Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Trump revokes Brennan’s security clearance | Twitter cracks down on InfoWars | AT&T hit with crypto lawsuit | DHS hosts election security exercise

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).


** BOMBSHELL ALERT ** TRUMP REVOKES BRENNAN’S SECURITY CLEARANCE: President Trump on Wednesday revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, a move that was widely viewed as an effort to retaliate against a vocal critic of the administration.

In a statement read by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at Wednesday’s press briefing, Trump accused Brennan of leveraging his status as a former government official to make “unfounded and outrageous” charges about his administration.


“Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation’s most closely held secrets and facilities, the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos,” Trump said in the statement read by Sanders.

But Sanders denied that Trump was punishing Brennan for his criticism of the president.

“Not at all,” she said in response to a reporter’s question.

Brennan has been a visceral critic of Trump’s presidency, regularly eviscerating him on Twitter, and Trump previously had floated the idea of taking away his clearance.

“As the head of the executive branch and the commander in chief, I have a unique constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information, including by controlling access to it,” Trump’s statement said.

Trump is reviewing access to classified information for several former intelligence officials — all of whom have criticized Trump publicly or have come under attack from the White House, according to the statement.

Read more here.


Brennan shoots back: “I will not relent.”

“This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics. It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out,” Brennan tweeted. “My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent.”



Former FBI Chief Michael Hayden: “It looks to me like an attempt to make us change the things we are saying when we’re asked questions on CNN or other networks,” Hayden said on CNN after the news broke.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: “Will the republic stand or fall on whether John retains his access to classified information? Of course not,” Clapper said on CNN. “The larger issue here, to me, throughout has been an infringement of First Amendment rights.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelsoi (D-Calif.): “Revoking the security clearance of an honorable patriot is a stunning abuse of power & a pathetic attempt to silence critics,” Pelosi tweeted.

Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee: “This might be a convenient way to distract attention, say a damaging story or two. But politicizing the way we guard our nation’s secrets just to punish the president’s critics is a dangerous precedent,” Warner said in a tweet.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry: “This is putting personal petty politics ahead of patriotism and national security, end of story,” Kerry tweeted. “You expect this banana republic behavior in the kind of countries that the State Department warns Americans not to travel to, but not at home in the USA.”


TWITTER CRACKS DOWN ON ALEX JONES, INFOWARS: After weeks of pressure, Twitter restricted Alex Jones’ account late last night for sharing a video that violated the company’s policies against inciting violence.

Twitter says that the enforcement action isn’t a suspension, but more of a week-long “timeout” during which Jones will be unable to tweet but can still browse the site and send direct messages to his followers.

The violation appears to be from sharing a video in which Jones urges his followers to prepare their “battle rifles” to fight media censorship. The Infowars account was also later restricted in a similar way after sharing the video.

The moves come after weeks of criticism of tech companies for allowing Jones to use their platforms to spread unfounded conspiracy theories, like that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by the government.

Last week, just about all of the major internet platforms gave Jones and Infowars the boot, with the exception of Twitter, which said that he had not violated the site’s rules.

Read more here.


AT&T HIT WITH $224 MILLION CRYPTO LAWSUIT: Cryptocurrency investor Michael Terpin on Wednesday filed a $224 million lawsuit against AT&T, accusing the telecommunications company of gross negligence, fraud and other violations after millions in online currency were allegedly stolen from his account.

Terpin alleges that the company failed to protect its customers’ private information and has willfully turned a blind eye on corrupt transactions between AT&T employees and hackers, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Terpin claims his digital coins were stolen in a SIM swap fraud and that the company’s employees “actively cooperate with hackers in SIM swap frauds by giving hackers direct access to customer information.”

A SIM card, or subscriber identification module, helps authenticate an individual’s mobile phone. Fraud can occur when a provider is tricked into transferring a victim’s phone number to a SIM card that is run by a hacker, who can use access to the phone number to reset passwords and log into the victim’s online accounts.

In Terpin’s case, he claims an imposter pretended to be him in order to obtain his telephone number from “an insider cooperating with the hacker.”

The court documents allege that the information was easily obtained because the AT&T store employee did not require the imposter to provide proper verification about Terpin’s identity.

As a result, the hackers allegedly were able to access Terpin’s personal accounts in early January through AT&T — his service provider — and make off with almost $24 million of cryptocurrency coins.

“What AT&T did was like a hotel giving a thief with a fake ID a room key and a key to the room safe to steal jewelry in the safe from the rightful owner,” the lengthy 65-page court document reads.

The company pushed back on Terpin’s claims. “We dispute these allegations and look forward to presenting our case in court,” an AT&T spokesperson said in a statement. Read more here.


DHS HOSTS ‘TABLETOP THE VOTE’: The Department of Homeland Security hosted a three-day tabletop exercise for election security this week in Washington, D.C., featuring federal officials, state and local election officials, and private vendors. The exercise involved a “simulation of a realistic scenario” to help stakeholders explore potential impacts to voter confidence, voter operations, and elections integrity. Forty-four states and D.C. participated in the exercise, as well as officials from the Departments of Defense and Justice and U.S. Cyber Command.

“The response we have received from this week’s participants has been overwhelmingly positive and we’ve identified areas we need to collectively focus on ahead of the midterm elections,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.

“In this environment, if we prepare individually, then we fail collectively, and I am grateful for everyone’s participation and partnership this week.”


ELECTION SECURITY ON THE HOUSE: American cybersecurity firm McAfee is offering state election officials free access to secure cloud software, promising to help secure voter data stored on cloud services.

The software, part of the company’s “Cloud for Secured Elections,” promises to help protect the data from being improperly shared or accessed by outside parties.

Ken Kartsen, vice president of public sector sales for McAfee, said in a statement that the software “will fill a foundational security requirement for cloud by protecting against intrusion from those who aim to tamper with the United States elections.”

The Senate earlier this month shot down a Democratic proposal to give states more funding for election security, opening the door for private companies like McAfee to step in.

States have sought to tighten up their election security efforts ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Illinois revealed that its online voter registry was hacked ahead of the 2016 election, and state officials have asked special counsel Robert Mueller to confirm that it is the state referenced as being hacked in last month’s indictment against 12 Russian military officers.


GOOGLE RELEASES POLITICAL AD ARCHIVE: Google has released a library of political advertisements purchased on its platforms, showing how much groups are spending on online campaign efforts and where they’re focusing.

The archive is a new part of their regular transparency report and comes in response to new concerns over online political advertisements after Russian misinformation campaigns.

“We designed this report for anyone interested in transparency–the information is searchable and downloadable, so that you can easily access and sort through the data,” Google said in a blog post Wednesday.

“We’re updating the report every week, so as we head into election season, anyone can see new ads that get uploaded or new advertisers that decide to run Google ads.”

Read more here.


NO SUCH THING AS A FREE CRUISE: The August heat and out-of-office emails might tempt you to go on vacation — but the FBI is warning that promises of an all-expenses-paid trip out of town probably is too good to be true.

The agency recommends ignoring robocalls, as well emails and texts from unknown sources offering the deals. And when in doubt, research the company promising the free get-away — any angry reviews should be a warning sign either way.

Read the tips here.


CONCERN ABOUT HACKERS IS ‘RISING’: On The Hill TV’s morning show “Rising,” an internet security leader warns hackers are threatening U.S. Democracy — and it’s not just happening at the voting booths. Watch the interview here.

This is quite the subject line.



The House is still on recess, but the Senate is in session. On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on oversight of the Federal Communications Commission.



SEC ramps up investigation into Elon Musk tweets. (Fox Business)

Ex-FCC chair urges tech to embrace opportunity to shape regulation. (Axios)

There was a cyberattack against a Democratic opponent of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Rolling Stone)

New cyber vulnerabilities impact Intel chips. (CyberScoop)

Security professionals spot increase in Chinese espionage linked to the Belt and Road Initiative. (Financial Times)

Tags Dana Rohrabacher Donald Trump James Clapper John Brennan John Kerry Kirstjen Nielsen Mark Warner Robert Mueller

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