Hillicon Valley: Mueller alleges Russians used case files to discredit his probe | Trump blasts intel leaders | Facebook ends 2018 with record profits | Judge refuses request to unseal possible Assange charges

Hillicon Valley: Mueller alleges Russians used case files to discredit his probe | Trump blasts intel leaders | Facebook ends 2018 with record profits | Judge refuses request to unseal possible Assange charges

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

OH HOW THE TURNTABLES... Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE said in a filing Wednesday that materials in his criminal case against a Russian troll farm were released and apparently used in a "disinformation campaign" aimed at discrediting his ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election.

Prosecutors with the special counsel's office made the disclosure in a motion in the case involving Concord Management and Consulting that opposed the defendant's request that "sensitive" discovery files be disclosed to the Russian company's "officers and employees" for the purpose of preparing for trial.

"Certain non-sensitive discovery materials in the defense's possession appear to have been altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign aimed (apparently) at discrediting ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. political system," the filing states.

Prosecutors said that some non-public files supplied to Concord's defense attorneys were apparently altered and disseminated using the Twitter account @HackingRedstone, which has since been suspended on the platform. Read more here.

 

GO BACK TO SCHOOLPresident TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE on Wednesday blasted top intelligence leaders for being "wrong" about their new assessment on Iran's nuclear developments.

"The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!" Trump tweeted Wednesday morning in a pair of tweets.

The president, who claimed Iran has recently tested rockets, also mocked the intelligence leaders in his administration, suggesting they "should go back to school."

The two tweets came a day after Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsJordan, Meadows press intelligence chief on House Intel Russia probe transcripts Overnight Energy: John Kerry hits Trump over climate change at hearing | Defends Ocasio-Cortez from GOP attacks | Dems grill EPA chief over auto emissions rollback plan Kerry goes after Trump over climate on Capitol Hill MORE and CIA Director Gina Haspel offered testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that seemed to contradict things the president has said.

Coats testified that the intelligence community found that Iran is not currently seeking to develop its nuclear weapons capabilities, basing his remarks on an intelligence assessment.

"We continue to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device," the assessment reads.

The assessment warns that Iranian officials are threatening to begin building up the country's nuclear capabilities if Tehran "does not gain the tangible trade and investment benefits it expected" from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an Obama-era deal that Trump withdrew the U.S. from last year. Read more on the latest clash between Trump and his intelligence chiefs.

 

APPLE AS PRIVACY REGULATOR: Apple said Wednesday that it has banned Facebook from using tools that let businesses control iPhones used by employees, following a news report that the social media giant has been monitoring the browsing habits of teenagers.

Reuters reported that Apple took the punitive step a day after TechCrunch published an article saying Facebook has been paying teenagers as young as 13 to install an app called Facebook Research that is used it to monitor their internet browsing habits.

Apple booted Facebook from the business app program on Wednesday, saying in a statement to Reuters that the program is "solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization."

"Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple," Apple said in the statement.

"Despite early reports, there was nothing 'secret' about this," Facebook said in a statement to Reuters. "It was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn't 'spying' as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate." Read more here.

 

SPEAKING OF FACEBOOK: Facebook finished 2018 with record profits despite a string of privacy scandals and public relations crises that have brought the company under tough regulatory scrutiny.

The social network brought in $6.8 billion in profits in the last three months of 2018, a 61 percent increase over the fourth quarter of the previous year, Facebook announced on Wednesday.

And the company now says that its services — including WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — now count about 2.7 billion users, 2 billion of whom use at least one of the programs every day.

"Our community and business continue to grow," CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook says it may have 'unintentionally uploaded' up to 1.5M users' email contacts Tech companies must act to stop horrific exploitation of their platforms The Hill's Morning Report — Combative Trump aims at Pelosi before Russia report MORE said in a statement. "We've fundamentally changed how we run our company to focus on the biggest social issues, and we're investing more to build new and inspiring ways for people to connect." More on Facebook's big year here.

 

AN ASSANGE OUT OF YOU AND ME: A federal district court judge ruled on Wednesday that the government does not have to reveal if criminal charges have been secretly filed against WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange, whose organization published online emails Russians stolen from the Democratic National Committee.

Judge Leonie Brinkema, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, denied the request brought by the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press without prejudice.

Brinkema acknowledged both the need for the government to be able to investigate criminal activity and successfully bring to justice those charged with criminal conduct, and the public's right to access judicial records and proceedings.

But until there are certain disclosure that charges have in fact been filed, she called the committee's claims that it has a common law and First Amendment right to see the documents premature. More on the ruling here.

 

SUBPOENAS ALL AROUND: House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDe Blasio vows to take Trump to court over sanctuary city proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday Dems rally behind Omar as Trump escalates attacks MORE (D-Miss.) on Wednesday left the door open to subpoenaing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenOvernight Energy: Mueller report reveals Russian efforts to sow division over coal jobs | NYC passes sweeping climate bill likened to 'Green New Deal' | EPA official says agency may ban asbestos | Energy Dept. denies Perry planning exit The Hill's 12:30 Report: Inside the Mueller report Energy Dept denies report that Rick Perry is planning to leave Trump admin MORE to appear before his committee if she does not agree on a date to testify in the coming weeks.

Thompson, who wrote in a letter Tuesday that Nielsen had denied a request to testify before the committee next week, told reporters that he will give the secretary until the end of February before taking further action to require that she testify.

"I'm not reluctant to issue the subpoena," Thompson said. "I'm going to give the secretary the opportunity to look at her calendar, work it out and come to the committee, but I'm not reluctant to use it."

The Hill has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment.

The chairman said he had sought the secretary's testimony on Feb. 6, but that his staff was told that she was not available for that date.

And Thompson said that as lawmakers work in the coming weeks to pass a government funding bill to avoid another shutdown over border security, it's important for members to hear from Nielsen about the situation at the border. Read more here.

 

ONE-WAY TICKET FOR HUAWEI EXEC: The U.S. has formally requested the extradition of an executive at the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei from Canada, officials in Canada said Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Canada's justice department confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that the country had received a formal request from the U.S. seeking the extradition of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer who was arrested in December at the request of U.S. officials.

Officials with the Canadian justice department have until March to review the extradition request and determine whether it can advance in court, the spokesperson told the Journal.

Meng has been accused of violating trade sanctions against Iran. She was released on bail in December but must remain in Canada while she awaits possible extradition proceedings.

Meng appeared briefly in court on Tuesday and is set to return for another court date next week, according to the Journal. Read more here.

 

SPEAKING OF HUAWEI: The criminal charges against Chinese firm Huawei mark a sharp escalation in the Trump administration's fight with China.

The company and Beijing are vowing to fight back and both sides are digging in, setting the stage for a battle that will likely impact upcoming trade talks.

The charges come at a critical time. The White House announced that it will host a Chinese delegation in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and Thursday for trade talks, as it attempts to bring a close to the months-long dispute between the two nations.

Trump officials have insisted the charges against Huawei are separate from the trade talks. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the two "are not linked, they're a totally separate process." On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: House Dem says marijuana banking bill will get vote in spring | Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers | US home construction slips in March | Uber gets B investment for self-driving cars Former Sears holding company sues ex-CEO, Mnuchin and others over 'asset stripping' On The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost MORE also said they were "separate issues.

But the charges add another complication to the already contentious talks. U.S. officials have vowed to make China's alleged theft of trade secrets a central issue in those discussions.

Lawmakers have widely praised the enforcement action against Huawei -- and many have also expressed concerns about the administration using it as a bargaining chip in trade talks.

On Tuesday, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Cuban negotiator says Trump's efforts to destabilize Cuba's government will fail Freedom to Compete Act would benefit many American workers MORE (R-Fla.) said he was worried the president could step in and make a move to alleviate the charges against Huawei.

President Trump previously suggested that he would intervene over Huawei if it meant securing a better trade deal with China, a statement that received criticism from his own party.

"I think we have to have better trade deals on the basis of trade," Rubio told The Hill. "I think we're going to have laws, and those laws should be followed and I think they should be enforced." Read more here.

 

NEW YORK AG WILL PROBE 'EGREGIOUS' FACETIME BUG: The New York attorney general's office on Wednesday launched an investigation into the FaceTime bug that allowed iPhone users to hear through someone else's iPhone without permission.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Wednesday announced the investigation, which they say will probe Apple's "failure to warn consumers about the FaceTime bug and slow response to addressing the issue."

"The bug jeopardized the privacy of consumers in New York by allowing users to receive audio and video from the device of the person they are calling even before the person has accepted or rejected the call," James and Cuomo said in the press release.

Apple said Monday that it had disabled Group FaceTime, a new feature, while they work to fix the bug that allowed iPhone users to hear through someone else's phone even if the person didn't answer their FaceTime call.

Apple in a statement said the company will release a software update this week with a fix to the bug. 

The bug occurred when users made a FaceTime call to another user and then added themselves to the call through the group call feature. It affected millions of people before Group FaceTime was temporarily disabled on Monday, according to the Times.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has long said the company is focused on maintaining privacy protections. Read more here



'KARMA' GOT 'EM: 
A team that included more than a dozen former U.S. intelligence operatives hacked into the phones of rivals of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of a clandestine operation brought to light in a new Reuters report.

Project Raven, an effort that included U.S. operatives working with the UAE government, spied on and hacked the phone activity of activists, foreign governments and militants whom the UAE saw as a threat, according to the Reuters investigation.

The team hacked the targets using a spying tool called Karma. Reuters was unable to identify the creators of Karma, a program that is able to exploit iPhones to reveal extensive data. Project Raven obtained information including the phone users' local data, photos and messages, according to Reuters.

The FBI is currently investigating whether the former U.S. intelligence officials who worked with Project Raven leaked classified information to the UAE, former Raven employees told Reuters.

Former Raven operatives told the news service that Karma, the program they used to hack hundreds of UAE rivals, took advantage of flaws in Apple's iMessage. They said they were able to implant malware on iPhones through iMessage using Raven, even if the phone user didn't use iMessage.

Apple declined to comment for the report and did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment. More here.

 

NEED A LYFT?: Ride-sharing company Lyft will reportedly offer free rides to any warming shelter in Chicago this week as the city braces for potentially record low temperatures.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Windy City opened a number of warming shelters throughout the city in addition to some on public buses ahead of the sub-freezing conditions.

Chicago is expected to have one of its coldest days on record on Wednesday, with temperatures forecasted to reach historic lows typically seen in some of the globe's most frosty locations.

According to a local CBS station, even the summit of Mount Everest and parts of Antarctica are expected to be warmer than the city this week. 

In response to those forecasts, Lyft reportedly announced on Tuesday that it will be providing those in need of shelter with free rides to any warming shelter in Chicago through Friday. 

The "Relief Rides" promotion will reportedly only cover rides up to $25 and requires the code "CHIJAYDEN19."

A spokesperson for Lyft told the Tribune that the company supports using the promotion "to help get members of the homeless community to a warming center. More on Lyft here.

 

BILL OF THE DAY: House Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation that would block former U.S. intelligence officials from lobbying for a foreign government.

The effort is meant in part to prevent another situation like that of Michael Flynn, a former Defense Intelligence Agency director who in 2017 retroactively registered as a foreign agent lobbying for Turkish interests.

The bill, titled the Intelligence Directors Lobbying Prevention Act, would bar members of the U.S. intelligence community (IC) who are charged with protecting the nation from then lobbying for a foreign government.

Lawmakers have compared the effort to a lifetime ban that prevents executive branch appointees from lobbying on behalf of a foreign entity.

Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroDems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings Texas student says he lost military scholarship due to Trump's new transgender policy Big Dem names show little interest in Senate MORE (D-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is leading the legislative push to amend the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, which requires by law that any entity doing work in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign government, political party or official must be registered.

"Given General Flynn's dealings with Russia and Turkey, we must ensure Intelligence Community heads do not lobby on behalf of another nation and jeopardize U.S. national security interests," Castro said in a statement to The Hill. More on the bill here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: If you do the boiling-water-turns-to-snow bit….don't toss it at yourself.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ONUS would be crippled by an EMP attack, which we pioneered nearly 60 years ago.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Trump war strategy takes one-two punch from intel chiefs, McConnell. (The Hill)

Inside a key Hawaii intelligence outpost listening in on the Pacific. (Yahoo News)

Leaving Facebook makes you happier and less informed, study finds. (Motherboard)

An anti-Facebook manifesto, by an early Facebook investor. (The New York Times)