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U.S. agencies say Russia ‘likely’ behind massive government hack



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In a joint statement Tuesday, a group of U.S. intelligence agencies blamed Russia for the hack discovered last month of federal agencies through software from the IT firm SolarWinds, stating the nation was “likely” the origin of the massive breach.

This joint statement from a group of intelligence agencies contrasts what President Donald Trump has been saying about the hack, which he has blamed on China while questioning reports pointing the finger at Russia. The New York Times reported Tuesday that, according to people briefed on the material, none of the information gathered about the cyberattack thus far indicates that China was the culprit.

The list of agencies that placed the blame on Russia included the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). After the hacking of SolarWinds was learned last month, the agencies had organized a cyber unified coordination group.

“This work indicates that an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actor, likely Russian in origin, is responsible for most or all of the recently discovered, ongoing cyber compromises of both government and non-governmental networks,” the agencies said in a joint statement relating to their probe into the compromising breach of U.S. cybersecurity.

Furthermore, the agencies underlined that “at this time, we believe this was, and continues to be, an intelligence gathering effort. We are taking all necessary steps to understand the full scope of this campaign and respond accordingly.”

Back in December, Reuters first reported that the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Treasury had been breached as part of the hack of SolarWinds, customers of whom include a majority of federal agencies and American Fortune 500 companies are customers of the IT firm.

RELATED: Russian government hackers reportedly compromised U.S. agencies as part of global espionage campaign: report

Following those initial reports, other agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversee the nation’s nuclear weapon stockpile, have said they were impacted by the cyberattack too. Notably, hackers were possibly active in these systems since March.

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

In a December filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), SolarWinds stated that as many as 18,000 of its customers had possibly been compromised by the breach.

Of those 18,000 public and private entities that used SolarWinds’s Orion software, which the hackers exploited in order to breach networks, “fewer than ten U.S. government agencies” had been “compromised by follow-on activity in their systems,” the agencies stated Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—while also saying the U.S. routinely receives cyberattacks from nations like Iran, North Korea, and China—told Bloomberg News Tuesday that the attack “was in fact a Russian operation”.

Since last month’s revelations of the hack, President-elect Joe Biden has claimed that Russia was likely behind it.

“It certainly fits Russia’s long history of reckless disruptive cyber activities, but the Trump administration needs to make an official attribution,” Biden said in December. “This assault happened on Donald Trump’s watch when he wasn’t watching. It’s still his responsibility as president to defend American interests for the next four weeks.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Biden frees Venezuelan President Maduro’s drug dealing relatives in prisoner swap



Joe Biden

President Biden freed two of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s relatives Saturday in exchange for seven jailed Americans. The two nephews of Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores, had been convicted in the United States for drug dealing and sentenced to 18 years in prison, according to the BBC.

According to the report, the swap was in exchange for five American oil executives. Those Americans were “exchanged for two of Mr Maduro’s wife’s nephews, who were serving 18-year sentences in the US on drug charges,” the officials told the BBC. Maduro’s nephews were convicted under the Trump administration and the Venezuelan government claims that they were “unjustly” jailed in the United States.

In a statement from the White House Saturday, Biden said the American’s were  “wrongfully detained.”  He said the American’s  would soon be reunited with their relatives, according to reports.

“Today, we celebrate that seven families will be whole once more. To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained – know that we remain dedicated to securing their release,” the Biden statement added.

Meanwhile, 13 Republican members of Congress sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, requesting more information on “the intelligence report” that alleges Maduro is emptying his prisons and allowing them to head to the United States in the caravans that crossing the porous border.

The letter states that the report warns Border Patrol agents to be on the look-out for “violent criminals from Venezuela among the migrant caravans heading towards the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“It has been widely reported that the Venezuelan regime, under the control of Nicolás Maduro Moros, is deliberately releasing violent prisoners early, including inmates convicted of ‘murder, rape, and extortion,’ and pushing them to join caravans heading to the United States,” the letter states.

You can follow Sara A. Carter on Twitter @SaraCarterDC.

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