Sep 19, 2017

Facebook’s Russia probe firepower

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at an event in 2016. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

If you want to get a sense of how seriously Facebook takes the probe into the site's possible role in Russian election interference, note this: Mark Zuckerberg's brain trust in Menlo Park is paying attention.

Between the lines: It's not uncommon for Silicon Valley giants to rely heavily on their Washington offices to play whack-a-mole on minor policy debates so execs can focus on what they view as weightier business challenges. Facebook is breaking from that pattern as questions about Russia heat up.

Sound smart: The full-court press on this issue shows how serious a situation this is for Facebook — and sends a message that this isn't just a huge moment for the company's political reputation, but its business one as well.

The details:

  • Facebook's top security executive Alex Stamos, who used to work for Yahoo, has put his name to the company's ongoing investigation into Russian efforts. It was Stamos who bylined the disclosure of $100,000 worth of ad buys Russian-linked actors used in some cases to promote posts about divisive political issues before and after the election, and co-authored a paper that tackled the issue back in April.
  • Other staffers on the company's Threat Intelligence team have worked in high-up jobs at cybersecurity firms like iDefense, FireEye and Mandiant, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in an email. Their academic backgrounds aren't just in technical subjects common at Facebook headquarters: some have degrees in security studies and international relations.
  • It's drawing on a veteran Capitol Hill team as lawmakers ramp up their questions. That includes Greg Maurer, who used to be a top aide to former House Speaker John Boehner; ex-Verizon lobbyist Brian Rice, who focuses on Senate Democrats; and Myriah Jordan, who used to work for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr.
  • Communications staffers working on the Russia issue include Stone in Washington, as well as former Obama White House official Tom Reynolds and ex-Googler Jay Nancarrow at Menlo Park HQ.

Yes, but: Not everyone thinks the company's efforts are sufficient. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wants Facebook to provide more information about possible ad buys. And outside critics think it isn't doing enough to grapple more broadly with its influence.

Go deeper: Axios' Mike Allen took a look at the company's messaging plan as the Russia probe gets bigger.

Go deeper

Democrats demand new Russia sanctions over 2020 election interference

Putin and Trump. Photo: Kremlin Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Senate Democratic leaders sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday afternoon demanding they sanction Russia — and potentially Russian President Vladimir Putin himself — for attempting to influence the 2020 presidential election.

Why it matters: The letter follows reports that a senior intelligence official briefed Congress that Russia is again interfering in the November election to help Trump. White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien repeatedly rejected that assessment on Sunday, and CNN later reported that the briefer may have overstated the intelligence community's evidence about Russia's goals.

Private equity returns fell behind stocks over the past decade

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. private equity returns fell just below S&P 500 returns for the 10-year period ending last June, according to a report released Monday morning by Bain & Company.

Why it matters: Private equity markets itself as beating public markets over long-term time horizons, and usually providing an illiquidity premium to boot. These new performance figures not only dent such claims, but provide fresh ammunition to critics of public pension investment in private equity funds.