Hillicon Valley: Facebook reveals influence campaign ahead of midterms | Dems quickly suspect Russia | Pence voices support for intel community | Dems push for review of facial recognition tech | DHS center to protect critical infrastructure

Hillicon Valley: Facebook reveals influence campaign ahead of midterms | Dems quickly suspect Russia | Pence voices support for intel community | Dems push for review of facial recognition tech | DHS center to protect critical infrastructure
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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).

 

FACEBOOK FINDS EVIDENCE OF NEW CAMPAIGN TO INFLUENCE MIDTERM ELECTIONS: Facebook revealed Tuesday that it has found evidence of a coordinated political influence campaign making use dozens of fake accounts and pages on its platform in advance of the November midterm elections.

The social media company announced that it has removed 32 pages and accounts across Facebook and Instagram involved in "inauthentic behavior." Facebook is reportedly working with the FBI on the matter. 

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Facebook told lawmakers in a series of briefings this week that it had discovered the influence campaign as it watched for election interference efforts, The New York Times reported. 

The company told Congress that the efforts could have been conducted by Russia, but that it has not been able to confirm this. "We're still in the very early stages of our investigation and don't have all the facts -- including who may be behind this," Facebook said in a post on Tuesday.

"But we are sharing what we know today given the connection between these bad actors and protests that are planned in Washington next week. We will update this post with more details when we have them, or if the facts we have change," it added. 

The company said that "whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past."

The Kremlin-linked IRA was responsible for a significant amount of election interference efforts in 2016. The group successfully organized events intended to sow discord among the public, including an anti-Trump event attended by thousands in New York City.

In the briefings this week, Facebook also said that it had found attempts to manipulate its platform after the elections, including around the time of the Unite The Right white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last summer and in regard to the #AbolishICE hashtag, in line with previous Russian efforts to not just influence the election, but fan the flames of tension around social issues in the U.S.

We have more here.

 

What top Senate Intel lawmakers are saying:

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam MORE (R-N.C.): "I'm not sure that this will be the last finding that they come with."

Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerPanic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Schumer announces Senate-House deal on tax 'framework' for .5T package MORE (D-Va.): "Today's disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation."

Read more here.

 

What House Intel's top Democrat is saying:

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Schiff: Criminal contempt charges possible for noncooperation in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks MORE, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: "Today's announcement from Facebook demonstrates what we've long feared: that malicious foreign actors bearing the hallmarks of previously-identified Russian influence campaigns continue to abuse and weaponize social media platforms to influence the U.S. electorate."

Read more here.

 

NEW HOMELAND SECURITY UNIT: The Department of Homeland Security is forming a new center to better protect U.S. critical assets -- from financial institutions to the energy grid -- from cyber and physical threats.  Officials announced the creation of the National Risk Management Center at a cybersecurity summit in New York on Tuesday.

Why? Its establishment comes amid heightened fears of cyber threats to the U.S. energy sector and after officials revealed a broad campaign by Russian hackers to breach organizations involved in powering the U.S. electric grid.  

The new center's goal will be to bolster coordination between the federal government and private sector companies -- which own and operate the vast majority of critical assets -- and to improve the protection of critical infrastructure from potential threats, according to a document outlining its mission.

Homeland Security has long taken the lead on engaging with private companies to protect organizations across more than a dozen critical sectors -- including chemical, manufacturing, nuclear, water and transportation. Some in the private sector have criticized the federal government for being too slow to share information on potential threats, or not sharing enough.

The Homeland Security document said the "joint center" would "provide a centralized home for collaborative, sector-specific and cross-sector risk management efforts to better protect critical infrastructure."

The new hub will go beyond information sharing, and will work with the private sector to develop a "collaborative risk management strategy" to help better secure critical assets.

The center's mission is guided by the "risk-based" approach that focuses on protecting U.S. systems that, if sabotaged, would have devastating or cascading consequences. More details here.

 

PENCE BACKS 'UNAMBIGUOUS' INTEL ASSESSMENT ON RUSSIA: Vice President Pence on Tuesday called Russia out for meddling in the 2016 presidential election, describing foreign interference efforts as an "affront to our democracy" that will not be tolerated.

Pence's fierce endorsement of the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion about Russian interference came two weeks after President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE cast doubt on the judgment alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin following a meeting in Helsinki -- remarks he later sought to walk back.

"While other nations certainly possess the capability, the fact is, Russia meddled in our 2016 elections. That is the unambiguous judgment of the intelligence community and as the president said, we accept the intelligence community's conclusion," Pence said during an address at a Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity summit in New York.

"Russia's goal was to sow discord and division and to weaken the American people's faith in our democracy. And, while no actual votes were changed, any attempt to interfere in our elections is an affront to our democracy and it will not be allowed," Pence continued.

His big message: Trump is taking action to protect upcoming elections: Pence highlighted a variety of actions the Trump administration is taking to protect future elections from threats. He pointed to the FBI's decision to stand up a foreign influence task force and Homeland Security's efforts to work with states to ensure their election systems are secure from malicious actors. Pence that those efforts came from direct orders from President Trump.

Read more here.

 

WATCHDOG PRESSED TO REVIEW POLICE USE OF FACIAL RECOGNITION TECH: A group of Democrats in the House and Senate want the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to probe how law enforcement agencies have begun to use newly available facial recognition software. 

In a letter, four senators, as well as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote that the federal government needs to study whether adequate oversight is being performed for public and private use of the technology.

"Given the recent advances in commercial facial recognition technology -- and its expanded use by state, local, and federal law enforcement, particularly the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- we ask that you investigate and evaluate the facial recognition industry and its government use," the lawmakers wrote.

 

STILL WAITING:  Former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Still in the game: Will Durham's report throw a slow curveball at key political players? UFOs are an intriguing science problem; Congress must act accordingly MORE said Tuesday that he has not heard from the White House in the week since it threatened to revoke security clearances from him and other former intelligence officials who have been critical of President Trump.

"I have heard nothing other than what has come out from the White House spokesperson," Brennan said on MSNBC.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters last week that Trump is considering taking away security clearances for Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperAfghanistan disaster puts intelligence under scrutiny Domestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? MORE, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGiuliani told investigators it was OK to 'throw a fake' during campaign DOJ watchdog unable to determine if FBI fed Giuliani information ahead of 2016 election Biden sister has book deal, set to publish in April MORE and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeAndrew McCabe says Nassar case represents 'worst dereliction of duty' he's seen at FBI Capitol Police warning of potential for violence during rally backing rioters: report McCabe says law enforcement should take upcoming right-wing rally 'very seriously' MORE.

More on Brennan's comments here.

 

MANAFORT GOES TO COURT:  Former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDOJ investigating one-time Trump campaign adviser over alleged ties to Qatar: report Foreign lobbyists donated over M during 2020 election: report Former Mueller prosecutor representing Donoghue in congressional probes: report MORE was in court Tuesday for the opening day of his criminal trial on bank and fraud charges brought by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE.

Manafort appeared at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va. wearing a black business suit. His wife sat behind him in the courtroom. At one point, Manafort ran his fingers through his graying hair and gave the jury pool a quick, close-lipped smile.

Opening arguments are slated to begin Tuesday afternoon following the final selection of jury members. Tuesday morning was spent narrowing the pool of 65 jurors down to 12 members and four alternates.

The 18 counts facing Manafort include allegedly laundering $30 million from work on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians and hiding money overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes. In addition to jury selection, Tuesday morning included a hearing regarding a motion to block Ukraine-related documents from being introduced as evidence at the trial.

More on Manafort's appearance here.

Attorneys gave their opening statements Tuesday in Manafort's trial, with the defense saying the real culprit is his longtime business associate Rick Gates.

"Gates had his hand in the cookie jar," defense attorney Thomas Zehnle said during his 30-minute opening argument. He said that Gates was handling the financial operations, "and little did Paul Manafort know that Gates was lining his own pockets."

But the he prosecution said the government can prove that Manafort collected more than $60 million from his work for Ukrainian officials, and didn't report all of the income.

"There's nothing wrong with being successful or rich, but when you sign a federal tax return you swear you have reported all your income," Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye said during his opening statement.

Our Lydia Wheeler was there for the trial. More on opening arguments and day one of the trial from her here.

 

A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: Who are you wearing?

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The tech revolution hasn't revolutionized economic growth

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

The Department of Justice and FBI are expected to "announce arrests and indictments in a major international cyber investigation," at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Stay tuned.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will have an open hearing at 9:30 a.m. where third-party social media experts will testify on foreign influence operations and their use of social media platforms. GOOD TIMING. This hearing comes one day after the Facebook news about a new disinformation campaign.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Treasury highlights ways to bolster financial tech companies. (The Hill)

Nielsen responds to new Facebook election report: 'This threat is very real.' (The Hill)

An Iowa hospital warned 1.4 million patients that their personal information may have been accessed. (Des Moines Register)

Trump nominates a candidate for a top IT post at the Department of Veterans Affairs. (FedScoop)

A bipartisan pair of senators has introduced legislation to bolster Homeland Security's cyber incident response teams.

Yale University says that Social Security numbers were accessed in a data breach. (NBC Connecticut)

FTC warns of government imposter scams. (NextGov)