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Russian Group Behind Pipeline Cyberattack; Fauci Talks Easing Restrictions. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 10, 2021 - 09:00   ET



PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Third time a record has been set in the last seven days.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Pete, thank you so much. I know a lot of people will be interested in this story.

Pete Muntean for us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now I just need to deal with my expiring miles. That's a while different thing.

KEILAR: Right. I know.

BERMAN: That's not nearly as bad as the unused money there.

All right, CNN's coverage continues right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Happy Monday, everyone. Glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow.


It is one of the worst-ever cyberattacks on American infrastructure. And this morning, the evidence points to a group from Russia as being responsible. According to a former senior cybersecurity official, a Russian criminal group known as Dark Side is believed to have carried out the massive ransomware attack leading to Friday's shutdown of Colonial Pipeline. These, in effect, cyberattacks that demand a ransom for the systems to be allowed to go running again. That pipeline, it's the largest in the U.S., 5,500 miles. It provides the main fuel supply to the East Coast of this country.

HARLOW: So the White House is now preparing for various scenarios and various responses, including whether more steps need to be taken to avoid more severe fuel disruption. This as experts are warning gas prices could spike if the pipeline is not back online in the next few days. We have a team of correspondents and analysts standing by.

Let's begin with our Kylie Atwood at the State Department.

So, explain more about this because this is notably and importantly different than a state actor, right? Yes, operating within Russia, but different than a -- than a state actor.

Can you explain?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. This is a Russian criminal group. It's originating in Russia. It's called Dark Side, as you guys mentioned. That is the group that's believed to be behind this attack.

And we should note, this is an incredibly massive attack on U.S. infrastructure. As you guys noted, this pipeline runs all along the East Coast and this is expected to impact about half of the fuel supply that is consumed on the East Coast of the U.S. And most of these oil lines are offline.

Now, the group said over the weekend, Colonial Pipeline, they said they're working on a plan to bring these lines back online, to get this fuel supply up and running, but they can't do that until this threat is contained. And that has not been done yet.

Now, the White House hasn't made any comment yet about the fact that there's a Russian group originating in Russia that's believed to be behind this. But what we do know is that the White House has put together a task force. They're focused on this. And one thing that they are really keyed in on is if there is a need to mitigate any disruption to fuel supply. As you guys noted, this could be something that impacts fuel prices if these lines aren't back online in the next few days.

And there's also a whole of government approach looking at this. That's being led by the Department of Energy, the FBI, DOJ, DHS are also involved. This is really requiring an all of government approach to look at what happened and, of course, how to prevent this from happening again and having a greater impact in the coming days.

But we'll be watching to see when Colonial Pipeline can get these up and running.

SCIUTTO: We should also note that the Kremlin has used independent criminal groups to carry out its own intentions in the past as well. That connection is something to be examined too.

Kylie Atwood, thanks very much.

The pipeline shutdown is also now sparking concerns, as Kylie was noting there, over gas prices. That's a problem.

HARLOW: Christine Romans joins us, talking about $3 gas already forecast this summer, and maybe we hit that in the next few days along the East Coast if this doesn't get back online? CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, the

timing here is pretty key, but the economy reopening and you're (ph) -- the very busy summer travel season is upon us. So you already have a national average of $2.96, I think, for a gallon of regular and forecasts for that to go up to $3.

When you look at different parts of the country, you're already there in some parts of the country. And gas -- gas analysts and energy analysts are saying the southeast could see -- you could see maybe a 10-cent spike in gas in the next few days or week if you don't get this resolved.

What's key here, you guys, is a reopening plan, developing a reopening plan and letting the public know how long this is going to go on. The market can absorb -- other pipelines can absorb some of this disruption if it's very short term, but we don't know how long term this is going to be. The longer it goes on, the more pressure it will have on gas prices and you will feel that at the pump.

So you're already headed to $3 a gallon. Some parts of the country are already there. This is terrible timing, quite frankly, for something like this. And it does highlight, as Jim has reported extensively, you know, kind of the weakness in cybersecurity or cyber -- infrastructure to cyber warfare in this country, no question.

SCIUTTO: Listen, virtually every week, right, you have a reminder of that, what systems both government and private are vulnerable, and here is another one.



SCIUTTO: Christine Romans, thanks very much.

Joining me now to discuss this threat, CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. She's a former assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Juliette, great to have you on.


SCIUTTO: First, let's talk about responsibility here. This is a criminal group. By the way, this kind of criminal activity, as you know well, happens all the time, ransomware attacks. I mean, you know, they basically shut down your system and say we won't let it go up again until you pay us money, so criminal activity. But knowing what we know about how Russia operates here, would a group like this be able to operate without at least the knowledge of or even the tacit approval of the Kremlin?

KAYYEM: No. It's as simple as that. Simply because they know that they are not going to be subject to any penalty or punishment in Russia because of the tacit approval. Look, Putin's desire is disruption of American systems, whether it's election or in this case it's energy systems. If he does it, great. But if someone else does it in Russia, maybe even better because his fingerprints aren't on it.

So I have no -- you know, this is one of these things where a non- state actor is acting as a state actor. And I think we should treat it as such in terms of the ransomware and in terms of the cyberattack and now the physical consequences.

SCIUTTO: And we know Russia, like China, Iran, North Korea, has tremendous interest in looking for vulnerabilities in U.S. infrastructure.

KAYYEM: Right.

SCIUTTO: And have probed these weaknesses.

So tell us what we've learned about the vulnerability of America's pipeline system to cyberattack.

KAYYEM: Well, we've known it for a long time and this is what we call the internet of things and that's a nice way of putting it, which is, the cyberattack or the cyber vulnerability becomes a way into the physical infrastructure. So, in olden days, if an enemy wanted to get our infrastructure, they would bomb a bridge or a pipeline or they would try to disrupt it.

In this case, they come through a much more open system, which is our cyber system, and then impact the physical consequences. I have to say this was a voluntary -- so, to shut down the pipeline was an appropriate response by the company to essentially figure out what is going on and purge the system of whatever cyber infiltration has occurred because we don't know how long they've been there.

They only discovered it on Friday. So we don't know how long they've been there and we also don't know if it came through the company directly or a sub vendor. That often happens with these companies.

The second thing is, of course, what we do now. So one -- you know, as Christine was saying, we have a couple days. And the company has been pretty aggressive at trying to get some of their sort of smaller networks online. This is what we -- this is called consequence management. You just try to stem the losses at this stage.


KAYYEM: So what you're going to see is -- or what we have seen is the government issuing an emergency declaration, start to surge other resources so that you have redundancies and all the other things that we need to do to keep the system in line.


Let's talk about why this keeps happening.


SCIUTTO: And why no penalty imposed so far, not just by the Biden administration for the SolarWinds hack, which was a government spying operation --

KAYYEM: Right.

SCIUTTO: But the Trump administration tried stuff. The Obama administration tried stuff, mostly sanctions and so on. But the behavior continues. I mean does that show that the -- that the policy -- policies have failed in terms of deterring these kinds of attacks?

KAYYEM: I don't think we can say that they failed. I think you just keep doing the sanctions. So, in other words, once we find out who was involved in this, we have some idea, you just keep -- keep doing what you're doing because the sanctions are going to hurt individuals and very rich people in Russia, which impacts the government's desire for -- there for these things to go on.

But also remember there's a whole covert part to this. It is very likely, and I'm not disclosing anything --


KAYYEM: We are also in systems in Russia and these countries. So there's the overt part and the covert part. And then keep the pressure on.

But this does show our vulnerabilities in particular with the private sector.


KAYYEM: I mean, you know, look, like 80 percent of our critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector. Fifty percent of this pipeline is -- or eastern seaboard is being served 50 percent by this pipeline. We don't have a lot of give in the system and so the private sector also has to get really good with protecting their networks.

SCIUTTO: But you mention offensive there. And that was the step the Trump administration took, the previous administration said, no (ph), which is to basically plant sleeper cells, if you want to call it that --

KAYYEM: Right.

SCIUTTO: In systems in China and Russia as a sort of warning, saying, we're inside here. If you mess with us, we'll make the lights go out in Moscow, right, I mean, you know, in effect. But that didn't work either.

KAYYEM: Yes. So --

SCIUTTO: So, I mean, if the defensive stuff isn't working, the offensive stuff isn't working, I mean you can imagine folks throwing their hands up in the air.

KAYYEM: Right. Right. And we shouldn't, though. I mean partially, because as you said, this is going to keep happening. So there's just -- you know, look, I mean there's no single solution to systems like ours in terms of critical infrastructure that are private and public, have sort of all sorts of different vulnerabilities, both physical and cyber --



KAYYEM: So you do a couple of things. I mean one is you get the layered defenses in. I think that we can be -- I think more regulatory with the private sector in terms of demanding that they get their act together in terms of cyber protections, which is starting to happen, and then you continue with the covert actions.

We have -- we have that potential and one has to assume that it is being threatened from the White House right now.


KAYYEM: But this is a serious -- I mean this is serious. If this goes on longer than two or three days, we don't have -- we don't have much give in the system. There's only so much slack that can be picked up by trucks, which is what's happening.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. I mean, as you said, people are going to see it at the gas pump potentially.

Juliette Kayyem, thanks so much.

KAYYEM: Thanks so much, Jim.

HARLOW: All right, well, CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond joins us now.

You know, Jeremy, to Juliette's great, last point, they tried. I mean there was this bipartisan bill in 2012 from then Senator Lieberman and current Senator Collins to protect against exactly something like this and it failed.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. It failed because some of these private companies lobbied against it believing that it would be too much of a burden on their businesses to be able to adhere to some of these onerous standards. And this is kind of the point here is that so much of this critical infrastructure in the United States is held by private companies.

Now, in terms of the White House response that we have seen so far. We know that over the weekend there were emergency meetings around this situation with Colonial Pipeline. The White House has stood up an interagency working group that has been working since this weekend on this issue to, first of all, figure out exactly what happened here with this ransomware attack, but also to address some of these potential supply disruptions.

And that is really where the government's focus has been, has been on relaxing some of these rules around transportation of fuel and the hours that truck drivers can drive to make sure that the fuel gets to the East Coast given that this pipeline does account for half of all the gasoline that goes to the East Coast.

And then, of course, there are some additional responses that are being considered. We know that the president has been considering taking some executive actions on cybersecurity in the wake of that SolarWinds cyberattack. But, again, questions here as to how much of that would actually address the situation that is happening now.

HARLOW: I mean, right, an executive order can only do so much and you mentioned private companies. And "The New York Times" reporting this morning is -- I think it's 85 percent of our critical infrastructure is controlled right now by private companies.

Would this executive order address those?

DIAMOND: Yes, yes, that it -- that is indeed the big question because from what we understand, the draft executive actions that have been under consideration so far were mainly aimed at improving the cybersecurity standards for federal agencies and the contractors that service those federal agencies, like SolarWinds, for example, which was a contractor and that is how Russia was able to exploit vulnerabilities and gain access to federal systems.

Colonial Pipeline is a private company. They are not a contractor of the federal government. And so there is a question as to whether the executive actions that the president has been considering would address this situation in particular. There's also the possibility that they could expand those actions in the wake of this.

We know that the Department of Justice, for example, last month ordered a four-month review to try and get at these issues of ransomware involving both nation states but also private companies. So a lot of action happening on different fronts, but certainly this putting a spotlight on some of these issues needing to do a lot -- needing -- a lot more needing to be done.

SCIUTTO: A lot of action, Jeremy, but it's not working, right? I mean you just imposed sanctions on Russia for the SolarWinds attack and, by the way, this goes back to the previous administrations. I mean is the White House acknowledging that the sticks they've used so far in this have not accomplished what they want in terms of deterring attacks like this?

DIAMOND: Yes, there has been an acknowledgement from Anne Neuberger, for example, the deputy national security advisor, who focuses on these cyber issues, that so far what they have done in response to the SolarWinds attack, for example, some of those retaliatory steps, they have not prevented Russia from continuing to take those kinds of actions.

So there is a sense here that more needs to be done, different approaches need to be done. The Department of Justice, for example, which is focused on, you know, putting charges to some of these folks even though they never stand trial, they are looking at new approaches as well.

HARLOW: Thank you, Jeremy, at the White House for us this morning. Still to come, a lot ahead this hour.

Dr. Fauci says we could begin to see guidance on loosening mask requirements inside as more people get vaccinated. How soon? More on that ahead.

And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy goes on the record saying he supports Congresswoman Elise Stefanik to replace Liz Cheney as the number three in GOP leadership. That vote could happen this Wednesday. And then what would happen next?

SCIUTTO: And violence is surging in the Middle East. Clashes like this one between Israeli police, Palestinians escalating overnight. We're going to be live from Jerusalem.



SCIUTTO: Right now some states are scaling back the number of vaccines they're requesting from the federal government amid a steep drop in demand across the country. So far about 46 percent of the country's population, nearly half, has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Just over one in three Americans are now fully vaccinated.

HARLOW: And while the pace of vaccinations may be slowing, experts are pretty optimistic about where the country is going to be in just a few weeks. Still, the White House's top COVID official is begging, pleading with Americans to keep following the guidance.


JEFFREY ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: I think everyone is tired and wearing a mask is -- it can be a pain. But we're getting there. And the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and brighter.


Let's keep up our guard. Let's follow the CDC guidance. And the CDC guidance across time will allow vaccinated people more and more privileges to take off that mask.


HARLOW: Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

So, Elizabeth, Dr. Fauci says it may be time to relax some of these guidelines, notably even inside.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's very interesting. You can almost hear, Poppy, in what you're -- what we're about to listen to from Dr. Fauci, he's sort of nudging the CDC. I think a lot of folks are feeling that way. Let's incentivize people to get vaccinated. You know, about two out of five American adults have still not gotten themselves even one shot. And that's a problem. It's going to be hard to reach herd immunity that way.

Let's take a listen to why Dr. Fauci had to say.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: The former head of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, says it's time to start relaxing the indoor mask mandates. Is he right?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: No, I think so. And I think you're going to probably see that as we go along and as more people get vaccinated. The CDC will be in -- almost in real time, George, updating their recommendations and their guidelines. But, yes, we do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated.


COHEN: Now, let's take a look at what the CDC is saying now about wearing a mask when you're indoors, even if you're vaccinated. The CDC says wear a mask with unvaccinated people if you're gathered with people from multiple households. So let's say you're over at someone's house and, you know, several families are there. Also wear a mask indoors in public places like, let's say, public transportation, restaurants, the gym, a church.

You know, I think that some of the -- some of the loosening of these that we might see, for example, just to throw this out, if you're gathered with a few families at home, all the adults are vaccinated, maybe some of the children, the children aren't, do you really need to wear a mask? Would it be possible to say just don't hug those children. Maybe keep a little bit of distance from them. That may be the way that they're heading.

HARLOW: OK. Thanks, Elizabeth, very much.

So let's talk about all this. Dr. Megan Ranney is with us, an emergency physician at Brown University.

What do you think, nudge, would you nudge the CDC a little bit on this guidance, especially indoors, just like it appears Dr. Fauci is?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: Yes, so, let's be clear on what is absolutely safe. If you are with a group of fully vaccinated people or if it's almost all vaccinated and just one or two kids, it is safe to be indoors without a mask.

And I went to a dinner on Friday night with other fully vaccinated people. We sat indoors for a couple of hours, enjoyed dinner without masks on. That is already safe.

I do think that the CDC can be clearer that as more of us get vaccinated, it will be more and more safe to go maskless. But let's remember how this virus spreads, Poppy. It spreads through the air. So if you are in a room with unvaccinated people, the safest thing to do to keep yourself protected, even if you're vaccinated, is to wear a mask around folks that are not yet vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: OK, vaccination rates, good news, got more than a third of the country fully vaccinated, approaching 60 percent of people who at least have one shot there. But now the pace is tailing off.

I just wonder, is the pace of vaccinations tailing off too quickly, right, to get to the levels we need for herd immunity to truly put this to rest?

RANNEY: So every vaccine that goes in an arm, Jim, helps to protect not just the person who gets vaccinated but also the people around them, right?


RANNEY: And so every time we go from 40 percent to 50 percent to 60 percent, that gets us closer to those very low levels of infections, low rates of hospitalization, low rates of death that allow us to safely reopen. I hate to say that there's a certain number. I know the White House is saying they're aiming for 70 percent by July 4th. It's a great number to aim for. But if we get to 65 percent or 75 percent, that's good too.

What do we have to do? Well, my ER, we're giving out shots in the ER to patients that come in that are stable enough to be able to get a vaccine. We need to go to people's homes. We need to go to their doctors' offices and allow them to get vaccinated there. We have to make getting vaccinated fun and easy to get those folks that are still holdouts so that we can get more and more shots in arms. But really every shot is a win.


HARLOW: That's a -- that's an interesting approach to, you know, ask people when they come to the ER, have you gotten the vaccine, if not give it to them. Really smart.

What about these numbers from the "Associated Press" that there are a handful of states that are actually telling the federal government, we don't need all the vaccine you're going to give us, right? I mean Wisconsin says they only needs 8 percent of about 162,000 doses. Iowa just needs 29 percent of what they were supposed to get. Illinois, excluding Chicago, only needs about 9 percent.

I mean, granted, kids can't yet get it, so that's a big part of the population. But aside from that, are these numbers that worry you or not?


RANNEY: There's two parts. One is, I'm glad they're not taking vaccine that they're just going to let sit on shelves and expire. But I hope that those states are doing all of those outreach efforts rather than just saying, eh, it's hard, we won't take the vaccine. There are so many things we can be doing to go out to people to get them vaccinated. Put buses in place to take people to vaccination sites. Do like what they're doing in Mexico where they're putting entertainment up. They're having wrestling matches that people can watch for free when they get vaccinated. And I hope that states are being creative.

The last part is that those unused vaccines, I hope we distribute them to the rest of the world. I mean we're seeing in India, Nepal, elsewhere, how this pandemic is not over for much of the globe and we're not safe in the U.S. until everybody's safe.


RANNEY: So if states don't take the vaccines, I hope they get used elsewhere.

SCIUTTO: That's the point, people have to get out of this bunker mentality, right, because viruses don't -- do not pay attention to borders.

Dr. Megan Ranney, thanks so much.

RANNEY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead this hour, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, now he officially throws his full support behind Congresswoman Elise Stefanik to replace number three House Republican Liz Cheney. Could this move further fracture the Republican Party? Is Cheney's fate sealed?

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell this morning on Wall Street. Futures mixed this morning. Dow and S&P futures a little bit higher. The Nasdaq down just slightly, pulling back from the gains made on that index last week.

Crude oil futures, gas futures, climbing, of course, as the nation's largest fuel pipeline and supplier to the East Coast remains largely shut down following that cyberattack.