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Facebook’s ex-security chief meets with Hill lawmakers, cites concerns ahead of 2020 elections

November 16, 2018

Facebook’s former head of security said he met with the House and Senate Intelligence committees Thursday to discuss protecting future elections from failures encountered during the 2016 presidential race.

Alex Stamos, the social network’s chief security officer during the 2016 election season, mentioned the meeting on Twitter while addressing renewed concerns involving his former employer’s handling of Russian disinformation operations.

“So yes, we all failed, and we need to own up to those failures to move forward,” Mr. Stamos tweeted.

“I’m in the US Capitol today meeting with HPSCI, SSCI and interested members,” he added, referring to the House of Representatives Permanently Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Selection Committee on Intelligence, respectively. “My focus is on building a good working relationship between .gov and .com and the legal frameworks we need to protect our democracy in 2020 in beyond.”

Mr. Stamos participated in a staff meeting, confirmed a spokesperson for the Senate panel’s top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia. Representatives for top Republican and Democratic members on both committees declined to comment further.

More than two years since Russian internet users weaponized Facebook during the 2016 race by spreading disinformation and sowing political discord, Thursday’s meeting on Capitol Hill occurred amid renewed interest in the social network’s handling of the alleged state-sponsored interference campaign.

An expos published Wednesday by The New York Times raised new questions about Facebook’s response to the operation, including the company’s decision against explicitly blaming Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU, among other matters.

“Do I wish the final compromise was more aggressive with public attribution? Yes,” Mr. Stamos said, adding that the public outcry appeared “contrived” and that Facebook’s public findings all but blamed Moscow, echoing the U.S. Director of National Intelligence’s assessment.

“In the end, the difficult question of attribution was settled by us pointing to the DNI report instead of saying Russia or GRU directly,” Mr. Stamos said. “In my pre-briefs with members of Congress, I made it clear that we believed this action was GRU.”

Federal intelligence and law enforcement officials previously concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election by weaponizing social media platforms in tandem with a hacking campaign that claimed multiple Democratic targets during the race. Special counsel Robert Mueller has been appointed by the Justice Department to investigate interference in the race and related matters, and his office has previously brought criminal charges against several Russians accused of using Facebook and other platforms for purposes of conducting information warfare against the U.S., in addition to several suspected state-sponsored hackers and members of President Trump’s election campaign, among others.

Moscow has repeatedly denied hacking U.S. targets, and lawyers representing a Russian firm charged by Mr. Mueller’s office are fighting the case in D.C. federal court.

A former security official for Yahoo, Mr. Stamos served as Facebook’s chief security office from 2015 prior to leaving three months ago and becoming an adjunct professor at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute of Public Policy. He did not immediately return a message seeking further comment.

Facebook previously said that Russian internet trolls used bogus accounts to create thousands of posts, paid advertisements and events displayed to American audiences during the 2016 race, in turn reaching millions of American social networking users prior to President Trump’s election.

More recently, Facebook announced that it identified and removed over 100 different accounts for “inauthentic behavior” on the eve of last week’s midterm elections.

“This is a timely reminder that these bad actors won’t give up and why it’s so important we work with the U.S. government and other technology companies to stay ahead,” Facebook’s current head of cybersecurity policy said last week.

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