This op-ed appeared in the Washington Post on October 2, 2018
I keep coming back to April 17, 2013.
That was the day I voted for legislation that would finally require a criminal-background check for all firearm purchases.
It was also the day I voted against legislation banning military-style assault weapons. While I was far from the deciding vote, I have nevertheless wrestled with that “no” vote ever since.
At the time, the Senate was voting on several gun-violence-prevention proposals, trying to find a bill that could get 60 votes. To me, it was clear that strengthening the background-check system would be the single most effective way to begin to stem the tide of gun violence in the United States.
However, every proposal the Senate voted on that day fell short. Congress, in what has become a sad pattern of dysfunction, failed to act.
In the years since the Senate last had a meaningful debate about gun-violence legislation, we’ve seen assault rifles and high-capacity magazines repeatedly used in mass shootings, with ever-higher body counts: Forty-nine murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Fifty-eight killed and 422 wounded by gunfire in Las Vegas, one year ago Monday.
We’ve seen the gun lobby close its eyes to the fact that assault rifles were the weapon of choice for the mass shooters at Parkland, Fla., and at Sandy Hook Elementary School — and to the reality that these weapons can kill with an efficiency that shotguns and handguns, like the ones I own, simply cannot match.
Though I remain convinced that strengthening our background-check system is critical, I also believe we must do more to end mass shootings. So today I am signing on as a sponsor of the assault weapons ban.
I do this as a gun owner and a proud supporter of the Second Amendment. Before coming to the Senate, I served as governor of Virginia, a state with a long tradition of gun ownership. During my time in office, I signed into law a number of reasonable bipartisan bills solidifying the rights of law-abiding gun owners to purchase and carry firearms for sport and self-defense.
At the time, the National Rifle Association described me as a “valuable ally for gun owners and sportsmen.” While the NRA may have moved toward the extreme in the years since, I still believe in the Second Amendment. But like other parts of our Constitution, the Second Amendment isn’t absolute. For example, the law has long held that certain guns such as fully automatic rifles and accessories such as suppressors fall into a class of weapons requiring stricter oversight and regulation than your everyday hunting rifle.
Unfortunately, these shades of gray needed for good policymaking have given way to the black and white of polarized political warfare that’s increasingly fueled by special-interest money.
Still, I’m hopeful we can break this stalemate, disarming would-be mass shooters while still respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
Restricting the sale of assault weapons is one such starting point. No doubt, there will need to be revisions and compromises before this bill becomes law.
But let’s also recognize that the features and tactical accessories that define assault weapons under this legislation were designed for a specific purpose — to give soldiers an advantage over the enemy, not to mow down students in school hallways.
We should acknowledge that while some will object to reasonable magazine-size limits, they would also force an active shooter to reload more often, buying law enforcement and potential shooting victims valuable seconds that could prove lifesaving.
And let’s agree that modifications such as binary triggers and bump stocks, which skirt the law to effectively turn semiautomatic rifles into fully automatic weapons, should never have been on the streets in the first place.
These are the core ideas behind the assault weapons ban. Some may worry that the technical challenges of defining an assault weapon may result in a law that’s either toothless or overly restrictive of gun rights. Frankly, I share those concerns, but it’s time to stop talking about the problem and do something about it.
We have cultural divisions that must be bridged, but we should not allow these differences to become excuses for inaction. No American wants criminals, terrorists or dangerously ill teenagers to get their hands on a weapon capable of so much destruction.
There is room for common ground here, and I believe it is this: Americans of all backgrounds can and should refuse to accept periodic mass shootings as the new normal, and we should demand that our nation’s leaders finally take action.
I plan to be part of the solution.
Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Virginia.
Sep 13 2018
This email was sent to Virginians in the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia on September 13, 2018. If you did not receive it and would like to receive updates from Senator Warner, you can sign up here.
By now you’ve probably heard that Hurricane Florence is likely to bring heavy rain to the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia over the coming weekend. The truth is, extreme weather can be just as devastating inland as it is on the coast, and so I’m reaching out to make sure you’ve got the information you need to stay safe during this hurricane.
While it appears that Virginia’s coast will be spared a direct hit from Hurricane Florence, heavy rains capable of causing flooding will impact portions of Southwest Virginia over the next two to five days. Significant rainfall will cause creeks and streams to overflow. Homes and businesses in low-lying areas will experience flooding. Roads and bridges could be washed out, and emergency services will have difficulty reaching some areas.
The time to prepare for this is now. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management encourages everyone to remain vigilant, keep informed about the weather conditions, and if you encounter flooded roads or bridges to turn around and not drive through the deep water. One of the most important steps individuals in impacted regions can take is to follow the guidance provided by local authorities.
Additionally, FEMA recommends taking the following preparedness actions:
- Stay tuned to local TV and radio stations for instructions and information.
- Prepare a disaster kit for your home: Stock up on non-perishable food and water to sustain you and your family for up to three days or longer. Ensure you have important papers (e.g. insurance, identification), first aid kit, a supply of prescription medicines and other specialty items in your preparedness kit. In addition, plan to have an emergency kit for your car in case you need to evacuate. While creating a disaster kit, pet owners should remember to pack the necessary items for their pets. For a detailed checklist of suggested emergency supplies, visit the VDEM website.
- Create an emergency plan: Know what to do if you have to evacuate. Make sure you know how to contact members of your family and have an emergency contact number for someone out of state that knows where you are in the event of an emergency.
- Be informed: Know evacuation routes and listen to local authorities when asked to evacuate. Evacuation route information is available on the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Whether you live in a coastal community or inland, speak with your insurance agent now about flood insurance and review your homeowner’s policy. Every state is at risk for flooding and homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. Flood insurance is a cost-effective way to financially prepare for floods. To learn more about your risk and flood insurance, visit www.floodsmart.gov
- If power is out, use flashlights, not candles. Remember – carbon monoxide is a silent killer. Do not bring generators into the house. Don’t use camp stoves and lanterns without ventilation. Never use stoves for heating. Any of these can cause deadly buildup of carbon monoxide. If using a space or kerosene heater, practice proper safety procedures. Keep your refrigerator and freezer closed as long as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
- Make sure you know where your home’s safe room is located. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) website details what a safe room should look like.
- Keep your automobile fully fueled; if electric power is cut off, gas stations may not be able to operate pumps for several days.
- Know how to shut off utilities. Know how your water heating and air-conditioning systems work and where pilot lights are located if you have natural gas appliances. If you have any questions, contact your local utility company.
- Gather your personal documents - insurance policy information, emergency contact information, and any other vital documents – and have them somewhere they can be easily located and ready to take with you should you have to evacuate your home.
- Updates on the hurricane and its effects on Virginia are available through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s website, Facebook, and Twitter feed.
Here’s something I read in the Roanoke Times today that’s a good reminder of what we’re up against:
“So how much rain will we get? Probably not the 15 to 30 inches across the entire region like you may have seen on one of those colorful maps – but it only took 6.6 inches in a day, after several prior days of intermittent rain, to trigger the mighty Flood of 1985, still the benchmark for massive inundation in the Roanoke Valley.”
I hope Virginia is spared the worst of this storm, but we’ve got to be ready for anything. I encourage you to spread the word by sharing this email with your friends and family. By sharing this information with as many people as possible, you will help ensure people are prepared for the flooding that could result from the heavy rain that is predicted for Southwest Virginia and the Roanoke Valley.
As always, my office is here to help. If there’s an issue that’s important to you or a question you’d like to ask, I invite you to send me an email and follow my work in the Senate on Facebook and Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you.
This editorial originally appeared in the Virginian-Pilot on September 9, 2018.
AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS and monuments are among this country’s greatest treasures, ranging from the majestic Grand Canyon to the more solemn sites of historic battles. These federally protected sites have been preserved to ensure that they remain accessible to millions of visitors each year, as well as for future generations to appreciate.
But keeping these sites in good shape requires adequate funding, and that money has been in short supply in recent years. The National Park Service estimates that it had a backlog in 2017 of more than $11.5 billion in needed repairs and deferred maintenance at sites across the country, with about $1 billion of that amount needed for sites in Virginia.
At a time when the nation is adding more than $1 trillion per year to its federal deficit, despite a booming economy, any efforts to increase federal spending without a dedicated source of funding demand scrutiny. But the National Park Service is an unfortunate victim of a federal budget battered by unrestrained spending in other areas and irresponsible tax cuts.
Saving money by deferring maintenance and avoiding repairs can be done for while, but it’s not a good — or cost-effective — way to manage property, whether it’s a home or a national park. The repairs ultimately must be made, and delaying them often leads to higher costs and more damage.
The $11.5 billion in needs for the National Park Service is bound to grow unless Congress finds a solution soon. In Virginia, parks need repairs to roads, buildings and bridges, in addition to work on trails, monuments, exhibits and other features.
As Bill Bartel reported recently in The Pilot, more than $420 million of the money needed in Virginia would go to The Colonial National Historical Park, which includes Historic Jamestowne and the Yorktown Battlefield. The majority of the money would be used for roads and bridges.
Nearly 20 other national parks, sites, monuments or battlefields in Virginia are on the list to receive funding, including Fort Monroe, which is seeking $2.3 million to pay for deferred maintenance projects.
“Identifying repairs needed at national park sites in Virginia brings home that we must make it a priority to secure reliable funding to preserve these national treasures in our own back yard,” said Lynn Davis of the Virginia Association for Parks.
The good news is that U.S. senators and representatives have filed bills that would address the backlog of problems. Congress has yet to act on the proposals, but they have support among both Democrats and Republicans.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, has joined Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine in co-sponsoring the Restore Our Parks Act, which would allocate revenue collected from energy production to pay for the work.
“The longer we wait to address the crumbling infrastructure in our national parks, the worse the problem gets,” Warner said.
If the Senate approves the plan, the House and President Donald Trump would have to sign off as well. But Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has endorsed the need for more funding, and this could be a rare opportunity for both sides to support legislation for the common good of the country. Adequate funding for national parks is not a partisan issue, nor should it ever become one.
Americans are justifiably proud of their national parks and historic sites, as shown by the number of visitors who seek them out each year. These sites should be well-maintained for their own protection and preservation, and to ensure that visitors can experience them in all their glory.
Sep 05 2018
Opening Statement of Sen. Mark Warner
Vice Chairman, Senate Intelligence Committee
Open Hearing on Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms
September 5, 2018
***Read Sen. Warner’s white paper on social media***
WASHINGTON — Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, will participate in an open hearing with Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and Jack Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer of Twitter Inc., on ways they are working to ensure their platforms are ready – or not—to tackle foreign influence operations ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. After Russia’s unprecedented attack on our elections, Sen. Warner will have the opportunity to hear directly from Facebook and Twitter on ways Congress can better adapt our laws with the changing nature of technology as outlined in his social media white paper.
In October, Sen. Warner – along with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John McCain (R-AZ) – introduced the Honest Ads Actto help prevent foreign interference in elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements. In July, Sen. Warner released a set of policy proposals to spark a long overdue discussion on ways to rein in big tech and protect users on social media against misinformation and disinformation campaigns.
Below are Vice Chairman Warner’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery:
As the Chairman has pointed out, today is an important public discussion. I’m pleased that both Facebook and Twitter have sent their company’s top leadership to address some of these critical public policy challenges today. I look forward to a constructive engagement.
I’m deeply disappointed that Google – one of the most influential digital platforms in the world – chose not to send its own top corporate leadership to engage this committee.
I know our members have a series of difficult questions about structural vulnerabilities on a number of Google’s platforms that we will need answered. From Google Search, which continues to have problems surfacing absurd conspiracies….To YouTube, where Russian-backed disinformation agents promoted hundreds of divisive videos….To Gmail, where state-sponsored operatives attempt countless hacking attempts, Google has an immense responsibility in this space. Given its size and influence, I would have thought the leadership at Google would want to demonstrate how seriously it takes these challenges and to lead this important public discussion.
For the two companies that have chosen to constructively engage today and to publicly answer some of these difficult questions, thank you.
It would be an understatement to say that much has changed in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. campaign. With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious that serious mistakes were made by both Facebook and Twitter. You, like the U.S. government, were caught flat-footed by the brazen attacks on our election. Even after the election, you were reluctant to admit there was a problem.
It was the pressure that was brought to bear by this Committee that led Facebook, Twitter, and Google to uncover the malicious activities of the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency on their platforms.
Each of you have come a long way with respect to recognizing the threat. We have seen important action by your companies to make political advertising more transparent by complying with the terms Senator Klobuchar and I put forward in the Honest Ads Act. In addition, since last September, you have identified and removed some bad actors from your platforms.
The bad news, I’m afraid, is that there is a lot of work still to do. And I’m skeptical that, ultimately, you’ll be able to truly address this challenge on your own. Congress is going to have to take action here.
First, on the disinformation front: Russia has not stopped. Russian-linked information warfare exists today on your platforms. Just recently, we saw the two of you act to take down suspected Russian operations. Microsoft also uncovered Russian attempts to hack political organizations and potentially several political campaigns. The Russians also continue to infiltrate and manipulate American social media to hijack the national conversation.
You’ve gotten better, and I’m pleased to see you’ve begun to take action, but the Russians are getting better as well. They have become harder to track. Worse, now that the Russian playbook is out there, other adversaries, like Iran, have joined the fray.
But foreign-backed disinformation campaigns represent just a fraction of the challenge before you. In the same way that bots, trolls, fake pages, and algorithm-gaming can be used to spread fake news, these same tools can be used to assist financial stock-pumping fraud, to create filter bubbles and alternative realities, to incite ethnic and racial violence, and countless other misuses. Imagine the damage to markets if forged communications from the Fed Chairman were leaked online.
Or, consider the price of a Fortune 500 company’s stock if a dishonest short-seller was able to spread false information about that company’s CEO – or the effects of its products -- rapidly online?
Russian disinformation has revealed a dark underbelly of the entire online ecosystem. And this threatens to cheapen American discourse, weaken privacy, erode truth, and undermine our democracy on a previously unimagined scale.
Worse still, this is only going to get harder with new advances in technology and artificial intelligence, like deepfakes. During the 2016 election, the Russians demonstrated how bad actors can effectively marry offensive cyber operations, including hacking, with information operations. We’re on the cusp of a new generation of exploitation, potentially harnessing hacked personal information to enable tailored and targeted disinformation and social engineering efforts. That should frighten us all.
As someone who was involved in the tech industry for more than 20 years, I respect what this industry represents. I don’t envy the significant technical and policy challenges you face. But the size and reach of your platforms demand that we, as policy-makers, do our job, to ensure proper oversight, transparency and protections for American users and for our democratic institutions.
The era of the Wild West in social media is coming to an end…Where we go from here is an open question.
These are complicated technological challenges, and Congress has, at times, demonstrated that it still has some homework to do. I think this Committee has done more than most to understand the threat to our democracy posed by social media. I want to commend my colleagues on the Committee for tackling this challenge in a bipartisan way. This is our fourth public hearing on the subject, and we’ve met behind closed doors countless times – with third-party researchers, with government officials, and with each of the platforms. We’ve done the work, and we are well positioned to continue to lead in this space.
Today’s hearing is not about “gotcha” questions or scoring political points. Our goal today is to begin to shape actual policy solutions which will help us tackle this challenge.
I’ve put forth a series of ideas that I’d like to get your constructive thoughts on. For instance:
· Don’t your users have a right to know when they are interacting with bots on your platform?
· Isn’t there a public interest in ensuring more anonymized data is available to researchers and academics to help identify potential problems and misuse?
· Why are your terms of service so difficult to find and nearly impossible to read, much less understand?
· Why shouldn’t we adopt ideas like data portability, data minimization, or first party consent?
· After witnessing numerous episodes of misuse, what further accountability should there be with respect to the flawed advertising model that you utilize?
These are just some of our ideas. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback, both from experts and users… We’ve also been accused of trying to bring about the death of the internet.
I’m anxious to hear your views on our proposals and what suggestions you and your teams can bring to the table on this front. I’m disappointed Google is not here today to bring their ideas to the table.
We have to be able to find smart, thoughtful policy solutions that get us somewhere beyond the status quo, without applying ham-handed, 20th century solutions to 21st century problems. At the same time, we should be mindful to adopt policies that do not simply entrench the existing dominant platforms. These are not just challenges for our politics or our democracy. These threats can affect our economy, our financial system, and other parts of our lives.
I’m hopeful that we can get there. I’m confident in American ingenuity. And I’m optimistic that this Congress, led by this Committee in a bipartisan fashion, can move this conversation forward.
I look forward to our discussion today and thank the witnesses for being here.
Aug 21 2018
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of an amendment he introduced to the defense appropriations bill that would prohibit President Trump from abusing the security clearance process to punish his critics. In his speech, Sen. Warner warned against politicizing national security institutions by revoking security clearances solely for political purposes.
“This is a truly dangerous precedent. For the first time since President Eisenhower created the security clearance process as we know it, the President of the United States is abusing one of our most important national security tools to punish his political opponents,” said Sen. Warner on the Senate floor. “But perhaps even more troubling is the message this President is sending to those currently in government service: Think twice before working on anything that this President doesn’t like. Think twice before you express a political opinion, even in private.”
This week, Sen. Warner offered an amendment to the defense appropriations bill currently under debate on the Senate floor prohibiting the use of federal funds to revoke an individual’s security clearance, except in accordance with Part 147 of title 32, Code of Federal Regulations, and Executive Orders 12968 and 13467 as in effect on August 15, 2018 – the day President Trump revoked John Brennan’s security clearance. Text of the amendment is available here.
Sen. Warner also noted that this practice was a clear attempt by the Trump Administration to undermine the ongoing criminal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which has already resulted in 5 guilty pleas and 35 indictments. He urged the Senate to “take a stand” against attempts to punish political speech or to threaten national security professionals by arbitrarily taking away their security clearances.
“We currently have in place real and prudent guidelines for issuing and revoking clearances, guidelines that are based on national security and not on political considerations. We cannot allow those to be supplanted by crass partisanship or attempts to punish the President’s enemies. We have come too far from the days of Watergate to allow this type of partisan attack against career professionals who have faithfully served our nation with honor and dignity. We should demand better from our President,” said Sen. Warner.
Below is the full text of his remarks as prepared for delivery.
Mr. President, I rise to offer an amendment that would make sure security clearances are revoked only for valid national security reasons.
Not to change the subject on a bad news day…
Not to threaten career government employees…
And especially not to carry out political retribution.
Mr. President, Virginia is home to tens of thousands of dedicated men and women who serve in our intelligence and defense communities.
Over the years, as Senator and Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I have met literally thousands of FBI agents, CIA officers, military servicemembers, contractors, and other public servants who hold security clearances.
These men and women work day in and day out, often thanklessly, to keep Americans safe.
And you know what? I have no idea who among them are Democrats or Republicans.
That’s the way our system is supposed to work.
The federal government grants security clearances only to those individuals who can be trusted with our nation’s secrets.
Applicants go through intense, lengthy background checks, interviews, and even lie detector tests. Not to mention extensive rechecks for suitability every few years.
Only then do we allow them to serve in some of the toughest intelligence and national security jobs.
Mr. President, we ask a great deal of these dedicated professionals. But what we do not ask about are their political views.
Since the mid-1990s, the Code of Federal Regulations has governed the 13 criteria under which personnel are deemed eligible or ineligible for a security clearance and access to classified information.
These include allegiance to the United States, foreign influence, financial considerations, and others.
None of these criteria include political speech, nor should they. Our national security is too important to infect with political partisanship.
I believe that more than ever in light of the President’s actions last week — when this President revoked the clearance of Director Brennan and threatened to revoke the clearances of numerous former, and even current, national security professionals.
These individuals collectively have hundreds of years of honorable service to our country under their belts. No one can seriously question their fitness or loyalty to this country.
Unfortunately, we all know what this is really about. It’s about politics.
According to media reports, White House officials have discussed how to issue the revocations to distract from bad news stories. I hope those reports are mistaken.
But true or not, we need only to listen to the words of this President to know these efforts are politically motivated.
I’ll admit I missed the widely publicized press event where the White House announced the President’s “enemies list.” But anyone who looks at this list will notice some common factors.
They all served in the previous administration, and in the time since, several have exercised their First Amendment right to criticize the President or his policies.
Many of those on the list have also had some involvement in the investigation into Russia’s assault on our democracy in 2016. And for that, they are now being punished by this President and this White House.
In the President’s own words: “These people led it…so I think it’s something that had to be done.”
This is a truly dangerous precedent. For the first time since President Eisenhower created the security clearance process as we know it, the President of the United States is abusing one of our most important national security tools to punish his political opponents.
But perhaps even more troubling is the message this President is sending to those currently in government service:
Think twice before working on anything that this President doesn’t like.
Think twice before you express a political opinion, even in private.
The White House broadcast this message loud and clear when it threatened to revoke the clearance of a mid-level employee of the Department of Justice.
Mr. President, this is a clear attempt at intimidating others in the bureaucracy. And if the President is successful in revoking this first wave of clearances, there is no question it will threaten the ongoing Russia investigation — an investigation that has already resulted in 5 guilty pleas and 35 indictments, and just today, the conviction of the President’s campaign manager.
Unfortunately, the President’s actions don’t just harm the individuals involved—these tactics threaten our national security institutions themselves.
The Pentagon, the IC, the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the rest of our national security structures depend on seasoned career professionals who do not act out of partisan motivations.
Threatening their clearances threatens their livelihoods and their families.
This is a clear attempt at undermining an ongoing and legitimate criminal investigation into what Russia did in 2016.
And, if successful, the President’s actions threaten to politicize our national security institutions — even more so than he already has.
The President has significant authorities as head of the executive branch. But there is widespread agreement that he should not be able to use these powers to get “payback” against Americans who criticize him.
We all agree that no President should be able to order the IRS to audit political enemies.
And we all agree that no President should be able to order wiretaps against those who displease him.
We should all agree that a President should not have the power to remove clearances for reasons that have nothing to do with national security – certainly not because an individual exercises his or her right to free speech.
Mr. President, I ask my colleagues to support the Warner amendment. I ask the majority leader to make sure this amendment gets a fair vote up or down on the floor of the Senate, because the Senate must take a stand against any attempts to punish political speech or to threaten our national security professionals by arbitrarily taking away their security clearances.
We currently have in place real and prudent guidelines for issuing and revoking clearances, guidelines that are based on national security and not on political considerations.
We cannot allow those to be supplanted by crass partisanship or attempts to punish the President’s enemies.
We have come too far from the days of Watergate to allow this type of partisan attack against career professionals who have faithfully served our nation with honor and dignity.
We should demand better from our President.
Thank you, I yield back.
This op-ed was originally published in USA TODAY on August 1, 2018.
Do you ever stop to think about how much our world has changed just in the past few years?
Today, some of the largest and most powerful companies in the world — Google, Facebook and Twitter, to name a few — build and rely on technology that didn’t even exist a decade or two ago, dramatically transforming our society along the way.
As someone who was in the tech business longer than I’ve been in the Senate, I’m a big believer in the power of technology to improve people’s lives. I was living out of my car when I founded my first cell phone company. I later founded Nextel, and in the years since I’ve had a front row seat to the ways the phones in our pockets have changed the world.
But anyone who’s ever told their kids to put their cell phones away at dinner knows technological advances sometimes come with unintended consequences — and social media is no exception.
We need to learn from our internet failures
Over the past year and a half, Sen. Richard Burr and I have led the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, uncovering the unprecedented ways Russia abused social media to divide Americans against each other and undermine our democratic process.
In many ways our intelligence community was caught off guard by this new threat. But with each new story about fake news, bots, trolls or Facebook’s mishandling of 87 million Americans’ private data, it has become even clearer that these social media companies were caught flat-footed — unable or unwilling to predict, detect or stop the abuse of their platforms.
Americans are increasingly expressing concern over how their data is being used, and whether they maintain control over their digital identities. As some of these companies have grown to the point of dominance, we’ve reached the point where one company’s mistake can have society-wide consequences.
I believe a national conversation about these issues is long overdue. The companies, the federal government, and individuals all share in the responsibility to make sure these great American technologies continue to work for the good of our county and its citizens.
>That conversation has to start with companies taking responsibility for their platforms and the potential for their abuse. Common-sense rules of the road for social media — like labeling bots and preventing the use of false identities and fake accounts — is a great place to start.
We also need to recognize that our every like, retweet, and search query leaves a trail of data unique to each American on the internet. We have not yet had a national debate about who should own that data, and what responsibility the companies who profit from it have to their users. It’s time we ask ourselves if Americans have the right to exercise greater control over their own data, and whether that right can be signed away simply by clicking an “I agree” button at the bottom of a screen full of indecipherable legalese.
This week, I released a set of 20 proposals, which I believe are a good starting point for this overdue debate on the future of our nation’s technology policy. Should public interest researchers have access to closely-held company data so that they can help identify problems early? Should data be portable and systems interoperable, allowing users to take their accounts to a competitor without losing all their content? Should the platforms be held responsible in some way for removing provably false content?
Government must have some role in answering these important questions, but it must also make sure regulation doesn’t stifle innovation. Congress also needs to substantially improve its understanding of technology in order to make smart laws.
Past time to adapt our laws for the tech age
I have hope that we can strike the right balance. Last year, I introduced the Honest Ads Act with Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., John McCain, R-Ariz., which creates some modest transparency rules for online political advertisements. Facebook and Twitter used our legislation as a road map to create their own ad transparency tools, and I hope Congress will pass this still-needed legislation.
But at the end of the day, the responsibility lies in the hands of every American to decide the roles and responsibilities of technology in our lives, our economy, and our democracy. We should all strive to be active digital citizens — skeptical of what we read on the internet, protective of our private data, and vigilant against cybercriminals, foreign adversaries, and other bad actors who would do us harm.
And we should begin, belatedly, to address the challenge of adapting our laws and regulations to new technology and business practices. The American people have risen to every technological challenge we’ve faced as a nation, and I have faith that the challenges of the digital age will be no exception.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Follow him on Twitter: @MarkWarner
Damian Collins, MP: There is no guarantee the truth can spread more successfully than a campaign of disinformation
Jul 16 2018
This op-ed was originall published in the Times of London on July 16, 2018. Damian Collins is chair of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, and MP for Folkestone and Hythe
The Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg knows that just like a computer or biological virus, information spreads from one person to another and through mass media to millions. In co-ordinated campaigns, multiple messengers act together to help stories go viral.
The greater the control over the way in which the message is conveyed, the stronger the influence on the target audience and therefore the more likely the virus will take hold and be successfully shared.
Using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Russia has an active strategy to infect our western democracies with campaigns of disinformation, with the purpose of spreading doubt and confusion, turning communities against each other and undermining confidence in our public institutions.
Thanks to the hearings in the United States congress we know that during the 2016 presidential election the Russians ran over 3,000 adverts on Facebook and Instagram to promote 120 Facebook pages in a campaign that reached 126 million Americans.
In further evidence from Facebook given to the House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) select committee which I chair, we know that the Russians used sophisticated targeting techniques and created customised audiences to amplify extreme voices in the campaign, particularly those on sensitive topics like race relations and immigration.
Facebook evidence to the select committee also shows that the Russians ran anti-immigration ads targeting users in the UK in the run up to the Brexit referendum. Twitter has confirmed that the Internet Research Agency had active accounts targeting British voters during the referendum as well.
A joint research project by the Universities of Swansea and UC Berkeley in California identified 156,252 Russian accounts tweeting about #Brexit and that they posted over 45,000 Brexit messages in the last 48 hours of the campaign.
Further research by the consultancy 89up has shown that the Kremlin-backed media outlets RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik had more reach on Twitter for anti-EU content than either Vote Leave or Leave.EU, during the referendum campaign.
Yet this analysis is based on looking at accounts we can easily trace back to Russia, but there may be many more. I recently met with the head of cybersecurity at a major UK bank who told me that they are regularly attacked from Russia, but that increasingly this is done by hacking first into servers based in the UK from which the operation is launched. This action is taken to deliberately try and hide the fact that the attack originated in Russia.
In addition to this direct Russian interference in elections, the DCMS committee has also received evidence the leading political donor to the Brexit cause Arron Banks had previously undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador and businessmen where possible gold and diamond deals were discussed, although Mr Banks has said that nothing came of these conversations.
Backdoor meetings between Russian businessmen and politicians would appear to belong in a spy movie. But they’re happening in real life and in centre stage. There is a moral imperative to shine a light on them.
Mr Banks? Why did he downplay the importance of these discussions to our committee? Most importantly — and many have asked — where did Mr Banks get the money to help fund Brexit?
We also know that the man at the centre of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scraping scandal, Dr Aleksandr Kogan who was born in the former Soviet Union, was also working at the same time on a project on cyberbullying at the University of St Petersburg, which was sponsored by the Russian government.
Dr Kogan’s work is being investigated by the UK Information Commissioner and they believed that the Facebook data he gathered may have been accessed by third parties in other countries, including Russia.
In the Darwinian battle of ideas being played out in the news feeds of millions of social media account holders, there is no guarantee that the truth will be a more successful virus than a campaign of disinformation.
If anything, the burden of the truth, to inform and persuade, is much greater than a campaign of lies designed to merely shock and confuse. This is a potent threat and we need to do more to act together to defeat it. That is why I am attending a special conference being organised by the Atlantic Council in Washington today discussing the Kremlin’s interference in elections.
This event is bringing together politicians from around the world who have been leading investigations into these issues, including the United States senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, and Bob Zimmer and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith from the House of Commons of Canada.
In 1941 Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter setting out their ambitions for the new world order after the war. This included in clause three of the charter that nations should “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live”. 75
In upholding that principle we believe in liberty, democracy and the rule of law, which in both the USA and Britain guards against foreign interference in our politics and elections.
Yet the mounting evidence of how Russia is using social media to spread fake news and disinformation, shows how easily this principle in the Atlantic Charter is being breached.
Today we need to renew that Charter for the digital age, underlining our commitment to act against the attack by Russia on our democracies and establishing the responsibilities as well of the major tech companies to provide real transparency to users on where the messages they are seeing are originating from.
In addition to this, there needs to be more action against accounts that are proven to be spreading campaigns of disinformation, and to stop foreign agencies from running political adverts during our election campaigns.
This op-ed was originally published in USA TODAY on July 12, 2018
The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report last week concurring with the U.S. intelligence community’s unanimous assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a massive influence campaign aimed at the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The attack included the targeting of election infrastructure, email hacks, weaponized leaks, overt propaganda and a covert, large-scale disinformation effort on social media feeds like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
In many ways, this threat is not new. The Kremlin has been conducting information warfare or “active measures” against the West for decades. What is new, however, are social media tools with the reach and power to magnify propaganda and false information with a scale and precision that would have been unimaginable back in the days of the Berlin Wall.
The Soviet Politburo could only have dreamed of the capability Russia now has to target voters directly in the U.S., Europe and other democracies with propaganda, misinformation and disinformation. Twenty-first century social media tools have the potential to further erode public confidence in western institutions and undermine the shared sense of facts that is supposed to be the foundation of honest political debate.
In 2016, we were taken by surprise. In 2018, there are no excuses. We must be ready.
Message to Russia as Trump meets Putin
That is why we are teaming up with legislators from Canada and Europe to sound the alarm. Following this week’s NATO summit, parliamentarians from across Europe and North America will meet Monday in Washington, D.C., the same day President Donald Trump and Putin meet in Helsinki.
Our goal must be to demonstrate to the world that the community of democratic nations does not intend to accede to Putin’s or any other authoritarian’s view of the world. We will resist Russia’s aggression. As legislators, we have a responsibility to address that threat — particularly on social media.
First, as elected officials, we have a duty to use our positions to shine a light on Russia’s actions and capabilities. Utilizing our investigative tools and public platforms, legislators must expose the full scale and scope of Russia’s schemes to weaken democracies.
The two of us are currently engaged in a bipartisan effort in the Senate Intelligence Committee to uncover Russia’s activities during the 2016 elections and publicly detail its array of asymmetric capabilities. Similarly, our colleagues in the British Parliament, led by Damian Collins, are conducting an inquiry on “fake news” and how it was used by both foreign and domestic actors to influence the Brexit vote.
But it is not enough simply to shine a bright light on Russian aggression. As legislators, we also are responsible for crafting and passing laws to protect our democracy while also preserving freedom of expression.
There is little doubt that our own government and our laws have not kept pace with technological change. The magnitude of this challenge is poised only to expand with improvements in artificial intelligence, machine learning and related advancements like “deep fake” video manipulation. This technology can literally put words in someone’s mouth, creating a false narrative that can spread across the globe in minutes.
As our committee’s work has helped to establish, a key goal of Russian disinformation is to fracture the ability of open societies to reach social and political consensus — an objective significantly furthered when Americans can no longer "their lying eyes." If we hope to stay resilient against these threats, we’re going to need laws that keep up.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has put forward several bipartisan proposals to improve election security and ensure that the intelligence community does a better job of tracking, sharing and responding to efforts by any foreign power to influence our elections, including through social media.These include making clear to adversaries that we consider attacking our election infrastructure a hostile act and will respond accordingly, and to states that they should replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems as quickly as possible.
As stewards of oversight, we also have a responsibility to ensure our respective governments are ready to track and attack the ongoing threat from influence operations. In the U.S., we are not convinced that the national security community is currently organized to adequately rise to this challenge.
Informed public best defense against Russia
Finally, we have a responsibility as public officials to raise awareness and ensure that the voting public are fully informed of how our adversaries are trying to manipulate us. At the end of the day, there is really no better defense against Russian aggression on social media than an informed citizenry — a voting public that is fully aware of the Kremlin’s attempts to divide us from within and rejects them.
But social media companies also have a civic responsibility to prevent abuse from proliferating on their platforms and to inform users when they’ve been exposed to it.
We in the U.S. have much to learn about Russian tactics from our allies across the Atlantic who have been, and continue to be, on the front lines of Russian information operations. Vladimir Putin wants to divide us — both internally, here at home, and externally, from our transatlantic friends. Next week, legislators from across the NATO alliance will send him a strong and direct message that it won’t work.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees. Follow them on Twitter: @MarkWarner and @marcorubio
Jun 13 2018
Originally published in Politico
Sen. Mark Warner said he is “embarrassed” for the United States after President Donald Trump’s performance at the G-7 meeting and suggested the president set America’s standing in the world back decades.
“I was frankly embarrassed — embarrassed for our country,” Warner (D-Va.) said on the latest edition of the POLITICO Money podcast. “This is not the way America leads and the way America has led the world through Democratic and Republican administrations since the second World War.”
Warner, mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, also ripped into Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, saying the president gave Kim much of what he wanted and got little to nothing in return.
“One thing we do know is that North Korea came out a real winner. North Korea, which has been aspiring to have a meeting with a U.S. president on an equal footing since the end of the Korean War, achieved its goal,” he said. “In terms of the United States and the West, I think the jury is out. The North Koreans made, I wouldn’t even call it an agreement, but they made vague promises similar to promises that have been made in prior agreements. Whether they will honor them or not, time will tell.”
Warner suggested Trump has a double standard between Iran, where he demands verifiable evidence of denuclearization, and North Korea, where he appears willing to take Kim’s word for now.
“What do you think the reaction of some of my Republican colleagues would have been if a Democratic president had met with the Grand Ayatollah and come out with a meeting where they got these kind of vague assurances but no commitments?” he said.
Warner also chastised Trump for continually arguing that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada when the federal government’s own data show the opposite is true. “The president does not have much connection with factual reality, and the fact that he has created this norm where he can say anything even when it’s not factually true, I think that does long-term damage in terms of the president’s credibility with a lot of Americans and, obviously, his credibility with a lot of our allies.”
On a potential presidential run, Warner repeated his previous line that he does not have “the fire in the belly” at the moment to make a run. But he did not rule it out, and he articulated what could easily become the framework of a run.
“What I want to do is finish this Russia investigation. I do want to make sure that we’ve got a national security agenda that protects American values,” he said. “And I’d like the Democratic candidate to articulate a forward-leaning economic agenda that’s pro-growth but also that realizes we need a new social contract and, frankly, that modern American capitalism isn’t working for enough people.”
Warner & Kaine Announce $2.7 Million to Support Nursing Education and Retention at James Madison University
Jun 13 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced $2,703,156 in federal funding to support nursing education at James Madison University over the next four years. The funding will be used to recruit, admit, and retain students interested in pursuing nursing and working in underserved primary care environments in Page County.
“At a time when Virginia faces a shortage in nurses, this grant will play an important role in supporting students interested in nursing and placing these qualified individuals at primary care facilities in underserved areas,” the Senators said. “We’re thrilled that the Department of Health and Human Services and JMU have shown a commitment to this important endeavor.”
“This collaboration is a great example of our university’s mission in action, as we seek to apply the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to the real-world challenges of our community partners outside the classroom,” said Jonathan Alger, President of James Madison University.
“The School of Nursing at James Madison University is excited to work with our clinical partners in Page County to develop a nursing workforce prepared to meet the needs of rural and underserved individuals. Our BSN nursing students will greatly benefit from the opportunity to practice in rural, primary care settings in Page County while impacting the needs of the community as well,” said Julie Sanford, Director and Professor of James Madison University’s School of Nursing.
“The GO Virginia Council for Region 8, covering 16 communities in the Shenandoah Valley, including Page County, has been keenly aware of and concerned about the growing demand for a skilled nursing workforce to support the evolving health care sector of our regional economy. Today’s announcement for James Madison University will reap benefits for the entire region as our federal, state, and local partners come together with our university-based assets to address this critical need,” said George Pace, GO Virginia Region 8 Council Chairman.
The funding was awarded through the Department of Health and Human Services Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention (NEPGQR) Program. The purpose of this grant program is to recruit and train nursing students to practice in community-based primary care teams.