April 14, 2021

Wyden Seeks Investigation of Former USAGM CEO Following Whistleblower Complaint

Former CEO Michael Pack Misused Taxpayer Funds on Dangerously Insecure Technology, Whistleblower Alleges

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked the State Department Inspector General what steps it has taken to investigate allegations that the former U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack illegally spent taxpayer funds on dangerously insecure technology, in a letter today.

USAGM internet freedom funds are intended to develop and support technologies that circumvent internet censorship by repressive regimes, and promote free expression around the world.

Wyden’s letter was prompted by a whistleblower complaint that warned Pack funded virtual private networking app Ultrasurf, even after a security audit showed it would be “trivial for a moderate-budget adversary” to defeat the protections offered by the app. The app also violated U.S. law requiring internet freedom funding go only to open-source technologies, according to the complaint.

“Mr. Pack’s circumvention of this cybersecurity law is deeply concerning, particularly given how many people around the world entrust their safety to internet freedom technologies incubated and supported by the U.S. government,” Wyden wrote.

Wyden and other members warned Pack last year against funding insecure internet freedom technologies.

“Presidents of both parties have long championed internet freedom, and the Congress appropriates funding each year, on a bipartisan basis, to help people around the world communicate safely and freely,” Wyden wrote today. “U.S-backed technologies enable hundreds of millions of people living under authoritarian regimes to take great risks to circumvent oppressive internet filters, freely practice their religion, and document human rights abuses. It is imperative for the United States to ensure the safety, security, and effectiveness of the tools on which so many people rely.”

Read the full letter here.