Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers

Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers
© Greg Nash

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DEMS REQUEST BRIEFING ON FOREIGN ADVERSARIES: Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on Monday requested a classified counterintelligence briefing from the FBI, citing concerns that members of Congress are being targeted by a "concerted foreign interference campaign" ahead of the November elections.

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Sunday shows preview: Pelosi announces date for infrastructure vote; administration defends immigration policies GOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol Democrats' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan MORE (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman 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 (D-Calif.) and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member 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.) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray requesting the all-members briefing take place before the August congressional recess.

“We are gravely concerned, in particular, that Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November,” the Democratic leaders wrote.  

A congressional official told The Hill that the request was made based on a “classified addendum” included in the letter to Wray that “draws, in large part, from the Executive Branch’s own reporting and analysis.”

“The counterintelligence experts at the FBI must provide the full Congress with a defensive counterintelligence briefing on these threats before the August recess,” the official added. 

The Democratic leaders asked that the FBI provide details of the briefing by later in the day on Monday, citing the “ongoing nature of these threats” for the quick turnaround.

“Given the seriousness and specificity of these threats, as members of congressional leadership and the congressional intelligence committees we believe it is imperative that the FBI provide a classified defensive briefing to all Members of Congress and that the briefing draw on all-source intelligence information and analysis, consistent with due regard for the protection of sensitive intelligence sources and methods,” the leaders wrote to Wray. 

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Read more about the request here.

PRESSURE ON ELECTION SECURITY: Former national security leaders from Democratic and Republican administrations joined a coalition of left-leaning advocacy groups on Monday in urging Congress to provide states with funds to allow elections to move forward during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and John KerryJohn KerryOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — Senate Finance chair backs budget action on fossil fuel subsidies Kerry: 'We can't get where we need to go' in climate fight if China isn't joining in MORE, former Homeland Security Secretaries Michael Chertoff, Tom Ridge and Janet Napolitano, 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 Secretary of Defense Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelAfghan interpreter who helped rescue Biden: 'If they find me, they will kill me' Afghan interpreter who helped extract Biden, other senators in 2008 asks president to save him Democrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance MORE and more than two dozen other leaders sent a letter to House and Senate leaders calling on Congress to provide the funds.

“We know that hostile foreign actors like China, Iran and Russia seek to cast doubt on the integrity of our electoral systems,” they wrote. “These actors influence Americans by exploiting fear and confusion around the voting process. Failing to make sure that all citizens can vote safely and securely will only give them material to further erode faith in our democratic system.”

The leaders asked that Congress include funding to shore up elections in the next COVID-19 stimulus package, noting that the previous $400 million appropriated in the stimulus bill signed into law by 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 in March was not nearly enough. Experts argue that states will need up to $4 billion to put on safe and secure elections this year. 

The letter, spearheaded by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, was sent the same day a coalition of left-leaning advocacy groups launched a week of action in an effort to pressure the Senate to approve election funds as part of the House-passed HEROES Act. 

The groups are pressuring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation We don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble MORE (R-Ky.) to allow a floor vote on the Democratic-sponsored package, which includes $3.6 billion to help states address challenges including an increase in mail-in voting, early voting and training poll workers. 

The coalition is urging McConnell to pass the bill this week when the Senate returns from recess, arguing that time is running out for the funds to be put to use before November. 

The groups pressuring the Senate to act include All On The Line, Color Of Change, Let America Vote/End Citizens United Action Fund, Indivisible, Public Citizen, Stand Up America, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 

Read more about the initiative here.

REPUBLICANS URGE RETALIATION: The top Republicans on three House committees urged President Trump Monday to crack down on efforts by Chinese government-backed hackers to target and steal health data and research related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE (R-Ore.), Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab Top Foreign Affairs Republican seeks declassification of Afghan intel House passes bill to compensate 'Havana syndrome' victims MORE (R-Texas) and Financial Service Committee ranking member Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryBiden taps big bank skeptic to for top regulatory post Lawmakers introduce bill to create commemorative coins to honor working dogs Lobbying world MORE (R-N.C.) detailed their concerns in a letter, raising the idea of levying sanctions against the hacking efforts by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

“For many years, the PRC has perpetrated cyber-attacks on Americans, our financial institutions, and even the U.S. government itself,” the GOP members wrote. “The response to this orchestrated malicious activity was always muted, however, with hopes that leniency toward PRC aggression would foster greater economic cooperation and deeper diplomatic ties.”

The Republican leaders noted that the previous strategy had the “opposite effect” of discouraging malicious Chinese cyber activity, instead allowing Beijing “to proceed down another path, which threatens U.S. and global security.”

The letter was sent after the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned in May that Chinese government-backed hackers were targeting U.S. groups working on vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. 

The agencies warned that the hackers had been “observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research,” noting that these actions could endanger the ability to fight the virus. 

Federal agencies in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada teamed up last week to warn that Russian hackers were also targeting groups tied to COVID-19 research. 

The Republican lawmakers pointed to this warning in calling on Trump to take action, arguing in favor of the Treasury Department levying sanctions on Chinese-backed hackers that target Americans through cyberattacks.

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Read more about the effort here.

TELEHEALTH EXPANSION: Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-Ore.) on Monday released a proposal to expand telehealth services on a permanent basis.

Telehealth has grown in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic as a safer alternative to in-person visits.

The services help doctors work with patients diagnosed with COVID-19 without putting themselves at risk. It also helps providers care for high-risk patients who might contract the disease if forced to leave their homes for medical visits.

Congress boosted funding for and streamlined access to telehealth for Medicare recipients for the duration of the public health emergency tied to the pandemic.

Wyden's proposal would make those changes permanent, giving Medicare beneficiaries the option to use telehealth for commonplace medical visits and mental health services.

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Read more about the proposal here.

UPDATE ON TWITTER: Twitter said that hackers were successful in manipulating several of the social media company’s employees into handing over credentials for internal systems, sparking last week’s massive hack of many of the platform’s highest-profile accounts.

Twitter said in a blog post Saturday that hackers were able to gain access, change passwords and send tweets for 45 users and completely download data, including private messages, of eight users. The hack mostly targeted prominent profiles, like those of former President Obama and billionaire Warren Buffett, but no data was downloaded from verified accounts. 

The platform also declined to reveal some details of the hack, noting the hackers may have tried to sell usernames or read private messages of any prominent users while logged into their accounts. 

“There are some details — particularly around remediation — that we are not providing right now to protect the security of the effort,” the company said. “We are continuing our forensic review of all of the accounts to confirm all actions that may have been taken.” 

Moving forward, the tech company said it is still working to restore access to all accounts that may still be locked, further “[secure] our systems to prevent future attacks” and implement “company-wide training to guard against social engineering tactics to supplement the training employees receive during onboarding and ongoing phishing exercises throughout the year.” 

Read more about the investigation here. 

COPYRIGHT COMPLAINT: Twitter has removed a video on a post retweeted by President Trump in response to a copyright claim, marking the latest instance in which the tech company has taken action against content shared by the president.

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to The Hill on Sunday that the company took the step after receiving a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice from a rights holder. The company said that according to its copyright policy, "we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by copyright owner or their authorized representative."

The tweet in question was shared by White House aide Dan Scavino and included a Trump campaign video with Linkin Park music in the background, according to The Verge. The band said in a statement shared on Twitter late Saturday that it had issued a "a cease and desist" over the Trump camp's use of its music. 

The Lumen Database, a database of legal requests to remove online material, showed that a copyright notice was filed in response to Scavino's tweet on Saturday.

By Sunday afternoon, Scavino's tweet was no longer on the president's Twitter feed. However the tweet itself was not deleted. In place of the video, a message now reads: "This media has been disabled in response to a report by the copyright owner."

Read more about the incident here.

RUSSIA PUSHES BACK: Andrei Kelin, Russia’s ambassador to the U.K., dismissed allegations the Kremlin is seeking to steal research on potential coronavirus vaccines.

"I don't believe in this story at all, there is no sense in it," Kelin told the BBC’s Andrew Marr.

The U.S., Canada and UK alleged last week that Russian security services are operating an ongoing attempt to steal intellectual property relating to vaccine research.

"Russian cyber actors are targeting organisations involved in coronavirus vaccine development, UK security officials have revealed," the United Kingdom's National Cyber Security Centre said in a statement last Thursday.

“The National Security Agency (NSA), along with our partners, remains steadfast in its commitment to protecting national security by collectively issuing this critical cybersecurity advisory as foreign actors continue to take advantage of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” NSA Cybersecurity Director Anne Neuberger said in a statement.

Meanwhile, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has also accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the country’s 2019 general election through stolen documents, which Kelin also dismissed.

"I do not see any point in using this subject as a matter of interference," he added. "We do not interfere at all. We do not see any point in interference because for us, whether it will be [the] Conservative Party or Labour's party at the head of this country, we will try to settle relations and to establish better relations than now."

Read more here.

Lighter click: Take a moment to smile

An op-ed to chew on: Moving beyond skepticism in the pandemic: Automation for the public good

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Google promises privacy with virus app but can still collect location (New York Times / Natasha Singer)

Corporate giants shut down Trump texting program (Politico / Alex Isenstadt and John Hendel)

What comes after Zoom fatigue (Recode / Adam Clark Estes)

Inside the Federal Trade Commission's Facebook probe (Axios / Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold)