House Intel Republican: Agencies Should Share More with Facebook, Google to Stop Russian Ops

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a recording of his annual televised New Year's message in the Kremlin on Jan. 31, 2017. (Alexei Nikolsky, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) recommended that the U.S. intelligence community begin to share more information with private-sector companies like Google and Facebook in the future as a way to combat Russia’s efforts to undermine U.S. democracy.

“The U.S. intelligence services need to start sharing a little bit more with those sections because if you look at the work Facebook has done on the Internet Research Agency, all of that work has been done on their own,” Hurd said during a discussion on “Responding to Russia’s Attacks on Democracy” at the German Marshall Fund of the United States this month.

“If some of this information that’s gathered by our intelligence services is able to be used by the private sector to continue to do their targeting and their review and their focus, I think we can be even more effective,” he added. “So that is some very basic efforts.”

The IRA is the Russia troll farm responsible for a Facebook ad campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Hurd suggested the possibility of social media companies creating some sort of certification process for users as a way to crack down on fake accounts.

“That would be a way to signal to a person using it that this person has gone through some kind of check to say they are indeed who they say they are,” he said.

The German Marshall Fund’s Hamilton 68 project tracks activity of Russian accounts and bots, including which hashtags and links they’re pushing.

Hurd, a former CIA operative and member of the House Intelligence Committee, emphasized the importance of educating the public, especially young people, on finding reliable sources of information as a valuable tool in battling Russia’s influence and its efforts to spread “disinformation.”

“We need to identify when something is wrong. How come we all know ‘don’t get into a car with a stranger’? We all know stranger danger – why are you listening to a stranger on social media?” he said during the discussion moderated by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “And why do you think somebody you know nothing about, why do you think that information is valuable? So that is such a basic common body of knowledge thing we have to start incorporating.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s ranking member, said the U.S. and allies should “expose and freeze Kremlin-linked dirty money.”

“Corruption provides the motivation and the means for many of the Kremlin’s maligned influence operations. These are criminal enterprises. The U.S. Treasury Department should make public any intelligence on Putin’s personal corruption and wealth stored abroad and take steps with our European allies to cut off Mr. Putin and his inner circle from the international financial system,” Cardin said at the event.

“They want dollars and not rubles – and, by the way, they want visas to visit other countries and not be stuck in Russia – that’s why the Magnitsky Law really worked,” he added.

Cardin was referencing the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, human-rights sanctions that Congress passed after tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered large-scale fraud involving Russian government officials, died in prison.

Hurd lamented that a country in “a conflict” with Russia cannot be a part of NATO.

“My NATO friends get mad when I say this, but some of the things I think is funny about NATO is if you are in a conflict with Russia you are not allowed to be in NATO. Isn’t that the people we want in NATO, right? And that precludes Ukraine. Ukraine is, I believe, on front line of this battle and they are not only fighting a hybrid war, they are fighting a hot war. I think that’s a perfect example of where the Russians get away with things,” he said.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff published a recent report about Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “nearly two decades-long assault on democratic institutions, universal values, and the rule of law across Europe and in his own country.” Cardin called on President Trump to take steps to defend the U.S. against cyber threats posed by Russia.

“This threat existed long before President Trump took office, and unless he takes action now, it will continue long after his administration,” Cardin said in a statement. “While President Trump stands practically idle, Mr. Putin continues to refine his asymmetric arsenal and look for future opportunities to disrupt governance and erode support for the democratic and international institutions that the United States and Europe have built over the last 70 years.”