October 11, 2017

In 2014 and 2015, Israeli government hackers watched in real time as Russian spies used Russian firm Kaspersky Lab's antivirus software as "a sort of Google search for sensitive information" using code names for U.S. intelligence programs, The New York Times reported Tuesday, and among the things the Israelis discovered on Kaspersky's network were hacking tools from the U.S. National Security Agency. Israel warned the NSA, which tracked the breach to an employee who had brought classified documents home and put them on his home computer, which used Kaspersky antivirus software, inadvertently handing the tools to the Russians.

On Sept. 13, the Homeland Security Department ordered U.S. government agencies to quickly phase out the use of Kaspersky software, citing the risk of cyber intrusions on behalf of Russian intelligence. Kaspersky said on Tuesday that it "does not have inappropriate ties to any government, including Russia," and "has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts." Experts aren't sure how much of a role, if any, Kaspersky Lab played in the Russian cyber theft.

The NSA does not allow Kaspersky software on its computers — antivirus software "is the ultimate back door," former NSA operator Blake Darché tells the Times — but nearly two dozen government agencies did, including the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Energy Department. Peter Weber

6:14 p.m.

If Republicans take back the House in 2022, at least one sitting GOP member of the chamber doesn't think House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is the right fit to serve as speaker — and you can probably guess who.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who some observers believe isn't a shoo-in to hold her seat, told Politico she won't vote for McCarthy in that hypothetical situation. "I think that we've got to have leaders who lead based on principle, and that's not what we've seen from him," Cheney said.

The rift between the two lawmakers, who not too long ago were leading the House GOP together, has grown significantly since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, culminating in a vote to oust Cheney — who has remained fiercely critical of former President Donald Trump and his role in the future of the Republican Party — as the House Republican conference chair, so her candid words didn't exactly come out of the blue. Read more about Cheney's own potential path forward in the party at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

6:08 p.m.

Well, if they are government drones, we're all doomed.

Researchers have estimated the Earth's individual bird population to be about 50 billion, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. That's roughly one human for every six birds, CNET reports. Per National Geographic, the study is "the first attempt to estimate the world population of birds, species by species."

Since birds are flighty creatures (pun intended) by nature, researchers, of course, weren't able to count them individually. Instead, scientists used a combination of computer algorithms and "citizen-scientist" observations from bird watching database eBird to arrive at their monumental number.

You may be asking yourself, "Why now?" or just, "Why?" The answer is simple: "For the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation, abundance estimates of organisms are essential," write the study's authors. "The distribution of species abundances is fundamental to numerous longstanding questions in ecology."

Although the researchers make sure to qualify their results as estimates (the census focused on only about 92 percent of "all living bird species"), their findings do "represent the best-available data" at the moment, per CNET.

Now, there's only one question left to ask — did or did they not accurately count Martha Stewart's peacocks? Brigid Kennedy

5:47 p.m.

Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle company is standing behind its vagina-scented candle that has now been accused of exploding on more than one occasion.

A Texas man is suing Goop, the company Paltrow founded, alleging he purchased one of its "This Smells Like My Vagina" candles and that it "exploded" and became "engulfed in high flames" after burning for around three hours, NBC News reports.

Colby Watson, who filed the class-action complaint, reportedly acknowledges that Goop provides a "limited" warning to customers that the candle shouldn't burn for more than two hours at a time, but he alleges Goop "knew the candles were defective." In January, a U.K. woman also alleged the candle "exploded and emitted huge flames," at which time Goop said it was in touch with her to see "if she followed the specific fire safety instructions."

A representative for Goop on Tuesday dismissed the lawsuit as "frivolous" and an "attempt to secure an outsized payout from a press-heavy product," per TMZ. They added that "we stand behind the brands we carry and the safety of the products we sell" and that the brand that supplies the candle has "substantiated the product's performance and safety through industry standard testing."

According to NBC, Watson is seeking over $5 million in punitive damages for himself and for others who "through no fault of their own, purchased defective and dangerous vagina-scented candles." Brendan Morrow

5:17 p.m.

Back in February, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration considered the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany, "a bad deal" that "exposes Ukraine and Central Europe" to Moscow and "goes against Europe's own stated energy and security goals." Similarly, during his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he is "determined to do whatever we can to prevent" the completion of the controversial pipeline. But on Tuesday, Axios reported the Biden administration is set to waive sanctions on the company overseeing its construction, as well its CEO, Matthias Warnig, who is considered a "crony" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That doesn't mean President Biden now supports Nord Stream 2 — on the contrary, the White House reportedly still hopes it doesn't go into use — but it does suggest his administration feels sanctions are ultimately a bigger risk than safeguard. Per Axios, sources close to the situation said that Biden officials have determined sanctioning the German-end users of the gas is the only way to stop construction, 95 percent of which is already complete, at this point. The administration simply doesn't want to jeopardize its relationship with Berlin over the pipeline.

The waivers reportedly could be lifted, and sanctions reinstated, at any moment, so administration sources told Axios the looming threat should still give Washington leverage in the situation. Read more at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

3:34 p.m.

Unlike House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seems open to a negotiated House bill that would set up a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Even though a bipartisan deal was struck in the lower chamber last week, McCarthy slammed the result Tuesday morning, and it was widely assumed the proposal was dead on arrival in the Senate anyway after it presumably passes the Democratic-majority House. But McConnell surprised some analysts Tuesday when he said Senate Republicans were "undecided" about the bill and are "willing to listen" to arguments in favor of it. The senator certainly seems to have his concerns — namely that the commission may be unbalanced in favor of Democrats — but he didn't reiterate his previous suggestion that it needs to expand its scope beyond the riot (which is McCarthy's main gripe).

Regardless, Brian Rosenwald, a contributer at TheWeek.com, thinks that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) may be able to get to 60 votes without too much haggling. If all seven senators who voted to convict former President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial back the bill, the Senate would need just three more defectors, and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) has already hinted at his support. Tim O'Donnell

2:55 p.m.

Charles Grodin, the star of stage and screen known for his roles in films like Midnight Run and The Heartbreak Kid, has died at 86.

Grodin died on Tuesday at his home in Connecticut from bone marrow cancer, his son, Nicholas, confirmed to The New York Times.

Among the films Grodin starred in throughout his career include Catch-22, The Heartbreak Kid, Heaven Can Wait, Midnight Run, Dave, and Beethoven, and his stage work included "Same Time, Next Year," which he performed in alongside Ellen Burstyn. In 1973, Grodin was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in The Heartbreak Kid, and he earned an Emmy in 1978 for writing a Paul Simon TV special.

"With a great sense of deadpan comedy and the kind of everyman good looks that lend themselves to playing businessmen or curmudgeonly fathers, Mr. Grodin found plenty of work as a supporting player and the occasional lead," the Times writes.

Grodin also authored numerous plays and books and hosted a talk show, and he was known for his appearances on Johnny Carson's and David Letterman's late night shows, the Times notes. "His dry, understated sense of humor" made him the "perfect talkshow guest," Variety writes.

Comedian Marc Maron remembered Grodin as "one of the great cranky comedic geniuses," and Comedy Central paid tribute by writing, "Charles Grodin was a legendary actor and his impact on comedy across film and television was massive. He'll be missed." Brendan Morrow

2:02 p.m.

O Captain! My Captain!

Baseball fans rejoice — The Captain, a new six-part docuseries on famed former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, is set for a 2022 release, ESPN Films announced on Tuesday. The series will air on ESPN and ESPN+.

Similar to the Emmy-award winning The Last Dance, ESPN's The Captain (the moniker by which Jeter is affectionately known) will dive into "the man behind the icon" both "on — and off — the field." ESPN promises "candid access" to the Baseball Hall of Fame electee who "helped restore shine to a team, a city, and a culture."

Randy Wilkins (86-32, Docket 32357) is set to direct, and Spike Lee, The Last Dance's Mike Tollin, and 30 for 30's Connor Schell will executive produce.

Jeter’s official Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held on Sunday, July 25th. Read more at ESPN. Brigid Kennedy

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