Gopal Ratnam

DARPA Chief Touts Artificial Intelligence Efforts
Assertions push back on private sector worries about lagging behind

The United States is no laggard on investment and advances in artificial intelligence technologies, Steven Walker, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, told reporters on Thursday, disputing assertions by top U.S. technology executives that China was racing ahead.

“I think I’d put our AI, our country’s efforts, up against anybody,” Walker said at an event hosted by the Defense Writers Group. DARPA “helped create the field in the early 1960s” and since then has consistently invested in the three waves of artificial intelligence technologies, Walker said.

No White House Order to Combat Russia, Cybercom Chief Says
Third administration official says Trump has given no guidance on countering interference

Russia hasn’t been sufficiently penalized for its meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, and that has emboldened Moscow to continue interfering in American elections, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

“They haven’t paid a price sufficient to change their behavior,” Rogers said under questioning by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Report: Cybercrime May Have Cost 0.8 Percent of 2016 Global GDP
Russia, North Korea and Iran named as top perpetrators of cybercrime

Theft of personal data, loss of intellectual property and opportunity costs stemming from these and other cybercrimes in 2016 may have cost the global economy 0.8 percent — or as much as $600 billion — according to a report released Wednesday.

The growing spread of computer connectivity, easy availability of malware and the ability to monetize stolen information is leading to an explosion in cybercrime, according to the report, titled Economic Impact of Cybercrime. It was prepared by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, and McAfee, a computer security firm.

Grand Jury Indicts Russian Nationals for Election Interference
Operatives targeted Clinton, Rubio and Cruz, while largely supporting Trump and Sanders

Updated 3:25 p.m. | The Justice Department charged Russian operatives Friday with a sweeping effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, spending millions of dollars to wage social media campaigns, buy political advertisements and pose as grass-roots organizers to spark political rallies on American soil.

The grand jury criminal indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies landed like a bombshell in Washington, where the debate has raged over the extent of Russia’s influence in the election while President Donald Trump has waged a campaign to quell special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

Schiff Says He Fears Mueller’s Findings Won’t Become Public
Top Intelligence Committee Democrat concerned about politicized decision-making

The complete findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections may not become public when the probe is completed, California Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday.

“One of the issues I have raised with the deputy attorney general” Rod Rosenstein is “how are we going to deal with this when the investigations come to an end?” Schiff said, referring to findings of the Mueller probe. “Will there be a report to Congress and what will Bob Mueller be able to disclose publicly?”

Nunes Memo Could Weaken FISA, Congressional Panels
Officials worry about compromising sources, chilling intelligence officials

Releasing a four-page memo authored by aides to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., alleging abuse of surveillance power by the FBI could ultimately weaken the process by which U.S. intelligence agencies seek secret court orders to conduct surveillance on foreigners, lawmakers and former intelligence professionals say.

Moreover, releasing the memo could erode the trust between the intelligence community and the congressional intelligence panels, these officials say.

With House Passage of FISA Measure, Action Moves to Senate
GOP leaders in chamber move to restrict amendments to reauthorization

The House on Thursday approved 256-164 a bill to reauthorize provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another six years, putting the measure in the Senate’s hands.

The bill, backed by the Trump administration and all the U.S. intelligence agencies, would preserve the FBI and the intelligence agencies’ ability to search a surveillance database for information on Americans with minimal warrant requirements.

FISA Vote in the House Pivots on Privacy
Bipartisan group is demanding tougher protections

The House is set to vote Thursday on a bill to extend the electronic surveillance powers of the National Security Agency. 

How the House votes could determine whether the bill wins Senate passage for a long-term extension of provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or if lawmakers hit another roadblock and decide to punt again. Facing an impasse before Christmas, Congress passed a short-term extension until Jan. 19. The provisions were due to expire Dec. 31. 

Tech Companies Get an Earful From Intelligence Committee
Senators accuse executives of just not getting extent of Russian meddling

Big technology companies faced a second day of public lashing on Capitol Hill, with the Senate Intelligence Committee accusing companies of a lackluster response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 

On Tuesday, executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter told the Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee that ads and automated non-advertising content generated by Moscow-backed companies reached hundreds of millions of Americans during the 2016 election — a number that is far higher than previous estimates offered by the companies.

Podcast: Congress Aims to Rein In Government Snoops
The Week Ahead, Episode 76

A bipartisan cast of lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Wyden, plan to curtail the government's surveillance powers that must be renewed by the end of the year, says CQ intelligence reporter Gopal Ratnam.   

Show Notes:

White House Aide Nielsen Picked for Homeland Secretary
Nominee previously served as John F. Kelly’s chief of staff at DHS

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he has chosen Kirstjen Nielsen, a top aide to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Nielsen, 45, previously served as Kelly’s chief of staff at DHS when he led the department before taking the White House job in July. Nielsen would be leaving her role at the White House after having served as a top aide to Kelly for just a little over a month.

New Foreign Surveillance Bill Would Boost Privacy Protections
Top House Judiciary leaders reached decision last week

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and the panel’s top Democrat Rep. John Conyers Jr. reached agreement last week on a new bill that would tighten privacy protections in a surveillance law considered vital by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The bill’s attempt to shore up civil liberties runs contrary to what the White House and intelligence agencies have sought, and is likely to face opposition from a group of national security hawks in the Senate who back the Trump administration position.

House Eyes Overhaul of Defense Intelligence Agency
Handful of offices and missions targeted for elimination

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency is in the cross hairs of the House Intelligence Committee, which is aiming for a radical overhaul of the military’s spy arm.

The committee sees it as bloated and ineffective. But how far such an effort would go remains to be seen as several other congressional oversight panels that would have a say are waiting for a fuller assessment to emerge before they sign off on major changes.

Congress Braces for Tense Debate on Surveillance Law
Spy agencies argue for permanent reauthorization of FISA amendments

Lawmakers are facing a potentially bruising fight over a surveillance law that expires Dec. 31 and must be extended in time to preserve what U.S. spy agencies consider a vital piece of their arsenal.

Congress has to extend the 2012 FISA Amendments Act, which will pit the Trump administration and national security hawks in Congress who favor a permanent reauthorization with no changes, against lawmakers of both parties, libertarians, privacy advocates and communications companies seeking to tighten protections for U.S. persons whose communications may get caught up in the wide electronic net cast by spy agencies.

Trump to Lift Ban on Military Gear for Local Police Agencies

The Trump administration will lift a two-year-old ban on police departments across the United States getting surplus military equipment as part of an overall effort to support local law enforcement agencies.

“I am here to announce that President Trump is issuing an executive order that will make it easier to protect yourselves and your communities,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told police officers Monday, according to prepared remarks.

Trump Costs Prompt Secret Service Plea to Congress
‘The president has a large family, and our responsibility is required in law’

The Secret Service, anticipating the demands of protecting President Donald Trump and his family, wants Congress to again lift pay caps so it can reimburse its agents for overtime work during fiscal 2018.

Whether the agency will need additional appropriations remains to be decided. But the service, part of the Homeland Security Department, estimates about 1,100 employees will work overtime hours that would exceed the statutory pay caps in place during calendar year 2017, Director Randolph “Tex” Alles said in a statement Monday.

Drug Smuggling Biggest Threat Along Canadian Border, DHS Says

The biggest threat to the U.S.-Canada border continues to be drug smuggling with criminal gangs employing low-flying airplanes to avoid detection, the Department of Homeland Security said in a report to Congress on Thursday.

“The most common threat to U.S. public safety along the northern border continues to be the bidirectional flow of illicit drugs,” the Northern Border Threat Analysis report said. “To avoid detection by U.S. and Canadian law enforcement,” transnational criminal groups occasionally fly “private aircraft at low altitude to evade radar detection, but there are no reports to suggest that the tactic is employed on a large scale.”

Brooks: ‘Swamp Critter’ McConnell Should Be Replaced
Alabama Senate hopeful slams majority leader, filibuster rules

Rep. Mo Brooks attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday, saying he would vote to change how the chamber works if he wins the special election in Alabama.

McConnell “is a swamp critter,” Brooks told reporters at an event organized by the Heritage Foundation. Instead of “draining the swamp” as President Donald Trump has promised, McConnell is enabling old ways of doing business in Washington, Brooks said.

Podcast: Trump's Travel Ban Tests Family Ties
The Week Ahead, Episode 60

CQ Roll Call reporters Dean DeChiaro and Gopal Ratnam explain the latest on President Donald Trump's travel ban, which went into partial effect June 29 following a Supreme Court decision. They explain who is now allowed into the United States and who is not and discuss the legal and policy debates to come.


Controversial Sheriff Says He’s Taking Homeland Security Post
‘It’s going to be a huge learning curve for me’

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has been a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, said Wednesday he’s taking a job at the Homeland Security Department.

Clarke, whose name has been previously floated for administration jobs, told WISN-AM that he’s taking a job at DHS that involves liaising with state and local law enforcement agencies. The post does not require Senate confirmation.