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Gun Violence Epidemic; U.S. Recovers Ransom Paid to Colonial Pipeline Hackers. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 7, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

And we do begin with breaking news on the ransomware attacks that crippled the gas supply along the East Coast. The FBI has just recovered the millions of dollars in ransom that Colonial Pipeline paid to the hackers.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's bring in senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, a few minutes away from a news conference about this, but, in the meantime, what can you tell us?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, at this point, the FBI is ready to announce details of how this operation went down.

We expect in the next hour -- I'm sorry -- in the next 15 minutes or so the deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco, as well as top officials from the FBI, to talk a little bit about how they were able to recover, within the space of a month, the millions of dollars that Colonial Pipeline had paid to these hackers that carried out this attack and, as you said, debilitated the East Coast with -- when the pipeline was shut down.

What happened, what we're told by sources is that the FBI worked with Colonial to track the payment to the cryptocurrency wallet that was being used by the hackers. Now, the company has said that they paid about $4 million, $4.4 million, and that they did it simply because they were fearful about the extent of the damage of the intrusion by these hackers and were fearful that how long it could take -- it would take before they were able to restore the operations of the pipeline.

Behind the scenes, what they were doing is that they were working with the FBI, which was able to track these payments. And now we know that the FBI has been able to recover it. Now, this is a rare outcome. Again, this is an attack that happened a month ago. And we're going to hear today from the FBI and the Justice Department just how they were able to do this.

But not every one of these ends this way. A lot of companies are falling victims to these to by hackers. And almost always the money is gone by the time the FBI is able to investigate it. So, again, a rare piece of good news in what is a booming criminal enterprise, which is these ransomware attacks that are attacking everything from pipelines to hospitals to schools.

BLACKWELL: Yes, some good news, indeed. We will get some details from the DOJ when that news conference starts in a few minutes. We will bring that live.

Evan Perez, thank you so much.

And as we wait for that news conference to begin, let's turn now to the epidemic of gun violence in America. The attorney general just announced two new measures aimed at reducing the violence, because this weekend brought another round of mass shootings and with those the heartache to cities across this country.

At least 14 people were killed, dozens more -- look at this map -- dozens more in least 10 different mass shootings across the country. In Portland, Oregon, overnight, police say a shooting inside a home ended with four people being killed. In New Orleans, another eight people were hit by gunfire on a service road off Interstate 10.

Then, in Utah, police say a car drove up to a group in Salt Lake City. Five people were shot there. One was killed.

CAMEROTA: The Miami area continues to be hit very hard by this wave of gun violence. This morning, three people were killed in a domestic situation. One of them was the shooter. Three others were injured. Among the victims is a 15-year-old boy.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is with us now.

Leyla, tell us more about what's happening there in Miami.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, Victor, I can tell you the mood. When you talk to people here every time a headline pops up detailing one of these cases, the question is, what is going on? Another on, we have heard too many times this week.

So let's go ahead and go over what we have been reporting from here in Miami over the last week. As you mentioned, this morning, 1:40 in the morning, what police are calling a domestic-related incident, three people dead. You mentioned the 15-year-old who died, but among the injured, also worth noting there was an 11-year-old as well as a 16- year-old.

And then there was Sunday, overnight. Barely 24 hours earlier, there was another shooting that left three people dead, including an off- duty correctional officer, and five injured just outside of the graduation party. No arrests have been made there a week before that here in Miami, I told you when we were reporting about another shooting where 20 were injured and three have since died because of a shooting outside of a banquet hall.

So it's a lot to take in, a lot to comprehend. Much of it is not comprehensible, if you will. But it has leaders here asking, what can be done and being desperate in asking for peace.


Listen to the mayor.


DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: This is a national phenomenon. As we're emerging from the pandemic, we are seeing an increase in gunshots, gun murders all across the country.

Unfortunately, we have not been spared. We're sparing nothing to bring together all of our law enforcement agencies and our community as well to make sure that we identify possible places for violence, that we crack down and find the shooters, bring them to justice and send the message.


SANTIAGO: And so what are they doing?

Well, the mayor, along with partners, have announced Operation Summer Heat. It is a 12-week program in which they're trying to get this violence this summer under control. They have state and federal partners and they're even monitoring social media trying to prevent shootings before they occur.

And while this operation is now under way, a stepped-up effort to crack down on this violence, certainly, a lot of leaders and even law enforcement are hopeful that this will help, but many here admit that the pace of the violence right now is hard to keep up with -- Victor, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Two hundred and eighty-seven people killed, more than 1,000 injured, and we're just a little more than five months into this year.

Leyla Santiago with us from Miami, thank you so much.

Let's go to Chicago now. Eight people there were wounded when someone just started shooting from a car. Five people were fatally shot around the city. Still, the police superintendent says the murder rate is on a downward trend.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is in Chicago for us.

So, Omar, what do we hear today?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, Victor, the rates for murder and shootings are both up here in Chicago as we head into the summer months, typically, the higher end of the bell curve for violent crime, as the police department describes it.

Now, even within that, you look at this past weekend, 55 people were shot and five reported dead. And that comes a week after a Memorial Day weekend where we saw the lowest number of people killed than we'd seen in a decade.

But even within these higher rates, the Chicago police superintendent has pointed to what he says are signs of progress even within, again, these higher rates of murders and shootings.

Specifically, he looked at the differences and increases year to year, month to month. So, he started with January, for example. When you look at January of this year compared to January of last year, he said that the murder rate was up 34 percent, obviously, not a good number. Then, you go to February, the murder rate up 17 percent, though he noted those numbers are a little in flux because there was a huge snowstorm here.

So you go to March, up 33 percent, then up 20 percent in April, and then up 13 percent in May. He's quick to note that even with these signs of progress, the numbers are still too high. And he blames gangs, as he noted in a press conference today.


DAVID BROWN, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Much of the violence that we seen over this weekend and throughout the year is driven by a gang culture, gang culture of retaliation and revenge.

Some call it street justice.


JIMENEZ: And even within that dynamic, there is another sign of progress, that, when you look at the killings that happened in May this year vs. May last year, again, just this month, comparison, the number of murders is actually down, which is a good sign for people here.

And the department credits any sign of progress with what they are calling a whole-of-government approach, in partnership with the mayor's office and other city agencies, to try and get ahead of some of these shootings, so that they're not just working on reducing some of this violence, but actually trying to make a dent in preventing it -- Victor, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Omar Jimenez, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has overturned a longstanding ban on assault weapons in California. In the decision, Judge Roger Benitez says the law violates Second Amendment rights. He argues that weapons like the popular AR-15, which were used in the deadly shootings in Newtown, Parkland, San Bernardino, Orlando, Aurora, Las Vegas -- we can go on -- that those weapons are akin to a Swiss army knife. Robyn Thomas is the executive director of the Giffords Law Center To

Prevent Gun Violence.

Robyn, thank you so much for being here.

What did you think of that judges comparison of the AR-15 to a Swiss army knife.

ROBYN THOMAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GIFFORDS LAW CENTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: Frankly, the opinion, not just that line, but so many aspects of it, are absurd, in the sense of really being illogical.

And, in some cases, the judges statements are unmet by any actual facts or statistics. His opinion is an outlier. It actually is contrary to at least six other federal court decisions upholding restrictions on assault weapons across the country.


So this is really an example of the gun lobby and the gun industry forum shopping, going to a particular outlier judge that they know is issuing decisions that are outside of the norm, not just at the Ninth Circuit, where he sits, but across the country and looking for opportunities to really push the envelope on any gun regulation that's intended to make communities safer.

BLACKWELL: Let me read from this ruling from the U.S. district judge, Roger Benitez.

He says that: "One is to be forgiven if it's persuaded by news media and others that the nation is awash with murderous AR-15 assault rifles. The facts, however, do not support this hyperbole. And facts matter. In California, murder by knife occurs seven times more often than murder by rifle."

I covered the San Bernardino massacre. I was there. The difference between an assault rifle and that Swiss army knife is that you wouldn't be able to kill as many people in the amount of time as that man did. When you read that, you hear that from this judge, what goes through your mind?

THOMAS: Well, first of all, the irony of this decision being issued on Gun Violence Awareness Day is almost painful to bear, because of all the families that have suffered the loss of loved ones and the impact that's had on their lives.

I mean, to compare this kind of gun to a Swiss army knife and what's underneath it, which is basically saying, this is a great--

CAMEROTA: Yes. Yes, we're going to try to get Robyn back--


CAMEROTA: -- to hear the rest of her thoughts on this, because this is a really important case. What's going to happen in California now if this ban has been lifted? I mean, this is something that California, many elected officials

they're prided themselves on. So what's next there?

BLACKWELL: We do know that there is an effort, there will be an effort to appeal.

And if we get Robyn back, let me know.

OK. So Robyn's back.

Robyn, pick up your point here. You were finishing on the irony of this happening on Gun Violence Awareness Day.

THOMAS: Absolutely.

I mean, this was -- this decision was issued on Friday, which is actually National Gun Violence Awareness Day, where so many families who've suffered the loss of loved ones in mass shootings and other tragedies are pausing to remember the impact and toll of gun violence.

And here you have a judge basically belittling that loss by saying, well, here we have a law that's working, right? I mean, his statement about so few losses of life from these weapons in California is actually a statement that this law is helping to reduce the loss. So why not throw the law away?

It's just -- it sort of -- it begs rationality to understand how that could possibly make sense. And yet this is a judge that has issued other decisions that are completely contrary to precedent, that throw out other really state -- strong gun regulations. So we're not surprised that the industry is trying to go to this judge to get outlier decisions that they know aren't going to stand up to Ninth Circuit review.

CAMEROTA: But, Robyn, on the flip side, one of the things that this judge said, and I want you to just weigh in on his logic, is that this assault-style weapon ban has been in place in California since 1989.

This year alone, there have been 18 what are considered mass shootings in California. And, as Victor said, we're only five months into the year. So, he said, it's been a failed experiment. And what about that? I mean, I think that he's not alone in thinking that the ban hasn't stopped the mass shootings.


I mean, I think in order to decide if this kind of restriction works, you have to take a larger view, and you have to actually look at peer- reviewed proper research. So let's take a look at what happened during the period of the federal assault weapon ban, where mass shootings, high-fatality mass shootings declined dramatically during the period of that ban, and then went up dramatically by almost 300 percent after the ban sunsetted and expired in 2004.

Same thing in California. These restrictions have actually led to a decrease in high-fatality mass shooting. So it doesn't mean we're going to eliminate all mass shootings. Certainly, other kinds of guns can lead to injuries and fatalities to multiple people.

But, ultimately, what we're trying to do is get the most lethal, the most problematic guns into the fewest hands, especially those who are untrained and who don't sort of have preexisting knowledge of how to use these weapons.

So I think there's a bigger picture of how these kinds of regulations and restrictions can reduce these mass shootings. And we know for sure, based on the research, that it does do so.

It doesn't mean it's going to go to zero. No one law is going to prevent all shootings, but we have to be doing something. Saying we can't stop them all, so we should do nothing, really is not acceptable.

BLACKWELL: Well, we know from the attorney general's office that there will be an appeal filed. We will see where this goes in the next chapter.


CAMEROTA: Robyn Thomas, thank you very much for all the information.

THOMAS: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: OK, so, just minutes from now, the top Justice Department officials will be speaking out about the millions of dollars in ransom that they were just able to recover from the Colonial Pipeline hackers.

We will bring you that live as soon as it happens.

BLACKWELL: Plus: Progressives are planning a pressure campaign on Democratic Senator Joe Manchin after he said that he will not back a voting rights bill.

We will talk about that just ahead.


CAMEROTA: OK, we have breaking news right now on that ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline.

Let's listen in to the Department of Justice.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Nicholas McQuaid will follow the remarks with a couple of Q&A. And then we will wrap it up. All right.

Sound checks . Everything working out. Everybody hear us? All right, be back in two minutes. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: -- from this news conference starting, and we will bring you back in two minutes, as we--

CAMEROTA: Yes, we didn't need to hear the sound check.

BLACKWELL: We didn't.

CAMEROTA: But we do need to hear what they're going to say, because they have just recovered the millions of dollars in ransom that Colonial paid to those hackers, whoever they are.


CAMEROTA: And we will find out maybe how they did it and who the hackers are. And it's just -- this is a good -- appears to be a very good news story.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and could be a good deterrent for future potential hacking.

So we will bring that to you when it happens.

Let's turn now to the administration. This is a big week for President Biden, taking his first international trip since being elected. And back at home, he's still fighting for bipartisan support on infrastructure, speaking again with the Republicans' point person this, Senator Shelley Moore Capito.


But the quest for middle ground is still elusive. And it's not just infrastructure hitting some obstacles. We know that Democratic Senator Joe Manchin will not vote for the Democrats' big election changes. He announced that in his hometown op-ed, writing this -- quote -- "I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy. And, for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster."

LaTosha Brown is the co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

LaTosha, thanks for being with us. And we may have to interrupt this conversation for that DOJ presser, but let me start here.

All right, it's starting right now.

LaTosha, stand by. Let's go back to the DOJ.


LISA MONACO, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: -- significant development in the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline.

I'm joined today by FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate and acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Stephanie Hinds to discuss the work of the department's Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force in combating the epidemic of ransomware attacks by criminal groups.

Also with us, our assistant attorney general for national security, John Demers, and Acting Assistant Attorney general for the Criminal Division Nick McQuaid.

Ransomware attacks have increased in both scope and sophistication in the last year, targeting our critical infrastructure, businesses of all types, whole cities, and even law enforcement. Ransomware and digital extortion pose a national security and an economic security threat to the United States.

The Department of Justice, working with our partners, is committed to using all of our tools at our -- all the tools at our disposal to disrupt these networks and the abuse of the online infrastructure that allows this threat to persist.

The sophisticated use of technology to hold businesses and even whole cities hostage for profit is decidedly a 21st century challenge. But the old adage follow the money still applies. And that's exactly what we do.

After Colonial Pipeline's quick notification to law enforcement, and pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California earlier today, the Department of Justice has found and recaptured the majority of the ransom Colonial paid to the DarkSide network in the wake of last month's ransomware attack.

Ransomware attacks are always unacceptable, but when they target critical infrastructure, we will spare no effort in our response. DarkSide is a ransomware as a service network. That means developers who sell or lease ransomware to use in attacks in return for a fee or a share in the proceeds.

DarkSide and its affiliates have been digitally stalking U.S. companies for the better part of last year and indiscriminately attacking victims that include key players in our nation's critical infrastructure.

Today, we turned the tables on DarkSide. 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 tools and all of our resources to increase the cost and the consequences of ransomware attacks and other cyber- enabled attacks.

The seizure announced today was conducted as part of the department's recently launched Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force, which was established to investigate, disrupt and prosecute ransomware and digital extortion activity.

This is the task force's first operation of this kind. This work is important because, every day, the digital threats that we face are more diverse, more sophisticated and more dangerous. In this heightened threat landscape, we all have a role to play in keeping our nation safe. No organization is immune.

So, today, I want to emphasize to leaders of corporations and communities alike, the threat of severe ransomware attacks pose a clear and present danger to your organization, to your company, to your customers, to your shareholders and to your long-term success.


So, pay attention now. Invest resources now. Failure to do so could be the difference between being secure now or a victim later. But also know that we are all in this together. The U.S. government will continue to do more to increase our nation's resilience, while increasing the costs to our digital adversaries and those that enable or harbor them.

And we cannot do so without you. The Department of Justice will continue to evolve as the threat evolves. That is why one of the first acts I took after returning to the department was to launch a strategic cyber review. That is why federal prosecutors now report ransomware incidents in the same way that they report critical threats to our national security.

And that is why we will continue to work with our public and private partners both here and globally to bring our collective authorities together to confront emerging threats. There is no higher priority for the Department of Justice than using all available tools to protect our nation. That includes from ransomware and other digital threats.

Thank you.

And now I will turn the podium over to Deputy Director Paul Abbate.


Good afternoon, everyone.

Today, the FBI successfully seized criminal proceeds from a Bitcoin wallet that DarkSide ransomware actors used to collect a cyber ransom payment from a victim. Since last year, we have been pursuing an investigation into DarkSide, a Russia-based cybercrime group.

The DarkSide ransomware variant is one of more than 100 ransomware variants that the FBI is currently investigating. DarkSide developers market their ransomware to criminal affiliates, who then conduct attacks and share a percentage of the proceeds with the developers, a scheme known as ransomware as a service.

In this case, the FBI has identified more than 90 victims across multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors. Those include manufacturing, legal, insurance, health care, and energy. Based on our investigation into DarkSide and incredible work with other U.S. government partners, we identified a virtual currency wallet that the DarkSide actors used to collect a payment from a victim.

Using law enforcement authorities, victim funds were seized from that wallet, preventing DarkSide actors from using them. This is just the latest disruption that the FBI and DOJ have taken to impose risk and consequences on cyber adversaries.

Since announcing our new cyber strategy last year, we have dismantled the infrastructure of the Emotet criminal botnet through an unprecedented coalition of U.S. and international law enforcement and private industry partners. Additionally, we have joined other government partners to expose a cyber tool developed by the Russian GRU.

We have also used legal authorities to remove malicious backdoors installed on the networks of Microsoft Exchange Server customers across the United States. And just last week, DOJ announced the seizure of to command-and-control domains used by the perpetrators of a wide spear-phishing campaign.

This focus on joint action and collaboration is exemplified by the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, which brings together intelligence community, law enforcement and cybersecurity agencies for a whole-of-government approach against these cyber threats.

Our partners in the intelligence community and across government are central to these efforts. Leveraging each of our authorities and capabilities enables us to conduct coordinated operations to respond to and deter malicious activity from groups like DarkSide.

There's a lot of exceptional behind-the-scenes teamwork that goes into both identifying effective ways to target adversaries and predicating actions that we may take against them.

I want to give major thanks to the incredibly hardworking special agents, intelligence analysts and professional staff of the FBI's Atlanta and San Francisco field offices and the FBI's Cyber Division, along with government-wide partners who assisted in this investigation and seizure.

These cases require a significant level of determination and technical expertise. And, without a doubt, every individual involved displayed that through the achievements reflected here today.