SPONSORED:

Hillicon Valley: Amazon poised to escalate Pentagon 'war cloud' fight | FCC's move to target Huawei garners early praise | Facebook sues Israeli firm over alleged WhatsApp hack | Blue Dog Dems push election security funding

Hillicon Valley: Amazon poised to escalate Pentagon 'war cloud' fight | FCC's move to target Huawei garners early praise | Facebook sues Israeli firm over alleged WhatsApp hack | Blue Dog Dems push election security funding
© Getty Images

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, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills)

 

JEDI FIGHT ENTERS NEW PHASE: The fight over the Pentagon's $10 billion "war cloud" contract is entering a new phase after the Department of Defense (DOD) awarded the lucrative contract to Microsoft over rival Amazon in a shocking move.

All eyes are now on Amazon, which is seen as likely to take the fight over the Pentagon's decision to court or before the government's top auditing office.

ADVERTISEMENT

Democrats and industry watchers are raising the possibility that the process was swayed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE, who publicly called on the DOD to investigate the contract over the summer. Trump questioned if the process unfairly favored Amazon, long seen as the front-runner.

Experts say it's unprecedented: A challenge from Amazon's cloud-computing arm, Amazon Web Services (AWS), involving allegations that the president improperly intervened in the contract process would be unprecedented. Some of the top federal contracting experts in the country told The Hill they can't think of any similar case in recent history.

"We've had other contracts that have had major issues which were fought out in the public but none of which I'm aware where the president is alleged to have somehow tried to influence the procurement process," Dave Drabkin, a former top procurement executive at the General Services Administration, told The Hill.

Steven Kelman, former head of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement and current professor of public management at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, called the president's involvement in a specific contract "extremely unusual, close to unheard of."

"It's against the norms and expectations of a system," Kelman said.

Trump's involvement: Over the summer, Trump publicly questioned whether the JEDI contract was written with Amazon in mind, touting the argument that had been circulated for months by Amazon's cloud-computing rival Oracle and a procession of Republican lawmakers.

During a news conference, Trump said, "I'm getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon. They're saying it wasn't competitively bid."

Meanwhile, Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.Don John TrumpPresident says Trump Jr. doing 'very well' after COVID-19 diagnosis Trump has not prepared a concession speech: report Trump's company paid at least .5M by federal government: report MORE, has publicly referred to the JEDI contract as the "corrupt #BezosBailout," claiming it was written to bolster profits for the Amazon chief. The president's public remarks about JEDI, paired with his open antagonism toward Bezos, has raised serious questions over whether Trump weighed in on Microsoft's behalf in order to burn Amazon.

"The President's public comments about the JEDI contract have been well outside the norm," Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinPressure grows to reinstall White House cyber czar Hillicon Valley: Biden expected to take hard line on foreign interference | EU files antitrust charges against Amazon | Facebook takes down Bannon-linked network Biden's hard stand on foreign election interference signals funding fight MORE (D-R.I.) said in a statement to The Hill. "If the President in fact took additional steps to influence the contract award, that would be a deeply disturbing development."

Read more on the JEDI saga here. 

 

WHAT WAY NOW: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving aggressively to ban companies from using federal subsidies for equipment from Chinese telecommunications groups Huawei and ZTE, and earning initial praise from lawmakers and industry groups.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns IRS races to get remaining stimulus checks to low-income households Hillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software MORE (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and a former technology executive, told The Hill on Tuesday that he was "pleased to see the FCC address the threat to network security posed by vendors such as Huawei and ZTE," calling it a "critical first step."

But Warner also said Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai should have acted sooner and he "urged" the Trump administration to "work with Congress to pass legislation to help rural carriers remove legacy equipment and to harden the U.S. telecommunications supply chain."

"There is a lot of work left to be done," Warner added.

The proposed rules, rolled out by Pai on Monday, would bar U.S. telecom groups from using funds from the FCC's Universal Services Fund (USF) to buy equipment from companies deemed national security threats, and would designate Huawei and ZTE as such.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg and Dorsey return for another hearing | House passes 5G funding bill | Twitter introduces 'fleets' House approves legislation providing 0 million to boost US 5G efforts MORE (R-Ore.) told The Hill on Tuesday that he would "want to look at" the proposals before commenting on them, but that he was "probably supportive of them."

Read more on the reaction here.

 

SCHOOLYARD BULLY: China accused the United States of "economic bullying behavior" after U.S. regulators proposed barring U.S. telecommunications providers from using Federal Communications Commission (FCC) funding to buy equipment from certain Chinese companies. 

China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was quoted in The Associated Press as saying that China would "resolutely oppose the U.S. abusing state power to suppress specific Chinese enterprises with unwarranted charges in the absence of any evidence."

"The economic bullying behavior of the U.S. is a denial of the market economy principle that the U.S. has always advertised," Geng said. 

He added that the action would "undermine the interests" of U.S. companies and consumers, particularly in rural regions. 

"We would like to urge the U.S. once again to stop abusing the concept of national security," Geng said.

Read more here. 

 

WARNING FROM WARNER: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is urging Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Facebook content moderators demand more workplace protections | Ousted cyber official blasts Giuliani press conference | Tech firms fall short on misinformation targeting Latino vote Facebook says AI is aiding platform's ability to remove hate speech Facebook content moderators demand more workplace COVID-19 protections MORE to reverse course on the company's recently announced policy not to fact-check advertisements purchased by politicians. 

Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to Zuckerberg on Monday night questioning the shift in policy at Facebook in regards to political advertisements, with ads bought by politicians not subject to the same third-party fact-checking as other advertisements on the platform. 

"Facebook's apparent lack of foresight or concern for the possible damages caused by this policy concerns me," wrote Warner. 

Warner cited concerns that around 68 percent of Americans use Facebook and interact with the platform more than they do with traditional news sources such as television, but that the social media giant is not subject to the same strict rules around political advertising that TV, radio and broadcast organizations are. 

"In making strides not to continue contributing to the coarsening of our political debate, and the undermining of our public institutions, at a minimum, Facebook should at least adhere to the same norms of other traditional media companies when it comes to political advertising," he wrote. 

Read more here.

 

WHATSAPP SUES ISRAELI FIRM: Facebook on Tuesday sued an Israeli cyber surveillance firm over allegations that it hacked around 1,400 WhatsApp users earlier this year.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is alleging that the Israeli NSO Group exploited the encrypted platform in a hacking spree that targeted journalists, human rights activists and other civil society players. 

"This is the first time that an encrypted messaging provider is taking legal action against a private entity that has carried out this type of attack against its users," WhatsApp said in a blog post on Tuesday. 

In May, WhatsApp urged its 1.5 billion users to update their apps as it patched the vulnerability that gave that gave hackers access to user's phones. Now, it is pinning the attack directly to the NSO Group. 

In court filings with U.S. District Court in San Francisco, WhatsApp is alleging that the NSO Group sent malware to more than 1,000 of its users. That "spyware" allegedly allowed the NSO Group's clients to surveil users' messages. 

Facebook is claiming that the NSO used its software to access messages sent on WhatsApp as well as other messaging platforms including Apple's iMessage.

Read more on the allegations here.

 

BLUE DOGS PUSH FOR ELECTION SECURITY: Leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition on Tuesday urged House and Senate leaders to provide states with election security funds as part of the ongoing appropriations process.

The Coalition, which consists of 26 moderate Democrats, wrote a letter to the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees asking for their support in including $600 million to be given to states in order to bolster election security as part of the ongoing appropriations process.

"In light of the proven threat posed by Russia--and possibly other foreign powers--to our democratic process, we believe the final bill should provide $600 million or as close to it as possible," the leaders of the Coalition wrote.

They also asked that when the House and Senate meet to negotiate their bills that language requiring the funds to go towards improving the cybersecurity of elections also be added, such as providing cybersecurity training for election officials and moving towards voter-verified paper ballots.

The letter was signed by Reps. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyWhy it's time for a majority female Cabinet Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Bank lobbying group launches ad backing Collins reelection bid MORE (D-Fla.), Tom O'Halleran (D-Ariz.), Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaCriminalization that never should have been: Cannabis Man arrested, charged with threatening to attack Muslims in Germany Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California MORE (D-Calif.), Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornWhat should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (D-Okla.) and Jeff Van DrewJeff Van DrewThe Hill's Campaign Newsletter: Election Day – Part 4 Van Drew fends off challenge from Kennedy after party switch Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night MORE (D-N.J.).

Read more here. 

 

INTERESTING PET ISSUE: Bay Area activist Adriel Hampton announced Monday he will run for California governor to draw attention to what he believes are pitfalls of Facebook's standards for political advertising by running deliberately false advertisements.

The social media platform has come under fire for running ads by politicians and candidates without fact-checking them, refusing requests by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE's presidential campaign to remove ads featuring false claims about his connections to Ukraine.

Last week, the "Really Online Lefty League," a political action committee for which Hampton serves as treasurer, began running an ad on Facebook that splices together audio of Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) saying "Simply put, we believe in the Green New Deal."

What Hampton's thinking: "I think we have some pretty serious issues of corporations now basically running society and I think Facebook is the grossest example of that, because it covers our corporations, our entertainment and our media," Hampton told The Hill.

Zuckerberg is not his only target as a candidate, however; Hampton told The Hill he's also seeking to draw attention to what he says is misconduct by Pacific Gas & Electric, which has been sharply criticized for its handling of mandatory power shutoffs in the state amid a series of fires, saying Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomOne of Gov. Newsom's children quarantines after potential COVID-19 exposure No thank you, Dr. Fauci Biden administration should restore, strengthen consumer protections MORE (D) has been "the beneficiary of PG&E largesse for 20 years."

"If you can run a campaign that's against Donald Trump, against Mark Zuckerberg, against PG&E, against Gavin Newsom, it's a pretty damn good way to kick off a campaign for governor, and I think it's a good way to keep these issues in the spotlight," Hampton said. "I have kids and I f---ing freak out about what's going on in our society. and I think this is something I can do to fight back."

Read more here. 

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Dolphins are awesome 

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Playing with fire: Global offensive cyber operations

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

The U.S. Army didn't use the tools it bought from a hacking team (Motherboard)

A cybersecurity firm's sharp rise and stunning collapse (The New Yorker) 

Silicon Valley should take Josh Hawley's war on Big Tech seriously (Vox Recode)