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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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SCOTUS Rules in Favor of Police in Two Qualified Immunity Cases

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The move further solidifies the contentious legal doctrine that protects officers who commit alleged constitutional violations.


SCOTUS Hears Qualified Immunity Cases 

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of police in two separate cases involving qualified immunity, the controversial legal doctrine that shields officers accused of violating constitutional rights from lawsuits.

The topic has become a major flashpoint in debates over police reform and curbing police violence since the protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the summer of 2020.

On one side, supporters of qualified immunity claim it is necessary to ensure that police can do their jobs without worrying about frivolous lawsuits. 

However, opponents argue that judicial interpretations of the doctrine over time have given police incredibly broad legal immunity for misconduct and use of excessive force. Under a previous Supreme Court ruling, in order for officers to be held liable, plaintiffs have to show that they violated rights “clearly established” by a previous ruling.

In other words, officers cannot be held liable unless there is another case that involves almost identical circumstances.

As a result, many argue the doctrine creates a Catch-22: Officers are shielded from liability because there is no past precedent, but the reason there is no past precedent is because officers are shielded from liability in the first place.

An Ongoing Debate

Critics argue that the two cases the Supreme Court saw Monday illustrate that double bind, as both involved accusations of excessive force commonly levied against police.

In one case, officers used non-lethal bean bag rounds against a suspect and knelt on his back to subdue him. In the other, police shot and killed a suspect after he threatened them with a hammer.

The justices overturned both lower-court rulings without ordering full briefing and argument because of the lack of precedent. The court issued the decisions in unsigned orders with no dissent, signaling they did not even see the cases as close calls. 

Advocates for qualified immunity claim the decisions signal that the current Supreme Court is not open to changing qualified immunity, and the most likely path for opponents of the doctrine is legislation.

While Democrats in Congress have made numerous efforts to limit qualified immunity, including most recently in the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act passed by the House earlier this year, all those attempts have been blocked by Republicans.

At the state level, dozens of bills have been killed after heavy lobbying from police unions. As a result, it remains unclear what path proponents for reform have at this juncture.

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

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Florida School Says Students Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Must Stay Home for 30 Days

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The school falsely claimed that people who have just been vaccinated risk “shedding” the coronavirus and could infect others.


Centner Academy Vaccination Policy

A private school in Florida is now requiring all students who get vaccinated against COVID-19 to quarantine for 30 days before returning to class.

According to the local Miami outlet WSVN, Centner Academy wrote a letter to parents last week describing COVID vaccines as “experimental” and citing anti-vaccine misinformation.

“If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the Summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” the letter reportedly stated.

“Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive and may return to school after 30 days as long as the student is healthy and symptom-free.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has debunked the false claim that those newly vaccinated against COVID-19 can “shed” the virus.

According to the agency’s COVID myths page, vaccine shedding “can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus,” but “none of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.”

In fact, early research has suggested that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus than unvaccinated people.

Beyond that, unvaccinated people are more likely to spread COVID in general because they are much more likely to get the virus than vaccinated people. According to recently published CDC data, as of August, unvaccinated people were six times more likely to get COVID than vaccinated people and 11 times more likely to die from the virus.

Centner Academy Continues Spread of Misinformation

In a statement to The Washington Post Monday, Centner Academy co-founder David Centner doubled down on the school’s new policy, which he described as a “precautionary measure” based on “numerous anecdotal cases that have been in circulation.”

“The school is not opining as to whether unexplained phenomena have a basis in fact, however we prefer to err on the side of caution when making decisions that impact the health of the school community,” he added.

The new rule echoes similar efforts Centner Academy has made that run counter to public health guidance and scientific knowledge.

In April, the school made headlines when its leadership told vaccinated school employees that they were not allowed to be in contact with any students “until more information is known” and encouraged employees to wait until summer to get the jab.

According to The New York Times, the following week, a math and science teacher allegedly told students not to hug their vaccinated parents for more than five seconds.

The outlet also reported that the school’s other co-founder, Leila Centner, discouraged masking, but when state health officials came for routine inspections, teachers said they were directed in a WhatsApp group to put masks on.

See what others are saying: (WSVN) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem

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Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.


Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg

In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism. 

Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.

“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”

According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.

Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice

“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.

According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject. 

Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out. 

Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.

See what others are saying: (New York Post) (The Daily Mail) (Insider)

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