• The Russia connectionTwitter, Facebook face senators again

    The Senate Intelligence Committee is set to hear from two top social media executives today (Wednesday) on what they have been doing to combat the spread of propaganda and disinformation online and how they are prepared to help secure the integrity of upcoming elections. The committee will hear from Twitter Co-Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg – but one chair, reserved for Google cofounder Larry Page, may remain empty. The committee extended the invitation to Google CEO Sundar Pichai as well as Larry Page, who is CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, but the company wanted to send senior vice president Kent Walker instead. The committee made it clear it is not interested in hearing from Walker.

  • Election securityNew bill to help protect security of U.S. elections

    On Friday, four members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) introduced the Secure Elections Act, which would provide local communities and state governments with the resources needed to strengthen election systems against cyberattacks. “Hostile foreign actors have attempted and will continue to attempt to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy by attacking our electoral process,” said Representative Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), one of the bill’s sponsors. “It is our responsibility to take every precaution necessary to safeguard our elections and ensure no vote count is ever interfered with.

  • The Russia connectionBipartisan bill introduces “crushing” measures against “Kremlin aggression”

    An influential bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced a package of measures designed to “defend American security from Kremlin aggression,” including new financial sanctions and a “strong statement of support” for NATO. The bill introduced on 2 August represents at least the fourth piece of legislation circulating in Congress to punish Russia for its alleged interference in U.S. elections, its aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and other “malign” activities. “The current sanctions regime has failed to deter Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said in a statement introducing the bill. “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose crushing sanctions and other measures against [President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the U.S. electoral process, halts cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria,” Graham said.

  • The Russia connectionSenate committees to hold hearings on Russia, recommend additional punitive measures

    Two Senate committees – the Foreign Relations Committee and the Banking Committee – announced they will hold a series of hearings on Russia. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tasked Senators Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, with holding hearings on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and asked them to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter what he called “Russian malign behavior.”

  • Foreign-influence operationsNew cosponsors for the bipartisan DETER Act

    More lawmakers have joined Senators Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) in sponsoring the DETER Act. DETER uses the threat of powerful sanctions to dissuade hostile foreign powers from meddling in U.S. elections by ensuring that they know well in advance that the costs will outweigh the benefits. “We must make sure Putin understands that we will not overlook his hostilities, and he will face punishing consequences if he tries to interfere in our elections again,” Rubio said. “Vladimir Putin would like nothing more than to continue sowing discord and meddling in Western democracies without consequence. Passing this legislation would help improve Americans’ faith in their system of government and send an unmistakable signal to the Kremlin that it’s not worth trying it again,” said Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

  • Immigration & businessPrivate prison companies are influencing immigration policy

    Groundbreaking study finds increased support for punitive immigration legislation in districts with privately owned or managed ICE detention facilities. Researchers explain that in recent years, as overall crime rates have dropped nationwide, more and more private prison companies have turned to a new money-making scheme: Partnering with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to detain immigrants in facilities across the country. The researchers also ask: As the scope of private imprisonment grows, is the industry’s influence on politics growing as well?

  • The Russia connection“A clear preference for President-elect Trump”: Senate Intel Committee on Russia’s 2016 influence campaign

    On Tuesday, the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee, after sixteen months of investigation, has released the second unclassified installment of its report on the Russian election activities in 2016. The report was unanimously approved by all members of the committee. The three main takeaways: First, the January 2017 ICA [the Intelligence Community Assessment of Russia active-measures campaign to compromise the 2016 presidential election] “is a sound intelligence product”; second, “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operation”; third, “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

  • Public healthBipartisan bill offers new “pull” incentives for priority antibiotics

    Last week lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan bill to encourage the development of new antibiotics, a move one expert called the most important antibiotic legislation in a generation. Currently, only a few large drug companies are involved in antibiotic research and development, because the cost of developing the drugs is so high and profit margins are so slim. Most new developments are modifications of existing drugs, and it’s been three decades since the last new class of antibiotics was discovered.

  • EncryptionThe ENCRYPT Act protects encryption from U.S. state prying

    By David Ruiz

    It’s not just the DOJ and the FBI that want to compromise your right to private communications and secure devices—some state lawmakers want to weaken encryption, too. In recent years, a couple of state legislatures introduced bills to restrict or outright ban encryption on smartphones and other devices. Fortunately, several Congress members recently introduced their own bill to stop this dangerous trend before it goes any further.

  • China syndromeLawmakers introduce amendment on Huawei and ZTE

    A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to respond to the national-security threat posed by Chinese telecom companies like Huawei and ZTE. “Huawei and ZTE have extensive ties with the Chinese Communist Party, as well as a track record of doing business with rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran. So it’s only prudent that no one in the federal government use their equipment or services and that they receive no taxpayer dollars. Given their repeated violations of U.S. law, we cannot trust them to respect U.S. national security, and so it’s vital we hold them accountable and pass this amendment,” said Cotton.

  • China syndromeWarner questions Google, Twitter about Chinese partnerships

    U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Virginia), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on Thursday sent letters to Twitter and Google parent company Alphabet, requesting information about any data sharing agreements between the companies and Chinese vendors. “Since at least October 2012, when the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released its widely-publicized report, the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and equipment makers like Huawei and ZTE has been an area of national security concern,” Warner wrote the two companies.

  • The Russia connectionRussia conducted "unprecedented, coordinated" attacks on U.S. voting systems in 2016: Senate Intelligence Committee

    Hackers affiliated with the Russian government conducted an “unprecedented, coordinated” campaign against the U.S. voting system, including successfully penetrating a few voter-registration databases in 2016, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded. The cyberattacks targeted at least eighteen states, and possibly three more. “Russian actors scanned databases for vulnerabilities, attempted intrusions, and in a small number of cases successfully penetrated a voter registration database,” the committee said in an interim report releaed Tuesday.

  • The Russia connectionTen legislative proposals to defend America against foreign influence operations

    By David Salvo

    More than a year after Russia’s broad hacking and disinformation campaign of interference in the 2016 presidential election, and with midterm elections looming on the horizon, Congress and the Trump administration have not taken any clear action to increase U.S. defenses against the foreign interference threat. There are important steps we can, and must, take to defend our institutions against adversaries who seek to undermine them. Many of Russia’s tactics have exploited vulnerabilities in our societies and technologies, and loopholes in our laws. Some of the steps necessary to defend ourselves will involve long-term work, others will require clear action by the Executive Branch to ensure Americans are united against the threat we face, and steps to both deter and raise the costs on such actions.

  • BiothreatsFunding restored to National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures lab

    The Fort Detrick, Maryland-based National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) is no longer facing an immediate jeopardy. The federal omnibus spending bill,  released last Wednesday evening, provided full funding for the biohazard laboratory – funding which the original administration’s budget proposal eliminated.

  • The Russia connectionLawmakers urge State Department to counter Russia’s anti-Semitic propaganda

    S ix senators called on called on Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan to commit to countering anti-Semitic Russian propaganda identified by the intelligence community, the Anti-Defamation League, and social media networks. The senators pressed Sullivan to devote part of the $120 million recently provided to the State Department to counter Russian disinformation to specifically target Russian anti-Semitic propaganda.