with Tonya Riley

Top Democrats are slamming the Trump administration for not sharing enough information with the public about Russian efforts to interfere in November's election. 

While intelligence officials have warned that U.S. adversaries are trying to hack into political campaigns and election systems – and cited Russia, China and Iran as the biggest threats -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) say that's not enough to help voters gird themselves against social media disinformation or the sort of hacking and leaking campaign that upended Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. 

The top-line announcement that interference exists doesn't “go nearly far enough in arming the American people with the knowledge they need about how foreign powers are seeking to influence our political process,” Schumer and Pelosi warned in a statement. 

“The Russians are once again trying to influence the election and divide Americans, and these efforts must be deterred, disrupted and exposed,” they continue. The statement was also signed by House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

The push comes as Joe Biden seeks to project strength on election interference and draw a stark contrast with President Trump.

The presumptive Democratic nominee promised to punch back hard against Russia if he becomes president and “make full use of my executive authority to impose substantial and lasting costs on state perpetrators [of election interference].” 

It's also a return to form for Democrats who have consistently savaged President Trump for not taking the threat of Russian election interference seriously enough.

Trump has wavered on whether Russia was responsible for the 2016 hacks at the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. 

More recently those fights have shifted to voting by mail, which Democrats and election security advocates say is vital to ensure voter safety during the coronavirus pandemic, but Trump has claimed without evidence creates widespread fraud. House Democrats have pushed for up to $3.6 billion in election funding in Congress’s next coronavirus relief package. But a $1 trillion Republican proposal released yesterday included no money for elections.

Schumer and Pelosi knocked intelligence officials for seeming to play down Russian threats compared to China and Iran. 

National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina warned Friday that “Russia’s persistent objective is to weaken the United States and diminish our global role” by spreading disinformation. Russia’s disinformation campaigns are “designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process and denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ in America,” the statement said.  

Evanina also said that “China is expanding its influence efforts to shape the policy environment in the United States” and “Iran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions and divide the country in advance of the elections.”

Democrats complained that “gives a false sense of equivalence” of the threats the nations pose. They also said the descriptions of Russia’s actions are “so generic as to be almost meaningless.” 

We can trust the American people with knowing what to do with the information they receive and making those decisions for themselves. But they cannot do so if they’re kept in the dark about what our adversaries are doing, and how they are doing it,” the lawmakers said. “When it comes to American elections, Americans must decide.”

More from Schumer:

Republicans shot back that the Democrats were “politicizing intelligence” and hyping up the threat. 

We are confident that while the threat remains, we are far better prepared than four years ago,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said. “The intelligence community, law enforcement, election officials, and others involved in securing our elections are far better postured, and Congress dramatically better informed, than any of us were in 2016 — and our Democrat colleagues know it.”

They also accused Democrats of unfairly attacking Evanina, though the Democratic statement didn’t criticize the intelligence leader personally. 

“We believe the statement baselessly impugns his character and politicizes intelligence matters,” the lawmakers said. “Their manufactured complaint undercuts Director Evanina’s nonpartisan public outreach to increase Americans’ awareness of foreign influence campaigns right at the beginning of his efforts.” 

State officials are also growing frustrated with limited information about election threats coming from the administration. 

During a meeting of state election officials last week, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) criticized the Department of Homeland Security for not sharing enough information about foreign disinformation operations targeting elections. When DHS does share that information with state officials, it’s often under conditions that bar them from sharing it with voters, she told me after the conference. 

The federal government has not led in a meaningful way on this,” she said. 

DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency tries to get as much information about election threats to state officials and the public as it can, CISA Senior Adviser on Election Security Matt Masterson told me in an email. But he acknowledged intelligence community rules sometimes make transparency difficult. 

“We agree on the need for transparency regarding risks to elections, including about disinformation,” he said. “CISA routinely pushes timely and actionable information to our election partners, and we will continue to advocate on their behalf with our intelligence community colleagues in order to get more information downgraded and shared as broadly as possible.”

The comments reflect a long-standing conflict between intelligence agencies and other parts of the federal government that rely on information those agencies provide. 

In this case, it’s in CISA’s interest to broadly release information about Russian interference so it’s easier to combat phony information and ensure elections run smoothly. But intelligence agencies are wary of making too much information public because they fear that would risk revealing their secret sources.

That dearth of public information makes it more likely voters will fall prey to phony social media posts or information that's hacked and leaked by U.S. adversaries, Griswold warned. And it’s tougher for Democrats to sound alarm bells when the federal government isn’t backing them up because they risk being accused of making partisan attacks, she said.  

“This needs to be done in a bipartisan way with state and federal buy in because, without that, people can say, ‘You’re a Democrat; it’s not true,’ ” she said. 

The keys

Republicans are steering clear of online voting at their convention even as part of the proceedings go digital. 

The Republican National Committee is planning to manage all its convention voting with just 336 delegates six from each U.S. state and territory who will all be at the physical convention space in Charlotte, a spokeswoman tells me.

Those delegates will vote for themselves and cast ballots on behalf of other delegates who aren’t physically present for the party’s presidential and vice-presidential nominations. There’s little drama about the outcome of that vote because President Trump’s only challenger for the nomination, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, won only a single delegate before dropping out of the race.

For some other votes about convention business, the 336 delegates will be the only people authorized to vote, the spokeswoman said.

Democrats, by contrast, are allowing delegates to cast votes by email during their virtual convention. That plan raises the risk of hackers manipulating some votes, cybersecurity experts warn. But the danger is far less than during an actual election because delegates don’t cast their votes secretly and can verify they were recorded correctly.

Trump had pushed for a full and raucous Republican convention in Jacksonville, Fla., but backed off as coronavirus infections surged in the state. 

Zuckerberg plans to play on fears of Chinese tech at antitrust hearing. 

The Facebook CEO will stress at a House Judiciary hearing that congressional moves that weaken U.S. companies such as Facebook could give Chinese firms an advantage, Sarah Frier at Bloomberg News reports

The argument could play well with China hawks who argue that Chinese companies pose a risk to democracies because they're limited by the country's strong censorship laws and could become tools of Beijing spying. Many have pushed for the United States to invest in American technology to better compete with Chinese alternatives. 

The Facebook chief executive has made similar arguments in previous speeches, singling out the social media app TikTok. The White House is considering banning the Chinese-owned app over security concerns. Both the House and Senate have passed measures banning it at federal agencies.

The Biden campaign is banning staffers from using TikTok on their phones.

The order reaffirms guidance from the Democratic National Committee that campaign staff should not use the Chinese app, a campaign official confirmed. The Republican National Committee has also advised their campaign staff against using the app. 

Trump has also signaled he wants strong restrictions on TikTok citing concerns it could share U.S. user data with the Chinese government. TikTok has denied that it has ever shared such data.

Cyber insecurity

Twitter contractors spied on Beyoncé and other celebrities.

In 2017 and 2018 some contractors used their access to internal Twitter tools to view the private information and approximate location of celebrities including Beyoncé, Bloomberg News's Jordan Robertson, Kartikay Mehrota and Kurt Wagner report. The revelation comes as the company is under federal and internal investigations for the hack of dozens of high-profile accounts in a cryptocurrency scam earlier this month.

Chief executive Jack Dorsey and the Twitter board were warned “multiple times” since 2015 about the danger posed by broad worker and contractor access to accounts, Bloomberg reports. More than 1,500 workers, including independent contractors, had access to reset accounts and respond to potential content violations.

Fitness company Garmin is back after hackers knocked it offline for five days.

The company confirmed yesterday it was hit with an attack that allowed hackers to encrypt some of its computer systems. There is no indication that hackers accessed customer data including payment information, Garmin said. 

The company did not say how it regained access to its systems. But Sky News's Alexander Martin reports that Garmin may have paid hackers for access to the files through an intermediary.

The Treasury Department sanctioned Evil Corp, the Russian hacking group believed to be behind the attack, last year. That means if Garmin did pay the hackers, it could be subject to fines. Garmin declined to comment to Sky News.

Hill happenings

The final volume of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference is a step closer to publication.

The intelligence community returned a redacted version of the final volume to the committee yesterday, the Hill reports. The committee and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will now discuss redactions before agreeing on a final declassified report to release. 

More Hill news:

Securing the ballot

Colorado is accepting free election security help from the cybersecurity firm Synack. 

The company will enlist a team of ethical hackers to probe statewide election systems for bugs that could be exploited by Russia and other adversaries, the company said in a news release this morning. Synack has offered the same free service to other states. The company can’t disclose whether any other states have accepted the offer, spokesman Mike Farrell said. 

More election security news:

Chat room

What does a "lost vote" actually mean? Political scientist Charles Stewart III explains:


  • The Senate Homeland Security regulatory affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine modernizing telework, focusing on a review of private sector telework policies during the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.
  • The Brookings Institute will host an event on "Reorienting national security for the AI era" on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
  • The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Security will hold a hearing to examine the China challenge and how to build resiliency and competitiveness on Thursday at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the findings and recommendations of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission on August 4 at 2:30 p.m.

Secure log off

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