to 1984 as he announced support for Cotton's legislation.

"If the Administration truly intended to counter disinformation threats to national security, it would not have established this so-called Disinformation Governance Board under a months-long veil of secrecy.  This Orwellian Ministry of Truth effort is an unconstitutional waste of taxpayer dollars and a threat to free speech," Crapo said.

Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool

For its part, the DHS said, "the reaction to this working group has prompted DHS to assess what steps we should take to build the trust needed for the Department to be effective in this space." Steps include releasing to Congress "comprehensive" quarterly reports about the working group's activities.

The DHS statement also mentions examples of anti-disinformation efforts over the past decade, including its "Say No to the Coyote" campaign, making it clear that entering the U.S. illegally is a crime; FEMA's correction after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 regarding the safety of drinking water and location of shelter; and continuing work with private-sector stakeholders to mitigate the risk of disinformation to U.S. critical infrastructure, "work that has continued in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine."

"At Secretary (Alejandro) Mayorkas's request, DHS is exploring additional ways to enhance the public's trust in this important work," the DHS statement says.

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