Cybersecurity

Warren leads Senate Democrats call on VA to protect veterans from misinformation

Greg Nash

A group of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has sharply criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for not making clear how it is protecting veterans from foreign misinformation.

Their concerns stem from a two-year investigation by the nonprofit Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), which found evidence last year of foreign actors targeting veterans and their families with misinformation in order to “disrupt American democracy.”

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Thursday, Warren and 18 other Democrats pointed to a recent separate letter received from the VA explaining the agency’s stance on defending veterans from misinformation as being “deficient.”

Wilkie wrote in the short letter sent to Warren and the other Democrats in February that the VA has zeroed in on “educating Veterans, VA employees, and beneficiaries of threats from foreign influence operations.”

“VA partners with a variety of agencies regarding national security matters and will continue to work on behalf of Veterans, VA employees, and beneficiaries to counter the full spectrum of threats to national security,” Wilkie noted at the time.

But Warren and the other Senate Democrats on Thursday sharply criticized Wilkie for his “wholly inadequate response” due to a lack of detail in exactly how the agency is educating veterans on foreign interference. 

“With less than eight months until the next federal election, VA’s vague and wholly inadequate response regarding its efforts to educate veterans about malign influence operations is deeply disturbing, and provides no indication that the Department is taking all reasonable steps to protect veteran communities from this threat,” the senators wrote. 

The senators asked that Wilkie respond in a more detailed way that would address issues such as how the agency was educating veterans on cybersecurity risks and on how to identify foreign misinformation on social media. 

Several other former and current Democratic presidential candidates were among those to sign on to the letter, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

The VVA investigation found that the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian state-sponsored group, had heavily targeted veterans as a way to sow discord and affect the vote in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. VVA also found that a group based out of South Africa had been stealing the identities of mostly deceased U.S. veterans to target Americans with scams.

The IRA and 13 affiliated Russian nationals were indicted by former special counsel Robert Mueller in 2018 due to their connections to Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Facebook estimated following the election that around 146 million Americans may have seen IRA-linked content on either Facebook or Instagram prior to Election Day. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren Kirsten Gillibrand misinformation Robert Mueller Robert Wilkie Veterans Affairs
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