Hillicon Valley: Officials pressed on Russian interference at security forum | FCC accuses Sinclair of deception | Microsoft reveals Russia tried to hack three 2018 candidates | Trump backs Google in fight with EU | Comcast gives up on Fox bid

Hillicon Valley: Officials pressed on Russian interference at security forum | FCC accuses Sinclair of deception | Microsoft reveals Russia tried to hack three 2018 candidates | Trump backs Google in fight with EU | Comcast gives up on Fox bid
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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.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Morgan Chalfant (@mchalfant16), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Ali Breland (@alibreland).



Today, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump puts Kushner in charge of overseeing border wall construction: report Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Minority lawmakers call out Google for hiring former Trump DHS official MORE said she agreed "full stop" with the Obama-era intelligence assessment that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

"I don't think there is any doubt that they did it, and I think we should all be prepared – given that capability and will – that they'll do it again," she said while speaking at the Aspen Security Forum.


However, when pressed on the specific intelligence community judgment that Russia developed a preference for Trump, Nielsen initially said she had not seen any evidence that Russian hackers' specific efforts to target state electoral systems was "to favor a particular political party."

But Nielsen later seemed to clarify those remarks, saying that Russia's influence efforts against the 2016 vote were to "attack certain political parties ... more than others." She indicated, however, that Moscow's ultimate goal was to sow discord among the American public.

When pressed again later, she said she agreed with the intelligence community's assessment "full stop" -- which would include the judgment that Russia's intention was to help Trump and disadvantage Clinton.

More here.


Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE said Thursday he was "just doing my job" when he issued a statement backing the intelligence community's assessment of Russian interference after President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE cast doubt on it in Helsinki.

"I was just doing my job," Coats said Thursday at the Aspen Security Summit. "I just felt at this point in time what we had assessed and reassessed and reassessed and carefully gone over still stands and that it was important to take that stand on behalf of the intelligence community and on behalf of the America people." Coats later said he was encouraged by Trump's clarification.

"Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement, but I think now that has been clarified based on his late reactions to this," Coats said.

Read more.


Flashback: A day earlier at the conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray described Russian efforts to sow discord among the American public as "very active."

Wray was asked on Wednesday to directly respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum. Wray described the U.S. intelligence community's assessment of Russian meddling as sound, adding that Moscow "continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day."

"He's got his view," Wray told NBC News anchor Lester Holt. "I can tell you what my view is – the intelligence community's assessment has not changed, my view has not changed, which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and that it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day."

Wray's remarks touched on several other cybersecurity subjects, including encryption and hacking threats from North Korea.  

More here.


FCC ACCUSES SINCLAIR OF DECEPTION: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has accused Sinclair Broadcast Group of trying to deceive regulators as the media giant sought approval of its $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media.

In a filing released on Thursday, the agency questioned the company's plan to sell off a number of local television stations in order to bring the merger in compliance with media ownership regulations.

One of the deals that the FCC singled out involved Sinclair selling the Chicago station WGN-TV to Steven Fader, a Maryland businessman with ties to Sinclair's executive chairman, David Smith.

Under the terms of the deal, Sinclair would sell the station for $60 million, a price the FCC calls "far below market value," but would still retain control of many of its operations and programming.

"Specifically, we question the legitimacy of the proposed sale of such a highly rated and profitable station in the nation's third-largest market to an individual with no broadcast experience, with close business ties to Smith, and with plans to own only the license and minimal station assets," the FCC filing reads.

The agency also accused Sinclair of not fully disclosing the business relationship between Smith and Fader. Fader is the CEO of a Maryland auto dealership that Smith has a controlling interest in.

A spokesman for Sinclair did not respond when asked for comment, but the company denied making any misrepresentations to the agency.

The filing released Thursday was an order to send the Sinclair-Tribune deal before an administrative law judge to determine the propriety of the transactions -- a process that many believe could doom the merger.

Thursday's order caps off a week that has seen a stunning shift regarding the right-wing broadcasting company, which many believed had a reliable ally in FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (R). Read more here.


MEDIA LAMENTS TOXIC TWITTER: High-profile journalists are saying they might leave Twitter after tweets attacking them and family members.

The latest controversy is underscoring how the popular social media platform has become toxic in the current political climate.

CNN reporter and commentator Chris Cillizza tweeted on Sunday that he was "about done" with Twitter, after tweets mocking his child's peanut allergy.

"We are talking about a 9 year old. Feel free to hate me. But don't mock my son's peanut allergy. Classless and indefensible," Cillizza wrote.

MSNBC Anchor Chuck Todd also offered support to Cillizza and criticized the abuse.

"Every time I think Twitter can't get worse, it does.  You people are awful. Leave the man's family alone. Disgusting," he tweeted.

Cillizza has remained on Twitter since the episode, but another prominent reporter has said she is taking a break from the social media platform.

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted on Monday that with the exception of sharing breaking news and her own stories, she would be stepping back from Twitter.

"No reason or prompt other than that it's not really helping the discourse," she explained.

Haberman's not the only high-profile journalist to do so in recent months.

Matt Fuller, a congressional reporter for HuffPost, said he hasn't considered quitting but has taken breaks in the past.

"Twitter is increasingly a little toxic because everyone is aggrieved, and everyone seems to think they have a right to not be aggrieved," he said.

But it's not all bad: For many journalists, Twitter is a near-essential tool. Reporters have used it to build reputations and followings. They use it to promote and do their work. Twitter makes it easier to catch breaking news, find new sources and has become essential for covering Trump, who regularly makes news with his tweets.

Journalists can make an impact on the platform, quickly spreading news in some cases to hundreds of thousands of followers.

"Twitter can certainly add weight to your reporting. There are definitely some members [of Congress] who only give me the time of day because they're afraid that not doing so might elicit a tweet," Fuller said.

But the climate on the platform has many journalists rethinking their participation.

Read more here.


MICROSOFT EXEC SAYS RUSSIA TRIED TO HACK THREE CANDIDATES: Microsoft disclosed Thursday that it identified and helped thwart hacking attempts on three congressional candidates earlier this year, marking the first publicly known hacking efforts targeting candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.

"Earlier this year, we did discover that a fake Microsoft domain had been established as the landing page for phishing attacks," Tom Burt, Microsoft's vice president for security and trust, said at the Aspen Security Forum.

"And we saw metadata that suggested those phishing attacks were being directed at three candidates who are all standing for election in the midterm elections," he added.

Burt said that Microsoft and the government were able to take the domain down and block the phishing messages.

Read more here.


ICYMI: Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTrump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing House Republicans on Judiciary strategize ahead of Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee, introduced a bill late yesterday aimed at advancing and modernizing the Department of Homeland Security's program to secure federal networks -- formally known as the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program. The bill, for one, would require the department to develop procedures for reporting "systemic" cyber risks discovered through the program. It would also direct the department to update the program to keep up with emerging technologies.

"CDM is a critical component of our national cybersecurity strategy. Supporting DHS Under Secretary Krebs' effective deployment and ongoing improvement of CDM at NPPD is a top priority of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee," Ratcliffe said in a statement.


TRUMP BACKS GOOGLE: President Trump on Thursday lashed out at the European Union for imposing a record $5 billion antitrust fine on Google.

Trump wrote in a tweet that the move shows the EU is targeting U.S. companies.

"I told you so!" he said. "The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google. They truly have taken advantage of the U.S., but not for long!"

The EU's decision, the second record antitrust fine in as many years against Google, comes amid escalating trade tensions between Europe and the U.S.

The fine was a result of a three-year investigation into the company's practices of bundling its search and browser apps with its Android operating system. Read more here.


YOUR MONEY'S NO GOOD HERE: An immigrant rights group turned down a $250,000 donation from Salesforce on Thursday because of the company's contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

"Pledging us a small portion of the money you make from CPB contracts will not distract us from your continuing support of this agency," Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) Executive Director Jonathan Ryan wrote in a letter to Salesforce. "We will not be a beneficiary of your effort to buy your way out of ethical responsibility."

RAICES, a Texas nonprofit, has raised tens of millions of dollars to support immigrant families separated at the border as a result of President Trump's zero tolerance immigration policies.

Hundreds of Salesforce workers have urged CEO Marc Benioff to reassess the company's contracts with the agency, but Salesforce has said it has no plans to do so.

Read more here.


COMCAST ENDS PURSUIT OF FOX: Comcast has dropped its efforts to buy much of 21st Century Fox, ending a bidding war with The Walt Disney Company over the company's entertainment assets.

In a statement on Thursday, Comcast said it would instead focus on acquiring Sky, a European pay-TV provider that Fox is also pursuing. Comcast has offered $34 billion for the London-based Sky.

"I'd like to congratulate Bob Iger and the team at Disney and commend the Murdoch family and Fox for creating such a desirable and respected company," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement.

Read more here.


DEMS WANT TO HEAR FROM TRUMP INTERPRETER: Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday rejected a motion to subpoena the interpreter present at President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent private meeting.

The motion was offered by Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCBS's Major Garrett: Democrats walking away from bribery, extortion allegations against Trump 'in full public view' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by UANI — House Dems charge Trump with abuse, obstruction of Congress in impeachment articles Trump, White House rip Democrats over impeachment articles MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee. "It is our motion that the interpreter be subpoenaed to come and testify in closed session before our committee," Schiff said during a public hearing on China's threats to American government.

Schiff argued that the interpreter could have witnessed a key exchange which would shed light on national security matters. "I regret that we have to request this in today's meeting. We requested a business meeting next week, but that request has been declined. This may be our last opportunity before we go into an extended recess to vote to subpoena the interpreter and find out if there are any other national security problems that arose from this meeting," Schiff continued.

Read more here.


FACEBOOK'S PRIVATE CONVOS WITH TRUMP: Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook tells Trump administration it will not create messaging 'backdoor' for law enforcement LGBTQ groups accuse Facebook ads of spreading misinformation about HIV drugs Trump, Pelosi on shortlist for Time Person of the Year MORE congratulated President Trump after his election victory in 2016 in a private, previously unreported phone call, according to a BuzzFeed News article published Thursday.

While many CEOs, including IBM's Ginni Rometty, publicly congratulated Trump after his Election Day victory, few of them provided services that played such a pivotal role in Trump's campaign operations.

Facebook also considered the campaign an "innovator" when it came to marketing on its platform, according to internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

According to the memos and presentations, Facebook ultimately took advertising methods used by the Trump campaign and used it as a part of its own marketing model that it uses to assess its advertising.

Read more here.


SPOTLIGHT ON 5G: Reps. Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden won't seek reelection Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 MORE (R- Ind.) and Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellPro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA Pelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE (D- Mich.) hosted a 5G Technology Showcase on Thursday, part of a telecom industry PR blitz on the wireless technology, reports The Hill's Caroline Gardner.

Lawmakers touted the benefits of the technology during the event. 

"In order to stay globally competitive, we have to keep getting faster and faster in moving massive amounts of data. Everyone is so connected," said Brooks, founder and co-chair of the 5G Caucus. "I'm just moving from exhibit to exhibit, seeing all these ideas of really incredible things that 5G could bring to our constituents."

T-Mobile, Nokia, CTIA, Sprint and Intel demonstrated products that are primed to take advantage of the faster wireless internet that will be ushered in by 5G development.  

The event also featured lesser-known tech companies such as Aira, which uses 5G to aid individuals with visual impairments:

"The idea is to use streaming video using a wearable video camera to connect a blind person with sighted assistance at the push of a button," said Paul Schroeder, the Director of Public Policy and Strategic Alliances, who is visually impaired and assisted by Aira's products.


A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: A new Papa John has been selected.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Why consumer privacy laws should be de facto across America.



The House voted on funding legislation today that excluded money for election security. (Washington Post)

Why former cyber officials are worrying about the Census. (Time)

Mueller indictment puts spotlight on Georgia election systems. (Politico Magazine)

Does Facebook need a constitution? (New York)

You still can't block people on Spotify. (BuzzFeed News)

CTIA and Accenture's big 5G report.