Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the Senate floor and offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) aimed at preventing foreign election interference. The amendment would incorporate into the annual defense bill Sen. Warner’s Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act, which would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election.

The FIRE Act was initially set to be included in the NDAA as part of Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA), which passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month and was later incorporated into the NDAA. Over the weekend, Senate GOP leadership removed the FIRE Act from the NDAA, which is currently being debated on the Senate floor.   

Sen. Warner, who has attempted to pass the FIRE Act several times over Republican objections in the past year, took to the Senate floor today to decry the backroom deal and offer the FIRE Act as a floor amendment, setting the stage for a possible up-or-down vote in the coming week.  

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said in part, “In a different time, with a different president, this bill would not be controversial. It would simply say to all presidential campaigns going forward: if a foreign power reaches out to your campaign offering assistance or offering dirt on a political opponent, the appropriate response is not to say ‘thank you.’ The appropriate response is to call the FBI. What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country, when we can’t even agree on that.”

He continued, The [Intelligence] Committee voted 14-1 to pass an intel authorization bill that included theFIRE Act. So, you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned of a backroom deal to strip the FIRE Act out of the Intelligence Committee’s legislation because of a supposed turf war with another Committee. Mr. President, I am back again today because the security of our elections cannot wait. Let’s not hide behind process and turf wars. The stakes are far too high to continue the partisan blockade of election security legislation that we’ve seen over the last three years.” 

The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:

 

Mr. President, I’m here today because I fear the Senate is about to fail once again…to protect our elections from foreign interference.

For the last three years, I’ve worked as Vice Chairman of the Intel committee to investigate Russia’s attack on our democracy in 2016. We are the only bipartisan investigation of Russian election interference to make it to the finish line. 

Any member of the public can read our declassified conclusions. And any member of this body can read additional classified materials. 

Our report offers a stark warning of Russia’s intent to interfere in future U.S. elections… and a clear roadmap for how to defend our democracy from Russia or other adversaries copying their playbook. 

Unfortunately, the White House and the leadership of the United States Senate seem to be the only ones not taking this threat seriously. Since 2016, this body has failed to vote on a single piece of standalone election security legislation. 

So, four times in the last year, I have come to the floor in an attempt to pass my bipartisan election security legislation, known as the FIRE Act, by unanimous consent. 

And each time, those efforts were blocked by my Republican colleagues— earning applause from the President on Twitter. 

In a different time, with a different President, this bill would not be controversial.

It would simply say to all Presidential campaigns going forward: if a foreign power reaches out to your campaign offering assistance…or offering dirt on a political opponent the appropriate response is not to say ‘thank you.’ The appropriate response is to call the FBI

What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country when we can’t even agree on that.

Mr. President, I introduced this bipartisan legislation months before the facts came to light… about the President pressuring Ukraine into announcing politically motivated investigations into the Bidens. 

I’m not here to rehash the impeachment trial, but I do want to note one thing.

A number of my Republican colleagues justified their votes by saying that, while not impeachable, it was wrong for the President to solicit foreign interference in our elections.

I take my colleagues across the aisle at their word that they believe foreign interference has no place in our elections.

But at some point, you have to put your money where your mouth is. 

We know the President tried to trade election favors with Ukraine. According to the new book from John Bolton, the President tried to trade political favors with Xi Jinping during trade negotiations. Maybe that happened, maybe it didn’t. 

But I’d be much more inclined to give the President the benefit of the doubt, if he hadn’t asked China to investigate the Bidens on national television; if he hadn’t asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign; or if he’d shown even a shred of interest in defending our democracy from foreign interference over the last four years.

Mr. President, we are under attack from adversaries who see this new era of cyberwarfare and disinformation as a golden opportunity to undermine American democracy. 

We cannot afford to have a system that allows Presidential candidates to welcome this interference with open arms. If we can’t trust the President of the United States and his campaign to do the right thing and report foreign interference, then we need to require it by law.

I’ve spent over a year inviting my colleagues across the aisle to work with us on this already bipartisan legislation. I’ve answered every objection and worked through the right channels to get this legislation to the floor as part of the NDAA.

We went back to the Intelligence Committee—the only committee engaged in serious efforts to prevent foreign election interference. We made sure that this year’s intel authorization bill included several provisions to strengthen our defenses ahead of the November elections.

The Committee voted 14-1 to pass an intel authorization bill that included the FIRE Act. 

So, you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned of a backroom deal to strip the FIRE Act out of the Intelligence Committee’s legislation… because of a supposed turf war with another Committee.  

So, Mr. President, I am back again today because the security of our elections cannot wait. Let’s not hide behind process and turf wars. The stakes are far too high to continue the partisan blockade of election security legislation that we’ve seen over the last three years.

If my Republican colleagues want to strip this legislation out of the NDAA behind closed doors, then I’m going to offer it as an amendment… force an up-or-down vote and put every member of this body on the record. 

More than ever, it is time to put country over party… and defend our democracy from those who would do it harm. I encourage my colleagues to support this amendment and send a clear message: foreign interference has no place in our elections.  

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WASHINGTON - Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senate Committee on the Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), released a new letter sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe demanding they promptly inform the public of any information supporting the President’s recent, inflammatory claims regarding nationwide protests of the police killing of George Floyd. 

Sens. Warner, Schumer, and Feinstein stress that over the past week, President Trump has asserted—without providing factual support or evidence—that “our nation has been gripped” by, among others, “professional anarchists” and “Antifa.” President Trump further attributed instances of violence and property damage to “acts of domestic terror.”  Versions of these claims have been echoed by other members of the Trump administration, and appear intended to frame the legitimate peaceful protests taking place around the country as terrorist threats in order to justify unnecessary federal, even military, intervention and the excessive use of force.

The Senators urge Director Wray and Director Ratcliffe to immediately release to the public any information they may have supporting the President’s statements and respond to questions from the press.

The letter can be found here and below:

Dear Director Wray and Director Ratcliffe,

We write to request that you promptly inform the public of any information that supports recent claims made by the President related to protests of the police killing of George Floyd.  

On June 1, 2020, President Trump asserted that “our nation has been gripped” by, among others, “professional anarchists” and “Antifa.” He further attributed instances of violence and property damage to “acts of domestic terror.”  These statements are similar to those made by other members of the Administration.

These claims are highly inflammatory.  They also appear intended to frame the legitimate peaceful protests taking place around the country as terrorist threats in order to justify unnecessary federal, even military, intervention and the excessive use of force. Worse still, the President and others have made these assertions without any factual support or evidence. 

These vague and unsubstantiated claims do not justify the extraordinary measures taken in response to these protests.  In recent days, the Administration has deployed numerous federal agencies to the streets of our cities, considered the use of active duty troops against Americans, attacked peaceful protesters, and instigated tensions with state and municipal authorities.  These actions are not sustainable in a democracy. 

We therefore urge that you immediately release to the public any information you may have supporting the President’s statements and respond to questions from the press. 

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. 

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was joined by Senate Intelligence Committee members Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Angus King (I-ME), and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee, in urging the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to ensure than any potential plan to withdraw military personnel from Afghanistan is orderly, conditions-based, and planned in conjunction with military and diplomatic counterparts. The letter comes shortly after reports revealed that President Trump is considering a withdrawal of U.S. forces November of 2020 – without regard for the conditions on the ground and much earlier than the timeline established in the Taliban peace agreement that was signed earlier this year.

“While we support the goal of bringing the war in Afghanistan to a responsible end, we are concerned that a repeat of our hastily-announced withdrawal from Syria could needlessly put more American lives at risk, increase the threat to allies and partners participating in the Resolute Support Mission, and squander important intelligence relationships and counterterrorism operations,” wrote the Senators in the letter to DNI John Ratcliffe. “A rushed and premature withdrawal would also risk losing the gains we have achieved in Afghanistan, not only in counterterrorism but also in building Afghan governance and military forces.”

“We urge you to ensure the Administration has access to the best intelligence available regarding stability and governance in Afghanistan, the threat posed by groups like the Haqqani Taliban Network, al-Qa‘ida, and ISIS, and the risk posed by a precipitous U.S. withdrawal,” they continued.

In their letter, the Senators emphasized the need to give American intelligence professionals the time and space needed to plan for an organized drawdown, and prevent a rash withdrawal similar to the situation in October 2019, where President Trump decided to hastily withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, surprising U.S. and allied personnel in the region and disrupting operations to defeat ISIS.

Additionally, the Senators requested that DNI Ratcliffe provide an update on the Intelligence Community’s force posture plans for Afghanistan – including a detailed description of future basing and personnel plans, security procedures, options for continued partner engagement, and intelligence collection contingencies – if the decision is made to withdraw the U.S. military by November.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Director Ratcliffe:

As you begin your tenure as Director of National Intelligence, we request that you actively represent the interests of the Intelligence Community as the Administration plans a potential withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement stipulating that our government would remove all military personnel from the country in 12 to 14 months, based on conditions on the ground.  However, recent media reporting indicates that President Trump is seeking to expedite this process, and has requested plans to execute a complete U.S. military withdrawal by November.

During your confirmation hearing last month, you testified that you disagreed with the President’s October 2019 decision to precipitously withdraw U.S. forces from Syria – a move that surprised U.S. and allied personnel in the region, and disrupted operations to defeat ISIS.

While we support the goal of bringing the war in Afghanistan to a responsible end, we are concerned that a repeat of our hastily-announced withdrawal from Syria could needlessly put more American lives at risk, increase the threat to allies and partners participating in the Resolute Support Mission, and squander important intelligence relationships and counterterrorism operations.  A rushed and premature withdrawal would also risk losing the gains we have achieved in Afghanistan, not only in counterterrorism but also in building Afghan governance and military forces.  

Our nation’s intelligence professionals have spent nearly two decades establishing security arrangements with our Afghan partners.  Now, it is incumbent upon our government to give them the time and space to prepare for an orderly, conditions-based drawdown, in conjunction with military and diplomatic counterparts.

We urge you to ensure the Administration has access to the best intelligence available regarding stability and governance in Afghanistan, the threat posed by groups like the Haqqani Taliban Network, al-Qa‘ida, and ISIS, and the risk posed by a precipitous U.S. withdrawal.

Accordingly, we request that, at the earliest date possible, you update us on the Intelligence Community’s force posture planning for Afghanistan if the decision is made to withdraw the U.S. military by November.  Please include a detailed description of future basing and personnel plans, security procedures, options for continued partner engagement, and intelligence collection contingencies.

Thank you for your attention to this request.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON - The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence passed the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (IAA) today on a bipartisan 14 - 1 vote. The bill authorizes funding, provides legal authorities, and enhances Congressional oversight for the U.S. Intelligence Community.

“The IAA for Fiscal Year 2021 represents the Senate Intelligence Committee’s strong, bipartisan effort to give our Intelligence Community the resources, authorities, and personnel to protect America’s national security while increasing government efficiency,” Acting Chairman Rubio said. “As a nation, we face ever-expanding threats from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Our legislation is vital to the Intelligence Community, and it provides the men and women who serve our nation the tools they need to keep our country safe. At the same time, our bill represents comprehensive Congressional oversight, ensuring that these tools are executed responsibly and cost-effectively.”

“This bipartisan intelligence authorization bill ensures that the women and men of our intelligence agencies have the resources they need to do their jobs,” said Vice Chairman Warner. “This bill takes key steps to improve our national security, including investments in 5G technology, reforms to our security clearance process, and important protections for whistleblowers to report wrongdoing within the IC.”

Background:

The IAA for Fiscal Year 2021 ensures that the Intelligence Community can continue its critical work for our country while Congress continues its oversight, including in the following key areas:

  • Confronting our adversaries’ attempts to compromise telecommunications and cybersecurity technology;
  • Development and deployment of secure 5G networks based in open-standards to compete with our adversaries;
  • Identifying corruption, influence operations, and information suppression by the Chinese government, in particular in this critical time for the people of Hong Kong;
  • Uncovering Russian and Eastern European oligarchs’ corruption and illegal activities;
  • Protecting against foreign influence threats and election interference on social media platforms;
  • Creating Intelligence Community-wide policies to facilitate sharing cleared contractor information with private companies to enhance the effectiveness of insider threat programs;
  • Requiring the publication of guidelines for granting, denying, or revoking a security clearance and preventing the revocation or denial of a clearance for reasons of discrimination, political beliefs, or retaliation; and
  • Advancing Intelligence Community hiring flexibilities, student loan repayment programs, and child care for IC personnel. 

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WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence marked up the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, which includes measures introduced by the Committee’s Vice Chairman, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), to uphold the integrity of the security clearance process, prevent politically-motivated abuse, and enhance contractor insider threat programs.

“With so many national security challenges facing our nation today, it’s critical that we have a trusted workforce that can safeguard our nation’s secrets,” said Sen. Warner. “With the inclusion of several provisions aimed at ensuring the integrity of our security clearance process in today’s bipartisan bill, Americans can have the confidence that we are vetting, hiring, and retaining national security professionals that will pursue our national security interests.”

Every year, Congress authorizes intelligence funding through the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) to counter terrorist threats, prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, enhance counterintelligence, conduct covert actions and collect and analyze intelligence around the world. The bill reflects the intelligence committee’s oversight over the past year and its consideration of the president’s budgetary and legislative requests.

During this year’s markup of the bill, Sens. Warner and Susan Collins (R-ME) successfully secured their provision that builds upon their bipartisan legislation to protect the integrity of the security clearance process from being abused for political purposes. The provision also aims to increase transparency and guarantee the same rights for federal contractors and federal workforce in the security clearance process by requiring the publication of adjudicative guidelines that serve as the exclusive basis for granting, denying, and revoking a clearance. In addition, the provision also establishes a government-wide appeals process, chaired by the Director of National Intelligence, for individuals to appeal denials of requests to overturn a decision made at the agency-level to deny or revoke a clearance or crossover request.

The Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) also includes a provision by Sen. Warner that would allow derogatory information-sharing between federal agencies and cleared federal contractors on potential employee red flags in an effort to prevent and mitigate insider threats. The information-sharing system complies with insider threat programs requirements under the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual and rests on contractors giving prior consent to information-sharing.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the below statement after it was announced that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) would serve as Acting Chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: 

 “Senator Rubio has been a great partner on intelligence and national security issues and I look forward to working with him in his new role as Acting Chairman.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following statement:

“The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has submitted the fifth and final volume of its bipartisan investigative report into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to the Office of Director of National Intelligence for classification review. In addition to submitting the full, classified report, and in order to help facilitate the Intelligence Community’s review, we have also submitted what we assess to be a properly redacted, unclassified version of the report, totaling nearly 1,000 pages. It is our hope that ODNI can expeditiously review these documents so that the Committee can consider, vote on, and release the report as soon as possible. 

“We want to thank the talented and tireless staff who have contributed to the Committee’s investigation. The work they’ve done has already greatly added to our understanding of and response to foreign threats to our democratic process.”

Background:

·       At a May 5th open hearing for the nomination of Director of National Intelligence, Chairman Burrannounced that the Committee’s fifth report was complete and would be sent for declassification. During questioning, nominee Rep. John Ratcliffe affirmed his commitment as DNI to an expeditious review of the Committee’s report.

·       To date, the Committee has released four out of a total of five volumes in its comprehensive report on Russia’s 2016 election interference. The previously released volumes examined U.S. election security, Russia’s use of social mediathe Obama Administration’s response to Russian interference, and the January 2017 Intelligence Committee Assessment.

·       The fifth and final volume examines the Committee’s counterintelligence findings.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the floor prior to a cloture vote on the nomination of William Evanina to serve as Director of the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center.  In his remarks, Warner urged his colleagues to confirm Evanina, who has been serving in that position in an acting capacity for more than two years.

A copy of Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:

Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of William Evanina to be the first Senate confirmed Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, or NCSC.

Bill is an American patriot and American success story.  Raised in Peckville, Pennsylvania, with very modest means, he was the first in his family to go to college.  Prior to joining the FBI in 1996, his first job was with the General Services Administration in Philadelphia. 

Over his 24-year long career with the FBI, Bill investigated organized crime and violent crimes. He investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the anthrax attacks in Washington, and the Daniel Pearl kidnapping.  Bill also led the counter-espionage group at the Central Intelligence Agency. 

He earned a reputation as the consummate counterintelligence and security professional, fiercely dedicated to the mission, with unquestionable honor.

Then, in June 2014, then-Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper appointed Bill to serve as the director of NCSC.  Many technical and complex activities fall under NCSC, including personnel security policy; information technology protection standards; CI cyber operations; supply chain risk management; threat awareness for U.S. critical infrastructure; and damage assessments from spies and unauthorized disclosures.  And I have partnered with Bill on many topics, to include educating industry about the threats posed by China and reforming an antiquated personnel vetting system.

The Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 recognized the vital work that NCSC does and made the position subject to Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation. 

In February 2018, President Trump nominated Bill to be the first Senate-confirmed Director.  The Senate Intelligence Committee considered the nomination in May 2018 and unanimously recommended his confirmation to the full Senate.  We considered his nomination again in February 2019 in the new Congress.  Again, our committee voted unanimously in favor of his nomination.

Unfortunately, over the last two years, despite universal recognition of Bill’s qualifications for the position, his nomination became entangled in unrelated matters.  Despite the delay, Bill stayed the course, committed to the mission above all else. 

All of those unrelated matters may not be addressed to every Senator’s full satisfaction, but at least today we are here to give this nominee what he and the Country deserve: a vote.

Now I share my colleagues’ concerns about protections for whistleblowers. I have seen this White House’s disregard for whistleblower protections. I believe I have Bill Evanina’s commitment that procedures for processing whistleblower complaints will be dealt with appropriately.

I also feel strongly that at this moment when there is not a single Senate-confirmed appointee in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, now more than ever we need a Senate-confirmed career intelligence professional in place—standing guard over an office that too often seems to be directed by political appointees who disregard protections for whistleblowers and our intelligence community.  

I look forward to Mr. Evanina’s confirmation today so that he can continue addressing the many important counterintelligence and security challenges facing our nation.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released a new report, titled “Review of the Intelligence Community Assessment,” the fourth and penultimate volume in the Committee’s bipartisan Russia investigation.

The latest installment examines the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work behind the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) that determined Russia conducted an unprecedented, multi-faceted campaign to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The installment builds upon the Committee’s unclassified summary findings on the ICA issued in July 2018. 

The ICA is informed by highly sensitive sources. In its review of that information, the Committee sought to protect the methods and means by which the U.S. Intelligence Community secured this information. In order to protect sources and methods, the vast majority of this chapter is redacted.

To date, the Committee has released four out of a total of five volumes in its comprehensive report on Russia’s 2016 election interference. The previously released volumes examined U.S. election securityRussia’s use of social mediaand the Obama Administration’s response to Russian interference. The fifth and final volume will examine the Committee’s counterintelligence findings.

Statement from Chairman Burr: 

“In reviewing the ICA, the Senate Intelligence Committee looked at two key questions: first, did the final product meet the initial task given by the President, and second, was the analysis supported by the intelligence presented? We found the ICA met both criteria. The ICA reflects strong tradecraft, sound analytical reasoning, and proper justification of disagreement in the one analytical line where it occurred.

“The Committee found no reason to dispute the Intelligence Community’s conclusions.

“One of the ICA’s most important conclusions was that Russia’s aggressive interference efforts should be considered ‘the new normal.’ That warning has been borne out by the events of the last three years, as Russia and its imitators increasingly use information warfare to sow societal chaos and discord. With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it’s more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors.”

Statement from Vice Chairman Warner:

“The ICA summarizing intelligence concerning the 2016 election represented the kind of unbiased and professional work we expect and require from the Intelligence Community. The ICA correctly found the Russians interfered in our 2016 election to hurt Secretary Clinton and help the candidacy of Donald Trump.  Our review of the highly classified ICA and underlying intelligence found that this and other conclusions were well-supported. There is certainly no reason to doubt that the Russians’ success in 2016 is leading them to try again in 2020, and we must not be caught unprepared.” 

You can read, “Volume IV: Review of Intelligence Community Assessment” here

 

Key Findings: 

  • The Committee finds the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) presents a coherent and well-constructed intelligence basis for the case that Russia engaged in an attempt to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Committee concludes that all analytic lines are supported with all-source intelligence, that the ICA reflects proper analytic tradecraft, and that differing levels of confidence on one analytic judgment are justified and properly represented. Additionally, interviews with those who drafted and prepared the ICA affirmed that analysts were under no political pressure to reach specific conclusions.
  • The Committee finds that the ICA reflects a proper representation of the intelligence collected and that this body of evidence supports the substance and body of the ICA. While the Intelligence Community did not include information provided by Christopher Steele in the body of the ICA or to support any of its analytical judgments, it did include a summary of this material in an annex —largely at the insistence of FBI’s senior leadership.  A broader discussion of the Steele dossier will be included in the final volume of the Committee’s report.
  • The Committee finds that the ICA makes a clear argument that the manner and aggressiveness of Russia’s election interference was unprecedented. However, the ICA does not include substantial representation of Russia’s interference attempts in 2008 and 2012.
  • The Committee finds that the ICA did not include a set of policy recommendations for responding to Russia’s interference attempts. This omission was deliberate, reflecting the well-established norm that the role of the Intelligence Community is to provide insight and warning to policy makers, not to make policy itself.
  • The Committee finds the ICA would have benefited from a more comprehensive look at the role of Russian propaganda generated by state-owned platforms in the multi-pronged interference campaign. Open source reporting on RT’s and Sputnik’s coverage of Wikileaks’ release of information from the Democratic National Committee would have strengthened the ICA’s examination of Russia’s use of propaganda.

Read the Senate Intelligence Committee’s previous reports:

Volume I: Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure

Volume II: Russia’s Use of Social Media

Volume III: U.S. Government Response to Russian Activities

Volume IV: Review of the Intelligence Community Assessment 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in calling on President Trump to provide a detailed written explanation for his decision to remove an inspector general. In a letter, the lawmakers underscore the important role inspectors general play in holding agencies accountable and outline the removal procedures, which are designed to prevent political interference. In addition to Sens. Warner and Grassley, the letter was signed by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Ron Wyden (D-Ore), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

The 2008 Inspector General Reform Act requires the president to provide Congress with a written explanation at least 30 days prior to removing an inspector general. On Friday, President Trump informed Congress of his intention to remove Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, citing a lack of confidence. However, the 2008 law requires additional details.

“Congressional intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the statute.  This is in large part because Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing or failure to perform the duties of the office, and not for reasons unrelated to their performance, to help preserve IG independence,” the senators wrote. 

The senators also raised concern about Atkinson being immediately placed on paid administrative leave, effectively removing him from his post prior to the 30-day expiration. 

Full text of the senators’ letter to Trump follows.

 

April 8, 2020

VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION

 The Honorable Donald J. Trump

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20500 

Dear President Trump:

According to reports, on Friday, April 3, you placed Intelligence Community Inspector General (IC IG) Michael Atkinson on administrative leave for thirty days pending his removal from office.[1]  As you know, Congress created inspectors general to combat waste, fraud, and abuse, and to be independent watchdogs holding federal agencies accountable to the taxpayer.  Congress established the IC IG, “to initiate and conduct independent investigations, inspections, audits, and reviews on programs and activities within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence.”[2]  Further, the IC IG and indeed all inspectors general (IG) are designed to fulfill a dual role, reporting to both the President and Congress, to secure efficient, robust, and independent agency oversight.  To ensure inspectors general are fully capable of performing their critical duties, and in recognition of their importance both to efficient administration and to the legislative function, Congress set clear, statutory notice requirements for their potential removal.  

Specifically, current law requires that you inform the Senate and House Intelligence Committees in writing of the reasons for your removal of the IC IG, at least 30 days prior to that removal.[3]  However, in your recent letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, you stated only that, “it is vital that [you] have the fullest confidence” in those serving as IGs and that “this is no longer the case” with regard to Mr. Atkinson.[4]  Further, according to public reports, Mr. Atkinson already was placed on administrative leave, effectively removing him from his position prior to the completion of the statutorily required notice period.[5]

Congressional intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the statute.  This is in large part because Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing or failure to perform the duties of the office, and not for reasons unrelated to their performance, to help preserve IG independence.[6]  The Senate Committee Report on the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 provides further clarity regarding the high bar that is expected in cases of removal. In that report, the Committee expressed its intent that, “Inspectors General who fail to perform their duties properly whether through malfeasance or nonfeasance, or whose personal actions bring discredit upon the office, be removed.”  The report also states that, “[t]he requirement to notify the Congress in advance of the reasons for the removal should serve to ensure that Inspectors General are not removed for political reasons.”[7]  

In 2009, senators of both parties raised similar concerns when the Obama administration removed the IG of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Gerald Walpin, by placing him on administrative leave for 30 days without consulting members of Congress.[8]  Like the present notice at issue here, the initial notice of removal for IG Walpin only vaguely noted the President no longer had “the fullest confidence” in him.[9]  At that time, the senators affirmed Congress’s intent that any notice of removal should clearly outline specific reasons supporting that decision.  The senators also reiterated the purpose for the 30 day notice to Congress: to provide an opportunity for an appropriate dialogue with Congress in the event that the planned transfer or removal is viewed as an inappropriate or politically motivated attempt to terminate an effective inspector general.  By placing the IG on 30 days of administrative leave and naming an acting replacement, the administration has already effectively removed that IG and appears to have circumvented Congress’s role in this process.[10] 

As supporters of the Inspector General community, and as advocates for government transparency and accountability, it is our responsibility to confirm that there are clear, substantial reasons for removal.  To that end, we ask that you provide more detailed reasoning for the removal of Inspector General Atkinson no later than April 13, 2020.   Please also provide your views on how the appointment of an acting official prior to the end of the 30 day notice period comports with statutory requirements.  

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement after President Trump informed the congressional Intelligence Committees of his intent to fire the Intelligence Community Inspector General, Michael Atkinson:

“In the midst of a national emergency, it is unconscionable that the President is once again attempting to undermine the integrity of the intelligence community by firing yet another an intelligence official simply for doing his job. The work of the intelligence community has never been about loyalty to a single individual; it’s about keeping us all safe from those who wish to do our country harm. We should all be deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the nation’s intelligence agencies.”

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to the Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) urging them to issue clear guidance that ensures the security clearances of intelligence community personnel and contractors will not be jeopardized due to the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I write to ask you to issue guidance directing agencies to exercise appropriate leniency in considering how the coronavirus (COVID-19) may be negatively impacting adjudications for a security clearance or determination of trust,” wrote Sen. Warner.

A key element of the background investigation that supports a security clearance or a determination of trustworthiness is an individual’s financial stability. In his letter, Sen. Warner raised concerns that COVID-19’s impact could not only lead to financial duress for employees with security clearances, but that this financial duress could lead to delays in renewing security clearances. It could even result in personnel losing their positions in the event that they must heed the advice of health professionals and subsequently lose out on a paycheck in order to self-quarantine. The problem is particularly true for younger workers who lack a long credit history.

“While I understand that departments and agencies may already have certain discretion to consider broader contextual factors that may affect personnel vetting decisions, I ask you to issue clear and public guidance that departments and agencies may in no way penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness due to circumstances associated with coping with COVID-19. This guidance should apply to any information used in an initial clearance, a periodic reinvestigation, or a continuous evaluation program,” continued Sen. Warner.

Earlier this week, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) issued a statement that supports Sen. Warner’s recommendation for the DNI Acting Director to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus by issuing guidance that acknowledges that “financial difficulties incurred as a result of a work stoppage should not be treated as derogatory factors affecting workers’ security clearances.”

A copy of the letter is found here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

The Honorable Dale Cabaniss

Director, Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street, NW

Washington, D.C.  20415

Ambassador Richard Grenell

Acting Director of National Intelligence

Washington, D.C.  20511

Dear Director Cabaniss and Acting Director Grenell:

I write to ask you to issue guidance directing agencies to ensure that the coronavirus (COVID-19) does not negatively impact adjudications for government or contractor employees’ security clearances or determinations of trust.

COVID-19 may have many effects on our workforce, to include financial difficulty and psychological stress.  Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may require government and contractor personnel to self-quarantine or tend to family members, which in may cause them miss payments on things like rent, mortgage, credit cards, or other forms of debt.  The impact may be particularly acute for hourly workers.  This could impact their credit scores and jeopardize their ability to secure or maintain a clearance or hold a position of trust.  The problem is particularly acute for younger workers who lack a long credit history.  Psychological strain can naturally accompany such circumstances, exacerbating the situation.

While I understand that departments and agencies may already have certain discretion to consider broader contextual factors that may affect personnel vetting decisions, I ask you to issue clear and public guidance to ensure that departments and agencies do not penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness due to circumstances associated with COVID-19.  This guidance should apply to any information used in an initial clearance, a periodic reinvestigation, or a continuous evaluation/vetting program.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after the President announced his intent to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) to be Director of National Intelligence (DNI):

“The last time this nomination was unsuccessfully put forward, serious bipartisan questions were raised about Rep. Ratcliffe’s background and qualifications.

“It’s hard for me to see how anything new has happened to change that.”

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement on the resignation of former acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire:

“I’d like to thank Joe for his service and wish him the best for the future. While he and I haven’t always agreed on everything, at both NCTC and as Acting DNI, I have always known him to be serious, sincere, and doing his best to protect both his country, and the men and women of the intelligence community who worked under him. We should all be grateful to people like Joe who devote their entire careers to protecting their fellow Americans – regardless of partisan politics.”

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement after President Trump announced that Richard Grenell, the current U.S. Ambassador to Germany, will serve as the Acting Director of National Intelligence:

“The President has selected an individual without any intelligence experience to serve as the leader of the nation’s intelligence community in an acting capacity. This is the second acting director the President has named to the role since the resignation of Dan Coats, apparently in an effort to sidestep the Senate’s constitutional authority to advise and consent on such critical national security positions, and flouting the clear intent of Congress when it established the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2004. 

“The intelligence community deserves stability and an experienced individual to lead them in a time of massive national and global security challenges. And at a time when the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice has been called into grave question, now more than ever our country needs a Senate-confirmed intelligence director who will provide the best intelligence and analysis, regardless of whether or not it’s expedient for the President who has appointed him. 

“As Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I remain committed to robust, bipartisan oversight of the nation’s intelligence community, up to and including the DNI, and ensuring that the work of our intelligence professionals is never interfered with or manipulated for political ends.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Eastern District of New York announced charges against Huawei Technologies Co., LTD and several of its subsidiaries. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following statement:

“Today's announcement by the Eastern District of New York is an important step in combatting Huawei's state-directed and criminal enterprise. The indictment paints a damning portrait of an illegitimate organization that lacks any regard for the law. Intellectual property theft, corporate sabotage, and market manipulation are part of Huawei's core ethos and reflected in every aspect of how it conducts business. It uses these tactics indiscriminately against competitors and collaborators alike. Huawei's unlawful business practices are a threat to fair and open markets, as well as to legitimate competition in a tech space that is critical for the global economy. We commend the men and women of the FBI who pursued this investigation, and the prosecutors in New York who brought this indictment.”

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WASHINGTON – Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) today released the third volume in the Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russian election interference, “U.S. Government Response to Russian Activities.” The report examines the Obama Administration’s reaction to initial reports of election interference and the steps officials took or did not take to deter Russia’s activities.

Today’s installment is the third of five volumes in the Committee’s bipartisan investigation. The first volume, “Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure” was released in July 2019. The second, “Russia’s Use of Social Media,” was released in September 2019. The two remaining installments will examine the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on Russian interference and the Committee’s final counterintelligence findings. 

You can read “Volume III: U.S. Government Response to Russian Activities” here.

Statement from Vice Chairman Warner:

“The 2016 Russian interference in our elections on behalf of Donald Trump was unprecedented in the history of our nation. This volume tries to describe how the Obama Administration grappled with this challenge as they began to learn the scope of the Russian assault on our democracy. I hope that the lessons we captured in this report will resonate with lawmakers, national security experts and the American public so that we might be better able to fight off future attacks.  

“There were many flaws with the U.S. response to the 2016 attack, but it’s worth noting that many of those were due to problems with our own system – problems that can and should be corrected. I am particularly concerned however, that a legitimate fear raised by the Obama Administration – that warning the public of the Russian attack could backfire politically – is still present in our hyper-partisan environment. All Americans, particularly those of us in government and public office, must work together to push back on foreign interference in our elections without regard for partisan advantage.”

Statement from Chairman Burr: 

“After discovering the existence, if not the full scope, of Russia’s election interference efforts in late-2016, the Obama Administration struggled to determine the appropriate response. Frozen by ‘paralysis of analysis,’ hamstrung by constraints both real and perceived, Obama officials debated courses of action without truly taking one. Many of their concerns were understandable, including the fear that warning the public of the election threat would only alarm the American people and accomplish Russia’s goal of undermining faith in our democratic institutions. In navigating those valid concerns, however, Obama officials made decisions that limited their options, including preventing internal information-sharing and siloing cyber and geopolitical threats.  

“Thankfully, as we approach the 2020 presidential election we are in a better position to identify foreign interference efforts and address vulnerabilities Russia and other hostile foreign actors may seek to exploit. We must continue building on the lessons of 2016, including making sure we have strong response options at the ready. I hope this Committee’s bipartisan report will help further the public’s understanding of the threats we face and the current Administration’s ability to respond to them.”

Key Findings and Recommendations:

  • The Committee found the U.S. government was not well-postured to counter Russian election interference activity with a full range of readily-available policy options. While high-level warnings were delivered to Russian officials, those warnings may or may not have tempered Moscow’s activity, and Russia continued disseminating stolen emails, conducting social media-based influence operations, and working to access state voting infrastructure through Election Day 2016.
  • The Committee found that the Obama Administration was constrained in its response by a number of external and internal concerns. Those factors included the highly politicized environment, concern that public warnings would themselves undermine confidence in the election, and a delay in definitive attribution to Russia, among other issues.
  • The Committee found that the Obama Administration treated cyber and geopolitical aspects of the Russian active measures campaign as separate issues. This bifurcated approach may have prevented the Administration from understanding the full extent of the threat Russia posed, limiting its ability to respond.
  • The Committee found that the decision to limit and delay information sharing about the foreign influence threat inadvertently constrained the Obama Administration’s ability to respond.
  • The Committee recommends the U.S. exert its leadership in creating international cyber norms. The rules of cyber engagement are being written by hostile foreign actors, including Russia and China. U.S. leadership is necessary to establish any formalized international agreement on acceptable uses of cyber capabilities.
  • The Committee recommends the Executive Branch prepare for future attacks on U.S. elections. Preparations should include the development of a range of standing options that can be rapidly executed in the event of a foreign influence campaign, as well as regular, apolitical threat assessments from the Director of National Intelligence. The Intelligence Authorization Act covering FY2020, which was passed last year, requires DNI to provide such assessments before regularly scheduled elections.
  • The Committee recommends an integrated response to cyber events. Rather than treating cyber as an isolated domain separate from other geopolitical considerations, current and future Administrations should view cyber as an integral part of the foreign policy landscape.
  • The Committee recommends increased information sharing on foreign influence efforts, both within government and publicly. Credible information should be shared as broadly as appropriate within the federal government, including Congress, while still protecting intelligence sources and methods. Information should also be shared with relevant private sector partners and state and local authorities. In the event that an active measures campaign is detected, the public should be informed as soon as possible with a clear and succinct statement of the threat. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, issued the following statement regarding the Iowa caucuses:

“As the Department of Homeland Security has said, there is no indication that the failures associated with the app from last night’s caucuses were the result of malicious cyber activity.

“But the continuing chaos in Iowa is illustrative of our overall failure to take sufficient steps to protect the integrity of our election systems.   

“We need to look holistically at protecting the security, integrity, and resiliency of election systems – from registration systems, to e-poll books, voting machines, tabulation machines, and election night reporting systems. As the Senate Intelligence Committee has repeatedly emphasized, paper ballots are the least vulnerable to cyberattack, and at a minimum, all voter machines should have a voter-verified paper trail. What happened in Iowa last night underscores the necessity of all these measures were election-night systems to face a devastating hack.

“But what we’ve also seen that this chaos has created an environment where misinformation is now running rampant online, further undermining confidence in the democratic process. As we’ve seen in the past, foreign actors like Russia and China won’t hesitate to latch onto this kind of content in order to add to the domestic discord and distrust in our elections.

“As we get further into the 2020 primaries, what happened in Iowa is an early warning sign that Congress, local officials, and the social media platform companies have much more work to do to ensure the integrity of our elections.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, following a closed-door hearing held by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the federal government’s security clearance reform efforts, Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following statements:

Statement from Chairman Burr:

“I am pleased to say that we are seeing significant improvements in the security clearance process. The investigation backlog has come down from 725,000 cases in early 2018 to a steady-state level of just over 200,000 today. With the backlog under better control, the next phase of Trusted Workforce 2.0 is about to begin. The proposed reforms would aim to revamp the security clearance process and ensure our nation’s secrets are protected.

“These reforms cannot come a moment too soon. Our Intelligence Community is only as good as its people, but too often our most promising recruits get stuck in a discouraging, years-long clearance process before they can begin work. The delays disproportionately affect first or second generation Americans – folks who possess deep cultural understanding and diverse perspectives that are invaluable in the IC. Our system should be equipped to welcome a patriotic, first-generation Chinese-American who has spoken Mandarin since she was a child, while at the same time excluding the Edward Snowdens of the world who would put our nation’s safety at risk.”

Statement from Vice Chairman Warner:

“We need a revolution in how the executive branch thinks about security clearance reform and personnel vetting for those charged with safeguarding our nation’s most sensitive secrets.  The Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, as the government’s Security Executive Agent and the Suitability/Fitness and Credentialing Executive Agent, respectively, should implement Trusted Workforce 2.0 without delay.  For this effort to be effective, the executive branch must provide a specific plan of action that demonstrates the new system will be more effective and efficient than the old one; identify obstacles and mitigation strategies; and service all stakeholders equitably. I look forward to continued partnership with the executive branch to affect the transformation required in the personnel vetting model to meet today’s threat environment, capitalize on modern technologies, and reflect the mobility of today’s workforce.”

Background:

The current security clearance personnel vetting model has remained largely unchanged for more than 70 years.  Over the last three years, with significant, bipartisan, pressure from the Committee – including a March 2018 open hearing – there has been substantial progress in reforming this antiquated model.

In December 2019, the President signed into law the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2018, 2019, and 2020, which contained an entire title on clearance reform included by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Its provisions will modernize, simplify, and make more transparent the security clearance process; further reduce backlogs; improve information sharing with industry; and reflect the demands of today’s mobile workforce. The legislation affirms and accelerates many aspects of Trusted Workforce 2.0, the interagency initiative to transform the national security workforce.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, on a 86-8 vote, the Senate passed the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020, which included the Damon Paul Nelson and Matthew Young Pollard Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Years 2018, 2019, and 2020. The legislation was passed last week by the House.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following statements on the bill’s passage by Congress:

“I applaud the Senate’s passage today of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan authorization legislation as part of our nation’s defense authorization bill,” said Vice Chairman Warner. “The bipartisan intelligence authorization bill ensures that the women and men of our intelligence agencies have the resources they need to do their jobs, as well as robust provisions to improve oversight of our nation’s intelligence functions. I am particularly proud that the NDAA carries a provision providing twelve weeks of paid parental leave for government employees that builds upon the Committee’s original provision providing twelve weeks of paid parental leave to Intelligence Community personnel, including adoptive and foster parents. This provision will help recruit and retain top talent within the IC. I am also pleased that it includes a number of other provisions aimed at deterring foreign influence in our elections, tackling the technological threats from China as the U.S. and other nations move to 5G communications, modernizing our outdated security clearance process, and enabling the IC to exchange talent with the private sector.”

“The men and women of our Intelligence Community work tirelessly to keep our nation safe by naming the threats we face today and preparing for those we may face tomorrow,” said Chairman Burr. “This legislation, which passed the Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously and cleared the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan majorities, is a significant investment in America’s vital interests and national security. It is also an investment in the people who are essential for achieving our strategic goals. The Intelligence Authorization Act deters foreign threats, secures our elections, builds a strong intelligence workforce, and ensures proper Congressional oversight. I am proud to see this bill finally passed by Congress, and look forward to seeing it signed into law.”

Background:

The IAA for Fiscal Years 2018-2020 authorizes funding and enables comprehensive, Congressional oversight of the U.S. Intelligence Community. This legislation is named for two dedicated staff members on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Damon Nelson and Matt Pollard, respectively, who passed away last year.

Specifically, the bill improves the Intelligence Community’s ability to defend the United States by:

  • Deterring aggression from Russia and other foreign actors by increasing the United States’ capability of detecting malign activities, such as active measure campaigns, illicit financial transactions, and other intelligence activities.
  • Securing our elections from foreign interference by requiring strategic assessments of Russian cyber threats and influence campaigns, and facilitating increased information sharing between local, state, and federal government officials.
  • Modernizing the security clearance process by requiring plans to reduce the background investigation backlog, capitalizing on technology to improve efficiency, creating an interagency information sharing program for positions of trust, and enhancing the ability of government and industry personnel with active clearances to move between agencies and companies.
  • Protecting the U.S. Government technology supply chain by creating a task force within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and improving the procurement process to defend against intrusion and sabotage.
  • Bolstering the recruitment and retention of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals by enhancing career path flexibility and benefits for cybersecurity experts working within the Intelligence Community.
  • Advancing the Intelligence Community workforce by establishing a Public-Private Talent Exchange to foster professional experiences and growth.

The IAA was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on a unanimous and bipartisan 15-0 vote on May 14, 2019. The full Senate passed IAA as part of the NDAA on June 27, 2019 on a vote of 86-8.

The full House passed the House Intelligence Committee’s IAA on July 17, 2019, by a vote of 397-31.

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WASHINGTON – Today, the bipartisan leadership of several key Senate committees urged President Trump’s national security adviser to designate a senior coordinator dedicated to leading the nation’s effort to develop and deploy next-generation communications technologies. In a letter to Robert O’Brien, who was appointed as national security adviser in September, the top Republican and Democratic Senators on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee stressed the urgent need for the Trump administration to develop a national strategy for 5G, and to prioritize across government agencies the nation’s effort to develop and deploy the technology. 

“While we appreciate the progress being made within and across departments and agencies, we are concerned that their respective approaches are not informed by a coherent national strategy. In our view, the current national level approach to 5G comprises of a dispersed coalition of common concern, rather than a coordinated, interagency activity. Without a national strategy, facilitated by a common understanding of the geopolitical and technical impact of 5G and future telecommunications advancements, we expect each agency will continue to operate within its own mandate, rather than identifying national authority and policy deficiencies that do not neatly fall into a single department or agency. This fractured approach will not be sufficient to rise to the challenge the country faces. We hope that you, as the new National Security Adviser, will make this issue a top priority. We would further urge you to designate a dedicated, senior individual focused solely on coordinating and leading the nation’s effort to develop and deploy future telecommunications technologies. We believe that having a senior leader would position the United States to lead on telecommunications advancements, ensure the United States is appropriately postured against this strategic threat, and demonstrate to our allies the seriousness with which the nation considers the issue,” wrote Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), the Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Intelligence Committee; Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Gary Peters (D-MI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee; and Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jack Reed (D-RI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee.

The Senators stressed the dangers of allowing China to continue to lead the development of 5G technology. Maintaining White House focus on 5G is especially important in light of last week’s decision to eliminate the emerging technologies directorate at the National Security Council. 

“While the United States has led in the development and deployment of previous telecommunications evolutions, 5G represents the first evolutionary step for which an authoritarian nation leads the marketplace for telecommunications solutions. China’s leadership, combined with the United States’ increased reliance on high-speed, reliable telecommunications services to facilitate both commerce and defense, poses a strategic risk for the country. We cannot rely exclusively on defensive measures to solve or mitigate the issue, but rather we must shape the future of advanced telecommunications technology by supporting domestic innovation through meaningful investments, leveraging existing areas of U.S. strength, and bringing together like-minded allies and private sector expertise through a sustained effort over the course of decades, not months. A challenge of this magnitude requires a more ambitious response than traditional agency processes can support,” wrote the Senators.

A copy of the letter is available here. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, joined his Senate colleagues in requesting information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) on the agencies' efforts to educate veterans and servicemembers about online disinformation campaigns and other malign influence operations by Russian, Chinese, and other foreign entities. Today’s letters follow a two-year investigation by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) that documented persistent, pervasive, and coordinated online targeting of American servicemembers, veterans, and their families by foreign entities seeking to disrupt American democracy.

In particular, the VVA report found that the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) specifically targeted American veterans and the social media followers of several congressionally-chartered veterans service organizations during and after the 2016 election. The report also revealed that foreign entities are targeting servicemembers and veterans for the purpose of interference in the upcoming federal election.

Virginia is home to roughly 714,000 veterans, approximately 130,000 active duty servicemembers, and their families.

In their letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, the Senators noted that while the VA has prioritized the security of its information systems and infrastructure – including veterans' personal information – the VA does not appear to have an established strategy for educating veterans about online disinformation efforts targeting them. The Senators urged Secretary Wilkie to consider implementing the VVA report's recommendations.

“While countering disinformation targeting veterans is not a core VA function, identifying these tactics helps improve veterans' cyber security and their ability to detect and avoid falling prey to scams and other forms of manipulation,” the Senators wrote in their letter to VA.

In their letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the senators acknowledged DoD has worked to deter online disinformation and other malign influence campaigns by foreign adversaries, but they also called on the Department to implement VVA's recommendations, consistent with existing efforts to counter foreign malign influence operations.

“Malicious foreign actors are targeting servicemembers using disinformation through social media platforms and other online tools and ... countering foreign interference in American elections is critical to protecting the integrity of our democracy,” the Senators wrote in their letter to DoD.

The VVA report's recommendations for addressing online disinformation targeting servicemembers include directing DoD to “create a working group to study the security risks inherent in the use of common personal electronic devices and apps at home and abroad by servicemembers,” and to “direct commanders to include personal cybersecurity training and regular cyber-hygiene checks for all servicemembers.”

 

The report also recommended that the VA immediately develop plans to make the cyber-hygiene of veterans an urgent priority within the VA, and educate and train veterans on personal cyber security, “including how to identify instances of online manipulation.”

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and cosigned by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Democratic Whip, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Following Russia’s unprecedented use of social media to sow discord and influence the 2016 presidential elections, Sen. Warner wrote a social media white paper highlighting ways to protect users on social media against misinformation and disinformation campaigns. Sen. Warner has also written and introduced a series of bipartisan bills designed to protect consumers and reduce the power of giant social media platforms like Facebook. His work as Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence helped uncover Russia’s extensive efforts to exploit social media in the 2016 elections.

A copy of the letter to the VA can be found here. A copy of the letter to the DoD can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – After ISIS terrorists in Syria escaped from detention facilities that had been run by America’s Kurdish partners in the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) following the withdrawal of U.S. troops and subsequent incursion by Turkey, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a senior member of the Committee, today requested that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence produce an unclassified assessment regarding the escape’s impact on the security of United States and our allies.

In a letter to the acting Director of National Intelligence Admiral Joseph Maguire, the Senators wrote, “The SDF has been holding more than 10,000 captured ISIS fighters, including 2,000 so-called ‘foreign fighters,’ committed jihadists who traveled from Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere, to join ISIS. Many of these individuals are hard-core terrorists, with the kinds of expertise – bomb-making, leadership and propaganda – that had made ISIS such a threat to the United States and our allies. As the Kurds understandably shift their focus to defending themselves, their ability to securely detain these ISIS fighters will become increasingly uncertain. Already, press reports have indicated that senior U.S. officials say they have ‘no real idea’ how many fighters may have already escaped, and how many more are likely to do so.”

“If the past is any indication, it was escaped al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) prisoners that formed the core of what became known as ISIS, contributing to the group’s eventual takeover of Mosul and much of northern Iraq.  The subsequent influx of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria increased the terrorist threat to the United States and Europe.  If left unchecked, the escape of ISIS detainees in Syria could lead to similar counterterrorism setbacks,” continued the Senators. “Therefore, please provide to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence an assessment of the impact the escape of ISIS detainees in SDF custody could have on the security of United States and our allies, including the detainees who have escaped and those still residing in SDF custody.  In order to better inform the American public, the Congress, policymakers and America’s allies, this assessment should be unclassified to the extent possible, with a classified annex if needed.”

The Senators asked that ODNI provide a response to the request within two weeks, by November 19, 2019. The full text of today’s letter is below. A signed copy is available here.

 

November 5, 2019

The Honorable Joseph Maguire

Acting Director of National Intelligence

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Washington, DC 20511

Dear Director Maguire:

We write to express our grave concern about the instability in Syria, and particularly about the escape of numerous Islamic State (ISIS) detainees from detention facilities that had been run by America’s Kurdish partners in the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF).

The SDF has been holding more than 10,000 captured ISIS fighters, including 2,000 so-called “foreign fighters,” committed jihadists who traveled from Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere, to join ISIS. Many of these individuals are hard-core terrorists, with the kinds of expertise – bomb-making, leadership and propaganda – that had made ISIS such a threat to the United States and our allies.

As the Kurds understandably shift their focus to defending themselves, their ability to securely detain these ISIS fighters will become increasingly uncertain. Already, press reports have indicated that senior U.S. officials say they have “no real idea” how many fighters may have already escaped, and how many more are likely to do so.

If the past is any indication, it was escaped al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) prisoners that formed the core of what became known as ISIS, contributing to the group’s eventual takeover of Mosul and much of northern Iraq. The subsequent influx of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria increased the terrorist threat to the United States and Europe. If left unchecked, the escape of ISIS detainees in Syria could lead to similar counterterrorism setbacks.

Therefore, please provide to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence an assessment of the impact the escape of ISIS detainees in SDF custody could have on the security of United States and our allies, including the detainees who have escaped and those still residing in SDF custody. In order to better inform the American public, the Congress, policymakers and America’s allies, this assessment should be unclassified to the extent possible, with a classified annex if needed. Please provide a response to this request by November 19, 2019.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

Vice Chairman

Susan M. Collins

United States Senator

CC: The Honorable Mark T. Esper, Secretary of Defense

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WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today sent a letter to President Trump fiercely opposing his plan to pay for his border wall using money meant to help our European allies deter Russian aggression. Nearly $1.3 billion, including $700 million designated by Congress for the European Defense Initiative (EDI), will be diverted from confronting one of our greatest national security challenges—all to fund a medieval vanity project that was supposed to be paid for by Mexico.

“In light of the Kremlin’s ongoing assault on our democracy and its malign actions in Ukraine, Syria, and Venezuela, U.S. national security requires our close cooperation with our NATO allies and maintaining a robust presence in Europe,” wrote the senators. “These cuts signal to the Kremlin that you do not view its interference in Europe as a serious concern and potentially serve as a green light for Moscow to expand their malign activities”

Diverting these funds from their original mission will impact critical military infrastructure projects in the countries most threatened by Russian aggression, and will cut more than half a billion dollars in funding for U.S.-operated facilities in Europe.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below:

 

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to express deep concern about your decision to divert nearly $1.3 billion in U.S. funding away from critical national security projects in NATO countries, including funds specifically designated by Congress to deter Russian aggression and reassure our allies, in favor of your proposed border wall with Mexico.  On numerous occasions you promised the American people that Mexico would pay for this wall. However, your administration’s diversion of funding from our core security interests and Secretary Esper’s statement that our NATO allies should pick up the tab, shows that the American people and our NATO allies, and not Mexico, are, in fact, paying. Your decision endangers our national security and signals to the Kremlin that the United States is not willing to stand up to its aggression.

In light of the Kremlin’s ongoing assault on our democracy and its malign actions in Ukraine, Syria, and Venezuela, U.S. national security requires our close cooperation with our NATO allies and maintaining a robust presence in Europe.  Congress has strongly supported the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) to bolster U.S. and NATO’s military preparedness in Europe in the face of the persistent Kremlin threat.

This diversion of $770 million in EDI funds, in particular, will impact critical projects such as a special operations training facility in Estonia, airfield upgrades in Slovakia, and ammunition storage in Poland. These cuts signal to the Kremlin that you do not view its interference in Europe as a serious concern and potentially serve as a green light for Moscow to expand their malign activities. Cutting EDI also again raises questions about the United States’ commitment to NATO and to Article Five, which has been repeatedly reaffirmed by Congress on a strong bipartisan basis. In addition to the EDI cut, your $1.3 billion cuts divert an additional $520 million from U.S.-operated facilities in Europe, that are vital to support the military families based there and to sustain our missions in the Middle East. 

Instead of sending a signal that could be interpreted by Vladimir Putin as an invitation to further aggression in Europe, we strongly urge you to support U.S. national security interests and reverse this decision.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Yesterday, just 377 days before the presidential election, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), asked for unanimous consent for the immediate consideration of legislation to stop foreign interference in our elections. Senator Warner spoke first and asked for the immediate consideration of the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act (which is in the House SHIELD Act). Senator Klobuchar asked for the immediate consideration of the Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act, which includes three Klobuchar provisions to secure U.S elections and passed the House yesterday. Senator Wyden asked for the immediate consideration of the Securing America's Federal Elections (SAFE) Act, legislation that passed the House of Representatives in June. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) objected to all three requests, preventing the Senate from immediately considering these important election security measures.

“Earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on Russia’s use of social media to undermine our democracy. The committee’s bipartisan conclusion is clear: Russia attacked our democracy in 2016. Their efforts are ongoing, and they will be back in 2020,” said Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “The alarm bells are going off – and we are running out of time to do something about it. History will not look kindly on Republican leaders’ refusal to consider bipartisan election security legislation following Russia’s attack on our democracy.”

The next major elections are just three hundred seventy seven days away,” said Klobuchar, Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections. “We must take action now to secure our elections. Fundamental to our democracy and our founding fathers was this simple idea that we would determine our fate in America. That we would not let foreign powers influence our elections. That is what this is about. It's about protecting our election hardware and infrastructure, but it is also about protecting us from disinformation campaigns.

“Despite all of the ways foreign hackers have already made it into our election infrastructure, Congress has refused to arm state and county elections officials with the knowledge and funding they need to secure their systems,” said Wyden. “The SAFE Act has all three key elements recommended by our nation’s top cybersecurity experts: paper ballots, security standards, and post-election audits, as well as the funding necessary to make sure states can get the job done. I urge my Republican colleagues to reconsider their opposition to this vitally important legislation.”

In Senator Blackburn’s remarks she stated that the Senators were attempting to “circumvent going to the Rules Committee and trying to bring these bills to the floor,” despite the fact that multiple election security bills have been introduced since 2017 and have yet to be brought to the floor by Senate Republicans for an up or down vote. Last year, the Senate Rules Committee was scheduled to mark-up Ranking Member Klobuchar’s comprehensive election security legislation, and Republicans cancelled the markup the night before.

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