Homeland Security has refused to divulge details of its disinformation board for fear of having the materials made public, according to two senators demanding answers about Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ ill-fated effort.
Sens. Charles E. Grassley and Josh Hawley, in a letter Thursday to Mr. Mayorkas, said the department turned over some documents but redacted key sections, saying they were “predecisional.”
The senators said the heady redactions prevent them — and by extension the public — from learning what sorts of counter-disinformation efforts Mr. Mayorkas’ team is still pursuing and whether Americans should be worried about the reach.
And the GOP senators bristled at Homeland Security’s suggestion that the lawmakers previously released information the department wanted to keep hidden.
“Simply put, Congress controls when to make documents within its possession public, not DHS, and the people’s business ought to be public,” the senators scolded Mr. Mayorkas.
Mr. Grassley, of Iowa, and Mr. Hawley, of Missouri, earlier this year revealed information from whistleblowers that showed the disinformation board’s activities ran significantly deeper than Mr. Mayorkas had let on.
Rather than the internal cop, coordinating department efforts, the board’s leaders pursued partnerships with tech companies.
And while Mr. Mayorkas said the board would focus on Russian disinformation or smugglers’ sales pitches to illegal immigrants, the documents the senators obtained and released said the board was formed at least partly as a response to debates over COVID-19 measures, efficacy of vaccines and what Homeland Security described as “conspiracy theories about the validity and security of elections.”
Faced with the blowback, Mr. Mayorkas put the board on hold this spring.
His advisory council did a review and concluded the board wasn’t needed and dropped the final blow over the summer.
But some public reports indicate the department remains intent on pursuing the same mission through other channels.
The two senators said documents they have received back up those reports.
“Due to DHS’ refusal to answer our legitimate oversight questions, the heavy redactions applied to the records DHS has produced to our offices so far, and an overall extreme lack of transparency by DHS around this issue, it is impossible to know the full extent to which various DHS components and offices are engaged in DHS’ burgeoning counter-disinformation efforts,” the senators said.