Hillicon Valley: FBI fires Strzok after anti-Trump tweets | Trump signs defense bill with cyber war policy | Google under scrutiny over location data | Sinclair's troubles may just be beginning | Tech to ease health data access | Netflix CFO to step down

Hillicon Valley: FBI fires Strzok after anti-Trump tweets | Trump signs defense bill with cyber war policy | Google under scrutiny over location data | Sinclair's troubles may just be beginning  | Tech to ease health data access | Netflix CFO to step down
© Greg Nash

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

 The FBI has fired Peter Strzok, the counterintelligence agent who came under scrutiny for sending disparaging text messages about President Trump and other political figures during the 2016 election.

Strzok's lawyer, Aitan Goelman, confirmed the firing, which took place on Friday. He blasted the decision in a statement Monday, saying the "Deputy Director of the FBI overruled the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and departed from established precedent by firing 21-year FBI veteran Peter Strzok."


"The decision to fire Special Agent Strzok is not only a departure from typical Bureau practice, but also contradicts Director [Christopher] Wray's testimony to Congress and his assurances that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters," Goelman continued in the statement.

Strzok, a 21-year veteran of the bureau, has faced a barrage of attacks from Trump and Republicans after an internal investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed he had sent messages critical of the then-Republican candidate during the 2016 presidential race to then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page. The two were having an extramarital affair at the time.

GOP critics say Strzok's texts with Page are clear evidence of anti-Trump bias. They argue the pair's disdain toward Trump may have influenced two of the FBI's key probes, given Strzok's central role in both the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic insiders stay on the sidelines in 2020 race Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 The Hill's Campaign Report: High stakes at last Democratic debate before Super Tuesday MORE's use of a private email server while secretary of State and the beginnings of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan 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 probe into Russia's election interference.

Democrats, as well as Strzok's lawyer, have claimed that the attacks on Strzok are an attempt to undermine Mueller's probe.

"It is a decision that produces only one winner - those who seek to harm our country and weaken our democracy," Goelman's statement continues.

Read more here.


President TrumpDonald John TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE on Monday responded to the news by tweeting "finally."

"Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI - finally. The list of bad players in the FBI & DOJ gets longer & longer. Based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the Witch Hunt, will it be dropped? It is a total Hoax. No Collusion, No Obstruction - I just fight back!"


TRUMP SIGNS DEFENSE POLICY BILL: The final version of an annual defense policy bill sets new authorities for the Department of Defense to deter and respond to attacks in cyberspace, including establishing the first U.S. policy on cyber warfare.

Following House and Senate negotiations, a conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) released Monday says the United States should be able to use every option on the table, including offensive cyber capabilities.

Read up on the cyber warfare policy here and the signing here.


EVERY STEP YOU TAKE, EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE, GOOGLE WILL BE WATCHING YOU: A new Associated Press report out Monday shows that Google still tracks your location even if you, well, turn off location tracking.

The story shows that the internet giant stores location data about users even after they toggle off the "Location History" setting for their account. This is true both for Android and iPhone users who use Google's services.

"There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people's experience, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services," a Google spokesperson told the AP. "We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time."

Still, some critics, like former FCC chief technologist Jonathan Mayer, think that Google is being dishonest about its practices.

"If you're going to allow users to turn off something called 'Location History,' then all the places where you maintain location history should be turned off," Mayer said. "That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have."

Read more here, and check out the AP's step-by-step guide for telling Google to stop tracking you.


WHO'S IN THE HOUSE? THE 'SECURE ELECTIONS ACT': Four lawmakers on the powerful House Intelligence Committee, including two Republicans, are introducing legislation to help states secure the nation's digital election infrastructure against cyberattacks following Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The bill, which is a companion to a measure in the upper chamber spearheaded by Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordThe Hill's Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle The Hill's Morning Report - Trump defense rests, GOP struggles to bar witnesses MORE (R-Okla.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE (D-Minn.), is a direct response to the effort by Moscow's hackers to target state websites and other systems involved in the electoral process in the run-up to the 2016 vote.

"Although the Russian government didn't change the outcome of the 2016 election, they certainly interfered with the intention of sowing discord and undermining Americans' faith in our democratic process," said Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons MORE (R-Fla.) in a statement Friday.

"There's no doubt in my mind they will continue to meddle in our elections this year and in the future."

The Secure Elections Act, introduced by Reps. Rooney, Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely MORE (R-S.C.), Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesHouse Republicans boycott public Intelligence panel hearing Democrats criticize Medal of Freedom for Limbaugh as 'slap in the face' Twitter users invoke Merrick Garland after McConnell, Graham comments on impeachment trial MORE (D-Conn.) and Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellSanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements Biden gains endorsement from Alabama's lone Democratic House rep House panel advances Trump's new NAFTA MORE (D-Ala.), would set up a voluntary grant program for states to replace outdated, paperless voting machines with those that provide a paper trail that can be audited in the event a result is called into question.

The bill, like its companion in the Senate, is also designed to improve information sharing between state and federal officials on cyber threats to elections.

Why this is significant: Lankford and Klobuchar led a bipartisan cadre of senators introducing the original version of the Secure Elections Act back in December. However, the development Friday is the first clear sign of the measure gaining traction in the House. Read more.


OH-MY-ROSA: Omarosa Manigault NewmanOmarosa Onee Manigault NewmanThe Memo: Impeachment's scars cut deep with Trump, say those who know him Author of anonymous 'resistance' NYT op-ed to publish book Juan Williams: Black Republicans call out Trump — finally — on race MORE says she recorded conversations during her time at the White House, including her "you're fired" conversation with chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE in the White House Situation Room.

"This is a White House where everybody lies ... you have to have your back," Manigault Newman said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on why she recorded her conversation with Kelly.

On Monday, in an even more shocking move, Manigault Newman released a secret recording of a call with President Trump.

The bottom-line: The Situation Room is supposed to be technology free-zone, though it is a trust-based honor system. So you better bet this will call into question its security protocols. Read more here and here.

And from The Hill's Niall Stanage, a look at how the furor around Omarosa shows no signs of cooling.


SINCLAIR'S PROBLEMS MAY JUST BE BEGINNING: Sinclair Broadcast Group's failed efforts to merge with Tribune Media and build a conservative media powerhouse may be just the start of the broadcasting giant's problems.

Tribune called the deal off on Thursday and filed a lawsuit against Sinclair for $1 billion. The suit alleges that its would-be business partner broke the terms of their merger agreement and jeopardized the deal by arrogantly dismissing the concerns of officials at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice.

The merger's collapse was a stunning reversal of fortune for conservative broadcaster Sinclair. The conventional wisdom a few months ago was that Sinclair's proposal would be approved, giving the company the ability to reach nearly three quarters of the country's television audience. Now, Sinclair is facing questions about whether it's even fit to hold a broadcasting license.

Last month, the FCC accused Sinclair of misleading the agency about proposals related to the deal and voted to send the merger to an administrative law judge, a move that ultimately caused Tribune to back away.

"That is the absolute worst thing you can do as far as the FCC is concerned," said Gigi Sohn, a former Democratic adviser at the agency.

Read more here.


DRAMA @ DEFCON: Several women at DEFCON, the annual hacking conference, were rattled after hotel security at Caesar's Palace allegedly burst into their rooms in order to carry out a security sweep, a practice that is being instituted following the Las Vegas shooting.

As they sought to boost security at the hotel, they clamped down on their customers' privacy.

According to some accounts, the security officials flashed ID cards with "worn off" pictures or pointed to the "security" patch sewn on their shirts.

Some women said this was inadequate, stating that they should be able to authenticate that the guards are who they say they are. In addition to calling for the security guards producing a government-issued ID, they said front desk should've produced the security guards' full names over the phone so that the women could ask the guards through the door to announce their names and make sure they size up.

Otherwise, this creates a situation where a woman's security is at risk, said Katie Mousourris.

"If Caesars Palace won't create a simple process for authenticating hotel personnel when guests request it, then women will be assaulted as a direct result of their lack of accepting my feedback & that of other security professionals here. They should be held 100% at legal fault," she tweeted.


PROSECUTORS REST THEIR CASE AGAINST MANAFORT: Prosecutors in the criminal case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortPresident Trump's assault on checks and balances: Five acts in four weeks Free Roger Stone Trump tweets test Attorney General Barr MORE rested their case on Monday, according to multiple media reports. More on that here.


NICE TRY: A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has rejected an effort by a Russian company to get charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller dismissed.

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, who was appointed by President Trump, on Monday denied a motion by Concord Management and Consulting LLC to dismiss an indictment on the grounds that Mueller was appointed unlawfully by Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinAttorney General Barr is in a mess — and has no one to blame but himself Graham requests interviews with DOJ, FBI officials as part of probe into Russia investigation DOJ won't charge former FBI Deputy Director McCabe MORE, who is overseeing the Russia investigation.

The company -- which reportedly has ties to Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a Russian businessman better known as "Putin's chef" because of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin -- is accused of funding a Russian troll farm that used social media to sow discord among the American public in a broader plot to interfere in the election.

A U.S.-based attorney filed a motion in June asking the court to dismiss the charges, arguing that Rosenstein violated the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution when he tapped Mueller to spearhead the Russia investigation in May 2017. Friedrich struck down his argument on Monday. Read more.


MORE MUELLER? There are growing signs that special counsel Robert Mueller is narrowing his focus on Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneRepublicans give Barr vote of confidence Key juror questioned in Roger Stone case Trump attacks Stone juror during hearing on motion for new trial MORE in his investigation into Russian interference in the election, prompting widespread speculation that the longtime adviser to President Trump is likely a target in the probe. More on that here.


TECH + WHITE HOUSE TACKLE HEALTH DATA: Major technology companies on Monday announced their commitment to making it easier to share data across the healthcare sector, in a move backed by the White House.

On Monday, during the Blue Button 2.0 Developer Conference, a group of technology companies said that they're pushing to make data more accessible for the healthcare industry and providers, with the intention of reducing costs by improving ease of access.

The companies such as Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce and Oracle as well as a tech lobbying group they're members of, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), all pledged their support to improving healthcare data interoperability.

Matt Lira, a White House senior advisor who works in the Office of American Innovation, praised the move.

"Today's announcements represent a watershed moment toward fostering more innovation in America's healthcare systems," he said in a statement to The Hill, expressing optimism with the tech sectors growing healthcare work.

Read more here.


TWITTER SAYS SOME ALEX JONES POSTS VIOLATED RULES: A Twitter spokesperson says several posts by InfoWars host Alex Jones and flagged by CNN violated the site's content policy, but that just two of them are recent enough for the company to take action against Jones' accounts.

The spokesperson told CNN Friday that seven posts out of more than a dozen reported by the network in an article on Thursday violated the site's content policy, including some tweets containing degrading messages about religious groups or gender identities, and others spreading conspiracy theories about February's mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The remarks follow less than a day after a Twitter executive told CNN that such messages violating the company's policies had not occurred, arguing that "we would have taken action" to delete them.

Read more here.


LONGTIME NETFLIX CFO TO STEP DOWN: Netflix announced on Monday that its longtime Chief Financial Officer (CFO) David Wells will be stepping down.

Wells has been part of the company since 2004 and has served as CFO since 2010. Netflix said he would stay on as it searches for his replacement.

"It's been 14 wonderful years at Netflix, and I'm very proud of everything we've accomplished," Wells said in a statement.

Read more here.


COURT STAYS FCC MOVE TO CUT TRIBAL BENEFITS: A federal court has blocked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from making changes to a broadband subsidy program that would have effectively eliminated benefits for many Native Americans living on tribal lands.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of the FCC's order, saying that it would likely cause significant loss of telecommunications service to tribal areas.

"While there may be some public benefit to eliminating unnecessary spending, the Tribal Lifeline program has been in existence for nearly two decades and the Federal Communications Commission has not demonstrated that allowing it to continue in its current form while these consolidated cases remain pending will result in significant harm to the government or the public at large," the court wrote in its order.

Read more here.


FAX HAX: Often overlooked office fax machines pose a huge vulnerability to the cybersecurity of businesses and other organizations, according to a new study.

Many such machines run on decades-old protocols that are easy for hackers to penetrate, says Israel-based soft­ware com­pany Check Point's study.

The study doesn't focus on any hacks of actual fax machines, but explains how such an attack could occur and how it would work.

The process is fairly straightforward for hackers.

Most fax lines are connected to an organization's larger IT network, so after a cyber intruder makes their way into an insecure fax machine, everything else, regardless of what other cyber protections are in place, can become easy targets.

Read more here.


A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: The panacea to all our future problems.


TIP OF THE DAY: If the hotel front desk calls and asks for your credit card information, think twice.



The House is still on recess, but the Senate is back in on Wednesday.



Researchers say thirty percent of U.S. House candidates' websites are vulnerable. (Reuters)

The scammers who took advantage of MoviePass. (BuzzFeed)

Was Aaron Sorkin right about the internet? (The Ringer)

France bans phones in schools to battle tech addiction. (The Wall Street Journal)

Inside Twitter's struggle over what gets banned. (The New York Times)

State Department cable indicates Russian hackers targeted Swedish news sites. (BuzzFeed)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants answers about Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world Bottom Line MORE's election hacking claims. (CNN)

Now we have a 'Hack the Marine Corps.' (Fifth Domain)