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Under Democratic Control, Russia, Spy Agencies, Tech to Get Greater Scrutiny, Schiff Says

If House flips majority, top Democrat on Intelligence Committee says expect more oversight

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says the panel would conduct more oversight under Democratic control. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says the panel would conduct more oversight under Democratic control. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If Democrats take the House in next week’s election, the House Intelligence Committee plans to exercise greater oversight over U.S. intelligence agencies, finish the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and probe threats posed by new technologies, according to Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, who would become chairman of the panel.

If Democrats win, “we must refocus the committee on conducting serious oversight of the intelligence community and the Trump Administration’s direction to the intelligence agencies we oversee,” Schiff told CQ Roll Call in an email.

Exercising effective supervision of the 17 different agencies that make up the intelligence community would require greater bipartisanship on the panel than has been the case in the past two years, Schiff said.

The committee also would need to “fully assess what areas of inquiry in the Russia investigation still require a full accounting based on a review of the extensive body of information we have collected, along with what the Senate and the Special Counsel have uncovered,” Schiff said.

While Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III has brought charges against Kremlin operatives for planning and executing a broad influence campaign as well as breaking into the Democratic Party computers, the question of whether President Donald Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia to leak the stolen information for political advantage is still unanswered.

But Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee led by Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., abruptly halted the committee’s investigation in March and issued a report declaring that it found “no evidence that President Trump’s pre-campaign business dealings” with Russia “formed the basis for collusion during the campaign.”

At that time, Democrats on the panel disagreed with the conclusion and laid out eight different areas of the probe that were unfinished and listed 30 witnesses they would like to interview as well as 20 organizations from which they would demand additional documents. They also said they would compel several key witnesses to testify by issuing subpoenas.

One of the key areas of inquiry Democrats intend to pursue is understanding how Russian entities that hacked into the Democratic National Committee servers and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager’s emails coordinated with Wikileaks and others to distribute and publicize the material.

The Senate Intelligence and Senate Judiciary committees also are conducting investigations into the Russian interference.

The House Intelligence Committee under Democratic leadership also would be expected to probe into a variety of other national security issues, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, China’s efforts to steal U.S. trade secrets, the Saudi-led war in Yemen, Iran policy, as well as intelligence insights into Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The committee would resume open hearings on the annual Worldwide Threats Assessment produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Under the Republican leadership for the past two years, the committee has had closed-door briefings but hasn’t conducted an open hearing.

The committee also would examine a range of technology issues, including the weaponization of social media by adversaries including Russia and Iran, as well as the danger posed by emerging artificial intelligence-based technologies such as Deepfake, which refers to manipulated false videos of real people.

Schiff and Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Carlos Curbelo, Democratic and Republican lawmakers, respectively, from Florida, wrote in September to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats asking him to examine how foreign governments and other intelligence agencies could use such fake video technology, whether such techniques already are being deployed by adversaries targeting the U.S., what countermeasures could be used by the U.S. government and private companies to detect and deter such technologies, and recommendations for Congress.

“The use of this technology plays very well into the narrative that people can argue and are already arguing that there’s no such thing as truth, that you can’t believe anything you see or anything you read,” Schiff said. “It’ll further undermine the civil and political discourse in this country and around the world.”

While Moscow hacked and released real Democratic emails in the 2016 election, in the future Russia and other adversaries could lean on technologies to create forgeries and dump them alongside authentic documents, Schiff said.

“You would have an actual email with to and from someone in which some of the substance would be accurate but you would have an additional paragraph added suggesting illegality,” Schiff said. “That in itself could be devastatingly disruptive in an election.”

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