June 29, 2022

Congress authorized DHS and CISA’s Disinformation Governance Board activities—in 2018

By Robert Romano

In 2018, Congress unanimously passed legislation, H.R. 3359, that authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to disseminate information to the private sector including Big Tech social media companies in a bid to combat disinformation by potential foreign and domestic terrorists.

According to the agency’s website, CISA says it “rout[es] disinformation concerns” to “appropriate social media platforms”: “The [Mis, Dis, Malinformation] MDM team serves as a switchboard for routing disinformation concerns to appropriate social media platforms and law enforcement.”

In other words, the Department of Homeland Security has been flagging what it views as disinformation to social media platforms, which have the ability to algorithmically to monitor and suppress that content.

Apparently, this has been going on since 2018: “This activity began in 2018, supporting state and local election officials to mitigate disinformation about the time, place, and manner of voting.”

And it was expanded in 2020: “For the 2020 election, CISA expanded the breadth of reporting to include other state and local officials and more social media platforms.”

The agency even brags about its “rapport” with Big Tech firms in censoring speech so they’re on the same page: “This activity leverages the rapport the MDM team has with the social media platforms to enable shared situational awareness.”

During the pandemic, CISA also targeted Covid “disinformation” too: “COVID-19…create[d] opportunities for adversaries to act maliciously. The MDM team supports…private sector partners’ COVID-19 response…via regular reporting and analysis of key pandemic-related MDM trends.”

The breadth of this should be shocking to most members of Congress, unfortunately for those who didn’t object to unanimous passage of this law and are suddenly worried that it’s actually being enforced.

For example, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who didn’t object to unanimous consent to pass this law is now “deeply concerned” about the Disinformation Governance Board’s activities.

So is former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who was in Congress in 2018 but didn’t object to the creation of what she now calls the “propaganda arm” of a “dictatorship”.

Didn’t anyone read the bill?

The law authorizes CISA to “disseminate, as appropriate, information analyzed by the Department within the Department, to other agencies of the Federal Government with responsibilities relating to homeland security, and to agencies of State and local governments and private sector entities with such responsibilities in order to assist in the deterrence, prevention, preemption of, or response to, terrorist attacks against the United States.”

This would be a good part to point out that the agency is supposed to be preempting potential terrorist attacks in the U.S.

So, when the agency flags citizens posting about what was in their view election fraud in the 2020 elections — in their opinion — that must be viewed as an effort “in order to assist in the deterrence, prevention, preemption of, or response to, terrorist attacks against the United States”.

Or, if it targets social media posts from anti-Covid vaccine activists, that too must be to keep the homeland safe from terrorist attacks. And so forth.

But none of this is particularly surprising in hindsight.

This is an agency created by Congress without much attention at the height of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee in 2016, which resulted in the organization’s emails being published by Wikileaks.

It was easy to pass. Just accuse whoever might oppose of it of potentially being in league with Russia. So, of course, it passed with zero debate on voice votes by unanimous consent.

Nobody should be surprised the Secretary of Homeland Security plans to use this very same law that Congress passed unanimously creating CISA to now establish a so-called Disinformation Governance Board. Already members such as U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) are drafting legislation to defund these activities the Department of Homeland Security.  

Any legislation needs to target the 2018 law, and particularly the authority for CISA to disseminate any information whatsoever to and coordinating with social media companies including flagging content to censor. It is tyrannical. It won’t do to trim the branches of this tree of censorship. It must come up by the roots.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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