Is pausing the Department of Homeland Security’s “Disinformation Governance Board” (“DGB”) a victory for free speech or merely a clever retreat by the federal government to avoid the ridicule of its efforts to enhance its power to disinform, lie and spew propaganda? This is a fair question since 56% of Americans do not trust their government much or at all, while 83% believe the U.S. is going in the wrong direction.
When the DHS announced the pause, it did not apologize for a stupid, “1984” type idea or for appointing a director that is the queen of disinformation. She pushed the Hunter Biden laptop as merely the product of a political campaign and that Trump had secret servers communicating with Russian banks. DHS did not even pretend to support free speech. It merely stated the criticisms were “grossly and intentionally mischaracterized” by the DGB and that the rollout was flawed and poorly coordinated. Bottom line – “DHS tried to subvert free speech but its communications department screwed it up.”
Before the DGB was even a twinkle in the eye of the federal government, there was a long history of federal lies, propaganda, and secrecy. There are laws that permit the federal government to lie and spew propaganda to the American people. Worse, the few efforts to mandate accurate information be given to the public have been repealed or ignored to the point of abuse. Taking a step back in history will place federal deception in perspective.
The DGB allegedly was to assist national security agencies in standardizing how they address disinformation connected to violent threats against the U.S. It was established soon after the U.S. Attorney General identified white supremacists, not groups like Al Qaeda or ISIS, as the nation’s most prominent domestic terror threat. Moreover, the Attorney General was so concerned about vocal parents at school board meetings he tasked the “FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ offices… to outline strategies for addressing parent harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members across the country.” The Attorney General denied such efforts were to intimidate parents; however, whistleblowers provided House Republicans with evidence that the FBI targeted the Loudoun County, Virginia parents who protested school Covid policy.
Based on the actions of the federal government it appears the focus of the DGB was to be on the greatest concern of the federal government – free-thinking citizens. Why the surprise since spying on, and deceiving Americans has been the policy for decades?
Law Enforcement Lies with Immunity?
The government has created a double standard for lying. All levels of government criminalize citizens that lie to it, but generally grant law enforcement officers immunity when lying. If a citizen lies to a law enforcement officer or a prosecutor in an investigation, the citizen commits a felony under federal and state law. If, during the same investigation, the law enforcement officer or prosecutor lies or deceives the citizen, the officer or prosecutor is, in most instances, immune from liability. Scholars find law enforcement officers have near-total immunity when telling lies or deceiving a person while doing undercover work, searches, seizures, and interrogations. For nearly all purposes, police and prosecutors have such broad discretion they de facto have immunity when lying to citizens. Prosecutors, while not having statutory authority to lie in the crime charging or plea-bargaining processes, it is almost impossible to challenge their discretion.
And then there is the secret, illegal spying on Americans that is never disclosed to Congress and for which no government official is indicted. A recently revealed example of such conduct, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), an agency to protect the borders of the United States from the illegal entry of people, established a massive domestic surveillance operation. According to a May 12, 2022, article in USA Today, ICE secured private information on 3 out of 4 Americans for over a decade and never reported such spying to Congress, even though it has no authority to conduct such spying. ICE is the same agency tht allows millions of illegal immigrants into this country without even knowing their names.
Presidents and Federal Agencies Tell the biggest lies of all
Presidents hold formal news conferences to tell us how their efforts have made America strong and free. Yet, many times, citizens discover that it is all lies and propaganda. From the Pentagon Papers, we found the extensive lies told by Lyndon Johnson about the Viet Nam War in which 58,200 American soldiers and over 2 million Vietnamese civilians were killed. From Edward Snowden, we learned that the National Security Agency, with the cooperation of the telecommunications industry, secretly and illegally conducted many global surveillance programs to spy on Americans. Yet, Snowden was charged with three felonies for leaking information about the government’s illegal activities. We learned of the several unauthorized, secret, undisclosed CIA data repositories that collected data on American citizens from several congressional investigations. Then there is the illegal FBI spying on Martin Luther King and the enthusiastic use by the FBI of the false charges of Russian collusion contained in the Steele dossier, to discredit president Trump in the 2020 campaign. There were also the many lies told by Biden that he had no dealings with his son’s illegal businesses. Citizens have no idea how much lying the federal government undertakes to protect itself. To paraphrase an old saying, “How can you tell if a federal official is lying? Its lips are moving.
Government propaganda is legal
In 1948 Congress enacted the Smith-Mundt Act (“SMA”) that established the United States Information Agency (“USIA”), a U.S. agency to counter Soviet propaganda after World War II. Its goal was to wage psychological warfare against our enemies. The effort was formally dubbed “President Truman’s Campaign of Truth.” The Act, however, expressly prohibited the dissemination of the USIA propaganda in the United States.
However, in 2013, a bi-partisan Congress repealed the ban through an amendment buried in the monstrous National Defense Authorization Act of 2013. With the repeal, “Congress abolished the domestic dissemination ban, which… gives the federal government great power to influence public opinion covertly.” With this action, the U.S. created a news service that “…enjoys immunity for libel, misinformation, false or fraudulent information, misrepresentation and anything else previously prohibited by SMA.” In 1999, the USIA was formally integrated into the U.S. Department of State.
Repealing and ignoring laws to ensure government transparency and good quality information
The Information Quality Act (“IQA”) and the Freedom of Information Act were enacted to ensure that the information published by the federal government is of good quality and that the government provides information about its operations to citizens requesting such information.
The IQA was enacted to provide guidance to federal agencies to ensure the information provided by agencies is of good quality, objective, has integrity, and is capable of being reproduced, including statical information. IQA guidelines went into effect in 2002. However, the Obama administration repealed all of these guidelines, allowing the federal government to provide poor quality and false information. The IQA would have been very useful to the American people in evaluating the many claims of Dr. Fauci in his countless television performances on Covid and American health.
Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act to allow citizens to obtain information on what their government is doing. While our government readily provides general information to the public, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to secure information the government wants hidden. Obtaining that information generally requires years of litigation. The federal government many times abuses the disclosure requirement under FOIA. In 2020, 122 FOIA lawsuits were filed by media companies and individual reporters to compel the disclosure of government records. Illustrating the lengths to which government will go to avoid disclosure exemplifies the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Business groups in 2002 sought access to national studies used by EPA to support Clean Air Act regulations. The government responded by redacting all information except the words “To” and “From” on the document. The image for this article is a copy of the EPA’s response.
Since there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires the federal government to tell the truth, we must accept the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.”
William L. Kovacs is the author of Reform the Kakistocracy, the winner of the 2021 Independent Press Award for Political/Social Change. Mr. Kovacs has served as senior vice-president for the US Chamber of Commerce, chief counsel to a congressional committee, and a partner in law DC law firms.