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Facts not enough for DHS to fight conspiracy theories

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The Homeland Security Department needs to debunk falsehoods and conspiracy theories about it more aggressively, said Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council, at a House hearing June 14.

"You can't assume just because you're right and they're wrong that people will listen to you," he told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight and management efficiency.

A prime example was the conspiracy theory that emerged earlier this year around a bulk ammunition purchase by the department. Pinkham said DHS should have addressed the misinformation immediately before it was allowed to fester and spread.

Better yet would be for the department to routinely try to foresee how its actions could be misconstrued, he said, so it's ready to defend itself quickly and effectively when necessary.

"You have to do scenario planning when you're doing something like a major ammo purchase and think, 'What might go wrong?'" Pinkham said.

Once rumors have become widespread, it's not enough to assume the facts will spread organically or that putting out one statement about the issue will resolve it, he added.

In the case of the ammunition purchase, the department's "prolonged silence led many in the public to come up with their own conclusions and scoff at the official DHS explanation," said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), the committee chairman.

A House Oversight and Government Reform subommittee held a hearing about ammunition procurement in April. DHS officials explained in their prepared testimony that the department needs ammunition for training and operations and has bought in bulk for years to save money.

Members of the subcommittee also asked the department to keep them more informed about new policies. Several complained that they had found out about important actions, such as the mass release of immigrant detainees earlier this year and proposed changes to the Transportation Security Administration's prohibited items list, from media accounts.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (webcast and prepared testimonies available)

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