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BEZOS VS NAVARRO: President Trump‘s top trade adviser and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday escalated their feud over allegations that Bezos has declined to sit down with the White House to discuss the online retail giant’s struggles to combat online counterfeits.
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro in an interview with The Hill on Thursday morning accused Bezos of pawning him off on “flacks and hacks” as he sought a personal meeting to talk about curbing the spread of counterfeits on e-commerce platforms like Amazon.
“Bezos is the one guy on high who can quickly fix this problem at Amazon, the market leader,” Navarro said. “So this meeting between Bezos and the White House … it’s not trivial, it can be pivotal in the fight to protect American consumers and workers.”
Several hours later, Bezos, in a thinly-veiled swipe at Navarro, posed a question to his 1.4 million Instagram followers: “Let’s say you’re at a big cocktail party and someone you don’t know comes up to you while you’re talking to your dad and girlfriend and asks for a meeting. Let’s say this person is the kind of person who actually uses the word ‘minions’ to describe the people who work for you.”
“How do you respond?” Bezos, who has been on the receiving end of attacks from Trump himself for years, wrote. “A) Yes, I’ll definitely meet with you; B) No, I won’t meet with you; C) Tell you what. Call so and so and they’ll work something out; D) Quietly resolve to become a shut-in.”
Navarro said he has been asking to meet with Bezos for months as he leads the Trump administration’s escalating campaign to crack down on the hundreds of billions of dollars of fakes spreading online each year. He says, when he approached Bezos at a public event last month, Bezos agreed to a meeting and told him to get in touch with another Amazon executive – Jay Carney – to set it up.
Carney, the former White House spokesman for President Obama, did call Navarro several days later, according to Navarro. But Carney did not arrange a sit-down with Bezos himself — instead, Carney offered meetings with vice president-level Amazon officials.
A source familiar with the exchange told The Hill that it was a “miscommunication,” and Bezos left the exchange with the impression that he’d told Navarro to get in touch with Carney.
Navarro pushed back on that account of events and asked, “How can you trust Amazon when Jeff Bezos won’t own up to a conversation we obviously had?”
Why the fight is turning heads: The unusual catfight between a top Trump adviser and one of the country’s most powerful tech executives emerges against a background of animosity between Trump and Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. It’s a simmering battle that Amazon alleges cost them a $10 billion contract with the Pentagon.
RUSSIA REPORT THREE: The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report Thursday that found that the U.S. government was “not well-postured” to counter Russia’s election interference attempts in 2016, and strongly encouraged the Trump administration to take steps to prepare for future attempts.
The bipartisan report is the third volume released by the committee stemming from its three-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and examines how the Obama administration responded to reports of Russian interference and how future administrations can improve on this response.
The committee found that the U.S. government did not have the policy options necessary to counter Russian interference in 2016. It also found that the Obama administration was partially constrained from responding to the hacking and disinformation by Russian actors due to worries that warnings about election interference would undermine the public’s confidence in elections.
“The Committee found that the U.S. Government was not well-postured to counter Russian election interference activity with a full range of readily-available policy options,” the committee wrote in the report. “One aspect of the administration’s response–high-level warnings of potential retaliation–may or may not have tempered Moscow’s activity.”
The report concluded that the decision by the Obama administration to “limit and delay the information flow regarding the 2016 Russian active measures campaign, while understandable, inadvertently constrained the administration’s ability to respond.”
The committee strongly urged President Trump and any other future presidents to “separate” themselves from “political considerations” on the issue of election security.
HUAWEI SUES VERIZON: Chinese telecom giant Huawei is suing Verizon, the second-largest telecommunications provider in the U.S., over allegations that it infringed on Huawei’s patents, setting up a showdown between two tech powerhouses racing to implement the next generation of wireless networks.
In a pair of lawsuits filed in the Eastern and Western districts of Texas late Wednesday night, Huawei is claiming that Verizon infringed on 12 of its U.S. patents. Huawei claims it is only taking the issue to court after months of direct negotiations with Verizon.
“Huawei negotiated with Verizon for a significant period of time, during which the company provided a detailed list of patents and factual evidence of Verizon’s use of Huawei patents,” Huawei said in a statement announcing the lawsuits. “The two parties were unable to reach an agreement on license terms.”
Verizon is pushing back aggressively against all of Huawei’s claims.
“Huawei’s lawsuit filed overnight, in the very early morning, is nothing more than a PR stunt,” Verizon spokesman Rich Young said in a statement. “This lawsuit is a sneak attack on our company and the entire tech ecosystem.”
“Huawei’s real target is not Verizon; it is any country or company that defies it,” Young added. “The action lacks merit, and we look forward to vigorously defending ourselves.”
Huawei, which holds 87,000 patents around the world and 11,000 in the U.S., said it is asking Verizon to pay for their use.
NOT SO FAST: House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) on Thursday voiced concerns about placing a federal moratorium on facial recognition technology, a proposal floated by several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“I want to put the safeguards in place so that as we roll out technology we can assure the public that this is not an invasive technology,” Thompson told reporters after his committee held a hearing on the technology used to identify individuals by scanning their faces.
“We’re not prying in folks’ bedrooms. This is strictly a method of identification that helps keep us safe. And I think that would not put me on a moratorium route, but it would put me on the route to get us to 100 percent [accuracy],” he added.
Facial recognition technology has received increasing scrutiny from lawmakers and critics as its use in the United States has grown.
Thursday’s hearing focused on its use at ports of entry by the Department of Homeland Security to confirm travelers’ identities.
Civil rights groups have panned the technology as unwarranted surveillance, while multiple studies have found that it tends to misidentify women and people of color at comparatively higher rates than men and white people.
REPUBLICANS CRITICIZE SHADOW: Top Republicans on two key House committees on Thursday condemned the company that built the smartphone app used by the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) to tabulate votes during the Iowa caucuses.
Reps. Rodney Davis (Ill.) and Mike Rogers (Ala.), the ranking members on the House Administration and Homeland Security Committees, which have jurisdiction over election security, sent a letter to Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira expressing “grave concern” over the app his company built.
“In order for democracy to work, Americans must believe the results of their elections, and caucuses, are rock-solid and secure beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Davis and Rogers wrote. “Unfortunately, by choosing not to test your app for any technical glitches prior to its roll-out, your company has caused significant doubt over the Caucus results and, consequently, has undermined electoral confidence.”
The House Republicans pointed to comments made by acting Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf earlier this week that the IDP turned down offers by DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to test the app, along with reports that a top tech official at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) urged the IDP not to use the Shadow app.
The app, built by Shadow Inc., had what the IDP described as a “coding issue” that caused difficulty in tabulating votes cast during the Iowa caucuses on Monday. Iowa Democratic officials were forced to delay reporting of the caucus results, with results slowly being released starting Tuesday.
Shadow, which is affiliated with Democratic non-profit Acronym, did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the letter.
Niemira did put out a statement apologizing for problems using the app earlier this week, saying that Shadow “sincerely regrets” the delay in reporting of the vote count in Iowa, and vowing to “apply the lessons learned in the future.”
More on the Iowa debacle…
DEMS SAY TRUMP BACKERS FLOODED IOWA LINES: A hotline that was used by Iowa precinct chairs to report Democratic caucus results to the state party was reportedly flooded with calls on Monday from supporters of President Trump after the number was posted online, contributing to delays in the vote tallying process.
“On Caucus Day, the Iowa Democratic Party experienced an unusually high volume of inbound phone calls to its caucus hotline, including supporters of President Trump,” Mandy McClure, communications director for the party, told the Des Moines Register. “The unexplained, and at times hostile, calls contributed to the delay in the Iowa Democratic Party’s collection of results, but in no way affected the integrity of information gathered or the accuracy of data sets reported.”
Sources told Bloomberg that Ken Sagar, a state Democratic central committee member, told other party officials on a Wednesday conference call that a high volume of people called in and expressed support for the president. The number became public after caucus paperwork was posted online, Bloomberg reported.
NBC reported that the number was posted on the fringe website 4chan, along with encouragement to “clog the lines.”
Precinct chairs across Iowa were forced to attempt calling in their results after an app that was to be used by the party to tally votes malfunctioned. There were widespread reports of wait times of upwards of 45 minutes to get through on the phones and some precinct chairs said they simply gave up, went to sleep and tried again in the morning.
I NEED THAT NOW: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to “urgently” publish two key election security plans in order to ensure the security of the 2020 presidential elections, a report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Thursday found.
The report found that DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is “not well-positioned to execute a nationwide strategy for securing election infrastructure prior to the start of the 2020 election cycle” due to the delayed release of two reports on how the agency plans to coordinate election security operations.
GAO recommended CISA “urgently” finalize an upcoming strategic plan and an operations plan for securing election infrastructure, and that CISA document how they plan to incorporate lessons learned from the 2018 midterm elections into protecting the 2020 elections.
The government watchdog agency noted that DHS had “concurred” with these recommendations, and that DHS had promised that both plans would be finalized by Feb. 14. They were meant to be submitted by last month, but according to GAO were delayed due to “reorganization” within CISA.
According to the GAO report, CISA’s “#Protect 2020” strategic plan will focus on efforts to protect election infrastructure against foreign interference, support political campaigns, raise public awareness about foreign interference threats and share intelligence about potential threats to elections.
A LIGHTER CLICK: Only Sufjan can save us
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Lessons learned from the Iowa caucuses voting app snafu
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Anti-vaxxers on Facebook pushed a mom not to give her son tamiflu. He later died (NBC News / Brandy Zadrozny)
How Google got its employees to eat their vegetables (OneZero / Jane Black)
Inside the closed-door campaigns to rewrite California privacy law, again (Protocol / Issie Lapowsky)
An algorithm that grants freedom, or takes it away (New York Times / Cade Metz and Adam Satariano)