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E&C Democrats to FCC Chairman Pai: When Did You Know Cyberattack Claims Were Fake?

Aug 14, 2018
Press Release
“We want to know when you and your staff first learned that the information the Commission shared about the alleged cyberattack was false.”

Four Energy and Commerce Democrats sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai today demanding to know when he and his staff learned that the Commission had provided inaccurate information about why its comment system went down during the net neutrality repeal public comment period. The Commission told the public and Congress that a distributed denial of service (DDoS) cyberattack caused the shutdown.  Last week, however, FCC’s Inspector General (IG) disclosed that a cyberattack didn’t bring down the FCC’s system, and that the FCC’s system was simply unprepared to handle the volume of pro-net neutrality comments inspired by John Oliver’s report.  

The letter was signed by Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Communications and Technology Ranking Member Mike Doyle (D-PA), Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI).

“Given the significant media, public, and Congressional attention this alleged cyberattack received for over a year, it is hard to believe that the release of the IG’s Report was the first time that you and your staff realized that no cyberattack occurred,” the Democrats wrote to Chairman Pai.  “Such ignorance would signify a dereliction of your duty as the head of the FCC, particularly due to the severity of the allegations and the blatant lack of evidence.  Therefore, we want to know when you and your staff first learned that the information the Commission shared about the alleged cyberattack was false.”  

On May 8, 2017 an FCC press release stated that the May 7-8 public comment system failure was caused by a DDoS attack.  The FCC did not clarify that incorrect information until August 6, 2018 when the IG’s investigation was completed.  The Committee Democrats had long suspected that the cyberattack had not occurred.      

“It is troubling that you allowed the public myth created by the FCC to persist and your misrepresentations to remain uncorrected for over a year.  This is despite repeated requests by members of this Committee — as recently as July 25, 2018 in our oversight hearing — to provide additional information documenting the purported cyberattack,” the four Democrats continued. “To the extent that you were aware of the misrepresentations prior to the release of the Report and failed to correct them, such actions constitute a wanton disregard for Congress and the American public.”

As part of their inquiry, the Democrats are requesting answers to a series of questions, including:

  • When did you first become aware that the May 7-8 Electronic Comment Filing System failure may not have been caused by a DDoS attack?
  • Why did you not issue a correction of the agency’s previous public statements about the incident once you became aware they were inaccurate? 
  • Why did you not seek to correct your misrepresentations to Congress either publicly or on a confidential basis once you became aware they were inaccurate?
  • Did the Inspector General’s office specifically ask that you not disclose to the public that previous FCC statements alleging a cyberattack were unfounded?
  • Are there other oral or written statements you have made to Congress that are misrepresentations or inaccurate and have not been corrected? 

Letter available HERE.

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