A pair of former Department of Homeland Security leaders have hit back against claims that the new DHS Disinformation Governance Board dates to their time running the agency.

The department's former acting secretary, Chad Wolf, and deputy secretary, Ken Cuccinelli, both countered statements by White House press secretary Jen Psaki that the disinformation board has its roots in former President Donald Trump's administration.


“On the Ministry of Truth being established by Secretary Mayorkas, a notably nonneutral participant in the body politic, this is obviously outrageous to an extent that George Orwell’s eyebrows would go up," said Cuccinelli. "Psaki's characterization is a desperate attempt by the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Truth to suggest that there was anything like the Biden Ministry of Truth in the works in the last administration — there was not."

Psaki has repeatedly claimed that the controversial board is not only an acceptable use of government resources but that it started under the former president without generating Republican pushback.

"What I will tell you about the board and what the board is doing: This is a continuation of work that began at the Department of Homeland Security in 2020 under former President Trump," Psaki said last week. "Here's what the board is going to do, which I think is of particular interest — again, a continuation of the work of the former president. So for anyone who's critical of it, I didn't hear them being critical of the work under the former president, which is just interesting to note contextually."

The press secretary added Monday that the work was begun in 2020 by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a component of DHS, and said the new board will coordinate activities from the department related to disinformation that poses a threat to the United States.

Follow-up questions sent to the White House and DHS asking for exactly what work Psaki was referring to, who led it, what its mission was, and how it differs from the Disinformation Governance Board were not directly answered.

The White House pointed to DHS, which issued a fact sheet Monday saying the board will protect free speech and that it has no operational authority or capability. The sheet mentions previous disinformation-fighting efforts, including at CISA, but nothing that began in 2020.

In announcing the board, Mayorkas described it as "just established."

The disinformation board attracted immediate controversy when it was unveiled last week, with critics decrying what they say is a dystopian name, a mission that runs counter to the First Amendment, and a leader with a history of misleading claims.

Wolf also came out swinging against the White House for saying the disinformation board originated under his leadership.

CISA's 2020 year in review mentions disinformation efforts against foreign operations, the 2020 elections, and the response to COVID-19. Wolf has said that's not analogous to what's happening now.

"WH wrong again. New DHS Disinfo Board is not the same as efforts during the Trump Admin," he tweeted. "We focused primarily on foreign influence in elections — not domestic speech. New Board is located in the Secretary's office and has much broader authority than anything under CISA authorities."

He added in a later statement that the creation of the board is likely an abuse of authority by DHS.

"There is no operational reason to take this responsibility from largely non-political operating components and move this mission to the secretary’s office filled with political appointees, including a politically charged individual with no government experience," he said, referring to the board's recently named director, Nina Jankowicz. "The move represents a further politicization of the department under this administration."

Wolf called on DHS to release immediately the board's charter and membership, as well as the legal argument behind its creation.

DHS also issued a report in October 2019 titled "Combatting Targeted Disinformation Campaigns," with recommendations for "building public resilience in the face of disinformation." Cuccinelli noted that no DHS employees were members of the report team.

"No," he said when asked if DHS in 2020 had any sort of disinformation board precursor. "Other agencies in the intelligence community kept a watch out for foreign interference — e.g., the Iranian emails in October 2020 — and when such foreign-identified efforts were identified, DHS would join in the federal government's announcement of such occurrences, thereby putting the information in the public realm.”


The next step in the disinformation board saga will take place Thursday when Mayorkas will appear before the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Republicans on the committee are sure to grill the DHS secretary, with ranking member Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) already expressing his concerns.

"As the author of the bipartisan law that established the Global Engagement Center to combat the constantly evolving threat of foreign propaganda and disinformation abroad, I do not believe that the United States government should turn the tools that we have used to assist our allies counter foreign adversaries onto the American people," he said in a prepared statement. "Our focus should be on bad actors like Russia and China, not our own citizens."