The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is charged with safeguarding the United States against threats to its security, including threats exacerbated by disinformation.
Disinformation, which is false information that is deliberately spread with the intent to deceive or mislead, can take many forms. When it comes to DHS’s work, the Department is focused on disinformation that threatens the security of the American people, including disinformation spread by foreign states such as Russia, China, and Iran, or other adversaries such as transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling organizations. Such malicious actors often spread disinformation to exploit vulnerable individuals and the American public, including during national emergencies.
For nearly 10 years, different agencies across DHS have worked to address disinformation that threatens our homeland security. Here are some examples:
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) counters disinformation that cartels and human smugglers spread to migrants to persuade them to cross our southwest border illegally. CBP’s work includes its “Say No to the Coyote” campaign, making clear that entering the United States illegally is a crime.
- In 2012, during Hurricane Sandy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) corrected false information about the safety of drinking water and the location of shelters, to protect and serve the hurricane’s victims. FEMA has since built capacity to identify and respond to false information during major disaster responses, including Hurricanes Maria and Ida, during which FEMA provided critical information to protect disaster survivors from targeted scams. FEMA also ensures that disinformation campaigns do not prevent Americans from accessing federal aid during and after disasters.
- The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) works 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.
The Department identifies disinformation that threatens the homeland through publicly available sources, research conducted by academic and other institutions, and information shared by other federal agencies and partners. DHS then shares factual information related to its mission to potentially impacted people and organizations.
The Department is deeply committed to doing all of its work in a way that protects Americans’ freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy. 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.
There has been confusion about the working group, its role, and its activities. 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. As a result, we will be taking the following additional steps:
- Under Secretary Mayorkas’s leadership, the Department has renewed its commitment to transparency and openness with the public and Congress. DHS will proactively release comprehensive quarterly reports about the working group’s activities to Congress, including its oversight committees.
- Secretary Mayorkas will request that the bipartisan Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) make recommendations for how the Department can most effectively and appropriately address disinformation that poses a threat to the homeland, while protecting free speech and other fundamental rights, and that HSAC Co-Chair Jamie Gorelick and HSAC Member Michael Chertoff lead this effort. Ms. Gorelick is a former U.S. Deputy Attorney General and Mr. Chertoff was Secretary of Homeland Security during President George W. Bush’s Administration.
- At Secretary Mayorkas’s request, DHS is exploring additional ways to enhance the public’s trust in this important work.
The working group is co-chaired by the DHS Office of Policy and Office of the General Counsel, and includes other DHS leaders from CISA, FEMA, CBP, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Science and Technology Directorate, and Privacy Office.