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WASHINGTON – In an effort to combat money laundering and sanctions evasion, a group of six Senate Committee Chairs including Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to the Treasury Department urging the agency to revise and reissue proposed rules from 2015 that would have imposed anti-money laundering (AML) and suspicious activity report filing requirements on investment advisers, including advisers to private equity funds and hedge funds.

Advisers to private funds have enjoyed an exemption from requirements to maintain AML programs, verify the identities of their customers, and report suspicious transactions to the U.S. government.  This exemption has made private funds a potentially attractive avenue for money launderers and sanctioned persons to hide their wealth, and the Senators urge Treasury to move as quickly as practicable to address this weakness in the AML system.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Jack Reed (D-RI), Chair of the Armed Services Committee and a leading Congressional champion for transparency and accountability for financial intuitions, the letter is signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chair of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee; Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair of the Finance Committee; Richard Durbin (D?IL), Chair of the Judiciary Committee; Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“Requiring advisers to establish AML programs, report suspicious activity, and file currency transaction reports, among other requirements, would go a long way towards deterring [politically exposed Russians]—and other illicit actors—from using private equity funds, hedge funds, venture capital funds, credit funds, real estate funds, and other private pools of capital to enter the U.S. financial system.  Following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the United States has worked with its allies and partners to find the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs. However, loopholes and vulnerabilities in our financial reporting laws have made it increasingly challenging for federal investigators to identify where oligarchs and other criminal actors are placing their assets.  Holding investment advisers to the same AML standards applicable to other financial institutions would help achieve this important national security objective,” the Senators wrote.

Full text of the letter is available here and below.  

We write to urge the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to revise and reissue, as necessary, proposed rules from 2015 on anti-money laundering (AML) and suspicious activity report filing requirements for investment advisers. In doing so, we urge FinCEN to use its discretionary authority to include investment advisers in the definition of “financial institution” in the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), which would require them to file currency transaction reports and keep certain records related to the transmittal of funds. Finally, we urge FinCEN to work with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to ensure adequate examination of the industry for AML purposes.

Investment advisers are exempt from requirements to maintain AML programs, verify the identities of their customers, and report suspicious transactions to FinCEN. Other financial institutions like banks, broker-dealers, mutual funds, futures commission merchants, introducing brokers in commodities, and insurance companies, among others, have been subject to these requirements for decades. According to the SEC’s Investment Adviser Information Reports, during just the last ten years, assets under management attributed to registered investment advisers has ballooned from approximately $44 trillion to approximately $113 trillion, raising fresh questions of whether FinCEN should eliminate these special exemptions.

The private funds segment of the asset management industry may be particularly attractive for money launderers and sanctioned persons due to existing regulatory gaps. In an Intelligence Bulletin from May 2020, the FBI indicated with high confidence that “threat actors likely use private placement of funds, including investments offered by hedge funds and private equity firms, to launder money, circumventing traditional AML programs.” Press reports have confirmed the FBI’s assessment. According to an article in Buzzfeed, a prominent Russian oligarch has used opaque corporate structures to invest at least $1.3 billion with private funds managed by U.S. investment advisers. And according to the New York Times, this very same oligarch made up to 100 investments in hedge funds and private equity funds managed by the nation’s largest asset managers, which allegedly did not confirm the source of these funds.

While the largest advisers to private funds may voluntarily implement AML programs, those advisers are not subject to regular examinations to test the adequacy of their programs. No government agency currently holds advisers accountable for adhering to their voluntary AML and sanctions compliance commitments. By contrast, banks, broker-dealers, and insurance companies are subject to periodic examinations to spot violations of the BSA and any compliance weaknesses.

Last month, FinCEN issued an alert warning financial institutions to be vigilant against attempts by politically exposed Russians to launder money, evade sanctions, and hide their assets. Requiring advisers to establish AML programs, report suspicious activity, and file currency transaction reports, among other requirements, would go a long way towards deterring these individuals—and other illicit actors—from using private equity funds, hedge funds, venture capital funds, credit funds, real estate funds, and other private pools of capital to enter the U.S. financial system. Following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the United States has worked with its allies and partners to find the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs. However, loopholes and vulnerabilities in our financial reporting laws have made it increasingly challenging for federal investigators to identify where oligarchs and other criminal actors are placing their assets. Holding investment advisers to the same AML standards applicable to other financial institutions would help achieve this important national security objective.

In August 2015, FinCEN proposed rules to do just that. The proposal would have closed existing regulatory gaps by requiring investment advisers to implement and maintain AML programs. In the preamble to the proposal, FinCEN noted that “[a]s long as investment advisers are not subject to AML program and suspicious activity reporting requirements, money launderers may see them as a low-risk way to enter the U.S. financial system.” The recent FBI assessment, press reports of potential sanctions evasion by Russian oligarchs, and FinCEN’s own alerts to financial institutions demonstrate that these concerns may have become more acute in the years since FinCEN proposed these rules. We are pleased that the Administration shares these concerns as described in the United States Strategy on Countering Corruption in December 2021, which commits Treasury to re-examining the proposed rules from 2015. President Biden has rightly proposed additional funding for FinCEN to address the growing regulatory and enforcement demands on the agency, and we look forward to working with our colleagues to provide expanded resources in the fight against financial crime.

Investment advisers have an important role to play in safeguarding the U.S. financial system from crime. They can be valuable partners for FinCEN as it seeks to meet our enormous challenges to combat not only money laundering, but also fraud and other financial crimes. Such a partnership is also important to ensure the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions programs, which have expanded significantly during the pendency of FinCEN’s rulemaking. Accordingly, it is critical that rigorous AML and sanctions compliance standards be extended to investment advisers.

For these reasons, we respectfully request that you move as quickly as practicable to address this weakness in the AML system. We appreciate FinCEN’s efforts this year on a variety of fronts and amid competing priorities, including drafting and publishing several new rules to implement the Anti-Money Laundering Act and Corporate Transparency Act of 2021. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, and we look forward to your reply.

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WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) applauded the Senate’s passage of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (IAA) as part of the omnibus spending bill. The House of Representatives passed the legislation earlier this week. The IAA authorizes funding, provides legal authorities, and enhances congressional oversight for the U.S. Intelligence Community.

“The Intelligence Authorization Act ensures that the men and women of our Intelligence Community have the resources, personnel and authorities they need to keep our country safe while operating under vigorous supervision and oversight,” said Committee Chairman Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA). “The funding and authorities provided in the IAA will increase the Intelligence Community’s ability to detect and counter cyber threats, ransomware attacks, and other emerging threats, including those from adversaries such as China and Russia. This IAA will also reinforce oversight of the IC by strengthening protections for whistleblowers, reforming the security clearance process, and mandating a robust response to reported cases of ‘Havana Syndrome.’”

“Our annual Intelligence Authorization Act provides critical authorities and funding for the U.S. Intelligence Community and its dedicated personnel, who provide our first line of defense to protect our nation,” said Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “This year’s Act provides increased capabilities to confront the multitude of threats facing our nation, including the Chinese Communist Party and other autocratic states like Russia, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela; the dispersed terrorist and cyber threats; and also provides the tools for leveraging the commercial sector’s innovation to address intelligence challenges.”    

Background:

The Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 ensures that the Intelligence Community (IC) can perform its critical mission to protect our country and inform decision makers, while under robust Congressional oversight, including in the following key areas:

  • Increasing oversight and investments to address the growing national security threats and challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party and its related influence operations, including in technology, infrastructure, procurement, and digital currencies; 
  • Improving the IC’s response to the anomalous health incidents (AHI), known as “Havana Syndrome,” by establishing an independent medical advisory board at the CIA, ensuring benefits eligibility and access to expert medical advice and facilities, and requiring protocols on testing, information safeguards, and reporting mechanisms;
  • Improving the IC’s ability to adopt Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies;
  • Bolstering investments in commercial imagery and analytic services to provide more unclassified collection and analysis to policymakers and warfighters in a more timely manner;
  • Continuing the Committee’s commitment to reform and improve the security clearance process, including mandating a performance management framework to assess the adoption and effectiveness of the Executive Branch’s “Trusted Workforce 2.0” initiative; more accurately measuring how long it takes to transfer clearances between Federal agencies so it can be shortened; and creating IC-wide policies to share information on cleared contractors to enhance the effectiveness of insider threat programs;
  • Ensuring strong congressional oversight of and protections for IC whistleblowers who come forward to report waste, fraud or abuse;
  • Addressing intelligence requirements in key locations worldwide, including in Latin America and Afghanistan to confront foreign adversaries’ efforts to undermine the U.S. abroad;
  • Strengthening the IC’s ability to conduct financial intelligence; and
  • Supporting the IC’s efforts to assess unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), further building upon the work of the UAP Task Force.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released the following statement regarding President Biden’s executive order on ensuring responsible innovation in digital assets:

“Today’s executive order does a commendable job of balancing the potential opportunities and benefits of digital assets in financial innovation, economic inclusion, and global payments modernization against the risks and challenges they present to core U.S. interests. I applaud the executive order’s recognition that maintaining the centrality of the United States in the global financial system – and, in particular, the role of American governance standards and the primacy of the U.S. dollar – is absolutely fundamental to our efforts with regard to digital assets. The EO’s urgency with respect to a strategy for a U.S. Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) is especially welcome, and I look forward to working with the administration on further steps to engage on international norms and standards related to CBDCs.

“Today, we face a highly motivated adversary that is actively searching for opportunities to evade the substantial sanctions imposed by the Biden administration and our allies around the globe. We must ensure that all participants in the digital assets marketplace are actively complying with sanctions, and we need to develop clearer guardrails and improved enforcement to address fraud, illicit finance, and insecurity in the wider digital assets industry.”

Last week, Sen. Warner sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen raising concerns regarding the potential use of cryptocurrency to evade sanctions imposed on Russia after their invasion of Ukraine.

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DENVERToday, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), chair of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, met with leadership from the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Intelligence Community (IC) at Schriever Space Force Base and Buckley Space Force Base.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and violation of international rules and norms demonstrates the urgency of the U.S. maintaining a stable space domain. The senators’ meetings highlighted the defense and intelligence elements in Colorado key to U.S. space missions, including U.S Space Command, and underscored the central role Colorado maintains in both space and national security innovation. 

“Amid Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and an increasingly congested and contested space domain, it’s more important than ever that the Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense work together to protect and defend against threats to our nation’s space assets,” said Warner. “Today’s visit further demonstrates the need to keep Space Command in Colorado, where the IC and DoD are working in concert on a number of critical national security programs.”

“As Russian aggression threatens the international norms that have kept Americans safe, U.S. leadership and stability in space is more critical than ever, and I’m grateful Chairman Warner joined me today to see first-hand Colorado’s extensive space and national security assets,” said Bennet. “We should be spending money to build on investments that have already been made to our space mission, not on moving Space Command and starting from scratch. Our visits today, once again, reinforced that Colorado is the most strategic choice for the permanent home for USSPACECOM.”

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WASHINGTON– Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Senate Republican Whip John Thune, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Jack Reed and Jim Inhofe, Senate Banking Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown and Pat Toomey, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Robert Menendez and Jim Risch, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman and Vice Chairman Mark Warner and Marco Rubio today released the following joint statement that the U.S. Senate stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine:

“In this dark hour, we are sending a bipartisan message of solidarity and resolve to the people of Ukraine, and an equally clear warning to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

“Should Vladimir Putin further escalate his ongoing assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia must be made to pay a severe price. We are prepared to fully support the immediate imposition of strong, robust, and effective sanctions on Russia, as well as tough restrictions and controls on exports to Russia, and we will urge our allies and partners in Europe and around the world to join us.

“In the face of Russian escalation against Ukraine, we will continue to support robust security, economic, and humanitarian assistance for the people of Ukraine. The United States and our partners should also move quickly to ensure that the Government of Ukraine receives sustained emergency assistance to defend against an illegal Russian invasion.

“Make no mistake: the United States Senate stands with the people of Ukraine and our NATO allies and partners most threatened by Russian aggression. Our troops stand ready to reinforce the defenses of our Eastern European allies and we are prepared to respond decisively to Russian efforts to undermine the security of the United States at home and abroad.  We also call upon our allies to join us in bolstering NATO’s eastern flank.

“The international order established in the aftermath of World War II has not faced such a grave threat since the Cold War. This order, which protects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, has enabled an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity for the United States and its allies. Unfortunately, Russia is threatening this system, and the United States is prepared to meet this challenge with bipartisan and unified resolve.”

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WASHINGTON – The bipartisan members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL), today urged President Joe Biden to make sure that the United States is sharing as much intelligence as possible with Ukraine as the country faces a Russian military build-up on its border.

“Vladimir Putin is threatening the freedom and security of the Ukrainian people, and they have shown their eagerness to take action to defend their sovereignty, freedom, and democratically elected government,” the senators wrote in a letter to the president. “To this end, we request that the United States share intelligence with Ukraine to the fullest extent possible. Russia is the aggressor, and we need to arm Ukraine with critical information needed to defend their country. This is in the interest of U.S. national security, as well as that of our allies and partners in the region. Russia’s threats to Ukraine are a threat to democracies around the world, and we urge you to do as much as possible to support Ukraine at this critical moment.”

In addition to Sens. Warner and Rubio, the letter was signed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Ron Wyden (D-OR), James Risch (R-ID), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Bob Casey (D-PA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Ben Sasse (R-NE).

A copy of the letter is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement today:

“It’s only a matter of when, not if, we face another widespread cyber breach that threatens our national security. I was glad to see this NTSB-like function included in the President’s May 2020 executive order on cybersecurity, and this is a good first step to establishing such a capability.  I look forward to monitoring how this board develops over the coming months.”

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement regarding an interim assessment conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on anomalous health incidents (AHIs):

“Reports of anomalous health incidents among intelligence, diplomatic and military personnel emerged as early as 2016 but were not always taken seriously in the past. CIA Director Burns has appropriately made this issue a top priority for the agency, seeking answers as to the cause of these mysterious symptoms, and whether they can be attributed to work of a foreign government. There is no question that members of the intelligence workforce have suffered from conditions requiring a medical response. I am heartened that there are now procedures in place to ensure that those who are affected by these anomalous health incidents finally have access to the world-class care that they deserve. In a briefing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA leadership emphasized that there will be no changes to the seriousness with which they investigate AHIs, process for reporting AHIs, or eligibility for care as a result of these interim findings. We’re going to continue to take care of our folks and treat them with the empathy that they deserve.

“While Director Burns has earned the trust of the Senate Intelligence Committee that he is taking this challenge seriously, it’s important to note that today’s assessment, while rigorously conducted, reflects only the interim work of the CIA task force. The Senate Intelligence Committee will continue pressing for answers on a bipartisan basis, and we look forward to robust engagement with the intelligence community, as well as the conclusions of the outside experts panel that has been assembled to seek answers to these very urgent and difficult questions.”  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement today:

“Vladimir Putin’s aggressive rhetoric and actions are a threat to the peace and stability of Europe and the world. From Russia’s continued occupation of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, to its weaponization of gas supplies to Europe, its ongoing malign campaign of misinformation, disinformation, and cybercrime, its support of Belarus’ dictatorship, its crackdown on dissent at home, and its latest armed buildup around Ukraine, Russia’s government is playing a dangerous game. The Biden administration must work with our allies to demonstrate to Mr. Putin that further actions to destabilize Europe’s security will bring about devastating consequences for Russia’s economy and its further isolation from the civilized world.” 

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 WASHINGTON – Today, the Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act—legislation authored by Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to support American public servants who have incurred brain injuries likely from directed energy attacks—was signed into law. The legislation, which passed Congress unanimously, authorizes additional financial support for injured individuals. 

“Havana Syndrome” is the term given to an unknown illness that surfaced among more than 40 U.S. Embassy staff in Havana, Cuba, beginning in 2016.  Since then, dozens more U.S. diplomats and members of the intelligence community have suffered symptoms that a study by the National Academy of Sciences found are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed, radiofrequency energy.

Symptoms have included severe headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, visual and hearing problems, vertigo, and cognitive difficulties, and many affected personnel continue to suffer from health problems years after the attacks. 

“Every day, American diplomats and intelligence officers around the world put themselves at risk to keep our nation safe. In return, we have an obligation to provide ample support when these brave men and women are injured in the line of duty,” said Chairman Warner. “As the Senate Intelligence Committee continues to look into the mysterious and debilitating attacks on U.S. personnel abroad, I’m proud to know that these officials will now be able to count on the compensation and care they deserve, thanks to President Biden’s signing of our Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act.”

“As American diplomats and personnel continue to be targets of directed energy attacks by malign actors and rogue states, I’m proud to see my bipartisan initiative become law,” said Vice Chairman Rubio.  “We need to stand in support of our diplomatic corps, and their relatives, as they face long-term health challenges and demand that those who are responsible face justice.”

“I have spoken personally with Havana Syndrome victims who were forced to battle the bureaucracy while dealing with their own health challenges.  These Americans who experienced traumatic brain injuries from likely directed energy attacks while serving our country should have been treated the same way we treat a soldier who suffered a traumatic brain injury on the battlefield,” said Sen. Collins.  “Now that the HAVANA Act has been signed into law, Havana Syndrome victims will finally receive the financial assistance and medical support that they deserve.  As we continue our efforts to support victims, we must also redouble our whole-of-government approach to identify and stop the heartless adversary who is harming U.S. personnel.”

“For far too long, U.S. public servants and their loved ones who’ve suffered from directed energy attacks have been denied the care they need and deserve. That’s unacceptable, and is why I’ve partnered with Senator Collins and this bipartisan group of lawmakers to ensure affected Americans have access to long-term, emergency health benefits,” said Sen. Shaheen. “By removing barriers to critical medical attention and paving the way for personnel with brain injuries to recover, the HAVANA Act is an important step forward. I’m very pleased President Biden has signed our bipartisan legislation into law, and I’ll continue to fight to get to the bottom of these attacks and protect our national security.”

The HAVANA Act authorizes the CIA Director, the Secretary of State, and other agency leaders to provide injured employees with additional financial support for brain injuries.  Both the CIA and State Department will be required to create regulations detailing fair and equitable criteria for payment.  This legislation also requires the CIA and State Department to report to Congress on how this authority is being used and if additional legislative or administrative action is required. 

Full text of the bill is available here

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter urging the Biden Administration to make technology policy a priority at the upcoming ministerial meeting of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In the face of unprecedented advances by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia and other authoritarian regimes, Sen. Warner has stressed the importance of U.S. leadership on issues such as 5G telecommunications and semiconductors. In today’s letter to Secretary of State Blinken ahead of the meeting October 5-6, Warner highlighted the new threats facing democratic nations as a result of the PRC’s efforts to dominate next-generation technologies through a variety of tactics.

“Many countries have woken up to the risks of having a PRC-linked entity serve as the telecommunications infrastructure for their citizens and the risks of PRC access to the security and integrity of their citizens’ data and communications,” Sen. Warner wrote. “These risks extend to other next-generation technologies that rely on, and transmit, sensitive data and communications.”  

“In addition, governments are building – and exporting – integrated systems relying on these technologies to conduct large-scale surveillance and censor speech,” Sen. Warner continued. “Efforts by the PRC and Russia to institute robust, scalable firewalls, preventing the free flow of ideas and commerce across the internet, have become the envy of authoritarian leaders across the world.” 

Sen. Warner has long been a leader on U.S. technology innovation and has previously led bipartisan efforts to encourage U.S. advancement in the race for 5G, providing over $1 billion to invest in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE. 

The OECD has a strong record of coordination around technologies such as artificial intelligence, wireless communications, semiconductors and bio-technology. It also released a report in May 2021 entitled, “Standard-Setting Review: Five-Year Report (2016-2021),” which reviewed existing OECD legal instruments and made recommendations on how to improve the OECD’s standard-setting activity.

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

The Honorable Antony J. Blinken

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street, NW

Washington, D.C. 20520

 

Dear Secretary Blinken:

I am writing to urge you to bolster the administration’s efforts to coordinate U.S. technology strategies with democratic partners and allies. As seen with 5G telecommunications and semiconductors, authoritarian governments seek to undercut U.S. leadership and dominate strategic and emerging technologies, frequently using them to advance anti-democratic objectives domestically and globally.  The upcoming ministerial for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) offers an important opportunity to build upon the OECD’s existing work on standards for emerging technologies and to advance additional norms and practices related to technology policy alongside countries whose democratic values we share. 

In the face of this rising threat from authoritarian governments, I have pushed for cooperation on technology policy with democracies through the creation of an International Democracy Technology Partnership.  In May 2021, as you know, the U.S. Senate also passed the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, which, among other measures, included an International Technology Security and Innovation Fund to advance these efforts.

Your recent establishment of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, as well as the inclusion of technology issues within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue structure with Japan, India and Australia and the AUKUS agreement – a security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom--  are important steps in ensuring closer alignment around the development and deployment of strategic technologies and the accompanying policies and standards.  However, we must do more to utilize existing international fora and a broader set of international partners as part of a well-resourced technology diplomacy strategy. 

The OECD, an economic grouping largely made up of likeminded democratic countries, provides a forum for collaboration on rules and norms across a set of emerging technology issues in the face of growing challenges from authoritarian governments.  In particular, the world is witnessing the People’s Republic of China’s efforts to dominate next generation and cutting edge technologies through a variety of tactics. For example, it works to influence standard setting bodies and multilateral bodies and organizations, subsidizes the participation by domestic firms in standardization efforts, provides government directed funds and subsidies to strengthen Chinese companies, and supports exports by preferred domestic firms through the government’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

The PRC government’s push for the adoption of Huawei technology and Huawei-led standards for 5G has been the most prominent example of this trend.  The PRC’s national champion, Huawei, strives to export 5G networking equipment globally, along with its standards. Many countries have woken up to the economic and security risks of having a PRC-linked entity provide the telecommunications infrastructure for their citizens and the risks of PRC access to the security and integrity of their citizens’ data and communications. These risks extend to other next-generation technologies that rely on, and transmit, sensitive data and communications.  

Moreover, authoritarian governments are working to embed anti-democratic values into the standards and norms surrounding these technologies.  We have seen this practice most acutely with artificial intelligence-related and facial recognition technology, as the PRC government is using these new technologies to facilitate massive surveillance and social control of its citizens, most prominently in Xinjiang. In addition, a number of governments are building – and exporting -- integrated systems that rely on these technologies to conduct large-scale surveillance and censor speech.  Efforts by the governments of PRC and Russia to institute robust, scalable and impenetrable firewalls, preventing the free flow of ideas and commerce across the internet, have become the envy of other authoritarian leaders across the world.

The OECD has a strong record of coordination around technologies such as artificial intelligence, wireless communications, semiconductors and bio-technology. For example, the OECD recommended principles and guidelines for AI in 2019, and established an AI Policy Observatory in February 2020 for governments to share best practices in AI policy. It also released a report in May 2021, entitled, Standard-Setting Review: Five-Year Report (2016-2021), which reviewed existing OECD legal instruments and made recommendations on how to improve the OECD’s standard-setting activity.  It has also provided important guidance on government guidance funds and state subsidies in the semiconductor supply chain.  

I urge you to use the OECD’s upcoming ministerial meeting on October 5-6, 2021 to work to establish rules and norms around strategic technology issues, including development and governance strategies and best practices for communications applications, AI-enabled products and services, next-generation networks, Internet of Things devices, blockchain and fintech products, and renewable energies. 

These technologies and their associated standards and norms are being developed now across various markets and international standards-setting organizations, with immediate repercussions for the economic competitiveness and national security of democratic nations. I urge you to leverage multilateral frameworks such as the OECD to advance coordination and establish norms surrounding these technology areas in concert with our likeminded allies and partners.

I stand ready to support these efforts in Congress. 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today celebrated the 25th anniversary of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution this week recognizing the milestone for this critical intelligence agency, which collects, analyzes and distributes a variety of imagery and geospatial information to service members and policymakers across the U.S. government.

“As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I’m pleased to recognize the 25th anniversary of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, headquartered in Springfield, Virginia,” said Sen. Warner. “For 25 years, employees of the NGA have provided warfighters and policymakers with the intelligence needed to protect Americans and our national security. I want to express my gratitude to all the men and women of the NGA for their past and continued efforts to provide timely and accurate geospatial intelligence in defense of the United States.”

The bipartisan resolution recognizing the NGA’s 25th anniversary on October 1 was also co-sponsored by Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Committee member Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).

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WASHINGTON – The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence passed the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (IAA) today on a bipartisan 16-0 vote. The bill authorizes funding, provides legal authorities, and enhances congressional oversight for the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).

“The Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 authorizes the funding for America’s intelligence agencies, and ensures they have the resources, personnel and authorities they need to keep our country safe, while operating under vigorous supervision and oversight,”said Committee Chairman Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA). “The funding and authorities provided in this bill will increase the Intelligence Community’s ability to detect and counter cyber threats, ransomware attacks, and other emerging threats, including those from near-peer adversaries such as China and Russia. This IAA will also reinforce oversight of the IC by strengthening protections for whistleblowers, reforming the security clearance process, and mandating a robust response to reported cases of ‘Havana Syndrome.’”

“Today the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to report legislation that rightly increases Intelligence Community resourcing focused on the threat posed by the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party,” said Vice Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “The bill also reaffirms the Committee’s critical role in overseeing of the Intelligence Community through provisions that protect Americans’ First Amendment rights, ensure expenditures are made judiciously, and hold the intelligence agencies accountable for their activities.  In addition, the bill prioritizes the Committee’s ongoing oversight of China’s malign influence operations, unidentified aerial phenomena, and importantly, the safety of the men and women of the Intelligence Community, by expressly addressing the likely directed energy attacks that have inflicted brain injuries and the associated symptomology known as the ‘Havana Syndrome,’ as well as other physical harms, on American personnel around the world.” 

Background:

  • The IAA for Fiscal Year 2022 ensures that the Intelligence Community can perform its critical mission to protect our country and inform decisionmakers, while under robust Congressional oversight, including in the following key areas:

  • Ensuring strong congressional oversight of and protections for IC whistleblowers who come forward to report waste, fraud or abuse, including the ability of whistleblowers to directly contact the congressional intelligence committees, and prohibiting the disclosure of whistleblower identities as a form of reprisal;

  • Improving the IC’s response to the anomalous health incidents (AHI), known as “Havana Syndrome,” including by establishing a joint task force to address AHI, establishing a panel to assess the CIA’s response to AHI, requiring reporting on interagency AHI efforts, and providing affected IC employees and family members with access to expert medical advice and health facilities, including Walter Reed Medical Center;

  • Increasing investments to address the growing national security threats and challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party and its related influence operations, including in technology, infrastructure, and digital currencies;

  •  Improving the IC’s ability to adopt Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies;

  • Continuing the Committee’s commitment to reform and improve the security clearance process, including mandating a performance management framework to assess the adoption and effectiveness of the Executive Branch’s “Trusted Workforce 2.0” initiative; more accurately measuring how long it takes to transfer clearances between Federal agencies so it can be shortened; creating IC-wide policies to share information on cleared contractors to enhance the effectiveness of insider threat programs, and codifying the appeals process to increase its transparency and accountability; 

  • Codifying the National Counterintelligence and Security Center’s role and authorities regarding counterintelligence programs;

  • Addressing intelligence requirements in key locations worldwide, including in Latin America and Africa to confront foreign adversaries’ efforts to undermine the U.S. abroad;

  • Bolstering investments in commercial imagery and analytic services to utilize the increasing capabilities offered in the commercial space sector, including through theestablishment of a GEOINT data innovation fund;

  • Strengthening the IC’s ability to conduct financial intelligence; and

  •  Supporting the IC’s efforts to assess unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), following up on the work of the UAP Task Force.

###

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Vice Chairman of the Committee, and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a senior member of the Committee, today led several colleagues in introducing bipartisan legislation requiring federal agencies, government contractors, and critical infrastructure owners and operators to report cyber intrusions within 24 hours of their discovery. The legislation is in part a response to the hack of IT management firm SolarWinds, which resulted in the compromise of hundreds of federal agencies and private companies, and the May 2021 ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which halted pipeline operations temporarily and resulted in fuel shortages along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, as well as a recent onslaught of ransomware attacks affecting thousands of public and private entities.

Under existing law, there is currently no federal requirement that individual companies disclose when they have been breached, which experts have noted leaves the nation vulnerable to criminal and state-sponsored hacking activity. The bipartisan Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021 would require federal government agencies, federal contractors, and critical infrastructure operators to notify the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) when a breach is detected so that the U.S. government can mobilize to protect critical industries across the country. To incentivize this information sharing, the bill would grant limited immunity to companies that come forward to report a breach, and instruct CISA to implement data protection procedures to anonymize personally identifiable information and safeguard privacy.

“It seems like every day Americans wake up to the news of another ransomware attack or cyber intrusion. The SolarWinds breach demonstrated how broad the ripple effects of these attacks can be, affecting hundreds or even thousands of entities connected to the initial target,” said Sen. Warner. “We shouldn’t be relying on voluntary reporting to protect our critical infrastructure. We need a routine federal standard so that when vital sectors of our economy are affected by a breach, the full resources of the federal government can be mobilized to respond to and stave off its impact.” 

“Cyberattacks against American businesses, infrastructure, and government institutions are out of control. The U.S. government must take decisive action against cybercriminals and the state actors who harbor them. It is also critical that American organizations act immediately once an attack occurs. The longer an attack goes unreported, the more damage can be done. Ensuring prompt notification will help protect the health and safety of countless Americans and will help our government track down those responsible,” Sen. Rubio said. 

“Having a clear view of the dangers the nation faces from cyberattacks is necessary to prioritizing and acting to mitigate and reduce the threat,” said Sen. Collins. “My 2012 bill would have led to improved information sharing with the federal government that likely would have reduced the impact of cyber incidents on both the government and the private sector.  Failure to enact a robust cyber incident notification requirement will only give our adversaries more opportunity to gather intelligence on our government, steal intellectual property from our companies, and harm our critical infrastructure.  I urge my colleagues to pass the Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021, which is common sense and long overdue.” 

In addition to Sens. Warner, Rubio and Collins, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senate Intelligence Committee members Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), James Risch (R-ID), Angus King (I-ME), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

“After years of talk about how our nation needs a real public-private partnership for better cybersecurity, we finally have concrete and critical action -- the introduction of the bipartisan Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021. We can't track, or have any hope of stopping, foreign or domestic sources of cyber maliciousness unless we can find out about cyber problems quickly. This bill goes a long way in starting to solve the problem,” said Glenn Gerstell, former National Security Agency (NSA) General Counsel. 

“It's encouraging to see continued bipartisan Congressional recognition of CISA’s critical role as the front door for industry to engage with the U.S. government on cybersecurity,”said Chris Krebs, former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

“This bill significantly advances the discussion around the need for mandatory notification of significant cyber activity to provide greater common situational awareness, better defend networks, and deepen our understanding about the scale and scope of the threat,” said Suzanne Spaulding, former Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary for Cyber and Infrastructure Protection.

A copy of the legislation is available here.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following after the U.S., European Union, and NATO allies and partners publicly attributed the Microsoft hack to Chinese state-sponsored actors: 

“Today’s news makes clear: state-sponsored cyberattacks that threaten our national security and economic stability will be traced and found. Cyberattacks aren’t a uniquely American problem; our allies are also grappling with a barrage of cyberattacks coming from our foreign adversaries. It’s why I have long called for building international cyber norms to confront our shared cyber vulnerabilities and why I’m pleased to see joint recognition from our NATO and EU allies about this threat. I applaud the Biden administration for publicly exposing the actions of these Chinese state-sponsored actors, pursuing diplomatic cooperation on these threats and for taking additional steps to bolster our cyber defenses. As we take these first steps in an international effort to confront these challenges, there’s still more work to do to address our cyber vulnerabilities.” 

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WASHINGTON — Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the Intelligence Community Workforce Agility Protection Act of 2021 (S. 2341) with fellow committee members Vice-Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jim Risch (R-ID), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Tom Cotton (R-AR). Currently, active duty members of the military can deduct certain moving expenses from their federal taxes, but that benefit does not extend to intelligence community professionals. The Intelligence Community Workforce Agility Protection Act would expand the treatment of moving expenses to employees and new appointees in the intelligence community who must relocate pursuant to a change in assignment.

“Like the men and women of our armed forces, our intelligence community professionals go to extraordinary lengths to serve and protect their country,” Warner said. “They often uproot their lives to go serve where they are needed – no matter where that may be. This commonsense legislation will ensure that these brave Americans are not forced to pay out of pocket for the costs of their relocations.”

“We ask a lot from the men and women who serve our nation, especially those in the intelligence community,” Rubio said. “Extending this benefit to those who sacrifice so much in defense of our nation is common sense.”  

“The work done by the men and women of our Intelligence Community is vital to our national security,” Burr said. “This commonsense benefit will allow us to continue building an agile and vibrant IC workforce.”

“This legislation won’t take away from our active duty military men and women, but it will return this benefit to those serving in the intelligence community,” Sasse said. “These men and women work hard to keep our country safe, the least we can do is make sure they have this benefit.” 

“Members of the intelligence community devote their lives to serving our country and they deserve our support,” Gillibrand said. “Enabling the intelligence community to deduct moving expenses from their federal taxes is a simple, but important, provision that honors their dedication.”

“The men and women in our nation’s intelligence community work incredibly hard to keep our country safe,” Blunt said. “This bill helps address one of the significant challenges that comes with a career in the intelligence community and I’m proud to support it.”

“Rank and file Intelligence professionals do the hard work to keep our country safe from foreign threats,” Wyden said. “It’s common sense to provide this benefit that other national security professionals receive to IC workers.”

###

WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) released a statement regarding the investigation into attacks on U.S. personnel in Havana and elsewhere:

“For nearly five years, we have been aware of reports of mysterious attacks on United States Government personnel in Havana, Cuba and around the world. This pattern of attacking our fellow citizens serving our government appears to be increasing. The Senate Intelligence Committee intends to get to the bottom of this. We have already held fact finding hearings on these debilitating attacks, many of which result in medically confirmed cases of Traumatic Brain Injury, and will do more. 

“As the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, we welcome CIA Director Burns’ renewed focus on these attacks. Our committee will continue to work with him, and the rest of the Intelligence Community, to better understand the technology behind the weapon responsible for these attacks. We will focus on ensuring we protect our personnel and provide the medical and financial support the victims deserve. Ultimately we will identify those responsible for these attacks on American personnel and will hold them accountable.”

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after the Biden administration announced several steps to respond to Russian aggression, including interference in the 2020 election, the hack impacting thousands of SolarWinds customers, bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan, and the illegal annexation of Crimea:

“I am glad to see the Biden administration formally attributing the SolarWinds hack to Russian intelligence services and taking steps to sanction some of the individuals and entities involved. The scale and scope of this hack are beyond any that we’ve seen before, and should make clear that we will hold Russia and other adversaries accountable for committing this kind of malicious cyber activity against American targets. Across both the public and private sector, we have a lot of work to do to deter our adversaries from conducting these types of damaging intrusions, and to guard against future interference in our elections. But this is a good first step in making clear that these sorts of actions are unacceptable and will be met with consequences.”

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WASHINGTON – Today Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a bipartisan group of Senators in urging President Joe Biden to request at least $3 billion as part of his budget request to Congress for the adoption of 5G alternatives to Chinese-made equipment. Specifically, the Senators urged Biden to request at least $1.5 billion each for two funds established by Congress to encourage the adoption of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) equipment, which would allow additional vendors to enter the 5G market and compete with manufacturers like Huawei, which is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government.

“Current RAN infrastructure relies on closed, end-to-end hardware solutions that are expensive to operate and dominated by foreign companies. For example, Huawei, a company with inextricable links to the Chinese government and a history of disregard for the intellectual property rights of U.S. companies, offers end-to-end RAN hardware, which poses significant counterintelligence concerns. For years, we have called on telecommunications providers in the U.S., as well as our allies and partners, to reject Huawei 5G technology, but we have not provided competitively-priced, innovative alternatives that would address their needs,” the Senators wrote in a letter. “As wireless networks adapt to the growing demands for 5G connectivity, a new Open RAN architecture will allow telecommunications providers to migrate from the current hardware-centric approach into a software-centric model that  relies heavily on cloud-based services. This architecture will break down the current end-to-end proprietary stack of hardware; lower barriers to entry and prompt innovation; diversify the supply chain and decrease dependence on foreign suppliers; and spur Open RAN deployments throughout the United States, particularly in rural America. Providing resources for these Funds in your budget request presents an opportunity to realize this vision.”

Today’s letter was signed by bipartisan members of the Senate Intelligence Committee: Chairman Warner, Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), John Cornyn (R-TX), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

The full text of the letter appears below, and a copy is available here

Joseph R. Biden, Jr.   

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

 

Dear Mr. President:

As you prepare your budget request for Fiscal Year 2022, we ask that you provide at least $1.5 billion each for both the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund and the Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund.  These Funds provide critical foundations for  robust, secure, and efficient fifth-generation (5G) networks, and will be integral to the ability of the United States and its allies to adopt Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) equipment at a scale necessary to compete with the equipment vendors of our strategic rivals, including China.

These Funds, established in Section 9202 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, are consistent with your Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, which calls for investments to retain our scientific and technological edge, build secure 21st century digital infrastructure (including secure 5G networks), and partner with democratic friends and allies.  Investments in these Funds will also enable the development and deployment of an Open RAN approach to network standardization for nationwide 5G (and successor) wireless capabilities.

Current RAN infrastructure relies on closed, end-to-end hardware solutions that are expensive to operate and dominated by foreign companies.  For example, Huawei, a company with inextricable links to the Chinese government and a history of disregard for the intellectual property rights of U.S. companies, offers end-to-end RAN hardware, which poses significant counterintelligence concerns.  For years, we have called on telecommunications providers in the U.S., as well as our allies and partners, to reject Huawei 5G technology, but we have not provided competitively-priced, innovative alternatives that would address their needs. 

As wireless networks adapt to the growing demands for 5G connectivity, a new Open RAN architecture will allow telecommunications providers to migrate from the current hardware-centric approach into a software-centric model that  relies heavily on cloud-based services.  This architecture will break down the current end-to-end proprietary stack of hardware; lower barriers to entry and prompt innovation; diversify the supply chain and decrease dependence on foreign suppliers; and spur Open RAN deployments throughout the United States, particularly in rural America.  Providing resources for these Funds in your budget request presents an opportunity to realize this vision.

We look forward to working with you in a bipartisan manner on this critical national priority. 

Cc:

Mr. Ronald A. Klain, White House Chief of Staff

Mr. Jacob J. Sullivan, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Mr. Robert Fairweather, Acting Director, Office of Management and Budget

The Honorable Gina M. Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce

The Honorable Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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WASHINGTON – The day after Mark Zuckerberg testified before a congressional committee exploring the proliferation of misinformation on social media,  U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) pressed the Facebook CEO about the continued proliferation of anti-vaccine content on the company’s platforms, particularly Instagram.  

In a letter, Sen. Warner wrote, “Anti-vaccination groups and other health conspiracy groups have long utilized – and been enabled by – Facebook’s platforms to disseminate misinformation. Studies show a rapid increase in the spread of health misinformation online since the start of the pandemic. Yet on the very day that Facebook introduced its updated standards touted to address health misinformation media organizations noted that several of the top-ranked search results for ‘covid vaccine’ on Instagram were anti-vaccine accounts. I am deeply concerned that Facebook’s new policies will continue to lack the adequate enforcement needed to reduce the spread of harmful misinformation on its platforms.” 

In the correspondence, Warner noted the importance of promoting accurate information about vaccine safety, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently finding that nearly a third of U.S. adults surveyed reported they did not intend to get vaccinated, despite the proven safety and effectiveness of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. Experts estimate that 70 to 90 percent of Americans will need to be vaccinated before herd immunity can be achieved. 

“Facebook has previously committed to reducing the spread of misinformation on its platforms, implementing a ban on false claims about vaccines in groups, pages, and ads in April 2020  and promising to remove COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation from the platform in an effort to promote authoritative health information in February 2021,” Warner explained. “However, despite these promises, Facebook’s enforcement of its own policies is consistently and demonstrably insufficient, a trend we have seen in other areas where Facebook has pledged to address misuse of its products or instances of its products amplifying harmful content.”

A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that Instagram’s algorithm promoted unsolicited content that featured anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation to users across several features of the platform, including in the “Suggested Posts” section, which was introduced in August 2020 and directs users to recommended posts from accounts they do not follow based on users’ engagement with related posts. 

“The events of January 6th prove that there are real-world consequences when harmful misinformation is allowed to run rampant online, and I am concerned that Instagram – a platform which has generally escaped the level of scrutiny directed at Facebook, itself – is similarly enabling the spread of harmful misinformation that could hinder COVID-19 mitigation efforts and, ultimately, result in lives lost,” Warner wrote.

In the letter, Warner pressed Zuckerberg to respond to a series of questions about the platform’s policies and procedures for dealing with health misinformation, and requested that the CEO produce the company’s internal research into Instagram’s amplification of anti-vaccine content, groups, pages, and verified figures by April 23, 2021. 

Warner has long pressed social media platforms to crack down on the rapid proliferation of extremist content and harmful misinformation. In June 2020, Warner pressed Facebook regarding its failure to prevent the propagation of white supremacist groups online and its role providing these extremist groups with a platform to organize and radicalize other users. In October, Warner urged Facebook, Twitter and Google to implement robust transparency and accountability standards before the November election to minimize the spread of political misinformation.

Sen. Warner has written and introduced a series of bipartisan bills designed to protect consumers and reduce the power of giant social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Among these are the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act – bipartisan legislation to require data harvesting companies to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit; the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act – bipartisan legislation to prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces to trick consumers into handing over their personal data; and the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act – bipartisan legislation to encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose.

Last month, Sen. Warner introduced the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act to reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination on their platforms.  

A copy of today’s letter is available here, and the text appears in full below. 

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I write to you today to express my concern for your companies’ continued amplification of harmful misinformation, particularly the spread of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation promoted by the Instagram algorithm.

As the pandemic endures, the importance of promoting reliable health information only grows. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nearly a third of U.S. adults surveyed reported they did not intend to get vaccinated.  With experts estimating 70 percent to 90 percent of Americans will need to be immunized before achieving herd immunity,  it is critical that individuals who are experiencing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy are exposed to accurate information that will help them make informed decisions about the vaccine. 

Facebook has previously committed to reducing the spread of misinformation on its platforms, implementing a ban on false claims about vaccines in groups, pages, and ads in April 2020  and promising to remove COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation from the platform in an effort to promote authoritative health information in February 2021.  However, despite these promises, Facebook’s enforcement of its own policies is consistently and demonstrably insufficient, a trend we have seen in other areas where Facebook has pledged to address misuse of its products or instances of its products amplifying harmful content. Indeed, a coalition of State Attorneys General, including the Attorney General of Virginia, just last week wrote to you and the CEO of Twitter, accusing your companies of not taking “sufficient action to identify violations and enforce [existing] guidelines.” 

Anti-vaccination groups and other health conspiracy groups have long utilized – and been enabled by – Facebook’s platforms to disseminate misinformation. Studies show a rapid increase in the spread of health misinformation online since the start of the pandemic.  Yet on the very day that Facebook introduced its updated standards touted to address health misinformation media organizations noted that several of the top-ranked search results for “covid vaccine” on Instagram were anti-vaccine accounts.  I am deeply concerned that Facebook’s new policies will continue to lack the adequate enforcement needed to reduce the spread of harmful misinformation on its platforms. 

Further, a recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that Instagram’s algorithm promoted unsolicited content that featured anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation to users across several features of the platform, including in the “Suggested Posts” section, which was only introduced in August 2020 and directs users to recommended posts from accounts they do not follow based on users’ engagement with related posts. If Facebook is truly committed to “[removing] false claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines in general during the pandemic,”  as the company has stated, its own algorithms should not be amplifying misinformation and promoting harmful content to users. 

For several years now, I have raised concerns that your content recommendation algorithms have disproportionately surfaced disinformation, misinformation, violent extremist content, and other harmful content. In June 2020, I wrote to you with concern that white supremacist and violent right-wing extremist groups were radicalizing users on your platforms and that Facebook’s algorithms – including its group recommendation feature – aided in that radicalization. In October of the same year, I wrote again to urge Facebook and other social media companies to implement robust transparency and accountability standards before the November election to minimize the spread of political misinformation. The events of January 6th prove that there are real-world consequences when harmful misinformation is allowed to run rampant online, and I am concerned that Instagram – a platform which has generally escaped the level of scrutiny directed at Facebook, itself – is similarly enabling the spread of harmful misinformation that could hinder COVID-19 mitigation efforts and, ultimately, result in lives lost. 

These examples demonstrate Facebook’s continued unwillingness or inability to enforce its own Community Standards and take action to reduce the spread of misinformation on its platforms. More concerningly, a recent report suggests that Facebook has failed to address the ways in which its products directly contribute towards radicalization, misinformation proliferation, and hate speech – deprioritizing or dismissing a range of proposed product reforms and interventions because of their tendency to depress user engagement with your products.  

Eliminating misinformation on your platforms is a valuable and necessary undertaking as online health misinformation can have a substantive impact on users’ intent to get vaccinated, with people exposed to COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation shown to be more likely to express vaccine hesitancy than those who were not.  Further, public health authorities shoulder an even greater burden – at a time of profound resource and budget strain – to combat misinformation amplified by platforms like Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Given that over half of Americans rely on social media to get their news, with Facebook in particular serving as a “regular source of news” for about a third of Americans,  it is critical that Facebook take seriously its influence on users’ health decisions.  

To address these concerns, I request that you provide responses to the following questions by April 23, 2021: 

1.      What procedures does Facebook have to exclude misinformation from its recommendation algorithm, specifically on Instagram? 

2.      Please provide my office with Facebook internal research of the platform’s amplification of anti-vaccine content, groups, pages, and verified figures.

3.      Why were posts with content warnings about health misinformation promoted into Instagram feeds? 

4.      When developing the new Suggested Posts function, what efforts did Facebook make to ensure that the new tool was only recommending reliable information? 

5.      What is the process for the removal of prominent anti-vaccine accounts, and what is the rationale for disabling such users’ accounts from one of Facebook’s platforms but not others?

6.      How often are you briefed on the COVID-19 misinformation on Instagram and across Facebook platforms?

7.      Did Facebook perform safety checks to prevent the algorithmic amplification of COVID-19 misinformation? What did those safety protocols entail? 

8.      Will anti-vaccine content continue to be monitored and removed after the COVID-19 pandemic? 

9.      Please provide my office with Facebook’s policies for informing users that they were exposed to misinformation and how Facebook plans to remedy those harms. 

10.  Combatting health misinformation amplified by large social media platforms puts an additional strain on the time, resources, and budgets of public health agencies – often requiring them to spend on online ads on the very platforms amplifying and propelling misinformation they must counter. Will you commit to provide free advertising for state and local public health authorities working to combat health misinformation?

Health misinformation on social media platforms like Facebook is a serious threat to COVID-19 mitigation efforts and could ultimately prolong this public health emergency. Given the urgency and severity of these consequences, I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,           

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after the Senate confirmed former Ambassador William Burns as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA):

“I applaud today’s unanimous confirmation of former Ambassador Burns to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. As our nation continues to face a growing and diverse set of threats around the globe, we must have experienced leaders in place who are ready to grapple with these risks head-on. I am confident that Director Burns, a loyal public servant, will lead the CIA with integrity and objectivity, and provide the leadership and support that the brave men and women of the CIA deserve.”

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was joined by Committee members Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in sending a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), drawing attention to a recent report identifying significant problems within the intelligence arm of DHS and its involvement in responding to protests in Portland, OR in June and July of last year. 

“We write to draw your attention to the ‘Report on DHS Administrative Review into I&A Open Source Collection and Dissemination Activities During Civil Unrest; Portland, Oregon, June through July 2020,’ produced on January 6, 2021, by the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  The report raises serious concerns about the Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) which require a response from Department leadership,” the Senators wrote. “The report details a series of problems related to the legality of I&A operations, I&A’s relationships with other federal as well as state and local authorities, the allocation of resources and personnel, management and the internal climate at I&A, and accountability.  We request that the Department provide the Congress an explanation of how it will address each of these issues, the extent to which the Department accepts and intends to implement the recommendations included in the report, and any additional reforms the Department may support.  We further request that the Department prepare a version of the report suitable for public release.”

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have previously raised concerns about problems at the Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the office’s role in responding to the Portland protests. 

A copy of the letter is available here. The full text appears below.

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas

Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C.  20528

Dear Secretary Mayorkas,

We write to draw your attention to the “Report on DHS Administrative Review into I&A Open Source Collection and Dissemination Activities During Civil Unrest; Portland, Oregon, June through July 2020,” produced on January 6, 2021, by the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  The report raises serious concerns about the Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) which require a response from Department leadership.

The report details a series of problems related to the legality of I&A operations, I&A’s relationships with other federal as well as state and local authorities, the allocation of resources and personnel, management and the internal climate at I&A, and accountability.  We request that the Department provide the Congress an explanation of how it will address each of these issues, the extent to which the Department accepts and intends to implement the recommendations included in the report, and any additional reforms the Department may support.  We further request that the Department prepare a version of the report suitable for public release.

We recognize that the administration has not yet nominated an Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis.  We further recognize that related reviews, in particular that of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, are not completed.  The Department’s response to the report is nonetheless urgent.  The Department’s views are necessary to inform the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as it exercises its responsibilities with regard to the codification of I&A’s responsibilities and the authorization of its budget.  The Committee and the Congress are also confronting the current threat of terrorism and extremism while defending the constitutional rights of Americans, ongoing deliberations that will determine the roles and authorities of the Department and other federal agencies.  

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released a statement after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a declassified Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on Foreign Threats to the 2020 U.S. Elections. As part of the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY18, FY19, and FY20, ODNI was required to release the declassified report examining elections interference in 2020:

“This report highlights the ongoing and persistent efforts by our adversaries to influence our elections, which all Americans should be informed about. Russia, in particular, has expended real effort, not just in 2020, but also as we all recall in 2016, to influence election results. I believe that the intelligence community has gotten much better at detecting these efforts, and we have built better defenses against election interference. But the problem of foreign actors trying to influence the American electorate is not going away and, given the current partisan divides in this country, may find fertile ground in which to grow in the future.”

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WASHINGTON – The Senate has approved bipartisan legislation introduced by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) to extend Section 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act from its current expiration of March 31, 2021 to September 30, 2021. The provision allows a critical lifeline for federal agencies to maintain contractors, who would otherwise be at risk for layoff or furlough due to the pandemic and was approved as a bipartisan amendment offered by Sens. Warner and Rubio to H.R.1319, a bill to provide for reconciliation pursuant to title II of S.Con.Res.5. (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021).  

“We are pleased that the Senate passed this bipartisan legislation to provide much-needed stability for personnel who serve a key role in protecting our national security missions and other vital programs,” said Chairman Warner and Vice Chairman Rubio.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today announced that the nomination of Ambassador William Burns to serve as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency was favorably reported out of the Committee by voice vote.

“I’m pleased to report that the Senate Intelligence Committee voted today to report out the nomination of Ambassador William Burns for CIA Director. The overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in Ambassador Burns’ favor is a testament to the nominee’s unquestioned qualifications for the role, long experience in matters of national security, and laudable commitment to public service. With our country facing so many challenges all around the globe, the men and women of the CIA deserve a Senate-confirmed director in place as soon as possible, and it is my hope that the Senate will move to confirm Ambassador Burns without any unnecessary delay,” said Chairman Warner.

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