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America’s Nuclear Weapons Agency, Among Others, Hit by Cyberattack

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  • Russian hackers are suspected of breaching various U.S. government agencies, including most recently, the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
  • The National Nuclear Security Administration controls America’s nuclear weapon stockpile; however, the agency has reported that no critical infrastructure or information was compromised in the attack.
  • This attack is the latest in what’s been dubbed the SolarWinds attacks, named after the company that makes a networking software used by the vast majority of U.S. companies and governments that had been infiltrated by the hackers.
  • The U.S. agency in charge of cybersecurity, CISA, has increasingly come under scrutiny from President Trump, leaving the agency without seasoned leadership and under strain from the scale of the SolarWinds attacks.

U.S. Government Agencies Widely Hacked

An increasing number of U.S. federal agencies and at least three states were hacked as part of a suspected Russian cyber-attack. A recent report from Politico published on Thursday indicates that the U.S. Department of Energy and some of its subsidiaries were targeted and some access was gained into their systems.

The U.S. Energy Department, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which maintains America’s nuclear weapon stockpile, and the semi-autonomous Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) say that while they were part of a widespread and coordinated attack, the hackers didn’t affect “mission-essential national security functions,” according to Shaylyn Hynes, an Energy Department spokeswoman.

“At this point, the investigation has found that the malware has been isolated to business networks only,” she added.

The attacks are believed to be part of a wider hacking effort by Russian actors. These attacks have been dubbed the SolarWinds hack and it’s believed that the hackers were able to gain access to widespread business and government agencies that use SolarWinds’ Orion program, a near-ubiquitous network management tool used across America’s governments and businesses.

The entities targeted include a vast list of Fortune 500 companies, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, and the State Department. 

It was initially reported by Reuters that Microsoft was among the initial targets, and from there, hackers managed to gain access to other entitie s. Microsoft denies this version of events, with spokesperson Frank Shaw stating that the company found malicious code “in our environment, which we isolated and removed.”

“We have not found evidence of access to production services or customer data,” he said in a tweet. “Our investigations, which are ongoing, have found absolutely no indication that our systems were used to attack others.”

CISA Problems

On Dec. 18, The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said the hackers posed a “grave risk” to federal, state, and local governments. The agency added, “This is a patient, well-resourced, and focused adversary that has sustained long duration activity on victim networks.”

CISA has increasingly faced shortages of manpower and seasoned leadership during the last few months of the Trump administration as President Trump has been combative with the agency and its leaders. Several high-profile figures, including former director Christopher Krebs, have either been fired or resigned in recent weeks. In response to the lack of resources, the Department of Energy announced that it would increase its funding of internal investigations into the hack of its own systems, including that of the FERC.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like hackers gained any access to critical nuclear infrastructure, whether civilian or military.

President Trump has yet to make any remark regarding the SolarWinds hack. Meanwhile, President-Elect Joe Biden pledged in a statement on Dec. 17, “I want to be clear: My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office.”

For their part, Russian officials have denied any involvement with the attacks.

See What Others Are Saying: (Time) (Politico) (Fortune)

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All U.S. Adults Officially Eligible for COVID Vaccine

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  • As of Monday, every adult in the U.S. who would like to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can get one.
  • According to the CDC, more than 131 million people, roughly half of all American adults, have already gotten at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.
  • The U.S. is currently on pace to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June, but experts worry that herd immunity could be complicated by vaccine hesitancy and when the shots are approved for children.
  • While vaccine hesitancy has decreased in recent months, it is still alarmingly high in some areas. Meanwhile, pending FDA approval, experts have said that they believe all children will not be able to be vaccinated until the first quarter of 2022.

U.S. Opens Vaccine Eligibility

Adults in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who want a COVID-19 vaccine can now get one after the last few states opened eligibility Monday, officially meeting a goal set by President Joe Biden.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 131 million people — half of all American adults — have already received at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, or about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.

The open eligibility deadline, which was initially set for May 1, comes as the vaccination rate has risen substantially in the last few months after a slow initial rollout. This month, the CDC said the U.S. has been administering an average of 3.2 million doses every day, up from around 2.5 million last month. 

At the current rate, the country is also on track to meet another accelerated goal of Biden’s: administering 200 million doses by his 100th day in office — a number that was originally set at 100 million.

Right now, the U.S. is on track to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June. 

Barriers to Herd Immunity

However, there are two major factors that will impact the country’s ability to achieve herd immunity: when the shots are approved for children and vaccine hesitancy.

Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds can receive the vaccine but only Pfizer’s version. Notably, Pfizer announced earlier this month that it applied for an emergency use authorization for children ages 12 to 15 eligible for its vaccine, and Moderna is set to release results from its trial on adolescents soon.

Experts worry the full administration could take a while, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said Sunday that he does not expect children of all ages to be eligible until the first quarter of 2022.

As far as vaccine hesitancy is concerned, polls have found that more people are willing to take the shot than before. Specifically, hesitancy has decreased in Black and Latino communities, where it was previously quite high.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey from the end of last month found that 61% of adults said they were vaccinated or wanted to be — an increase of 55% from the month before, which was largely driven by the change of interest among Black Americans.

At the same time, the poll also found that fewer than half of Republicans said they have received at least one dose or intend to get it. Additionally, a recent analysis of data in nearly every U.S. county conducted by The New York Times found that both vaccination rates and willingness were lower on average in counties that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020.

“In more rural — and more Republican — areas, health officials said that supply is far exceeding demand,” the report noted. “And in interviews with more than two dozen state and county health officials […] most attributed low vaccination rates at least partly to hesitant conservative populations.”

Now, public health officials are also concerned that hesitancy will only get worse as officials investigate whether Johnson & Johnson’s shot is linked to a rare blood-clotting disorder. Experts have said the risk is exceedingly low, even if some connection is found, including Dr. Fauci, who said Sunday that he believes federal regulators will likely resume J&J jabs later this week after they were paused last week in all 50 states. 

Still, many believe the bad press will likely spell trouble for vaccine-hesitant populations — not just for J&J but for all COVID vaccines — a fact that is especially worrisome as cases in the U.S. have spiked recently. Over the past seven days, the country has averaged 67,000 new cases a day, a significant jump from over 54,000 a month ago.

Others are more optimistic that the expanded eligibility will drive demand in states where it is low, and as a result, those numbers will drop.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him

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  • Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
  • The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
  • The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
  • The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.

Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public

Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.

The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.

The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.

Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.

The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.

Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”

Renewed Backlash and Protests

Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman. 

“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday. 

Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.

“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.

“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.

“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”

Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.

“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”

Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.

However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)

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Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting

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  • Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
  • The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet. 
  • According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
  • President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”

Eight Killed in Shooting

Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.

The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified. 

The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families. 

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”

Gun Violence in the U.S.

This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year. 

The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.

Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”

“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”

President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”

“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference. 

“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.

“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter. 

Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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