Aug 3, 2018

A "pervasive" new worry for campaigns

From left: national security adviser John Bolton, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Paul Nakasone, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Social media misinformation campaigns are now a permanent fight for candidates and officeholders, and will just get worse with the AI-driven deepfake technologies, which make it easy to phony up images, audio and video.

Why it matters: Check out the photo above. Rarely do you publicly see this many national-security officials in one place. And it's even rarer for it to be in the White House briefing room, where most of the daily jousting is over inches.

Between the lines:

  • An aide to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tells AP that every month for the last 18 months, her office has discovered an average of three to five fake Facebook profiles pretending to be hers.
  • Some of that could just be political opponents or profiteers, but Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) last week said Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to attack her Senate computer network in 2017: "Putin is a thug and a bully.”
  • The takeaway, from AP: "[C]ampaigns are largely on their own in the increasingly challenging task of protecting sensitive information and countering false or misleading content on social media."

Partly because of rising questions from Capitol Hill, the administration is trying to show that it's paying attention, despite contradictory signs and seeming nonchalance by President Trump.

The officials came together yesterday to warn anew about a hidden war by Russia on U.S. campaigns and elections, and to say that they're on it:

  • Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: "In regards to Russian involvement in the midterm elections, we continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States."
  • Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen: "Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs."
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray: "Just last week, ... we disseminated a list to our state and local law enforcement partners of various foreign influence indicators for them to be on the lookout for — things like malicious cyber activity, social abnormalities, and foreign propaganda activities."
  • National security adviser John Bolton: "We meet on this constantly, the senior staff here at the White House."

Russia isn't the only threat, Coats added: "We know there are others who have the capability and may be considering influence activities."

I asked a couple of Obama national-security alumni to read between the lines of this remarkable briefing:

  • Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and Pentagon: "The women and men who work in law enforcement, intelligence and the military expect their leadership to speak 'truth to power,' even if the President doesn’t want to hear it. That’s what happened today."
  • Matt Miller, former Justice Department spokesman: "It's pretty clear this press conference happened because the staff realized Trump did deep damage to his presidency in Helsinki and raised real doubts in people's minds about where his loyalties lie, and they convinced him they needed to signal to the American people that he is not actually in bed with the Russians."

Be smart, from Matt Miller: "You can't admit to Russian interference at the same time you are claiming the investigation that is holding Russians accountable is a witch hunt. ... So you will continue to see this dissonance."

Go deeper

Coronavirus updates: New global case numbers surpass China's

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 82,000 others in some 50 countries and territories. As Denmark and Estonia reported their first cases Thursday, Scott Morrison, prime minister of Australia — which has 23 confirmed infections — told a news conference, "The risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us."

Go deeperArrowUpdated 35 mins ago - Health

Mass shooting in Milwaukee: What we know so far

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in 2012. Photo: John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images

Six people died in a shooting at the Molson Coors Brewing Company in Milwaukee Molson Coors on Wednesday, including the 51-year-old gunman, Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters at an evening press conference with local police.

Details: All of the victims worked at the brewery complex, as did the shooter who died of "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, police confirmed in a statement late Wednesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

WHO official leads criticism of Trump's coronavirus response

President Trump with members of the new coronavirus task force, including Vice President Mike Pence at the White House on Wednesday. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, special advisor to the director general of the World Health Organization, told MSNBC Wednesday he found "most" of what President Trump said at his briefing on the novel coronavirus "incoherent."

The big picture: As the number of confirmed cases reaches 60 in the U.S., the top health professional — who was a health policy adviser in the Obama administration — is among several leading figures, in particular, Democrats, to criticize the president for his response to the outbreak.

Go deeperArrow3 hours ago - Health