Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation expert with experience working on Ukraine and Russia issues, was tapped to helm the “Disinformation Governance Board” earlier this month. The interagency team was meant to coordinate department activities related to disinformation aimed at the US population and infrastructure.
But Jankowicz’s appointment quickly drew condemnation from GOP lawmakers and right-wing media, who pointed to her past tweets and statements regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop and Christopher Steele, the author of the so-called Steele Dossier. After DHS decided to pause the board, Jankowicz made the decision to resign, she said in a statement released through a spokesperson.
“After six years dedicated to the study of disinformation and best practices in responding to it, I joined the Department of Homeland Security to be the executive director of the Disinformation Governance Board with the intention of supporting the Department’s important work addressing disinformation that affects the homeland,” she said.
“With the Board’s work paused and its future uncertain … I have decided to leave DHS to return to my work in the public sphere. It is deeply disappointing that mischaracterizations of the Board became a distraction from the Department’s vital work, and indeed, along with recent events globally and nationally, embodies why it is necessary. I maintain my commitment to building awareness of disinformation’s threats and trust the Department will do the same,” Jankowicz said.
DHS and the White House had previously defended the new initiative, and backed Jankowicz to lead it.
Jankowicz has focused on disinformation and Eastern Europe for years and advised the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on the subject in 2016 and 2017, according to her website. She is fluent in Russian, and her book “How to Lose the Information War” examines how five Western governments have dealt with Russian disinformation.
Despite her expertise, critics argue she holds biases on certain issues. For instance, in a TikTok video posted prior to her appointment to lead the board, Jankowicz singled out Rudy Giuliani and TikTok influencers to a Mary Poppins jingle.
DHS previously said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asked department officials to enhance the public’s trust in the group. The board is an internal working group and doesn’t have operational authority, instead serving in a more advisory role. It’s intended to gather best practices and support counter-disinformation activities, not monitor Americans, according to DHS.
The concept of the board dates to last year. At the time, Homeland Security officials began discussing a group to provide guidance on policies and privacy protection questions, given that agencies within the department were already collecting information for purposes related to their missions, said John Cohen, the former acting head of the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, in an interview with CNN earlier this month.
One of the questions the working group could help with, officials thought, was whether agencies could share information with one another that they had obtained through their own authorities, Cohen said.
Mayorkas acknowledged that some of the criticism of the board was brought on by the department’s own rollout.
“We probably could have done a better job of communicating what it does and does not do,” he said earlier this month in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash.
The “Disinformation Governance Board” focuses first on disinformation surrounding human migration into the US and potential disinformation threats from Russia aimed at US critical infrastructure, DHS said in a news release announcing the board.
Russian disinformation campaigns against Americans have gone on for years, including during election cycles. US officials are always watching for new signs of Kremlin-backed efforts to sow divisions, particularly in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, US challenges in dealing with migrants trying to enter the US are exacerbated by smugglers who “make a profit by spreading false information that endangers lives,” DHS said in its news release.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.