Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Trump considers revoking Obama-era officials’ security clearances | Record lobbying quarter for Facebook, Amazon | Why Hollywood wants Google hauled before Congress | New worries about supply chain cyber threats

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).


REVOKING SECURITY CLEARANCES? White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday said that President Trump is exploring whether to remove the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan and other top Obama-era intelligence officials.

Sanders accused Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey and others of “politicizing” and “monetizing” their public service.

“They’ve politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances,” Sanders said during the daily press briefing. “Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia, or being influenced by Russia, against the president is extremely inappropriate and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.”


Sanders’s comments came after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested on Twitter that Brennan should have his security clearance revoked.

“Is John Brennan monetizing his security clearance? Is John Brennan making millions of dollars divulging secrets to the mainstream media with his attacks on @realDonaldTrump?” Paul wrote. He said he was meeting with Trump Monday to ask the president to remove Brennan’s security clearance.

Some key context: Brennan and other former officials have been publicly critical of the president’s comments about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Sanders declined to provide a timeline for when the security clearances might be revoked and also pushed back at the suggestion that the president is targeting individuals who had spoken out against him. Read more here.


TODAY IN THE PRESIDENT’S TWEETS: President Trump launched a barrage of tweets on Monday morning, taking aim at a series of familiar targets ranging from the news media to Amazon to the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In the string of tweets, Trump first targeted special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election meddling, claiming that recently released documents related to a surveillance warrant on Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to Trump, proved that FBI officials acted improperly during the 2016 presidential race.

He called Mueller’s investigation “totally conflicted and discredited” and demanded the probe be brought to an end immediately.

“So we now find out that it was indeed the unverified and Fake Dirty Dossier, that was paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC, that was knowingly & falsely submitted to FISA and which was responsible for starting the totally conflicted and discredited Mueller Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted. That was only the start of Trump’s attacks.


MORE ON THAT CARTER PAGE WARRANT APPLICATION: The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Saturday released documents related to the surveillance warrants on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.

The documents have been at the heart of a controversy over alleged bias at the FBI.

The heavily redacted application materials — 412 pages, including an initial application and several applications to renew the surveillance — indicate that the FBI “believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government … to undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”

Conservatives have sought to cast doubt on the information used as the basis for acquiring the warrants on Page and are eager to review details of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. Page himself has also reportedly called for the release of the FISA application that he calls “illegitimate.”

“I’m having trouble finding any small bit of this document that rises above complete ignorance and/or insanity,” Page told The Hill on Saturday following the release of the documents.

The DOJ in April said it was “processing for potential redaction and release certain FISA materials related to Carter Page,” after the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking the release of such records. The Justice Department set the deadline for July 20, according to court documents.

Judicial Watch, however, is not the only group vying for these highly sought-after documents.

In February, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release a memo claiming the DOJ abused the FISA warrant process in order to hurt President Trump’s campaign, claiming Page’s surveillance warrant was based essentially on the controversial “Steele dossier.”

The four-page memo, drafted by staff of Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), lays out a series of allegations that it says “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”

Trump declassified the memo despite fierce and rare public objections from the FBI, which had warned that the document contained “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

“The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI,” the FBI said in its statement at the time. Read more here.


DON’T READ TOO MUCH INTO IT, COATS SAYS: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said on Saturday that he did not mean to disrespect President Trump with his reaction during a recent interview to the news that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been invited to the White House.

Coats, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, was visibly surprised when NBC’s Andrea Mitchell told him that Putin had been invited to Washington, D.C., for a second meeting this fall.

“Some press coverage has mis-characterized my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview. My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president,” Coats said in a statement.

“I and the entire intel[ligence] community are committed to providing the best possible intelligence to inform and support President Trump’s ongoing efforts to prevent Russian meddling in our upcoming elections, to build strong relationships internationally in order to maintain peace, denuclearize dangerous regimes and protect our nation and our allies,” he continued. Read more here.


CONCERNS ABOUT THREATS TO THE SUPPLY CHAIN: Security professionals see supply chain attacks as a potentially huge threat to their businesses, according to a global study newly released by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike.

The survey, which drew on responses from 1,300 senior IT professionals across the globe, found that 79 percent of the respondents believe that software supply chain attacks “have the potential to become one of the biggest cyber threats to organizations like theirs within the next three years.”

Two-thirds of the organizations represented in the study experienced a software supply chain attack in the last year. And, roughly nine-in-10 organizations that experienced a software supply chain attack incurred some kind of financial cost or impact as a result.

More than seven-in-10 of the respondents said they believe their organization doesn’t always hold external suppliers to equal security standards as those they abide by.

Majorities also said that their organizations can on occasion overlook software supply chain security when making decisions on IT spending, and that company leaders can also lack awareness of the risk of these types of attacks.

Broadly, professionals are most worried about cyberattacks orchestrated by cyber criminals, with 45 percent reporting they are most concerned about these attackers. Less – 13 percent – are concerned about cyberattacks from nation-state hackers.

You can read the full report here.


HOLLYWOOD WANTS GOOGLE HAULED BEFORE CONGRESS: A growing number of Hollywood professionals are urging Congress to bring Google executives in to testify in a move similar to when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was compelled to testify after his company’s data scandal.

Last month, the groups CreativeFuture and the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) sent letters to the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee urging them to bring the internet search giant to Capitol Hill. The original letters had 90 signatures on them, and the groups resent the letters Sunday after that number grew to 154.

The industry believes that platform companies like Google and Facebook don’t take enough responsibility over what happens on their services, enabling widespread illicit activity, including online piracy.

Ruth Vitale, the CEO of CreativeFuture, says that Congress should step in to make the platforms legally liable for illegal content found on their sites.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are being lost to piracy because the platforms aren’t being held responsible,” Vitale told The Hill.

Websites have broad legal immunity from content posted by third-party users, and some tech critics say that framework gives internet giants little incentive to make sure their sites are free of illicit trade and abusive content.

Read more here.


BIG SPENDERS: Facebook and Amazon both set records for quarterly lobbying spending as they deal with new scrutiny from Congress and the administration over their business practices.

Facebook spent $3.67 million and Amazon $3.47 million in the second quarter of 2018, according to lobbying disclosure records.

The record sums come as Facebook deals with backlash over the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The British research firm hired, which at one point was hired by the Trump campaign, improperly harvested information on 87 million Facebook users. Facebook is also dealing with heat from Congress over how Russia used its platform to influence the 2016 presidential race.

Facebook’s $3.67 million sum is $1 million higher than its second-quarter spending in 2017 and higher than its 2018 first-quarter tally of $3.3 million. Last quarter’s total was the company’s previous lobbying record.

Read more here.


SINCLAIR’S FUMBLES: The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rejection of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media is a striking reversal of fortune for the conservative media conglomerate.

The company was thought to have a reliable ally in the agency’s chairman, Ajit Pai, and a clear path to getting merger approval.

But the FCC voted 4-0 Wednesday to refer the deal to an administrative law judge, a process widely seen as a deal-killer.

The deal’s prospects were unraveled by Sinclair’s plan to divest certain stations around the country to bring the combined company in line with media ownership restrictions.

The agency cited questionable deals that involved Sinclair selling stations to friendly buyers for low prices while still retaining significant control over operations and programming

Their order also scolded Sinclair, accusing it of misleading regulators and failing to disclose information about the nature of the deals.

Read more here.


NYT REPORTER UNHAPPY WITH TWITTER: New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman says she is taking a break from Twitter, explaining in an op-ed in the newspaper that the platform “no longer works well” for her.

Haberman, who is widely regarded as one of the most prolific reporters covering President Trump and his White House, has maintained a consistent presence on Twitter to share stories and insights.

But in the op-ed, Haberman cited the “viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism” that have emerged on Twitter as her motivation for stepping back from the platform.

“Twitter is now an anger video game for many users,” she writes. “It is the only platform on which people feel free to say things they’d never say to someone’s face. For me, it had become an enormous and pointless drain on my time and mental energy.”


UBER SUSPENDS DRIVER WHO RECORDED PASSENGERS: Uber said that it has suspended a driver after it was revealed he filmed hundreds of his passengers and livestreamed the videos to the internet.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that 32-year-old Jason Gargac, who had driven for the service since March, had installed a camera on his dashboard and livestreamed video of his passengers without their knowledge to Twitch, an online streaming service.

The videos revealed passengers’ personal information and their private conversations. Anonymous viewers online often commented on riders’ conversations and left sexual or offensive comments about female passengers.


A MUELLER UPDATE: MANAFORT TRIAL DELAYED: A federal judge on Monday agreed to delay the criminal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort after his lawyers argued they needed more time to review a trove of documents recently provided by government prosecutors.

Manafort’s trial was initially expected to begin on Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., but the ruling from Judge T. S. Ellis will delay it for one week until July 31.

The trial will be the first in special counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russian interference in the election.

Manafort’s lawyers argued that they needed extra time to review over 120,000 pages of new documents provided by federal prosecutors. Roughly a third of them, his defense lawyers said, were taken from devices belonging to former Trump campaign aide and longtime Manafort associate Richard Gates — who was initially charged with Manafort but is now cooperating in Mueller’s probe.

“These 120,000 pages are really at the heart of the issue,” Manafort attorney Kevin Downing said Monday, according to USA Today.

In addition to granting the delay, Ellis also granted Mueller’s request to grant immunity for five witnesses in Manafort’s trial.

Read more.


A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: Mic drop at this pants drop


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Is America ready for Russian cyberattack on our election? (The Hill)



The House Oversight Committee is holding a hearing on election cybersecurity at 10 a.m.

The House Homeland Security Committee is marking up a number of bills, including a measure being offered by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) that would codify into law the Department of Homeland Security’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program, at 10 a.m.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will discuss surveillance and civil liberties issues at a forum hosted by the Fund for American Studies at 9:30 a.m.

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), co-chair of the blockchain caucus will hold a blockchain session at 10:00 a.m. RSVP here. CompTia will introduce its blockchain for the public sector guide at the event.

The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy is holding a hearing on “the China challenge” focused on economic coercion at 2:30 p.m.  



Rand Paul to ask Trump to eliminate Brennan’s security clearance. (The Hill)

The new head of the NSA and Cyber Command announced a new task force to counter Russian cyber threats. (Bloomberg)

Russian operatives sent a lot of tweets ahead of a key moment in October 2016. (The Washington Post)

The Department of Homeland Security awarded $200K to a Canadian startup to secure IoT devices.

An expert digs into how much data is sitting on Venmo. (The Guardian)

new approach to covering tech journalism. (Columbia Journalism Review)

Alt-right gets hit with their own Twitter medicine. (Daily Beast)

Former Trump advisor tapped for top UK intelligence job. (CNN)

How private firms are carefully balancing attributing government hacking and allegiances. (Cyberscoop)

Tags Dan Coats David Schweikert Devin Nunes Donald Trump Hillary Clinton James Clapper James Comey John Brennan John Ratcliffe Mark Zuckerberg Paul Manafort Rand Paul Robert Mueller Ron Wyden

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