May 18, 2021

Politics & News

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The Cybersecurity 202: Pelosi laptop theft highlights ‘real counterintelligence concerns’ of Capitol riot, lawmaker says

4 min read

“The idea that a group of so-called ‘patriots’ would sell a government computer to the Russians should tell you everything you need to know about the people who assaulted the Capitol, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “There are real counterintelligence concerns associated with a breach like the one that occurred on January 6th.” 

Williams was arrested Monday in her home state of Pennsylvania, and it’s unclear if she still had the laptop in her possession. She has been charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct in the Capitol, Spencer S. Hsu and Hannah Knowles report.   

The case is the first with foreign intelligence implications. There could be more. 

The Justice Department is treating its investigation into the riot “just like a significant international counterterrorism or counterintelligence operation, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said last week. 

Sherwin previously stated that his office was still assessing how many of the more than 100 cases related to the Capitol riot involved “national security equities.” He previously said that “multiple devices” were stolen.

The FBI also is looking into potential financial ties between some of the groups that incited the riot and foreign governments, NBC News reported.

Warner raised the possibility that foreign powers could have “easily” attempted to send in foreign assets during the chaos to steal information or plant bugs.

“Maintaining physical control over spaces and systems is a key part, although hardly the only part, of ensuring that our adversaries cannot access our protected information,” he said.

Although the government normally keeps its most classified information in separate spaces, access to devices can do plenty of damage, experts say. 

The full extent of the damage is unclear.

Pelosi’s office declined to comment on the investigation into Williams. Pelosi’s Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hammill earlier this month confirmed that one laptop, which was used for conference room presentations, had been stolen.

The FBI is also investigating other forms of foreign interference.

Russia and other foreign adversaries have already exploited unrest in the Capitol to spread propaganda, intelligence officials say.

Russia, Iran and China have exploited the deadly riot to promote their own interests on state media, a recent memo from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned.

Congress is still urging Capitol security and IT staff to investigate. 

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) requested an investigation in the security threat posed earlier this month. Her office did not respond for comment on the status of the investigation. (A House memo earlier this month indicated that the House network had not been compromised and noted all wired access and computers were shut down during the attack.)

The keys

Three of Biden’s national security cabinet nominees head to Congress this week.

The Senate is hoping to plow through hearings for Avril Haines for director of national intelligence, Alejandro Mayorkas for homeland security secretary, Antony Blinken for secretary of state, Janet L. Yellen for treasury secretary and Lloyd J. Austin III for defense secretary today, Karoun Demirjian reports.  But Austin and Mayorkas may still face challenges. 

She reports: “Austin, a retired general whose military service ended in 2016, requires a waiver before he can take over as the Pentagon’s top civilian. Mayorkas, meanwhile, faces Republican grievances that as deputy homeland security secretary during the Obama administration, he was accused of using an immigrant visa program to secure investments for political allies’ pet projects — a charge Mayorkas has denied.”

Blinken is also expected to face resistance from Senate Republicans.

Pelosi wants to stop efforts to install Trump loyalist as the NSA’s top lawyer.

Pelosi called the last-minute efforts to install Michael Ellis a disturbing disregard for our national security in a letter to acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller, Amy B Wang and Ellen Nakashima report.  

The House Speaker is requesting that the acting inspector general look into the hiring of Ellis given concerns that he was catapulted over more qualified applicants by the White House.  Congress does not have authority to stop Ellis from assuming his role. But it’s unlikely he will last long in the Biden administration. The general counsel at the Pentagon could choose to reassign Ellis or fire him if he believes he was improperly installed in the position.

Dominion Voting Systems is threatening another prominent Trump ally with litigation over false claims.  

MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell is one of more than a dozen individuals and organizations the voting technology company has demanded to retract baseless claims it rigged the election for Biden, Hannah Knowles and Emma Brown report.

The company sued one of the individuals, Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, for $1.3 billion earlier this month. Fox News and some of the media outlets called out by Dominion have since retracted claims spread by Powell and others. 

Lindell said on Monday that he welcomes a lawsuit. 

Could they do it tomorrow? Could they do it today?” he told a reporter.  Lindell claims to have evidence to support his claims of fraud but shared only a copy of a post alleging foreign hacking that appears to no longer be online.


  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host an event “Civics as a National Security Imperative: The Role of Technology” today  from 4:30-6:00pm.
  • Washington Post Live will host an event today “New Government: The First 100 Days” featuring lawmakers, incoming Biden administration members and party leaders.

Chat room

If the theft of Pelosi’s laptop reminded you of a certain movie, you’re not alone. Journalist David Roth:

The Nation correspondent Jeet Heer:

Secure log off

Tonya Riley

2021-01-19 07:36:49

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