Hillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers introduce articles of impeachment for Rosenstein | Senate Intel to call back tech execs | FCC chair stands by Sinclair decision after Trump criticism | Analysts uncover new Iran hacking group

Hillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers introduce articles of impeachment for Rosenstein | Senate Intel to call back tech execs | FCC chair stands by Sinclair decision after Trump criticism | Analysts uncover new Iran hacking group

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).

 

BREAKING - LAWMAKERS OFFER ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT FOR ROSENSTEIN: A group of conservative House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinFull appeals court to rehear case over McGahn subpoena Graham starts closed-door depositions in FISA probe Attorney General Barr is in a mess — and has no one to blame but himself MORE, the top Department of Justice (DOJ) official overseeing special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE's Russia investigation.

The impeachment document makes a series of charges against Rosenstein, the latest sign of escalating efforts among conservatives to oust the DOJ's No. 2 official.

Conservative members led by Reps. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: McConnell, Pelosi at odds over next relief bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump blends upbeat virus info and high US death forecast Meadows joins White House in crisis mode MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThe relief bill and public broadcasting: A missed opportunity Meadows joins White House in crisis mode Trump, privacy hawks upend surveillance brawl MORE (R-Ohio), along with nine co-sponsors, introduced the articles shortly after a meeting with DOJ officials concerning document production.

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Conservatives frustrated with the pace of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation have directed their fury at Rosenstein, claiming he has delayed an investigation into FBI agents they believe are biased against President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE.

We have more on this developing story here.

 

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP, PUTIN WON'T MEET UNTIL NEXT YEAR: President Trump on Wednesday backed away from his plan to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the fall, citing the special counsel investigation into Moscow's interference in the 2016 election.

National security adviser John Bolton said in a statement the next one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin will be "after the first of the year" and following the conclusion of the Russia probe, which he described as a "witch hunt."

"The president believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we've agreed that it will be after the first of the year," Bolton said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has not indicated he plans to wrap up the investigation by the end of the year. His team has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 individuals thus far.

The change of plans comes days after the Kremlin showed reluctance to stage another meeting between Putin and Trump in the fall, an invitation the White House extended on Thursday. Read more here.

 

SENATE INTEL TO BRING BACK TECH EXECS: The Senate Intelligence Committee is planning on holding a hearing with executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google, a spokesperson for the committee chairman confirmed on Wednesday.

Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrLoeffler traded .4M in stocks as Congress responded to coronavirus pandemic Before this pandemic ends, intel agencies should prepare for a world of threats DOJ probing stock transactions made by lawmakers ahead of coronavirus crisis: report MORE (R-N.C.) expects top officials from each company to attend and said that the hearing will be the held the first week of September, confirming The Hill's earlier report that the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHackers target health care AI amid coronavirus pandemic Hillicon Valley: Coronavirus deal includes funds for mail-in voting | Twitter pulled into fight over virus disinformation | State AGs target price gouging | Apple to donate 10M masks Senator sounds alarm on cyber threats to internet connectivity during coronavirus crisis MORE (D-Va.) was in the process of pushing the committee to hold a hearing with tech companies.

A source with knowledge of the hearing told The Hill that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai have all been invited to testify before the committee. The source said that Sandberg and Dorsey have confirmed that they will attend.

Another source with knowledge of the hearings disputed this, saying that formal invitations had not yet been sent to all the companies.

Representatives for Twitter and Facebook both declined to comment on the hearings. Google did not respond to The Hill's request for comment.

Read more here.

 

FCC CHAIR STANDS BY SINCLAIR DECISION: Ajit Pai, the Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said on Wednesday that President Trump criticism of his agency would not affect their decision to reject Sinclair Broadcast Group's proposed merger with Tribune Media.

"I stand by our decision," Pai said during an oversight hearing before the House Commerce Committee's technology and communications panel.

Pai refused to address directly Trump's criticism of the agency after it decided last week to subject the $3.9 billion merger to an administrative law proceeding, a process that will likely doom the deal's chance of obtaining regulatory approval.

On Tuesday night, Trump blasted the FCC, saying it was "unfair" of regulators to crack down on the deal.

"So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn't approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune," the president wrote. "This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!"

Read more here.

 

MEANWHILE, FCC NOTCHES A COURT WIN: A federal court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking to overturn the agency's decision to effectively raise the limit on the number of local television stations a company can own.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the legal challenge on a technicality, ruling that the consumer group Free Press did not establish that it had the legal standing to bring the suit.

Last year, Free Press sued the agency over its decision to reinstate the UHF discount, which makes ultrahigh frequency television stations count as half of a normal station when calculating for whether a broadcaster is in compliance with the national media ownership cap.

Read more here.

 

ANALYSTS UNCOVER A NEW IRAN HACKING GROUP: A U.S.-based cybersecurity firm has uncovered a new "highly active" espionage group believed to be based in Iran that is breaking into networks of government organizations and other firms located in the Middle East.

Symantec released information early Wednesday on the hacking collective, which researchers have dubbed "Leafminer." The group is allegedly targeting organizations in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Eqypt, Israel and Afghanistan.

Leafminer's targets reportedly cut across several sectors, including energy, telecommunications, financial services, transportation and government.

Vikram Thakur, technical director at Symantec, told The Hill that the group has been active since early 2017 but "ramped up" its activity between the end of last year and the start of 2018. Thakur said the organization is "continuing to conduct attacks as of right now."

Through its research, Symantec obtained a target list of roughly 800 organizations catalogued based on their country of origin that analysts believe serves as a blueprint for the espionage group. The list was written in Farsi, leading analysts to conclude that the hackers are based in Iran.

"All the target organizations, they have some kind of political discourse ongoing with Iran, and Iran is actually missing from the list themselves," Thakur said. "From an analytics perspective, that just adds to the fact that they're likely to be from Iran."

While Symantec does not have evidence linking the group to the Iranian government, Thakur said it is "possible" the group is operating on behalf of a nation-state.

Why this is interesting: Broadly, security professionals have observed Iranian hackers expanding their operations and growing more sophisticated in their attack methods. This has included Iran-based hacking groups stepping up operations on international organizations, including those located in the Middle East and the United States.

While Thakur does not believe Leafminer to be particularly sophisticated in terms of its technical capabilities, he suspects the group could expand its operations to other countries given its broad list of targets, which includes multinational organizations.

Read more here.

 

ABOUT THOSE FISA DOCS: The head of the House Intelligence Committee still has not reviewed the largely unredacted application the FBI used to obtain a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page during the 2016 election, Justice Department (DOJ) officials said Wednesday.

Roughly 30 lawmakers from the House and Senate have viewed the classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) documents, which House Intelligence Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesNunes claims it would be 'way overkill' to cancel school year in California due to coronavirus Trump steps up intensity in battle with media Nunes urges Americans to 'stop panicking': 'It's a great time to just go out' if you're healthy MORE (R-Calif.) subpoenaed for last year, according to the officials.

They said that instead of viewing the records he himself requested, Nunes instead has had committee member Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for another week fighting the coronavirus, seek to curb fallout GOP lawmaker shows off AR-15 in office, challenges Biden to 'come and take it' Sunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses MORE (R-S.C.) review the documents on his behalf. The DOJ officials added that Nunes's staff has also been active in examining the materials.

Read more.

 

THE DIGITAL EVIDENCE CHALLENGE: The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a new report on Wednesday that explores major challenges facing law enforcement officials as they seek to use digital evidence for ongoing investigations.

The report draws on survey results from interviews with federal, state and local law enforcement officers.

According to the report, nearly one-fifth of law enforcement officers surveyed reported that their lack of ability to access digital evidence from a device represents the biggest challenge their department encounters with respect to using digital evidence for ongoing investigations. This detail gets at the issue of so-called "warrant-proof encryption," an issue that has long been a source of tension between law enforcement and private technology companies.  

However, the most prevalent challenge facing law enforcement with regards to digital evidence appears to be getting data from service providers. Thirty percent of survey respondents – a plurality – named difficulties in identifying which service providers have access to data relevant to their cases as the biggest problem facing their department when it comes to using digital evidence. Another 25 percent answered that the biggest problem is difficulty getting relevant evidence from providers once those providers are identified.

"Our survey of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials suggests that challenges in accessing data from service providers--much of which is not encrypted--is the biggest problem that they currently face in terms of their ability to use digital evidence in their cases," the report reads, noting that the issues have "received relatively little attention and resources."

Read the full report, entitled "Low-Hanging Fruit," here.

 

HURDLES TO SECURING .GOV: The Government Accountability Office on Wednesday released a report outlining four major cybersecurity challenges and 10 "critical actions" that the federal government needs to take in order to address the shortfalls. The watchdog has identified information security as a so-called "high-risk area" for the government because of the expanding landscape of cyber threats and persistent security vulnerabilities.

The four major challenges cited by GAO are the need to establish a comprehensive cyber strategy and effectively oversee it; the security of federal systems and data; the protection of cyber critical infrastructure; and the protection of privacy and sensitive federal data.

To check out the full watchdog report, click here.

 

ICYMI: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Saudi-Russia oil fight is the last thing the economy needs in a pandemic US intel agencies conclude China has under-reported coronavirus cases, deaths: report Susan Rice scolds Pompeo for using 'Wuhan virus' term MORE was on Capitol Hill today, where he faced a grilling from senators on the Trump administration's talks with Russia and North Korea. Check out our live coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing here.

 

A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: Passing the time as a pigeon.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The case for treating cyber attackers like enemies of mankind.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

NSA watchdog dings agency over data handling. (The Hill)

Attorneys spar over evidence in case of alleged Russian agent. (The Hill)

The Department of Homeland Security is warning about malicious activity targeting Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications.

Meet Matt Tait, the ex-British spy who helped expose the DNC hackers. (The Weekly Standard)

Maria Butina was interested in a civil rights group that had been phished. (CyberScoop)

Facebook shares fall 9 percent on revenue miss. (The Washington Post)