AP News in Brief: 06-08-21

  • Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announces the recovery of millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency from the Colonial Pipeline Co. ransomware attacks as she speaks during a news conference with FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate and acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Stephanie Hinds at the Justice Department in Washington on Monday, June 7, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)

U.S. recovers most of ransom paid after Colonial Pipeline hack

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has recovered most of a multimillion-dollar ransom payment made to hackers after a cyberattack that caused the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline to halt its operations last month, officials said Monday.

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The operation to seize cryptocurrency paid to the Russia-based hacker group is the first of its kind to be undertaken by a specialized ransomware task force created by the Biden administration Justice Department. It reflects a rare victory in the fight against ransomware as U.S. officials scramble to confront a rapidly accelerating threat targeting critical industries around the world.

“By going after the entire ecosystem that fuels ransomware and digital extortion attacks — including criminal proceeds in the form of digital currency — we will continue to use all of our resources to increase the cost and consequences of ransomware and other cyber-based attacks,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference announcing the operation.

Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline, which supplies roughly half the fuel consumed on the East Coast, temporarily shut down its operations on May 7 after a gang of cybercriminals using the DarkSide ransomware variant broke into the company’s computer system. The ransomware variant used by DarkSide, which has been the subject of an FBI investigation since last year, is one of more than 100 that law enforcement officials are now scrutinizing, said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate.

Colonial officials have said they took their pipeline system offline before the attack could spread to its operating system, and decided soon after to pay ransom of 75 bitcoin — then valued at roughly $4.4 million — in hopes of bringing itself back online as soon as it could. The company’s president and chief executive, Joseph Blount, is set to testify before congressional panels this week.

FDA approves Alzheimer’s drug panned by experts

WASHINGTON — Government health officials on Monday approved the first new drug for Alzheimer’s disease in nearly 20 years, disregarding warnings from independent advisers that the much-debated treatment hasn’t been shown to help slow the brain-destroying disease.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug from Biogen based on study results showing it seemed “reasonably likely” to benefit Alzheimer’s patients. It’s the only therapy that U.S. regulators have said can likely treat the underlying disease, rather than manage symptoms like anxiety and insomnia.

The decision, which could impact millions of Americans and their families, is certain to spark disagreements among physicians, medical researchers and patient groups. It also has far-reaching implications for the standards used to evaluate experimental therapies, including those that show only incremental benefits.

The new drug, which Biogen developed with Japan’s Eisai Co., did not reverse mental decline, only slowing it in one study. The medication, aducanumab, will be marketed as Aduhelm and is to be given as an infusion every four weeks.

Dr. Caleb Alexander, an FDA adviser who recommended against the drug’s approval, said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision.

‘A lot of anxiety’ for Dems as Biden agenda stalls

WASHINGTON — Hopes for a big infrastructure investment are teetering. An ambitious elections and voting bill is all but dead. Legislation on police brutality, gun control and immigration has stalled out.

After six months of Democratic control in Washington, the party’s progressive wing is growing increasingly restless as campaign promises go undone — blocked not only by Republican obstruction, but also by Democrats’ own inability to unite fully around priorities.

The time ahead is pivotal for President Joe Biden and his allies in Congress to seize what some view as a transformative moment to rebuild the economy and reshape the country.

“There’s a lot of anxiety,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who had been a co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid. “It’s a question really for President Biden: What kind of president does he want to be?”

The summer work period is traditionally among the busiest for Congress, but especially sharpened this year as Democrats strain to deliver on Biden’s agenda. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned colleagues that June will “test our resolve” as senators returned Monday with infrastructure talks dragging and the limits of bipartisanship in the 50-50 Senate increasingly clear.

‘Do not come’: VP Harris seeks ‘hope at home’ for Guatemalans

GUATEMALA CITY — Vice President Kamala Harris offered an optimistic outlook for improved cooperation with Guatemala on addressing the spike in migration to the U.S. after her meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday. She also delivered a direct warning to migrants considering making the trek: “Do not come. Do not come.”

Her comments, during a press conference after she met privately with Giammattei, underscored the challenge that remains even as Harris engages in substantive talks with the Guatemalan and Mexican presidents during a three-day visit to the region this week, her first foreign trip as vice president.

“I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home,” Harris said. “At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come, do not come.”

In conjunction with Harris’ trip, the Biden administration announced that the Justice Department would create an anti-corruption task force and an additional task force to combat human trafficking and drug smuggling in the region. Harris also promised a new program focused on creating education and economic opportunities for girls there, among other new initiatives. And she told Giammattei that her goal in the region was to restore “hope” to residents so they no longer felt the need to flee their homeland for better opportunities in the U.S.

But for all the talk about new ways to cooperate, reining in corruption and improving living conditions in the region have been long-running challenges that previous administrations have been unable to achieve in their efforts to stem the tide of migration to the United States.

Canadian police say Muslim family targeted by attack

TORONTO — A driver plowed a pickup truck into a family of five, killing four of them and seriously injuring the other in a deliberate attack that targeted the victims because they were Muslims, Canadian police said Monday.

Authorities said a young man was arrested in the parking lot of a nearby mall after the incident Sunday night in the Ontario city of London. Police said a black pickup truck mounted a curb and struck the victims at an intersection.

“This was an act of mass murder perpetuated against Muslims,” Mayor Ed Holder said. “It was rooted in unspeakable hatred.”

Police said the dead were a 74-year-old woman, a 46-year-old man, a 44-year-old woman and a 15-year-old girl. A 9-year-old boy was reported in serious condition. The family requested the names not be released, officials said.

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“In one act of murder some individual has wiped out three generations of family. It’s horrific,” Holder said in an interview with The Associated Press.

By wire sources

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