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Nuclear weapons agency hacked amid barrage of cyber attacks on U.S. government: report

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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the United States’ massive nuclear weapons stockpile, have evidence that hackers breached their networks as part of an far-reaching espionage operation that has impacted at least six federal agencies, officials directly familiar with the matter told Politico in an exclusive report published Thursday afternoon.

DOE and NNSA officials on Thursday started coordinating notifications about the breach to their congressional oversight bodies after being briefed by the chief information officer at the DOE, Rocky Campione, Politico reports.

They found suspicious activity in networks belonging to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories in New Mexico and Washington, the Office of Secure Transportation at NNSA, and the Richland Field Office of the DOE, according to the report.

The hackers have been able to inflict more damage at FERC than the other agencies, and officials there have evidence of highly malicious activity, the officials said, but did not elaborate, the report says.

Furthermore, the officials said that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which has been helping to manage the federal response to the wide-scale hacking campaign, signaled to FERC this week that CISA was overwhelmed and might not be able to allocate the necessary resources to respond. Even though FERC is a semi-autonomous agency, the DOE will therefore be allocating extra resources to FERC to help investigate the hack, the officials told Politico.

Several top officials from CISA, including its former director Christopher Krebs, have either been pushed out by the Trump administration or resigned in recent weeks.

Federal investigators have been combing through networks in recent days to determine what hackers had been able to access and/or steal, and officials at the DOE still don’t know whether the attackers were able to access anything, the people said, noting that the investigation is ongoing and they may not know the full extent of the damage “for weeks.”

DOE officials were planning on Thursday to notify the House and Senate Energy committees, House and Senate Energy and Water Development subcommittees, House and Senate Armed Services committees, and the New Mexico and Washington State delegations of the breach, the officials told Politico.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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China

REPORT: China uses psychiatric institutions to suppress dissent

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China has a vast network of psychiatric institutions that it uses to suppress dissent, according to a recent report by Safeguard Defenders, an NGO that focuses on human rights violations in China and other Asian countries. The report compiled data found on 99 victims involved in 144 instances on involuntary hospitalizations in 109 institutions from 2015 through 2021. Of the 99 victims in the report, 80 were petitioners [i.e., those who file complaints against officials] and 14 were activists.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. “China’s regime has been torturing, maiming, and killing dissidents and others in psychiatric facilities for seven decades,” said Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and The Great U.S.-China Tech War. “The only way to end the horrific abuse is to end the rule of the Communist Party.”

The report detailed especially harsh treatments, which include: forced medication (in 77 percent of cases), physical restraints on the bed (60 percent), beatings by staff or other patients (25 percent) and electroshock therapy (14 percent). Otherwise normally healthy people were given anti-psychotic and psychotropic medications, causing severe side effects like memory loss, insomnia and tremors. Electroshock therapy was often administered to the victims as they were fully conscious, rather than under anesthesia in small doses as would be clinically appropriate for certain patients.  According to the report, “[Electroshock therapy] without anesthesia is not only unimaginably painful and frightening for the patient but carries serious side effects, including the risk of bone fractures, joint dislocation, muscle tears, disruption of the heart beat and lung damage.”

Family and friends are often used as weapons against the victims. They were not permitted to call or visit the victims in 76 percent of cases, which essentially makes these cases “enforced disappearances.” 11 percent of cases were committed with the assistance of family (either voluntarily or coerced by authorities). Family and friends who petition for the victim’s release are often faced with persecution, and involuntarily commitment themselves.

The peak of psychiatric detentions occurred from 2015 through 2016, which was around the same time as China’s “709 Crackdown” where the government persecuted hundreds of human rights lawyers.

Some of the detentions are rather draconian. As a petitioner who called for local authorities to investigate a robbery in his house, Zeng Jiping was detained for almost two years. For “live tweeting herself splashing paint over a portrait of Xi Jinping,” Dong Yaoqiong received 1 year, 4 months detention. Twenty-nine out of the 99 victims in the report were hospitalized more than once. In two-thirds of cases where data was known, the authorities did not perform a psychiatric evaluation, in direct violation of China’s Mental Health Law.

The report also gives the example of Andy Li, a member of the “Hong Kong 12” pro-democracy protestors, as falling victim to involuntary detention in Hong Kong’ Siu Lam Psychiatric Center in 2021. The report noted that, as Li’s family didn’t know about his detention, “Li’s cases appears to be a worrying sign that the political abuse of psychiatry practiced on the mainland is now being exported into Hong Kong…”

Those who are finally released from their involuntary committals face lasting physical and phycological pain, and stigma within their communities. People seeking damages for their treatment are often faced with doctors and attorneys who do not want to assist them for fear of retaliation from the government.

Conclusion

According to the report, China is using “peace and health asylums” and other healthcare institutions to “punish and remove activists and petitioners from society without the trouble of going through a trial.” While the report details various Chinese laws that are supposed to protect citizens from such involuntary hospitalizations, in reality Chinese authorities do not abide by these laws and the citizens are not protected. The policy of involuntary hospitalizations show the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party will go to suppress dissent.

You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic

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