Hillicon Valley: Pentagon chief orders probe into 'war cloud' contract | Oversight Republicans want briefings from Capital One, Amazon on breach | Facebook removes Saudi-tied disinformation campaign | Senate confirms Trump's first chief technology officer

Hillicon Valley: Pentagon chief orders probe into 'war cloud' contract | Oversight Republicans want briefings from Capital One, Amazon on breach | Facebook removes Saudi-tied disinformation campaign | Senate confirms Trump's first chief technology officer
© 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. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).


ESPER ORDERS JEDI REVIEW: Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech Trump's Navy secretary spent over M on travel during pandemic: report Court declines to dismiss Amazon challenge against JEDI decision MORE, the newly-appointed Pentagon chief, ordered a review of the Department of Defense's (DOD) "war cloud" contract after President TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE threatened to investigate whether it was written with a bias towards Amazon.

A DOD spokeswoman confirmed the investigation in a statement on Thursday.

"Keeping his promise to Members of Congress and the American public, Secretary Esper is looking at the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program," Elissa Smith, the DOD spokeswoman, said, referring to the highly controversial $10 billion cloud-computing contract.


"No decision will be made on the program until he has completed his examination," she added.

Esper was sworn in as Defense secretary late last month, after the Senate confirmed him in a 90-8 vote.

"Secretary Esper is committed to ensuring our warfighters have the best capabilities, including artificial intelligence, to remain the most lethal force in the world, while safeguarding taxpayer dollars," the statement notes.

Esper's investigation comes two years after the JEDI contract was announced, and months into a bitter battle between some of the country's largest tech companies over who will get to profit from the deal.

Trump raised the stakes a few weeks ago when he publicly said that he would order his administration to look "closely" at allegations that the DOD favored Amazon when it drew up the contract.

Read more on the JEDI battle here.


SO WHAT HAPPENED HERE?: Top Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday demanded briefings from both Capital One and Amazon following the breach of data for over 100 million Capital One customers that was stored through Amazon cloud storage services.

The lawmakers, including Ranking Member Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan says 'votes are there' to oust Cheney from GOP leadership Republicans float support for antitrust reform after Trump Facebook ban upheld Facebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one MORE (R-Ohio), asked that both companies provide staff-level briefings to detail the data breach by Aug. 15. The House is in recess until Sept. 9.

"The committee regularly conducts oversight of data breaches at financial institutions," Jordan and subcommittee ranking members Reps. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBoehner finally calls it as he sees it Stephen Miller launching group to challenge Democrats' policies through lawsuits A year with the coronavirus: How we got here MORE (R-N.C.) and Michael Cloud (R-Texas) wrote to Capital One CEO Richard Fairbank.

"To help us more fully understand Capital One's recent incident and its potential to affect millions of Americans, we ask that you please arrange a staff-level briefing on the incident, its nature and scope, as well as Capital One's response to the disclosure," they added.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsOvernight Health Care: AstraZeneca may have included outdated data on vaccine trial, officials say | Pelosi says drug pricing measure under discussion for infrastructure package | Biden administration extends special ObamaCare enrollment until August Pelosi: Drug pricing measure under discussion for infrastructure package Bottom line MORE (D-Md.) also expressed interest in looking into the data breach, telling The Hill in a statement on Wednesday that "our Committee has a long and bipartisan history of investigating data breaches in the government and private sector and we look forward to hearing more information about what happened from Capital One."

The breach, announced earlier this week, impacted around 100 million Americans and six million Canadians, and involved an individual gaining access to Capital One credit card applications and around 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 bank account numbers.

Read more here.


THE MAPS™: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday approved a long-awaited plan to improve the data it collects on broadband access as the agency prepares to dole out billions in subsidies to those who do not have adequate coverage.

The commission voted in favor of a proposal that would require broadband providers to offer more detailed information on where they provide coverage and where they do not. The approach to mapping broadband access will help create more "precise broadband service availability maps," Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

He said the new data could help "paint [the] clearest picture yet of which Americans have access to broadband and which do not."

The plan, the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, will require service providers to report broadband access using "shapefiles," a more precise and detailed measurement.

Under the plan, the FCC will also collect feedback from the public to ensure the information from service providers is accurate.

The FCC has been working to improve its data collection for two years.

The three Republican commissioners voted in favor of the plan, while the two Democrats partially dissented.

Read more on the mapping issue here.


FACEBOOK FOILS SAUDI DISINFORMATION EFFORT: Facebook said Thursday that it had removed an online disinformation campaign with ties to the Saudi government that was aimed at spreading propaganda across the Middle East.

It's the first time Facebook has revealed any Saudi-linked efforts to spread disinformation on its platform. The company has previously taken action against countries such as Russia and Iran.

The company's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a blog post on Thursday that it had taken down hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to the Saudi disinformation network.

"The individuals behind this activity posed as locals in countries targeted by this campaign -- often using fake accounts -- and created fictitious personas to run Pages and Groups, disseminate their content, increase engagement and drive people to an off-platform domain," Gleicher wrote. "They managed Pages that masqueraded as local news organizations."

He added that the overall message of the disinformation network was one of support for the Saudi royal family, particularly Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen; and "Vision 2030," the country's ambitious social and economic reform program.

Read more on the takedowns here.


FOLLOWING THAT NETFLIX MOVIE: Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would limit the use of voter data by political campaigns.

The legislation is being touted as the first bill "directly responding to Cambridge Analytica," the 2018 scandal that saw a right-wing political consulting firm use data on millions of Americans to target pro-Trump messaging at swing voters.

Feinstein's Voter Privacy Act seeks to give voters more control over the data collected on them by political campaigns and organizations.

Under the legislation, voters would be allowed to access that data, ask political campaigns to delete it and instruct social media platforms like Google and Facebook to stop sharing personal data with those political entities.

The legislation would intervene in the large and growing business around voter data, which campaigns increasingly use to direct their messaging.

"Today, campaigns are legally able to conduct sophisticated online surveillance of everyone in our country in order to influence individuals based on their unique psychological characteristics," Feinstein said in a statement. "This targeted manipulation not only undermines our democracy, it's a threat to basic individual freedom."

Read more on the bill here.


LOOKING FOR LOVE: Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Florida's restrictive voting bill signed into law Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Kinzinger hits GOP on 'operation #coverupJan6' over Cheney ouster plot MORE (R-Ill.) on Wednesday wrote to Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' Oversight Board achieving what government cannot Warren: Trump is 'a danger to democracy' MORE seeking answers on the proliferation of "romance scams" through the social media platform.

"Despite Facebook's stated attempts to ensure the safety and security of its users, allegations persist that the company does not always swiftly act against known fake accounts or impersonators. I have reviewed cases in which no action seems to have been taken at all," Kinzinger wrote.

"What is worse, there seems to be a lack of action to address user groups which persistently engage in illegal activity, including those groups which are used to educate other nefarious actors in the art of scamming users," he added.

Kinzinger, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, told The New York Times he has himself been the target of one common form of the con, with several women getting in touch with him believing themselves to have developed a relationship with him through Facebook due to someone else impersonating him.

A spokesperson for the company told the Times the company is reviewing Kinzinger's letter.

Read more here.


SENATE MAKES IT OFFICIAL FOR TRUMP CTO: The Senate voted on Thursday to confirm Michael Kratsios as the Trump administration's first chief technology officer and the White House's top tech adviser.

Kratsios had been serving in the position on an acting basis and as a deputy assistant to the president since 2017.

During that time, he has led the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, advising the president on issues like next-generation wireless networks and artificial intelligence.

He was confirmed by a voice vote Thursday as senators were leaving the capital for a month-long recess.

Kratsios is now just the fourth person to hold the position of CTO. President Obama created the office in 2009 to help advise on tech policy and streamline government operations.

Read more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON:  America is in an AI fight for its life.





FTC antitrust probe of Facebook scrutinizes its acquisitions. (The Wall Street Journal)

How Amazon will take over your house. (Axios)

Google parent Alphabet overtakes Apple to become new king of cash. (Financial Times)

Apple's AirDrop and password sharing features can leak iPhone numbers. (Ars Technica)