Congressional Logjam, Another Russian Cyber-Attack, Argentina’s COVID Disaster : Up First – NPR

congressional-logjam,-another-russian-cyber-attack,-argentina’s-covid-disaster-:-up-first-–-npr

Before we get started, allow me to say that geoFence helps make you invisible to hackers and guard your personal data!

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It was a busy week in Congress, yet the to-do list grows longer and longer.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Is there any future for the Capitol riot investigation? Will there be a bipartisan infrastructure deal? And what about police reform? I'm Scott Simon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro. And this is UP FIRST from NPR News.

SIMON: Another cyberattack. This time, hackers targeted aid groups.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Microsoft says it's pretty clear who's responsible.

TOM BURT: We can really be strong about our conclusion that this is a group that's operating from Russia.

SIMON: And record numbers of COVID cases in Argentina.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The vaccine rollout there is slow, and the health care system is pushed to the limit. We'll have an update from the region.

SIMON: Stay with us, please. We'll have the news you need to start your weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Republicans have staged their first Senate filibuster of the Biden presidency.

SIMON: Most Republican senators lined up to block legislation that would have established a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Along with all 50 Democrats, the bill needed 10 Republicans to advance. It just got six.

SIMON: Here's Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: Out of fear or fealty to Donald Trump, the Republican minority just prevented the American people from getting the full truth about January 6.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That failed bipartisan push comes as talks continue on infrastructure. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is here to talk more about it all. Hello, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with the roadblock in the Capitol riot investigation. Tell us about the vote.

DAVIS: Well, the outcome wasn't really in doubt because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had come out against it. He said it was duplicating other Senate committee investigations and called it a purely political exercise. But to be clear here, Lulu, this would not have been a partisan commission. It was modeled after the 9/11 commission, and it would have been equally split with Republicans and given them equal power. As you noted, six Republicans did break with McConnell here, senators like Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, all senators who also voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial. Another senator, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said he would have voted for it but had to miss the vote for a family obligation.

The bottom line here, I think, is it shows just how closely aligned the Republican Party remains behind Trump. The former president opposed the commission. He wanted Republican lawmakers to vote against it. Had it moved forward, Trump likely could have been called to testify before it over his own role in inciting the insurrection and his administration's response.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So is there any future for the investigation into the January 6 attack after this vote considering what happened?

DAVIS: It's unclear. You know, House Democrats could do something on their own, like create a special committee to investigate it. But there's really no reason to believe Republicans would willingly go along with that either. The whole point of this exercise was to come up with something bipartisan to create an agreed-upon public record of that day. As of today, that doesn't look like that's going to happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if they can't agree on that, I mean, it shows that there's a real lack of bipartisan cooperation. And Congress and the White House continue to search for a deal on infrastructure. Are they any closer to an agreement after this week?

DAVIS: Well, they're trading offers back and forth. Senate Republicans went back to the White House this week with their offer. As you recall, he had lowered his initial start from 2.2 trillion down to 1.7. Republicans came back this week and said, hey, how about 928 billion? This sounds like they're getting closer together, but it's all a little bit misleading. Republicans in their counteroffer proposed just about 250 billion in new spending. Most of their offer is just recasting existing funds.

The White House and Republicans remain really far apart on the bottom line here. Republicans are still focused primarily on what they call traditional infrastructure - roads, bridges, other projects. They don't want any part of the things that Biden is calling for, things like expansion for electric vehicles and other investments Democrats want. They also still are not any closer to how they're going to pay for it. Republicans continue to oppose rolling back any of the Trump tax cuts. So I think this latest offer - we've seen more Democrats saying, look. We should just cut bait. We should go it alone, and we should get this done without any Republican support.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We're headed into the holiday weekend, right? But Congress still has a lot on its to-do list. What else is coming up when they get back?

DAVIS: They have a big bill in the Senate going on right now that would increase American competitiveness against China. That's going to be priority No. 1. Big questions remain on whether they can reach a bipartisan deal on police reform. Tim Scott, who's a Republican from South Carolina, said this week it was June or bust. And Schumer's setting up a month of what he acknowledged was pretty confrontational votes with Republicans on legislation they oppose - bills to close the gender pay gap, toughen gun laws, expand gay rights, all expected to come up for a vote. Schumer said it would, quote, "test the resolve of Democrats" and will probably bring another call from some corners of the party to scrap the filibuster to make it easier to pass bills without Republican support.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: We have to tell you about another cyberattack, again by Russian hackers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As many as 3,000 accounts at 150 different humanitarian organizations were breached in an attack that was first disclosed by Microsoft.

SIMON: Dina Temple-Raston of NPR's investigations team has been tracking recent Russian hacking operations and joins us. Dina, thanks for being with us.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: And what can you tell us about what happened?

TEMPLE-RASTON: So Microsoft's cybercrimes team found these hackers, and they were in the systems of a group of international development organizations. And what they think happened is that the hackers broke into an email marketing company that USAID was using, a company called Constant Contact. And once the hackers had broken in, they sent phishing emails out to other organizations. But those emails looked like they were coming from USAID. And when people got those emails and clicked on the links inside of them, unbeknownst to them, they were installing malware on their networks. And the malware essentially allowed the hackers to read their emails, to steal information and even plant more malware.

SIMON: We should mention that Constant Contact is one of NPR's funders. Dina, do we know who's behind the hack?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, yes, I talked to Tom Burt yesterday. He's the vice president of customer security and trust at Microsoft. They were the ones who first told the world about the hack, if you remember. And he told us that it's pretty clear these hackers were linked to the Russian intelligence service known as the SVR. Here he is.

BURT: The association with the SVR comes from what - the techniques we see them using and from the kinds of targets that they are targeting. So it's a collection of circumstantial evidence, you might say, that point in a consistent direction.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And he says they think that it actually was a subset of the Russian group that hacked SolarWinds. They're also known as APT29 or Cozy Bear. And Microsoft thinks this because they saw a lot of the techniques and code that they saw in this new hack seem to overlap with things that Cozy Bear had done in the past. And they didn't want to say unequivocally that it's the exact same people that hacked SolarWinds. Maybe it's a subset, but what they're not equivocating about is that this hack came from Russia.

Tom Burt told me that the hackers appeared to be learning as they went along. They were actually customizing their malware packages depending on the target. And, Scott, the reason that's important is because it's yet another indication that a nation-state actor was involved. Your average cybercriminal - they don't target these kinds of institutions, and they certainly don't take the time to tailor their malware like they did in this case.

SIMON: Dina, in a world in which hacks have now become everyday occurrences, how significant is this particular hack?

TEMPLE-RASTON: The hack isn't such a big deal. Microsoft appears to have spotted this one pretty quickly. But it's the context in which it arrives that's really important. After the major SolarWinds breach, President Biden told the Russians to stop, and he took some real steps. He launched sanctions - or more sanctions, even - expelled diplomats. And that doesn't seem to have been enough. And while this hack isn't nearly as sophisticated as the SolarWinds hack, it's the same kind. It's something called a supply chain attack. So that means that the hackers didn't directly target the companies or institutions they were interested in. But instead, they focused on suppliers, finding a company sort of further down the chain. And now here we are with the same group from Russia launching yet another supply chain attack.

SIMON: And President Biden is scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin in June. How does this hack play into any discussions that they might have?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, that's a big question. I mean, what will the U.S. response be? President Biden has already warned Russia not to do these supply chain hacks. And now, like a finger in his eye, they've launched another one. So the question really is whether this is going to force the U.S. to respond in some way.

SIMON: Dina Temple-Raston of NPR's investigations unit, thank you so much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Statistics can never fully capture the immensity of the COVID-19 pandemic. I mean, who can really visualize the loss of 3 1/2 million lives?

SIMON: Sometimes, it takes something else to make the horror apparent to us, like a single image.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A photograph of a young woman in Argentina went viral this week. And suddenly, the tragedy now playing out in that country really did begin to sink in.

SIMON: NPR's South America correspondent Philip Reeves joins us now from Rio de Janeiro, of course, in Brazil. Philip, thanks for being with us.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: And please tell us about this photo.

REEVES: Well, it shows a young woman called Lara Arreguiz. She's a student, aged 22. And she's lying on the floor of a corridor in a hospital, using her jacket as a blanket and her bag as a pillow. Lara's reportedly diabetic. She was taken to hospital with COVID, but there wasn't an IC bed for her. By the time she got one, it was too late. She died a couple of hours later. But that image of her alone on the floor has been published all around Latin America. And it's really hit a nerve, partly because she's young and looks like she could be anyone's kid but also because the Argentine government has been saying that, yes, the COVID crisis in Argentina is bad, but at least everyone's receiving treatment, unlike some other countries in the region. This image shows that that is not so.

SIMON: We've heard so much over the past 15 months about how devastating the pandemic has been in Brazil. How do you assess how bad it's been in Argentina?

REEVES: Well, it's worse now than it has ever been. Intensive care units in big cities are close to breaking point with 95% occupancy. Yesterday, another 39,000 new cases were reported, which is just shy of the daily record, which was set on Thursday. And there were also another 560 deaths, bringing Argentina's overall COVID death toll to almost 77,000.

SIMON: Argentina's government has locked down towns and cities since the start of the pandemic. Now the big cities are locked down again. Why are cases rising?

REEVES: Well, one part of this is caused by the rapid spread of new variants, including the Brazilian and the U.K. variants. These account for 90% of new cases, according to Dr. Omar Sued, who's president of Argentina's Society of Infectology. Sued says another reason is that restrictions have simply become harder to enforce.

OMAR SUED: The people started to not listen to the advice of the authorities because the people was tired, because the people need to work for earn some money but also because there was a lot, a lot of confrontation. And a lot of the people got confused and doesn't know what to do.

REEVES: The confrontation he's talking about, Scott, is political. It's coming from state and city governments who are against the national government's attempts to impose restrictions because the economy's nosediving. Just over a week ago, President Alberto Fernandez imposed a semi-lockdown closing all but essential businesses and with a nighttime curfew. And that is now about to end. Dr. Sued says that's actually gone pretty well, but it could have been introduced earlier if it wasn't for political opposition to it. And now the opposition-run city of Buenos Aires says it's opening schools on Monday, and he's worried about that, too.

SIMON: Of course, Phil, scientists argue that the only way of reversing the trend is with vaccines. How are vaccines progressing in Argentina?

REEVES: Well, as you know, you know, there's fierce global competition for vaccines. And like everywhere in Latin America, Argentina is having trouble getting hold of enough of them. It's using the Russian Sputnik, Sinopharm from China and AstraZeneca. More than 20% of the population has had one dose. But scientists are saying that even after most people are eventually vaccinated, targeted restrictions will have to continue because this crisis isn't going to go away anytime soon.

SIMON: NPR's Philip Reeves, thanks so much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, May 29, 2021. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. This podcast is assembled, created, crafted and artfully polished by Andrew Craig, Isabella Gomez Sarmiento, Danny Hensel and Jon Stewart (ph).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Our editors are Samantha Balaban, Peter Breslow, Melissa Gray, Jan Johnson, Ed McNulty and D. Parvaz.

SIMON: Our directors are Sophia Boyd and Ned Wharton.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stu Rushfield - he's our technical director. Dennis Nielsen provides engineering support.

SIMON: Our supervising editor is Evie Stone. And Sarah Lucy Oliver is our executive producer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And keeping us all in line is deputy managing editor Jim Kane. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. UP FIRST, back Monday with news to start your week. You can follow us on social media. We are @UpFirst on Twitter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And for more news, interviews, books and music, you can find us on the radio.

SIMON: Weekend Edition, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Find your NPR station at stations.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lastly, may I add that geoFence protects you against inbound and outbound cyber attacks and that's the the real deal!