House Democrats Hammer FCC Chairman Over Cyber Attack Claim

Ajit Pai

In advance of his appearance before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee scheduled for tomorrow, four House Democrats hammered Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai over statements he made in 2017 that the FCC was a victim of a distributed-denial-of-service (DDOS) attack which impacted its electronic comment filing system during the agency’s net neutrality rulemaking proceeding last year.

The FCC’s Inspector General released a report earlier this month which found no evidence of a DDOS attack, but rather said the agency’s comment system was overwhelmed by a large volume of people attempting to file comments in the proceeding. At the same time, Chairman Pai blamed the agency’s former chief information officer for providing “inaccurate information” regarding the cause of the problem, and asserted that the IG report debunked “the conspiracy theory that my office or I had any knowledge that the information provided by the former CIO was inaccurate and was allowing that inaccurate information to be disseminated for political purposes.”

In their Aug. 14 letter to Chairman Pai, four Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee took him to task for sticking to the DDOS attack claim for more than a year, and requested detailed answers by Aug. 28 about when he became aware that the DDOS claim was not true, and why he did not notify members of Congress at least on a confidential basis when he became aware that claims of the attack were not accurate. Pai said earlier this month that he did not publicly discuss the IG’s investigation, at the request of the IG, until the report was issued on Aug. 7.

The authors of the letter–Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., ranking member of the committee, and Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.–expressed their doubt that the FCC Chairman was not aware earlier than this month that the DDOS attack claim was untrue.

“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 House Democrats said.

“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,” they said.

“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,” despite requests by members of Congress as recently as last month to provide information documenting the purported attack, they said. “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,” they said.

The FCC’s press office did not respond to a request today for comment on the letter.

Chairman Pai, along with the FCC’s other three commissioners, is due to testify at the Senate Commerce hearing tomorrow. The oversight hearing will examine policy issues before the FCC and the agency’s “ongoing duties and activities,” the committee said in its hearing notice.

Recent