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A Predator drone. Photo: Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A startup that is involved in a sensitive Pentagon project was hacked by a person or group in Russia and did not immediately inform the Defense Department, Wired reported on Tuesday.

The big picture: The company, Clarifai, is one of several working on Project Maven, a Defense Department program that uses artificial intelligence to identify elements like people or vehicles in drone footage. Google, the highest-profile participant, said last month it will not renew its involvement in Maven after an employee petition and several resignations made news.

Why it matters: Pentagon AI efforts like Project Maven are already targets of criticism from AI ethics activists. Security problems will make it that much harder for such projects to build momentum. And with Google leaving, the Pentagon could be left relying on smaller outfits that might be less secure.

The details: Clarifai found out in November that one of its servers had been breached by a Russian source, according to a lawsuit a former employee filed against the company. An incident report seen by Wired said all of Clarifai's code and much of its customer data could have been compromised by the attack. Two people told Wired that Clarifai didn't tell the Pentagon about the data breach for at least several weeks.

What they're saying: In a blog post published Wednesday, Matthew Zeiler, Clarifai's founder and CEO, disputed the Wired story. Zeiler wrote that Clarifai "did not have a security incident putting government or other customer information at risk," and that an investigation found that the "untargeted bot" that infiltrated a server did not access "any data, algorithms, or code." He also said the company notified the Defense Department.

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

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