Documents Show DHS Wants to Deputize Big Tech as Speech Police | Opinion

New whistleblower documents obtained by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) demonstrate the danger posed by the "paused"—but by no means shuttered—Disinformation Governance Board (DGB), and the regime from which it springs. Perhaps most significantly, they reveal the intent of the Deep State to deputize Big Tech as America's unofficial domestic speech police, violating the First Amendment by proxy. The documents also illustrate the duplicity of those who minimized the DGB's scope and ambition, raising questions about what else our national security apparatus is doing in pursuit of its war on wrongthink.

When the Biden administration first came under fire for creating a Ministry of Truth helmed by a serial spewer of disinformation, it was at pains to suggest the entity existed to combat disinformation imperiling the homeland from without—notwithstanding the DGB was housed in the domestic security apparatus. It purported to target supposed lies told by foreign traffickers about America's open borders, and Russian disinformation going into the midterm elections.

Yet the planning documents for the DGB tell a different story. In a memo to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas titled "Organizing DHS Efforts to Counter Disinformation," DHS officials Robert Silver and Samantha Vinograd wrote that disinformation threatens homeland security, beginning with "conspiracy theories about the validity and security of elections" and "disinformation related to the origins and effects of COVID-19 vaccines or the efficacy of masks."

The drafters expressed concern that such purported disinformation could threaten public safety and public health. "Domestic violent extremists," they warned, amplify dishonest narratives to drive "racially or ethnically motivated and anti-government/anti-authority violence."

Consequently, the memo called for DHS to "respond" to disinformation in "areas where there are clear, objective facts" such as "medical evidence regarding COVID" and "factual information about elections administration and security."

In other words, the planning documents clearly describe a DHS counter-disinformation effort aimed at combatting dissenting domestic views on highly contentious and consequential issues demanding public debate. It aims to shore up official narratives that have often proven false, misleading, or at minimum incomplete.

The document goes on to suggest several models for structuring DHS counter-disinformation efforts, recommending the creation of a DGB, to which Sec. Mayorkas would assent.

The rhetoric in the memo parallels DHS's National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin from Feb. 2022, months after the memo was produced but before DHS announced the creation of the DGB, as well as prior bulletins. These documents suggest that among the greatest contributors to America's "heightened threat environment" was an "online environment filled with...mis- dis- and mal-information [MDM]," including on COVID-19 and election integrity.

The Biden administration's National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism similarly focuses on combating "dangerous conspiracy theories" and "disinformation and misinformation" that undermine "faith in government." It also called for federal authorities to collaborate with, among others, technology companies "on addressing terrorist content online" and "counter terrorists' abuse of Internet–based communications platforms to recruit others to engage in violence"—efforts that become more chilling when dissent from regime orthodoxy is treated as terrorist danger.

The DGB serves the role contemplated by that strategy, at least within DHS. Its charter, released in the Grassley-Hawley document trove, calls for the board to "support and coordinate...MDM work with other department agencies, the private sector, and non-governmental actors." Among them? Apparently Big Tech.

Merrick Garland and Alejandro Mayorkas
US Attorney General Merrick Garland (L) and Director of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas (R) attend the National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on May 15, 2022. Stefani Reynolds / AFP/Getty Images

Notes prepared in advance of a meeting between DHS officials and several Twitter executives seemingly planned for April 2022 (whether and when the meeting took place has not been confirmed) indicate DHS planned "to discuss operationalizing public-private partnerships between DHS and Twitter," and ways "the Department could be helpful to Twitter's counter-MDM efforts."

DHS officials contemplated "inform[ing] Twitter executives about DHS work on MDM, including the creation of the Disinformation Governance Board and its analytic exchange, and the Department's ongoing [domestic violent extremist] work."

The notes, which make reference to the administration's counterterrorism strategy, show DHS was also planning to brief Twitter on the "heightened threat environment"—channeling the Feb. 2022 threat bulletin—driven in part by the "proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions."

Another document seems to depict draft legislation sponsored by DHS that would have created a "Rumor Control Program" to counter MDM.

Internal DHS memoranda, according to Sens. Grassley and Hawley, also show that DHS believes that by "sharing information, DHS can empower...partners to mitigate threats such as providing information to technology companies enabling them to remove content at their discretion and consistent with their terms of service."

The expectation that—even with the DGB coordinating with social media companies on MDM in a way DHS believes could influence their content moderation policies—social media platforms would still be operating completely independently and of their own volition simply does not pass muster. It is particularly unbelievable when one considers that for months, Biden administration officials, from the president, to his press secretary, surgeon general, and now even his climate adviser, have been calling for or indicating that they already have pressed Big Tech to censor wrongthink and wrongthinkers. Big Tech seems to have happily obliged. The desire to harness the power of Big Tech in fact might explain in part why members of the Deep State are so hostile to seeing it broken up.

Needless to say, these documents belie the notion that the DGB was not "operational," just as they belie the idea it would be externally focused.

Given DHS' disturbing ambition and Sec. Mayorkas' deception on these matters, as well as on basic questions about when the board was established, one can only wonder what else DHS and other agencies are up to in pursuit of the Biden administration's broader "domestic counterterrorism" effort that has put even concerned parents in the Deep State's crosshairs.

The Biden administration has indicated that despite the "pause"—but not cancellation—of the DGB, that "D.H.S. is still going to continue the [DGB's] work."

It is incumbent upon those aghast at the mobilization of the regime against its critics to demand every dimension of the war on wrongthink be wholly exposed, as Sens. Grassley and Hawley have started to do, and taken apart root and branch.

Killing an as yet undead DGB is a necessary, but insufficient, remedy for overcoming our regime's jihad against dissent.

Ben Weingarten is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, fellow at the Claremont Institute and senior contributor to The Federalist. He is the author of American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party (Bombardier, 2020). Ben is the founder and CEO of ChangeUp Media LLC, a media consulting and production company. Subscribe to his newsletter at bit.ly/bhwnews, and follow him on Twitter: @bhweingarten.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.