In a statement on Monday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that he was “deeply disappointed” that the agency’s former chief information officer, David Bray, provided “inaccurate information” about an alleged cyberattack on the FCC’s comment system last summer as the agency was considering new rules to overturn Obama-era net neutrality protections.
Pai’s remarks were circulated ahead of the release of an inspector general report examining claims by senior FCC officials that the comment system was overwhelmed on the night of May 7, 2017, by “multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS).” The comment system suffered intermittent downtime that night after John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, directed his audience to flood the FCC with comments supporting net neutrality.
The FCC’s claim that a DDoS attack was responsible for the downtime was immediately disputed by pro-net neutrality groups. The agency has long refused to supply lawmakers with evidence showing an attack occurred. In July 2017, the agency told Gizmodo it had no documented analysis showing an attack occurred in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
As Gizmodo first reported last year, Bray had previously leaked baseless claims that the FCC was struck by a cyberattack in 2014. He was also the first official at the agency to publicly claim the comment system had been attacked last summer.
While the inspector general’s report is not yet pubic, statements from Pai and other FCC officials indicate it will say no evidence supports the commission’s prior claims that it was attacked.
“The Inspector General Report tells us what we knew all along: the FCC’s claim that it was the victim of a DDoS attack during the net neutrality proceeding is bogus,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
Pai was questioned last month about the attack by Rep. Debbie Dingell during an FCC oversight hearing, but said he was legally forbidden from discussing the matter openly, citing “some of the sensitivity of that information.”
“I want to thank the Office of the Inspector General, both for its thorough effort to get to the bottom of what happened and for the comprehensive report it has issued,” Pai said in a statement Monday. “With respect to the report’s findings, I am deeply disappointed that the FCC’s former Chief Information Officer (CIO), who was hired by the prior Administration and is no longer with the Commission, provided inaccurate information about this incident to me, my office, Congress, and the American people. This is completely unacceptable.”
Pai also said he was “disappointed” that employees working under his former CIO (Bray) “either disagreed with the information that he was presenting or had questions about it, yet didn’t feel comfortable communicating their concerns to me or my office.”
Scrambling to divert blame away from his own administration, Pai also fingered as responsible Obama leftovers whom he suggested were culpable for failing to inform him that they disagreed with Bray’s claims.
In addition to a “flawed comment system,” Pai said, it had become clear the FCC has “inherited from the prior Administration a culture in which many members of the Commission’s career IT staff were hesitant to express disagreement with the Commission’s former CIO in front of FCC management.”
Bray did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This story is developing and will be updated as soon as the inspector general’s report is released in full.