Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday defended the department’s new disinformation board amid pushback from conservatives who say the effort is Orwellian.
“It works to ensure that the way in which we address threats, the connectivity between threats and acts of violence are addressed without infringing on free speech — protecting civil rights and civil liberties, the right of privacy,” Mayorkas told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
Mayorkas in another interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” reiterated that the board will work on ways to address disinformation “in a way that does not infringe on free speech, does not infringe on civil liberties.”
DHS announced the creation of its Disinformation Governance Board on Wednesday with the goal of countering disinformation coming from Russia and rebutting misleading information aimed at migrants hoping to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border. He cited, as an example, phony information that is reaching Haitian communities that tells them the border is open.
Republicans have since launched criticisms of the new board, citing concerns that it will target conservatives and police free speech.
Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) compared the board to the “Ministry of Truth” from George Orwell’s novel “1984.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) echoed Gabbard’s comments on Twitter, calling the board an “Orwellian scheme.”
But Mayorkas said on CNN on Sunday that while “we probably could have done a better job of communicating what it does and does not do,” the criticisms of the board “are precisely the opposite of what this small working group within the Department of Homeland Security will do.”
He clarified that the board is an internal working group that will gather best practices to address the disinformation threat from foreign state adversaries and cartels and “communicate those best practices to the operators.” He added that the board does not have operational authority and it will not monitor American citizens.
“The fact is that disinformation that creates a threat to the security of the homeland is our responsibility to address. And this department has been addressing it for years, throughout the years of the prior administration in an ongoing basis,” he said.