President Biden on Wednesday afternoon met with a group of labor leaders he described as “close friends” to discuss his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan and to get input on an effort to bolster American infrastructure that is expected to follow.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday that the president views infrastructure as “one of the areas where there’s opportunity to work together” with Republicans, but she did not provide details on what would happen after the stimulus bill.
“We haven’t yet determined what the next priority forward would be, but he is engaging with his policy team,” Ms. Psaki said. She also wouldn’t say whether he planned to move forward with his broad economic agenda or a bill focused on infrastructure.
Mr. Biden met Wednesday with several labor leaders including Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.; Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions; Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America; and James T. Callahan, general president of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Also at the meeting was Lonnie R. Stephenson, the international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who served on Mr. Biden’s transition advisory board.
Many of those labor leaders have real sway with Mr. Biden and vocally opposed his decision to rescind the construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, because they said it also killed good union jobs. They were also expected to press him on his plans to replace lost energy jobs.
Sitting in the Oval Office with the labor leaders on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden called them all his close friends.
“A lot of these folks have been my friends for a long, long, long time,” he said. “As they say in parts of my state, these are the folks that brung me to the dance.”
Mr. Biden noted that the United States is ranked “like 38th in the world in terms of infrastructure, everything from canals to highways to airports, to everything we can do and we need to do to make ourselves competitive in the 21st Century.”
Ms. Psaki said earlier in the day that central to the meeting would be the president’s “desire to create good paying union jobs” and that Mr. Biden believed a clean energy plan and new union jobs could “simultaneously happen.”
“When he put out his clean energy plan last year, he had union leaders and environmentalists at the same table agreeing to the path forward,” Ms. Psaki said.
Earlier in the day, Vice President Kamala Harris appeared on NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday to promote the stimulus bill, which so far has no Republican support in Congress. Her appearance followed Mr. Biden’s participation in a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, where he projected optimism that his ambitious plan would help restore the economy.
Ms. Harris called it “a plan about getting our schools back open.”
She added: “It’s going to be safer for our schools to reopen when we can get our schools the infrastructure needs, like helping them with their ventilation systems, helping them create social distancing with barriers, the things that are necessary to get them back open in a safe way.”
But Scott Sloofman, a top aide to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, attacked her statement for using what he called faulty math. He noted that only a sliver of the money for schools in the plan could be spent this year. “If the American Rescue Plan’s funding can’t be spent this year, what does it actually have to do with schools reopening safely?” Mr. Sloofman said.
As lawmakers push for billions of dollars to fund the nation’s efforts to track coronavirus variants, the Biden administration announced on Wednesday a new effort to ramp up this work, pledging nearly $200 million to better identify the emerging threats.
Calling it a “down payment,” the White House said that the investment would result in a significant increase in the number of positive virus samples that labs could sequence. Public health laboratories, universities and programs run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sequenced more than 9,000 genomes last week, according to the database GISAID. The agency hopes to increase its own contribution to 25,000 genomes a week.
“When we will get to 25,000 depends on the resources that we have at our fingertips and how quickly we can mobilize our partners,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said at a White House news conference on Wednesday. “I don’t think this is going to be a light switch. I think it’s going to be a dial.”
The program is the administration’s most significant effort to date to address the looming danger of more contagious variants of the virus. A concerning variant first identified in Britain has infected at least 1,277 people in 42 states, although scientists suspect the true number is vastly higher.
Doubling about every 10 days, the B.1.1.7 variant that emerged in Britain threatens to slow or reverse the rapid drop of new coronavirus cases. From a peak of almost 260,000 new cases a day, the seven-day average daily rate has fallen to below 82,000, still well above the high point of last summer’s surge, according to a New York Times database.
What’s more, Dr. Walensky said that the nation had seen its first case of B.1.1.7 that had gained a particularly worrying mutation that has been shown in South Africa to blunt the effectiveness of vaccines.
Other worrisome variants have also cropped up in the United States, including one that was first found in South Africa and weakens vaccines.
The F.D.A. is preparing for a potential redesign of vaccines to better protect against the new variants, but those efforts will take months. In the short term, experts say, it is critical to increase sequencing efforts, which are too small and uncoordinated to adequately track where variants are spreading, and how quickly.
Scientists welcomed the new plans from the Biden administration. “It’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Bronwyn MacInnis, a geneticist at the Broad Institute.
Dr. MacInnis said that the “minimal gold standard” would be sequencing 5 percent of virus samples. If cases continue to fall, then 25,000 genomes a week would put the country near that threshold, she said, which is “where we need to be to be detecting not only known threats, but emerging threats.”
Trevor Bedford, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said there had been “substantial gains” in national sequencing efforts since December. Still, he said that the C.D.C. would also need to make improvements in gathering data about the genomes — such as tying it to information from contact tracing — and then supporting the large-scale analysis on computers required to quickly make sense of it all.
“There’s too much of a focus on the raw count that we’re sequencing, rather than turnaround time,” he said.
White House officials cast the sequencing ramp-up as part of a broader effort to test more Americans for the virus. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Department on Wednesday announced substantial new investments in testing, including $650 million for elementary and middle schools and “underserved congregate settings,” like homeless shelters. The two departments are also investing $815 million to speed the manufacturing of testing supplies.
The C.D.C.’s $200 million sequencing investment is dwarfed by a program proposed by some lawmakers as part of an economic relief package that Democratic congressional leaders aim to pass before mid-March. Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, introduced legislation to enhance its sequencing efforts. House lawmakers have allocated $1.75 billion to the effort.
The previous two presidents of the United States declared they wanted to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan, and they both decided in the end that they could not do it.
Now President Biden is facing the same issue, with a deadline less than three months away.
The Pentagon, uncertain what the new commander in chief will do, is preparing variations on a plan to stay, a plan to leave and a plan to withdraw very, very slowly — a reflection of the debate now swirling in the White House. The current deadline is May 1, in keeping with a much-violated peace agreement that calls for the complete withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 American forces.
The deadline is a critical decision point for Mr. Biden, and it will come months before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that prompted the American-led invasion of Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda.
Two decades later, the strategic goals have shifted many times, from counterterrorism and democratization to nation-building, and far more limited goals that President Barack Obama’s administration called “Afghan good enough.” Mr. Biden — who argued as vice president throughout Mr. Obama’s term for a minimal presence — will have to decide whether following his instincts to get out would run too high a risk of a takeover of the country’s key cities by the Taliban.
By all accounts, Mr. Biden will be guided by his own experience, and he has yet to make a decision. Allies will be looking for some indications at a NATO summit meeting that starts Wednesday, though Mr. Biden’s aides say they are not rushing a critical decision.
One option under consideration, aides said, would be to extend the May 1 troop withdrawal deadline by six months to give all sides more time to decide how to proceed. But it is unclear that the Taliban would agree — or whether Mr. Biden would.
Last fall, the Pentagon’s most senior leaders agreed that two top generals should be promoted to elite, four-star commands.
For then-Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the tricky part was that both of the accomplished officers were women.
In 2020 America under President Trump, the two Pentagon leaders feared that any candidates other than white men for jobs mostly held by white men might run into turmoil once their nominations got to the White House.
Mr. Esper and General Milley worried that if they even raised their names — Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost of the Air Force and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson of the Army — the Trump White House would replace them with their own candidates before leaving office.
So the Pentagon officials agreed on an unusual strategy: They held back their recommendations until after the November elections, betting that if Joseph R. Biden Jr. won, he and his aides would be more supportive of the Pentagon picks than Mr. Trump, who had feuded with Mr. Esper and has a history of disparaging women. They stuck to the plan even after Mr. Trump fired Mr. Esper six days after the election.
“They were chosen because they were the best officers for the jobs, and I didn’t want their promotions derailed because someone in the Trump White House saw that I recommended them or thought D.O.D. was playing politics,” Mr. Esper said in an interview, referring to the Department of Defense. “This was not the case. They were the best qualified. We were doing the right thing.”
The strategy may soon pay off. In the next few weeks, Mr. Esper’s successor, Lloyd J. Austin III, and General Milley are expected to send the delayed recommendations to the White House, where officials are expected to endorse the nominations and formally submit them to the Senate for approval.
The story of the two officers’ unusual path to promotion — General Van Ovost to head the Transportation Command, which oversees the military’s sprawling global transportation network; and General Richardson to head of the Southern Command, which oversees military activities in Latin America — underscores the uncertainty clouding the final weeks of the Trump administration, and the unorthodox steps senior officials took to shield the Defense Department from actions they believed could jeopardize policy and personnel.
Rush Limbaugh, the relentlessly provocative voice of conservative America who dominated talk radio for more than three decades with shooting-gallery attacks on liberals, Democrats, feminists, environmentalists and other moving targets, died on Wednesday. He was 70.
His wife, Kathryn, said the cause was lung cancer. Mr. Limbaugh had announced his diagnosis on his show last February. A day later, President Donald J. Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Mr. Limbaugh soon resumed his broadcasts, and his adoration for Mr. Trump. As the Covid-19 pandemic swept the nation, he likened the coronavirus to the common cold. And in October, as Election Day neared and Mr. Trump recuperated from the virus himself, he joined Mr. Limbaugh on the air for a two-hour “virtual rally,” largely devoted to his grievances.
A darling of the right since launching his nationally syndicated program during the presidency of his first hero, Ronald Reagan, Mr. Limbaugh was heard regularly by as many as 15 million Americans. That following — and his drumbeat criticisms of President Barack Obama for eight years, when the Republicans were often seen as rudderless — appeared to elevate him, at least for a time, to de facto leadership among conservative Republicans.
Such talk became obsolete in 2016 with the meteoric rise of Mr. Trump. Mr. Limbaugh became an ardent supporter.
Mr. Limbaugh was a partisan force of nature, reviled by critics and admired by millions, a master of three-hour monologues that featured wicked impersonations, slashing mockery, musical parodies and a rogue’s gallery of fools, knaves, liars and bleeding hearts.
In the Limbaugh lexicon, advocates for the homeless were “compassion fascists,” women who favored abortion were “feminazis,” environmentalists were “tree-hugging wackos.” He delivered “AIDS updates” with a Dionne Warwick song, “I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” ridiculed Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease symptoms, and called global warming a hoax.
He was not above baldfaced lies. During the debate over Mr. Obama’s 2009 health care bill, he fed the rumor mills over its provisions to have Medicare and insurers pay for optional consultations with doctors on palliative and hospice care, saying they empowered “death panels” that would “euthanize” older Americans.
The Justice Department on Wednesday unsealed charges against three North Korean intelligence officials accused of hacking scores of companies and financial institutions to thwart U.S. sanctions, illegally fund the North Korean government and control American corporations deemed enemies of the state, including Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The charges are the government’s latest effort to show that North Korea has engaged in a brazen, yearslong effort to undermine and attack institutions around the world and steal millions of dollars even as the United States and its allies intensify efforts to rein in the country and its nuclear ambitions.
One of the officials, Park Jin-hyok, a member of North Korea’s military intelligence agency, was accused by the Justice Department in 2018 of participating in the Sony hacking that crippled the company, as well as the WannaCry cyberattack on Britain’s National Health Service, and an attack on the Bangladeshi central bank and financial institutions around the world.
Building on that investigation, the Justice Department indicted Mr. Park and two more North Korean spies, Jon Chang-hyok and Kim Il, on charges related to those attacks, as well as new accusations that they tried to steal more than $1.3 billion in money and digital currencies from financial institutions and companies.
“Simply put, the regime has become a criminal syndicate with a flag, which harnesses its state resources to steal hundreds of millions of dollars,” John C. Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement.
Prosecutors declined to say how much money the hackers actually obtained.
Separately, federal prosecutors charged Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, with organizing a network of people in those countries to launder millions of dollars that the North Korean government obtained from the hackers. Mr. Alaumary pleaded guilty to the charge.
Wednesday’s broad indictment supports the findings of a report released this month by Recorded Future, a cybersecurity research group, that concluded that North Korea has greatly expanded its ability to use the internet to financially prop up its government even though the United States and its allies have choked off oil supplies and imposed strict sanctions on the country.
Congress returned to the idea of reparations for slavery on Wednesday to debate a bill that would establish a commission to study its persisting impacts.
Even after an election that awarded Democrats new control of the White House and Senate, and enormous protests nationwide last summer over police brutality and the treatment of Black Americans, the bill is unlikely to become law. But it has new support after those protests added momentum to efforts to address systemic racism.
The bill, H.R. 40, which Congress last considered in 2019, refers to the Civil War-era broken promise to give former slaves “40 acres and a mule.” It would allocate $12 million to establish a commission to study the history of slavery and discrimination and develop a proposal for remedies. The commission would also consider whether to issue a “national apology.”
Proponents argue that reparations could help rectify the lingering wrongs for Black Americans rooted in the history of slavery. But opponents argue that these proposals stoke racial division and force many of those who played no part in the institution of slavery to pay the price.
“Reparations teach separation,” Herschel Walker, a former football star who is Black, said on Wednesday at the hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. “Slavery ended over 130 years ago. How can a father ask his son to spend prison time for a crime he committed?”
Divisions over the issue were on full display over video conference on Wednesday during a hearing that dove deep into the country’s long history of violence and discrimination. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, a Democrat and the lead sponsor of the bill, presented a series of photos to the camera, including some of the lynching of Black people, and the back of a Black man brutally beaten by his master.
“We have seen a pandemic sweep the country, taking more than 500,000 souls in its wake and devastating the African-American community,” Ms. Jackson Lee said, citing a recent study from Harvard Medical School researchers and others that found reparations would have decreased Black Americans’ risk of contracting Covid-19. One of the speakers, Dreisen Heath, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, later asserted that health-care-specific reparations for racial disparities, including shorter life expectancies for Black people, must be considered.
“Hidden in the corners of this nation are those of African-American heritage, the descendants of enslaved Africans, who have felt the sting of disparities,” Ms. Jackson Lee said. “They continue to feel that sting.”
When Congress considered the bill in 2019, nearly 60 House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, supported it. Now it has close to 170 sponsors, Ms. Jackson Lee said.
But the legislation is still unlikely to become law, as it would require at least some Republican support in the evenly divided Senate to overcome a filibuster. Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, who is white, has told reporters he does not support reparations “for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible.”
“Reparations is not the way to right our country’s wrong,” Representative Burgess Owens, Republican of Ohio and who is Black, said during the hearing. “It is also unfair and heartless to give Black Americans the hope that this is a reality. The reality is that Black American history is not one of a hapless, hopeless race oppressed by a more powerful white race.”
He likened reparations to a “redistribution of wealth” or “socialism.”
In a news conference on Wednesday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said President Biden supported a study for reparations and the continued impacts of slavery. But she stopped short of saying he would sign an executive order to conduct such a study or committing that he would sign the bill.
“He’d certainly support a study, but we’ll see what happens through the legislative process,” Ms. Psaki said.
Family members of Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, sent him a second letter excoriating his decision to forsake former President Donald J. Trump in which they suggested that, as a member of the military, he had committed treason by voting to impeach Mr. Trump and added that he was in cahoots with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom they referred to only as the “witch/devil.”
“Perhaps the witch/devil, holding the gavel, will invite you to her house for ice cream!” they wrote.
The Jan. 19 letter, written by Mr. Kinzinger’s cousin Karen Otto and signed by the same 10 other relatives who penned an earlier missive on Jan. 8 that accused the congressman of joining “the devil’s army,” came in response to a shorter letter that Mr. Kinzinger’s father wrote to Ms. Otto in which he scolded her for “disrespecting” his son.
The family controversy highlighted the wrenching, sometimes personal divides within the Republican Party, as well as the challenges ahead for G.O.P. lawmakers like Mr. Kinzinger who want to move on from Mr. Trump and his brand of politics.
Ms. Otto said the exchange of acrimonious letters bursting into public view was likely to sever the family ties between her wing of the family and Mr. Kinzinger and his father, Russell Kinzinger.
“We’re a very tight-knit, close family, but after my letters, I don’t think that will happen very often anymore,” she said. “They’re taking this as being disrespectful. The bottom line is I put this country and my grandchildren over my relationship with them.”
The second letter, like the first, took Mr. Kinzinger to task for his criticism of evangelical Christian leaders who supported Mr. Trump’s false claims about the election. Mr. Kinzinger said in an interview last week that church leaders would need to examine their own culpability for the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
“It didn’t hurt me to get the letters,” he said. “I’ve got thick skin. I recognize the misinformation that’s out there and the brainwashing, and so I don’t hold people personally accountable for that. But it’s a good case study of a lot of this has been started, or at least led to spread, among the church.”
Mr. Kinzinger, a regular on cable television, has been absent this week as commentators have spent hours discussing his family drama. He and his wife, Sofia Boza-Holman, who was an aide to former Vice President Mike Pence, are celebrating their first anniversary this week in Hawaii.
Last Wednesday afternoon, when former President Donald J. Trump’s legal team gathered in a conference room in a special suite at the Trump hotel in Washington, a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump, Justin Clark, had an announcement to make.
Mr. Clark told one of the lawyers, Bruce L. Castor Jr., that after his widely panned performance a day earlier, Mr. Trump did not want him appearing on television any more during the impeachment trial.
Mr. Castor rose from his chair, and began angrily shouting at Mr. Clark, arguing that Mr. Trump was wrong to demote him. The back and forth became so heated that Mr. Castor left the conference room in a huff.
He later apologized to Mr. Clark. But the tense exchange was just one example of how Mr. Trump’s hastily assembled legal team — a mash-up of political hands, a personal-injury lawyer, a former prosecutor and a longtime defense lawyer, most of whom did not particularly like or trust one another — clashed, stumbled and regrouped throughout the impeachment proceeding under the watchful and sometimes wrathful eye of its client.
The result was an airplane held together with duct tape as it tried to land.
“You have to remember that we had literally one week and one day to prepare the defense and we were all people who never had met each other before,” one of the lawyers, David I. Schoen, said in a statement.
The lawyers that Mr. Trump assembled to represent him prevailed at the trial. But it wasn’t pretty, according to interviews with a half-dozen members of the legal team and others involved in the process.
President Biden provided a clear and concise answer on Tuesday night to any Americans wondering just how much the new president wanted to discuss the previous one.
“I’m tired of talking about Donald Trump,” Mr. Biden said.
After saying little during his predecessor’s impeachment trial last week, Mr. Biden kept up that approach during a CNN town hall event in Milwaukee that offered him a chance to promote his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.
At one point, Mr. Biden referred to Mr. Trump simply as “the former guy.” At another, he expanded on his aversion to discussing the former president, whom the Senate acquitted this past weekend of inciting an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump,” Mr. Biden said. “The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people.”
If Tuesday is any indication, Mr. Biden will not get his wish. Hours before the CNN event, Mr. Trump was back in the headlines after denouncing Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, in blistering terms.
The impeachment trial — which concluded with 43 of 50 Republican senators voting to find Mr. Trump not guilty — offered further confirmation of the loyalty that he still commands within the Republican Party. So did the swift blowback against the seven Republicans who defied him by voting to convict.
Mr. Trump will continue to make headlines as he carves out his place in Republican politics in the run-up to the midterm elections and, eventually, the next presidential race.
For now, however, Mr. Biden is pushing for the quick passage of another coronavirus relief package. With unemployment benefits set to expire in mid-March, Democratic lawmakers hope to advance legislation through the House by the end of February before sending it to the Senate.
The CNN town hall offered the president a prominent stage to make a case for his proposal. Mr. Biden returned to the subject again on Wednesday, holding a meeting with labor leaders about the relief plan and one of his other priorities, infrastructure.
And unlike the last stimulus plan, which Congress approved in December, this one does not face a threat from Mr. Trump’s veto pen.
The Biden administration on Tuesday rejected a last-minute agreement reached by Trump loyalists that would have limited its ability to enact sweeping immigration policy changes.
The agreement would have handed policy controls to the pro-Trump union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and prompted an anonymous whistle-blower to accuse the departing homeland security official who signed it, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, of “gross mismanagement, gross waste of government funds and abuse of authority.”
The deal, which included a clause requiring homeland security leaders to obtain “prior affirmative consent” in writing from the union on changes to policies affecting immigration agencies, aimed to essentially to tie Mr. Biden’s hands, according to the whistle-blower complaint.
Under a federal law, the Department of Homeland Security has 30 days to cancel such an agreement once signed, after which it goes into effect.
“As part of routine process and provided for by statute, the department conducted a review of the terms of the agreement and determined that it was not negotiated in the interest of D.H.S. and has been disapproved because it is not in accordance with applicable law,” said Sarah Peck, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security.
Ms. Peck said in a statement that the department notified ICE and the union on Tuesday that the agreement had been rejected. Chris Crane, the ICE union president who signed the agreement with Mr. Cuccinelli, did not respond to a request for comment. The union, which represents more than 7,500 agents and employees, endorsed Donald J. Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections.
ICE leadership had discussed in recent weeks whether the agreement would hinder Mr. Biden’s policy changes, including a recent directive to focus deportations on violent criminals, according to a senior homeland security official.
The agreement suggested that the union could appeal any such rejection to the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
Mr. Cuccinelli previously denied any abuse of authority and argued that the deal was signed in the best interest of the agency.
The White House on Wednesday nominated Jennifer Abruzzo, a prominent union lawyer, to be general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, the country’s top enforcer of labor rights for private-sector employees.
Ms. Abruzzo’s nomination comes roughly a month after President Biden fired the Trump administration’s appointee to the job, Peter B. Robb, who was unpopular with organized labor. Mr. Robb’s term was not due to expire until November, but unions close to the new president urged his ouster.
The labor board’s general counsel, a Senate-confirmed position, has considerable authority over which cases the agency pursues — such as those in which employees are fired while trying to organize. Unions were frustrated that Mr. Robb had sought to settle a prominent case against McDonald’s that the agency had initiated during the Obama administration, among other decisions.
Before leaving the labor board in 2017, when Mr. Robb was confirmed, Ms. Abruzzo had spent more than two decades there, including a tour as deputy general counsel beginning in 2013.
Her nomination as general counsel drew praise from labor officials. Lynn Rhinehart, a former general counsel of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., called the appointment a “superb choice.”
Ms. Rhinehart, now a senior fellow at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, said Ms. Abruzzo “will hit the ground running and help restore the N.L.R.B.’s credibility as an agency that protects and promotes the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively for improvements at their workplace.”
The top cybersecurity official at the White House said on Wednesday that officials were still uncovering details of the broad Russian breach of government and corporate computers discovered late last year, and warned that it would take months to eradicate the compromised code and determine if espionage was the only goal of the operation.
“We believe it took them months to plan and execute this compromise,” said the official, Anne Neuberger, who is President Biden’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology. “It’ll take us some time to uncover this, layer by layer.”
Ms. Neuberger also said that an investigation ordered by Mr. Biden would explore the vulnerabilities created by the fact that, for reasons of protecting privacy, “the intelligence community largely has no visibility” into domestic private sector networks.
She appeared to be making an oblique reference to the fact that the National Security Agency, where she served as a top official until last month, had no indications of what has become known as the SolarWinds attack, until alerted by FireEye, a major cybersecurity firm.
“The hackers launched the hack from inside the United States, which further made it difficult for the U.S. government to observe their activity,” Ms. Neuberger said.
The most significant parts of the hack came about through malware inserted via periodic updates issued by SolarWinds, a Texas-based firm that supplies network management software used by many of the nation’s largest companies, and by government agencies.
The Treasury Department, the Commerce Department and other agencies reported that the hackers gained access to email and other data, but they have not revealed publicly what kind of data they believe the hackers were seeking, or whether any of it was sensitive.
“As of today, nine federal agencies and about 100 private sector companies were compromised,” Ms. Neuberger said.
Mr. Biden has vowed that Russia will pay a price for the hack. Ms. Neuberger avoided discussing his options, in keeping with government officials who have been careful not to specify how the United States would respond. Mr. Biden’s options may be limited in part because the United States also steals secrets from foreign networks. That may explain why Ms. Neuberger called SolarWinds an “intrusion,” not an “attack.”
“When there is a compromise of this scope and scale, both across government and across the U.S. technology sector with these follow-on intrusions, it is more than a single incident of espionage,” she said. “It’s fundamentally of concern for the ability of this to become disruptive.”