with Tonya Riley

Democrats are sounding alarms about foreign election interference and pledging to punch back hard against Russia or any other adversary that undermines U.S. voting.

In his most expansive statement to date on the subject, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pledged to “leverage all appropriate instruments of national power and make full use of my executive authority to impose substantial and lasting costs on state perpetrators [of election interference]” if he wins the White House. 

I am putting the Kremlin and other foreign governments on notice,” the former vice president said. “If elected president, I will treat foreign interference in our election as an adversarial act that significantly affects the relationship between the United States and the interfering nation’s government.” 

Democratic leaders in Congress, meanwhile, publicly released a July 13 letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray suggesting Congress itself is being used as a tool to “launder and amplify” foreign disinformation about the election. 

The letter didn't specify how that's happening but a congressional aide said the claim is based on intelligence information included in a classified addendum to the letter. The letter demands a briefing for all members of Congress. on the threats.  It was signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The muscular statements just four months before Election Day draw a marked contrast with President Trump who has been largely silent about the threat of election interference. Instead, Trump’s main election security concern has been states’ efforts to increase mail voting during the coronavirus pandemic, which he baselessly claims will lead to widespread fraud. 

Trump declined to say he’d accept November’s election results during a Fox News interview, alleging without evidence mail voting could “rig” the outcome.

The congressional Democrats’ letter may have been aimed at a GOP investigation into Biden. 

That probe, led by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), explores whether Biden’s son Hunter’s former role on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma unduly influenced Obama administration policy. There is no evidence that is the case.

Johnson dismissed the Democrats' contention, saying they're “simply wrong,” Natasha Bertrand, Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio at Politico report

Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma was also central to the House impeachment of Trump in December, which was launched after Trump asked Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to help him find dirt on Biden's family. Trump at the time seemed to embrace a conspiracy theory positing that Ukraine was responsible for the hacking campaign that undermined the 2016 contest rather than Russia as U.S. intelligence agencies and the Mueller report have confirmed. 

Fiona Hill, a former member of Trump's National Security Council, warned Republicans at the time that claims Ukraine was involved in election interference could play into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Democratic efforts come as time is running short to deliver a surge of election funding to states. 

They say that money is necessary to protect states against foreign hacking and to ensure voters can safely cast ballots during the pandemic. But they’ve faced stiff opposition from Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The last chance to secure the funding may be in the next coronavirus stimulus bill Congress is now crafting

The House passed a bill more than two months ago to deliver $3.6 billion to help states ramp up voting by mail and other changes to make voting safer and more secure during the pandemic. Senate Democrats are pushing a similar measure but have made little headway. 

The efforts got a shot in the arm yesterday when nearly three dozen top former officials from Democratic and Republican administrations sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to cooperate on the funding. 

We know that hostile foreign actors like China, Iran and Russia seek to cast doubt on the integrity of our electoral system. 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 letter states. 

Signers include former Clinton administration secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Obama secretary of state John Kerry, George W. Bush administration homeland security secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff and Gen. Michael Hayden, who served as CIA director under both Bush and Barack Obama. 

A coalition of progressive groups is also stumping for election funding this week by pushing supporters to call and email lawmakers. The group includes Color Of Change, Public Citizen, Stand Up America and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The voting rights groups National Democratic Redistricting Committee and Let America Vote are also launching a $500,000 digital ad campaign pushing for election security funding in the coronavirus stimulus bill.

Chat room

Embracing conspiracy theories has become so common in Washington that it may be difficult to separate what is prompted by Russia and other U.S. adversaries and what is home grown, Yahoo News's Jenna McLaughlin points out:

The keys

China may retaliate against European telecommunications firms if nations there ban Huawei.  

China's Ministry of Commerce is considering export controls that would stop Finnish Nokia and Swedish Ericsson from exporting Chinese-made products to other countries, Liza Lin, Stu Woon and Lingling Wei at the Wall Street Journal report. Nokia and Ericsson are Huawei’s two largest competitors for building next-generation 5G telecommunications networks. 

The discussions respond to worries European Union nations may follow the United Kingdom in banning the company from 5G over spying concerns. The United States has aggressively lobbied European allies to ban Huawei, which it says could be exploited for spying by Beijing. Huawei denies the allegations.

Both Nokia and Ericsson have thousands of employees in China. But both companies could redirect their manufacturing to other Asian countries if the Chinese government makes manufacturing there difficult, people familiar with internal discussions told the Journal.

Governments want Google to disable location tracking requirements for its coronavirus alert tech.

The technology developed by Google and Apple uses Bluetooth, not location data, to determine when people come into contact with someone infected with coronavirus. But people who use the technology in Android devices must turn on their location data for it to work. 

Governments that have built apps using the technology worry that means Google can actually track users’ locations despite claims the company would respect users’ privacy, Natasha Singer at the New York Times reports. The apps, which are being built by government health services, alert people when they've come into contact in the last 30 days with someone who reports testing positive for coronavirus. Apple phones don’t require location services to be turned on to use the tools. 

Both Latvia and Switzerland have unsuccessfully pushed Google to stop requiring users to turn on location data to use the apps. 

“Users should be able to use such proximity tracing apps without any bindings with other services,” said Sang-Il Kim, the department head for digital transformation at Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health.

Apps that use the technology can't access location data without user permission, Google spokesman Pete Voss said.

The privacy clash could also spur delays in U.S. states developing coronavirus apps. No states that have committed to using Google's software have actually deployed their apps yet, Mohana Ravindranath at Politico reports:

Israeli water facilities suffered two cyberattacks last month.

Locals repaired the damage from each attack and there was no harm or any real-world effects, Israel's Water Authority said last week, according to ZDNet.  

Hackers launched a similar attack in April seeking to cripple computers that control water flow and treatment for two districts in Israel. 

Israel did not name the actors behind the attack. But foreign intelligence officials blamed Israel’s regional nemesis Iran, Joby Warrick and Ellen Nakashima reported at the time. Iran denied any involvement. 

The attack could signal another escalation in tensions between the two countries. Some Iranian officials anonymously accused Israel of potentially being behind an attack on an Iranian nuclear plant earlier this month. It’s not clear whether that was a cyberattack or caused by a physical strike of some kind.

Hill happenings

A bill to create a White House cyber director surmounted a key House vote.

The measure was included in a major defense policy bill that still hasn't won final House approval. The measure would restore and elevate a White House cyber director position, which Trump axed in 2018. It was one of the recommendations in the Cyberspace Solarium Commission report. The measure was sponsored by commission members Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.).

The House also passed an amendment that would ban TikTok on federal phones, Politico reports.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wants to make it easier for Hong Kong tech workers to immigrate to the United States.

His new legislation responds to China's sweeping national security law that was recently extended to Hong Kong and puts the semiautonomous territory's residents under the same Internet censorship laws as mainland China. The Oregon Democrat wants to fast-track the residency and visa application process for Hong Kong residents who could be subject to political persecution under the law. 

The bill would punish the Chinese government by incentivizing the best and brightest of Hong Kong to work in America and contribute to the U.S. economy,” Wyden said. 

The bill would give priority to STEM degree holders and business owners with more than 50 employees. That could boost support for the bill in the tech industry, which is increasingly reliant on foreign talent.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) introduced a companion House bill last month.

Global Cyberspace

The U.K. failed to fully investigate whether Russia interfered in the Brexit vote, a parliamentary committee report finds.

The report asserts the Kremlin did interfere in the 2014 Scottish referendum vote citing “credible open source commentary,” Reuters reports

The report from the British parliament’s intelligence and security committee was completed in March 2019 but released today.

National security watch

DHS authorized the surveillance of protesters it says threaten monuments.

The authorization, first reported by the blog Lawfare, appears to include the monitoring of protesters' social media and other public information. The document broadly applies to individuals or groups the department says may “damage or destroy any public monument, memorial, or statue,” Shane Harris reports.

But some experts say the new memo shows Trump's willingness to abuse intelligence powers.

The new guidance is “a complete misapplication of existing authorities to benefit the president,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a former senior policy official at DHS during the George W. Bush administration and a senior fellow at the R Street Institute think tank. “Trump is morphing DHS into his private little rogue, secret army.”


  • The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing on protecting Americans from coronavirus scams today at 2:30 p.m.
  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats will host a briefing on a new report, “The New Big Brother - China and Digital Authoritarianism” today at 2:30 p.m.
  • The Senate Rules Committee will hold a hearing on general-election preparations on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

Secure log off

Rep. John Lewis (R-Ga.) touched the lives of politicians, commentators and civil rights activists who spoke about him on July 19. Lewis died at the age of 80 on July 17.

Rep. John Lewis touched the lives of politicians, commentators and civil rights activists who spoke about him on July 19. Lewis died at the age of 80 on July 17 (The Washington Post)