Mayorkas pauses recently created Disinformation Governance Board

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Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is pausing the work of the recently created and heavily criticized Disinformation Governance Board and launching a review, according to senior DHS officials. The board's executive director, Nina Jankowicz, announced her resignation, Wednesday, following a barrage of personal and professional attacks.

DHS officials expressed disappointment and outrage at the firestorm of fault-finding prompted by the establishment of the board, which was tasked with standardizing the handling of disinformation by agencies under DHS.

"The reaction has been extreme," a senior DHS official told reporters in a briefing Wednesday. "There have been gross mischaracterizations of what the board's work would be."

A DHS official said that Mayorkas recognized that denunciation of the board had become a distraction from the department's work, and "he couldn't allow that to happen." 

The department first unveiled the board in April but never released its charter. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle professed widespread confusion about the board's parameters, with some Republicans alleging that it could espouse censorship. At a recent hearing, Republican Senator Mitt Romney called it an "awful idea" and advised Mayorkas to disband the board. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, at the same hearing, told the secretary, "There has been a lot of misinformation about your department's work to combat misinformation."

DHS' choice of Jankowicz, 33, to lead the board also fueled fears of bias. She has written about the hatred women experience from online trolls and exhibited some controversial opinions, including one in which she argued that Hunter Biden's laptop should be viewed as a "Trump campaign product."

"Why on earth would you nominate someone who is a human geyser of misinformation?" Missouri Senator Josh Hawley asked Mayorkas, earlier this month.

Jankowicz told CBS News in a statement Wednesday, "With the Board's work paused and its future uncertain, and I have decided to leave DHS to return to my work in the public sphere. It is deeply disappointing that mischaracterizations of the Board became a distraction from the Department's vital work, and indeed, along with recent events globally and nationally, embodies why it is necessary."

A senior DHS official condemned the "grotesque personal attacks" waged against Jankowicz. "The reaction has, candidly, become a distraction to the department's important work in addressing disinformation that threatens homeland security," the official said.

"The great irony here is that the board was designed to protect against the very thing that the board has been accused of engaging in," another DHS senior official chided.

The board never met, and canceled a meeting slated for earlier this month.

Mayorkas has tasked the Homeland Security Advisory Council – a non-partisan group of outside experts, including government and non-profit leaders, who advise the secretary on key security matters — with conducting a review of "how the department can most effectively address disinformation that threatens homeland security, and how that work can be done in a way that is consistent with our values of free speech, civil liberties, civil rights and privacy."

Former Secretary Michael Chertoff and Clinton administration official Jamie Gorelick will lead the review. Both have been instructed to deliver a report to the secretary within 75 days. Those recommendations will be shared with Congress and with the public "for transparency," according to senior DHS officials.

"I think we have some work to do in ensuring that we are doing this work in a way that instills the trust of the American people," one official reflected.

Senior DHS officials reiterated that DHS' efforts to address disinformation will continue, with one noting that work to counter disinformation "has gone on for a decade or more."

"It has gone on through different administrations," the official added. "FEMA engages in that work when it works to combat fraud scams that deceive people about how they can get relief benefits during natural disasters. We counter disinformation that is peddled by international smuggling syndicates who are trying to induce people to pay them to bring them up to our southern border."

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