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U.S., U.K., Canadian Intelligence: Russian Hack Groups Tried to Steal COVID-19 Research. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 16, 2020 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I mean, why shouldn't you be allowed to do what 36 states have done, including Alabama, mandating masks in public, so as to protect people?


MAYOR VAN JOHNSON (D), SAVANNAH, GEORGIA: From guidance that was given by the CDC, which is located in Atlanta, Georgia.

The reality of it for us, Jake, is that, you know, it makes perfectly good sense. On July 1st, Savannah was the first city in Georgia to mandate masks. On July 2nd, the governor said he would not challenge it because I think we all agree that wearing a mask was a significant way to be able to slow the spread.

And then late last night, about two hours before his current order was scheduled to expire, we get this -- no explanation. Nothing else.

TAPPER: So, I've heard anecdotally that there are a lot of business owners throughout the country who want there could be either city or state mandates for masks because they don't like having to take the heat for it, for telling customers to take the step, especially non- chains. As you point out there are chain stores that are requiring this across the country. But local stores, they don't -- they don't want to get the heat.

Is that what you're hearing from your business owners in Savannah?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. It makes perfectly good sense if it's mandated by law, it makes it easier, it provides them cover to be able to refuse service based on someone's own unwillingness to be able to wear a mask.

Again, we're just doing what we can to be able to help protect our beautiful city and the wonderful residents that live here, and this just really handcuffs us. And this is just not the time we should be fighting each other. We should be focused on fighting this virus.

TAPPER: Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, thank you so much. Continue to stay in touch with us. We really appreciate it.

JOHNSON: Thank you so much, sir. I appreciate you.

TAPPER: Russian hackers are at it again. Now, apparently, they're targeting coronavirus research companies. What's the info they're looking for? That's next.



TAPPER: In our world lead today, Russian hackers are apparently at it again, this time, trying to steal coronavirus vaccine research. That comes today from U.S., British and Canadian intelligence. The hacking groups go by Cozy Bear and The Dukes, two cyber security firms. More formally, they're called APT29 or advanced persistent threat.

I want to bring in CNN senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt now.

And, Alex, what exactly did these hackers try to get?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, and, Jake, we should note that this group APT29 was also accused, one of the two groups of being behind the DNC hack in 2016. But what these three countries, the U.S., U.K. and Canada, are stating very clearly is that this Russian hacking group was going after intelligence around the vaccine for COVID-19, that they were targeting research and development around the vaccine, around vaccine work for the coronavirus.

I want to read you part of the advisory that these three countries put out today. They wrote: Throughout 2020, APT29 has targeted various organizations involved in COVID-19 vaccine developments in Canada, the U.S., and United Kingdom, highly likely with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines. Now, they did it using malware and what's called spear-phishing, which is a tactic used to steal passwords and other security credentials.

These agencies, these countries did not name the victims though a national agency here in the U.S. did note that APT29 or Cozy Bear does have a long history, they said, of targeting governmental diplomatic think tank, healthy and energy organizations, Jake.

TAPPER: Alex, the Russian government has been behind a long list of various attacks just in the last five or six years. There's the Ukraine invasion to annex Crimea in 2014, Russia-backed Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad in 2015. Russia interfered in the U.S. election in 2016, the French election in 2017, in 2018, intelligence found Russia behind the poisoning of a former spy in the U.K. Russia interfered in the U.K. election last year and on and on.

Is there any doubt that the Russian government is directly tied to this latest hack on coronavirus research center?

MARQUARDT: They're highly certain that this group is tied to the Russian intelligence services. They say as much in the advisory. This is called attribution, Jake. They're attributing this attack to Russia.

These countries, these intelligence services don't do that unless there is a high level of certainty. In fact, the British put numbers on it. They said that there is 95 percent chance or higher than that, that Cozy Bear is, in fact, part of Russian intelligence. That there's an 80 percent to 90 percent chance that Cozy Bear was going after this vaccine research. So, they're quite sure it's tied to Russian intelligence and this isn't the first time there has been attribution, Jake.

Back in May, the U.S. also accused China of similar attacks. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Our money lead now, new unemployment figures show another 1.3 million Americans filed for benefits for the first time last week. Nearly 1 in 3 workers in the U.S. have now filed for claims at least once since the pandemic began.

Workers at American Airlines learned that their paychecks are also in peril. The airline sent warning notices to 25,000 employees saying that they could be furloughed on October 1st.


Last week, United Airlines sent similar furlough warnings. Both airlines accepted government bailouts to help prevent layoffs through September.

Despite the president pushing for in-class learning, none of the nation's top 20 districts have announced plans to do so. I'm going to talk to the head of the largest school district in the U.S., next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead: While the White House insists that schools are perfectly safe to reopen, none of the nation's 20 largest school districts have committed to 100 percent in-person learning for the start of the school year, among them, New York City, the country's largest school district, with 1.1 million students, where Mayor Bill de Blasio is proposing partial reopening in September, with students in classrooms only a maximum of three days a week.

But the final decision will ultimately lie with Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who says that he will announce schools' reopening plans the first week of August.

He called any discussions -- or -- I'm sorry -- any decisions on the school year this far out, he said that was reckless.

Joining me now is the chancellor for New York City's Department of Education, Richard Carranza.

Thank you so much for joining us. Is Governor Cuomo right, do you think? Is it reckless to make a decision now, in July, on reopening the school year in -- when is -- when do you guys open, in September?

RICHARD CARRANZA, CHANCELLOR, NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Well, September 10 is our first day of school.

And there's a lot of time between now and September 10. So I think we have to be cautious. We have to be very conservative. And we have to follow the science in terms of what the medical experts are telling us about, day to day, week to week, what the conditions are, so we can make that call.

TAPPER: Well, it's interesting you bring that up, because the White House press secretary today said that the school should reopen, and that the science is on their side. She pointed to one study from "The Journal of the American Medical Association."

What do you think? Is the science on the side of those saying schools should 100 percent reopen?

CARRANZA: Because I was taught to read in school, I have read the reports.

The science is not on our side. I think it's very important to understand that this virus acts and mutates and presents itself very differently in different scenarios. I think the next thing we're going to hear is that the Avengers are coming and they're bringing an Infinity Stone to cleanse us of COVID.

Listen, we're going to follow the science and the medical advice around when it's safe to be back in in-person learning. We're following science, not science fiction.

TAPPER: You have 1.1 million students in your school district. How could you possibly maintain distancing in schools?

CARRANZA: Well, given the medical advice and the social distancing and the distancing that we have to do, it's impossible to have 100 percent of our 1.1 million students in the same building on the same day, because we just don't have the space for that.

So, because of that, we have developed, with a lot of input from principals and teachers and communities and obviously the medical experts, several models which some schools may be able to get 50 percent of their students adhering to all of those medical -- medically advised distancing requirements in school at one time.

Some schools, because they're much smaller -- I mean, some of our schools are over 100 years old. So they may only be able to get a third of their students in. So, that means that there will be -- based on the model that the school adopts, based on their circumstances, some students will be in school two or three days a week in-person and remote learning the rest of the week.

So, we know that this is not the best-case scenario, but we're really, really working with a portfolio of onerous choices and choosing the least of the onerous choices.

TAPPER: Yes, it's tough, because we all want to open the schools. We all want kids to be safe and happy and out of the house.

According to New York City data, 73 percent of your students are economically disadvantaged. One in 10 students are homeless, according to a study from the Advocates for Children of New York.

How can these kids possibly learn from home if they don't have access to online learning tools, don't have computers, don't have Wi-Fi, in some cases don't even have homes?

CARRANZA: So, Jake, that's what keeps all of us, the teachers, the principals, myself, up at night, because we understand that.

We -- our teachers and principals work with our students in those circumstances every single day. And, believe me, I have heard from them. And that's why they want to be able to be back in an in-person learning environment.

However, we're not going to sacrifice the health and the safety of our students, our families or our teachers to do that. We have to do it in a medically safe way, based on the scientific evidence.

Now, that being said, we are prioritizing students that are our most vulnerable students. And you have mentioned some of those, students with disabilities, students that are in temporary housing or homeless students, students that have very chronic needs in terms of health and attention.

So, we're prioritizing those students. And we have multiple models that will allow us to provide the services to the students.


But, again, this is not an ideal situation, and the flexibility that we're all going to need to do to be able to serve those students within the guidelines and the requirements of safe in-person learning is what we're basing all of our plans on.

And it shifts on a weekly basis, sometimes a daily basis, based on the circumstances and what's happening, not only in New York City, but around the world, in terms of the permutations that this virus is having.

TAPPER: Not to mention, of course, all the competing health interests having to do with kids not getting an education, an increase in suicidal ideation, an increase in drug and alcohol abuse, and on and on, an impossible, an impossible series of decisions and choices for people like you.

Richard Carranza, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. Stay in touch. We'd like to talk more to you as we get closer to the opening of the school day. night.

CARRANZA: Absolutely, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: More in our national lead.

As racial tensions continue to plague the nation, W. Kamau Bell and his mother are going to take a look back on his childhood, remembering how racism brought risks to even a simple trip to the drugstore.

It's in the latest episode of his "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA."


JANET BELL, MOTHER OF W. KAMAU BELL: I was very conscious about that. And I remember, when you were a little guy, 6, 7 years old. And there was a drugstore near us that we would shop in.

And as soon as we walked in the door, the store detective would follow us. I said, be really careful. And I pointed out the store detective, because we're always being watched.

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And remember that lesson and it sticks with me today, so much so that I'm aware of, when I'm in stores, even now, as a fully grown adult, where my hands are.

And then, as a kid, I was aware of it because I didn't want to be arrested. And then, now as an adult, I have become aware of it because I don't want to be killed.

J. BELL: Yes.


TAPPER: The Emmy Award-winning "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" premieres this Sunday at 10:00 p.m., only here on CNN.

Coming up: With states taking the lead in the coronavirus pandemic because of the absence of leadership from the White House, we're going to take a look at the results of two governors who had two very different strategies.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead: two states about the same population moving in two radically different directions in terms of coronavirus.

CNN's Alexandra Field took a very interesting look at how the governors of Connecticut and Mississippi responded to the coronavirus surge and how they set their states on wildly different courses.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If every state is now a COVID case study, Connecticut counts as an early model for success, getting control of a surge back in April.

GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): Positivity rate continues to be under 1 percent, and one more fatality, dammit. But we are making progress.

FIELD: Mississippi is a different story, dealing with the surge that has been devastating the South since June.

GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): We continue to be in a dangerous position. I'm telling you, it's real, it's deadly, and it is getting worse, not better.

FIELD: The two states have similar sized populations, but their daily COVID case numbers have been near opposites. Toward the end of May, Connecticut and Mississippi had nearly the same number of new daily cases. That's when they made critically different decisions.

In Connecticut:

LAMONT: I think we can proceed on a very thoughtful basis with those businesses that are least likely to be dangerous.

FIELD: In Mississippi:

REEVES: All businesses will be open. Freedom with risk is better than a prolonged shutdown.

FIELD: Fast-forward to July.

JASON SHELTON (D), MAYOR OF TUPELO, MISSISSIPPI: We're seeing a growth here because I think, in large part, a refusal to listen to the science, a refusal to follow the advice of health care professionals.

FIELD: Hospitals in Mississippi are stressed, according to state officials. This week, Mississippi reported its highest number of COVID hospitalizations since its first case was confirmed in March.

At least 30 state lawmakers have tested positive in an outbreak at the capitol. Masks are now mandatory in 13 of the state's 82 counties. The governor is encouraging their use statewide.

In Connecticut, where they battled the early surge...

CHRIS SPAULDING, FIRST SELECTMAN, WESTON, CONNECTICUT: The numbers were climbing, doubling every three days.

FIELD: Masks have been mandatory statewide for months.

SPAULDING: I'm a little concerned that people took our example of how we were able to pull out of it, and didn't get the right message. They got the message that, oh, maybe this wasn't that bad.

FIELD: Connecticut's slow reopening keeps yielding steady progress.

RALPH SILANO, OWNER, RALPH 'N' RICH'S: We've weathered some storms, but this is one that's lingering.

FIELD: Ralph Silano's Bridgeport restaurant is open. Plans to reopen bars are on pause.

SILANO: I kind of felt that that was going to happen, seeing the numbers going up in other states.

FIELD: At the Orangetheory Fitness studio in Norwalk, classes are back. But, here, they're trying to help Connecticut stay on track by taking extra steps.

KRISTIN DUFFETT, ORANGETHEORY FITNESS: We're able to open at a 50 percent capacity, but we decided to go with a 33 percent capacity, so we could have 12 feet of space in between everybody working out in class.


FIELD: And, Jake, here in Connecticut, there are still no signs of complacency.

They're enforcing quarantines for travelers coming in from 22 hard-hit states. They're working to expand access to absentee ballots to keep the election safe. And they're also getting ready to take on the biggest challenge of all, bringing students safely back to school -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alexandra Field, thank you.

Just moments ago, sadly, the number of people who died in the U.S. from this pandemic crossed the threshold of 138,000.

We want to remember one of them.

John Eric Swing was 48 years old. He served as a U.S. Marine Reservist, then was executive director of a nonprofit for Filipino Americans in Los Angeles.

His organization started a food delivery project to help others during this pandemic. He contracted coronavirus in mid-June. He died 12 days later. Swing leaves behind six children and his wife, Ellen. May his memory be a blessing.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.