House Dems press FCC chairman for answers on false cyberattack claim

House Dems press FCC chairman for answers on false cyberattack claim
© Greg Nash

Democratic lawmakers are putting heat on Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai over a recent inspector general (IG) report that found the agency falsely claimed it had suffered a cyberattack that briefly took down its electronic comment system amid the backlash over its repeal of net neutrality.

The inspector general concluded in a report released last week that the FCC was not a victim of a distributed denial of service attack as its chief information officer had claimed the morning after a segment from HBO late-night comedian John Oliver prompted a flood of pro-net neutrality comments.

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A group of House Democrats are now demanding answers from Pai about when he found out that the cyberattack claim was false. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneFederal watchdog finds cybersecurity vulnerabilities in FCC systems Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led the group in sending a letter and a list of questions to the chairman Tuesday.

“Given the significant media, public, and Congressional attention this alleged cyberattack received for over a year, it is hard to believe that the release of the IG’s Report was the first time that you and your staff realized that no cyberattack occurred,” the letter reads.

“Such ignorance would signify a dereliction of your duty as the head of the FCC, particularly due to the severity of the allegations and the blatant lack of evidence,” it continues. “Therefore, we want to know when you and your staff first learned that the information the Commission shared about the alleged cyberattack was false.”

The letter was also signed by Democratic Reps. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleFCC rejects petition to probe broadcasts of Trump coronavirus briefings Bottom Line Hillicon Valley: Trump turns up heat on Apple over gunman's phone | Mnuchin says Huawei won't be 'chess piece' in trade talks | Dems seek briefing on Iranian cyber threats | Buttigieg loses cyber chief MORE (Pa.), Jerry McNerneyGerlad (Jerry) Mark McNerneyDemocratic lawmakers ask how FEMA is planning to balance natural disasters, COVID-19 response Democratic senator criticizes Zoom's security and privacy policies Thousands of Zoom meeting recordings exposed online: report MORE (Calif.) and Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann Dingell18 states fight conservative think tank effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards Pelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues MORE (Mich.).

When the report came out last week, Pai said that it showed he was lied to by the FCC’s former CIO, David Bray, a holdover from the Obama administration, and that his office had no part in spreading the false information.

“I am deeply disappointed that the FCC’s former Chief Information Officer (CIO), who was hired by the prior Administration and is no longer with the Commission, provided inaccurate information about this incident to me, my office, Congress, and the American people,” Pai said in a statement last week.

“This is completely unacceptable,” he continued. “I’m also disappointed that some working under the former CIO apparently either disagreed with the information that he was presenting or had questions about it, yet didn’t feel comfortable communicating their concerns to me or my office.”

But that response is unlikely to satisfy Democrats, who are suggesting that Pai provided them with false information in response to inquiries over the past year. The issue is likely to come up when the chairman appears before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Thursday for an oversight hearing.

“To the extent that you were aware of the misrepresentations prior to the release of the Report and failed to correct them, such actions constitute a wanton disregard for Congress and the American public," the House Democrats wrote Tuesday.