'Oversight' Hearing Fails Utterly To Hold FCC Accountable For Lying To Congress About Fake DDOS Attack

from the ill-communication dept

FCC “oversight” hearings continue to be comically lacking in the actual oversight department. As we noted previously, today was Congress’ opportunity to hold the FCC and agency head Ajit Pai accountable for making up a DDOS attack and then lying (repeatedly) about it to the press, FBI investigators, and Congress. As we’ve previously stated, both e-mails obtained via FOIA and an FCC Inspector General report (pdf) found that the FCC bizarrely made up a DDOS attack to try and explain away the fact that John Oliver viewers pissed about the net neutrality repeal crashed the FCC comment system.

The IG’s report and internal e-mails clearly illustrate that not only did FCC CIO make up a DDOS, but several FCC staffers then misled Congress repeatedly about the total lack of evidence supporting that claim. The false statements were bad enough to warrant them being forwarded to the DOJ, which refused to prosecute anyone. But the e-mails also highlight how the FCC’s press office repeatedly misled numerous press outlets, and even went so far as to issue statements denigrating reporters like Gizmodo’s Dell Cameron for being “irresponsible” as they slowly uncovered the fake claims.

In a functional democracy, this is the sort of thing that would be covered extensively at a hearing purportedly designed specifically to hold the FCC accountable to Congress and the public. In said fictional healthy democracy, Congress might even, you know, actually do something about it.

But today’s hearing was little more than a joke, rife with lots of giggling, football references, and numerous softball questions — but few if any hard inquiries about the DDOS attack that wasn’t. The closest thing Pai experienced to actually being pressured came from Senator Brian Schatz. But when pressed as to what he knew and when, Pai again threw his employees under the bus, denying that he had any knowledge of or role in the FCC’s efforts to mislead Congress and public. The exchange is here for those interested:

In the exchange, Pai said he suspected there was no foul play from the beginning and that the “DDOS” was just the John Oliver effect. When pressed as to why Pai didn’t do more to correct the false claims earlier, Pai said he “wanted you to get this information sooner” but remained quiet at the behest of the FCC IG (which has yet to respond to press inquiry). “I made the judgment that we had to adhere to the [IG’s] request,” claimed Pai, “even though I knew we would be falsely attacked for having done something inappropriate,? Pai said. ?The story in this report vindicated my position.”

Except the IG’s report doesn’t vindicate Pai’s position, and somebody at the hearing should have pointed that out. In fact, the IG’s report shows that it wasn’t just the FCC CIO that had been making false DDOS claims for the better part of the last year. There’s ample evidence, had anybody on the oversight committee actually wanted to press the issue, that numerous FCC employees repeatedly and intentionally doubled down on claims Pai now claims he knew weren’t true.

For example, the IG report found that at least three staffers provided false statements to not only Congress, but also to FBI investigators trying to determine the scope of the alleged attack. And throughout the inquiry Pai’s press shop issued statements attacking press outlets for being “irresponsible” simply for reporting the fact there was no evidence or “analysis” to support the FCC’s allegation:

“The FCC has never stated that it lacks any documentation of this DDoS attack itself,” the agency states. “And news reports claiming that the Commission has said this are without any basis and completely irresponsible. In fact, we have voluminous documentation of this attack in the form of logs collected by our commercial cloud partners.”

But none of that was true. There was no DDOS attack and there was no evidence, “voluminous” or otherwise. Again, there’s every indication that the FCC doubled down on the fake DDOS claim because it wanted to downplay media reports showing that millions of Americans were pissed about the death of net neutrality (it wasn’t public outrage, we were attacked!). It’s the same reason why the FCC refused to do anything about the bogus comments that plagued the repeal’s net neutrality comment period: it wanted to push the Trumpian narrative that the massive public anger over the attack net neutrality wasn’t real.

The fact that Pai’s press shop was actively spreading false statements and maligning reporters makes it pretty obvious that Pai actively participated in or was at least aware of the FCC’s head fake. But at no point during the “oversight” hearing was this avenue of inquiry pursued. Instead, users who tuned in for a reckoning got to enjoy Ted Cruz once again misrepresenting what net neutrality was, and gushing missives from telecom-sector allies like Senator John Thune on Pai’s (artificial) love and adoration of neglected rural broadband markets.

Aside from the fake DDOS attack, the hearing was yet another missed opportunity to seriously hold the FCC to account on a number of issues, including making up data and ignoring the public in the rush to repeal net neutrality, gutting funding for rural broadband, eroding consumer privacy protections, killing efforts to improve cable box competition, propping up predatory prison telco monopolies and every other little anti-consumer, pet project Ajit Pai has embraced as leader of the agency. But instead of “oversight,” users that tuned in this morning got something that looked much more like a bipartisan game of patty cake.

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Comments on “'Oversight' Hearing Fails Utterly To Hold FCC Accountable For Lying To Congress About Fake DDOS Attack”

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I see a lot of this “all politicians are the same” rhetoric on Techdirt, and I really don’t think it’s helpful.

No, not all politicians are the same. Some are good, some are bad, most are somewhere in the middle.

If you don’t like the politicians who represent you, remember that there’s an election in November.

Pref Anon says:

Re: Re: Re:

Especially since I’m not sure what performance Karl was watching on the Dem side.

Nelson’s opening statement what a withering criticism of the FCC [here](https://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings?Id=BD64E539-0863-41B5-AA8A-2B40D3FEF89C&Statement_id=1ED36E0F-44BB-461B-BFA7-5EF14D9AA9E6%5D.

Tester called out on rural deployment, and other dem senators, Amy Klobuchar and Catherine Cortez Masto both played off Dem Commissioner Rosenworsel to criticize. Markey I felt was a bit weak, but focused on a few less known actions like children’s programming requirements.

Schaltz provided the fireworks on the Comments process, sure, but there really wasn’t any need for the other senator to take that line of questioning after.

That said, Republicans Thune and Wicker gave give sloppy kisses.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: all politicians are the same

Feel free to look up Larry Lessig’s videos on YouTube where he discusses specific extreme similarities of our elected officials.

Half of all campaign contributions in the US come from 100 families.

Those that max out their personal contribution make up 0.02% of the population.

Those that have platforms approved by this small enclave of Americans get campaigns and get elected. Those that don’t never make it onto the ballot, even as a write-in.

For the rest of us, calling your representative or informing them what the people want has been shown to affect their positions by an immeasurable fraction. It always goes down like Ajit Pai and Net Neutrality.

And it’s been this way since before blacks or women had suffrage.

So, yes, there’s a pretty strong argument to be said that all politicians are the same, at least regarding those that get elected in the United States.

Feel free to push for election reform. See how far that gets. Those in office benefit largely from the status quo, even when it’s breaking the nation apart.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: all politicians are the same

Feel free to look up Larry Lessig’s videos on YouTube where he discusses specific extreme similarities of our elected officials.

I agree with Lessig’s criticisms of our electoral system and, in particular, the influence of money on elections and policy. I’ve even donated to Mayday PAC.

That is not equivalent to saying that all politicians are the same.

There were a couple stories the other week called Congress Members Want Answers After Amazon’s Facial Recognition Software Says 28 Of Them Are Criminals and Congress Members Demand Answers From, Investigation Of Federal Facial Rec Tech Users. A lot of the comments were variations on the same dumb "everyone in Congress is a criminal" joke; a lot of others were about how Congress never cared about this issue until it impacted them personally.

And…fucking seriously? You think Raul Grijalva wasn’t concerned about racial profiling until July 27? You think John fucking Lewis wasn’t concerned about racial profiling until July 27?

Sure, by all means, criticize the influence of money in politics. Criticize the parties’ power. Criticize their similarities on things like defense spending and neoliberal economic policy. Criticize individual representatives for bad things they’ve said or bad votes they’ve cast.

But if you claim there’s no difference between Ron Wyden and Ted Cruz, you’re lying, ignorant, or both.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

We need to abolish the party system. And there should be no lobbyist period. There should be no add campains but only a public funded debate that gives all cadidates the same exposure. Vetting the caditates initially would be difficult part – but if they all had to document their positions on all pertinent views, then people might have a chance of making an informed decision.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re: We need to abolish the party system.

The problem in the US is that there can only ever be two political parties, so everything gets seen as a bipolar, adversarial issue–“if you’re not with us, you’re against us”. Any attempt to promote a third party ends up weakening one side, giving even more strength to the other side even if they only represent a minority viewpoint.

Look at countries with proportional-representation voting, like Germany or (cough) New Zealand, and you will see a greater variety of political parties in Parliament, with a correspondingly greater diversity in points of view that actually do make a contribution to the political process.

AC120v says:

Re: stunning surprise

“Its incidents like this that causes people to trust their politicians less and less. “

… why would any rational American trust their politicians at all ?
so Congress didn’t perform its sacred oversight duty at this Pai hearing — big f***ing surprise. Congress performs none of its functions satisfactorily and many not at all. Who here seriously expects Congressional politicians to routinely perform their official duties honestly and diligently (?) — only a credulous person ignorant of history and current events could possibly be so trusting of Congress and politicians generally.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Only voted on by Congress"

Well, laws are only voted on my congress, yes. Granted, the Supreme Court of the United States has made some extensive interpretations, what critics call legislating from the bench. Though different people are critics whether it’s the Roe v. Wade ruling or the Citizens United ruling.

Executive orders are a kinda new thing, as are signing statements. The President can only promise to sign certain kinds of legislature or veto other kinds, but he can’t actually get bills passed.

To be fair, some presidents did use tricks. Johnson, for example, would invite uncooperative senators and house members to the oval office and then physically assault them, pin their face to the Presidential desk and threaten their lives (or at least a few broken bones) if they didn’t vote in line with his wishes.

But it still comes down to Congress regarding laws. And that means it’s up to Congress whether or not they watch sea changes in the public.

Typically they don’t, given the interests of the candidates are filtered through the interests of major campaign contributors, which is a very tiny fraction of the population.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Only voted on by Congress"

Johnson, for example, would invite uncooperative senators and house members to the oval office and then physically assault them


You got links for that? I’ve never heard of it before now. Not saying you’re wrong, I’m genuinely interested as an amateur student of history.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Johnson's back-room coercion methods

You got links for that?

Sadly, I don’t. I heard it from one of my clients who lived through the era and recalled claims to that affect wormed their way through news channels more than once.

But the notion that Johnson would work his colleagues over physically seems entirely in character: Johnson was a physically huge, imposing figure, was notoriously earthy, had a history of getting into scraps in his youth, always struggled with a confidence problem (about his looks and charisma), was obsessed with his penis (Jumbo) and was able to push a huge run of legislation through congress even when his agenda was unpopular with senate and house alike.

It’s certainly plausible, and given it was in the boys will be boys era, when the actual mob (the Mafia) was active and in power. Physical assertion was more socially accepted then than now. It may just not have been the sort of thing biographers from the time regarded as important.

But no after a considerable web-search for accounts of specific incidents, I couldn’t find any. So it’s possible said client was shining me on like Everette Howard Hunt Jr who confessed on his deathbed to the whole Clay Shaw / CIA / Five man hit squad conspiracy to assassinate JFK.

I doubt it, though my client was probably remembering something.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Executive Orders

Until FDR and WWII, executive orders were mostly ceremonial, days of observance, flying the flag at half mast. The Emancipation Proclamation being a notable exception.

And yes, they’ve always been around if we include minor directives to departments of state, but only after FDR did they become a common device by which to push major policy.

So let me rephrase: Executive orders as they are used today, to commonly push significant shifts in policy are a fairly recent thing.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Forget it, Jake, it’s Out of the Blue. You would sooner be able to catch a fallen angel than see him offer anything of worth. I thought I saw him do it once, but that was only in my dreams. Silence speaks more than his bullshit does, so let him rant and flag his posts. To give him meaningful replies is a foolish beat of an idea.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

the star of the whole shit show

That was Commissioner Rosenworcel.

Now there was a lot more to that shit show than just the NN/Comment scandal. Like actual internet coverage, overcoverage, etc.

Yes, with NN repealed, the internet has not burned down…yet. Remember kids, Telco’s play the long game, they play years, even decades into the future, not 60 days.

Sean (profile) says:

Checks and Balances

We are getting the public accountability that we deserve. Americans apparently desire having a 1 party system being in power across the board with the President trying to discredit the remaining bastion of oversight (e.g., the free press). When Americans get tired of this level of accountability then perhaps they’ll vote for individuals who want to provide actual checks and balances to the status quo.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Checks and Balances

What, like more than once? Coordinate with people years in advance and move to a district you might help win in the future based on guesses?

One person cannot “vote in a way that works in the electoral college”, and said college affects two offices only.

In what “way” can one vote which accomplishes what you suggest? And just where do you think you are going with those goalposts?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 A more perfect union

I would argue that our constitutional framers did not intend the US to be an unqualified democracy, rather a step or two closer to one from the constitutional monarchy from which they came (which was only a step from an absolute monarchy in which it really is good to be the king…and shitty to be anyone else.

But that is also to say ours is not very democratic at all.

As a study not to long ago proclaimed, the United States hasn’t ever behaved like a democracy rather a corporate oligarchy.

Remember that the USSR also held elections. And their choices were about as diverse.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 most of us didn't vote for these people.

If you can’t vote for change, then you don’t live in a “democracy”. QED.

Er, I can vote for change, dogg. I plan on doing so a week from tomorrow.

I don’t recall saying that people don’t have the ability to vote for change. You must have confused me with somebody who’s made of straw.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Checks and Balances

That it somehow was still enough for the yellow-faced moron.

Yes. Because the president is not elected by popular vote. And the senate, by design, gives small states the same amount of influence as large ones.

When people say "This is what you voted for," that’s simply not true; the majority of Americans did not vote for this president or for a Republican majority in the Senate. (Most Americans did vote for a Republican in the House, but not as large a majority as the one we’ve got.)

It’ll be interesting to see if he gets a second term.

"Interesting" isn’t the first word I’d use, but I suppose it applies.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Flowers, Apology, Box of Chocolates

What is curious is that they made a show of it by calling him in. It implies that oversight should occur, and that the committee knows it is supposed to do it.

Mock trials to allow state agents to escape justice is one of those indictments listed in the United States Declaration of Independence. So it’s pretty egregious.

Anonymous Coward says:

Chaos and Celebrating American History

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

This hearing is a celebration of the separation of powers. The fact that the government is chaotic is a good thing.

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