The Treasury Department announced sanctions Wednesday against a number of export companies shipping Iranian petroleum products to China and other east Asian countries, coming to the aid of U.S. allies in the Gulf who are seeing their Asian market share undercut by discounted oil from Russia and Iran.
Russian oil exports to China have spiked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which prompted Western countries to block and scale back their imports of Russian energy products. To stay competitive with cheaper Russian oil, Iran has also slashed its prices on exports to China, undermining the big Gulf producers on the international market.
Ahead of President Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia this month, the new Treasury sanctions will likely be read as a gesture of good faith on the part of the administration toward regional allies.
Biden has indicated to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that he thinks they should increase oil production in order to bring down prices.
A barrel of oil now costs around $100, which is well below the $120-price tag following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but still way above both its low point during the pandemic and its pre-pandemic level.
Treasury’s sanctions target Jam Petrochemical Company (JPC), which the department says “has exported hundreds of thousands of metric tons of petrochemical products, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to companies throughout East Asia.”
Also sanctioned were Edgar Commercial Solutions FZE, Lustro Industry Limited, Oligei International Trading Co. Limited, as well as two United Arab Emirates-based entities — all for their involvement in the purchase and transfer of goods derived from Iranian petroleum.
The Treasury Department said that despite the new sanctions, the Biden administration is still keen to return to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the U.S. pulled out of in 2018.
“While the United States is committed to achieving an agreement with Iran that seeks a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we will continue to use all our authorities to enforce sanctions on the sale of Iranian petroleum and petrochemicals,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson in a statement.
The statement from Treasury appeared to indicate that the sanctions designation could be amended in the future the department sees a “change in behavior.”
“The power and integrity of OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control) sanctions derive not only from its ability to designate and add persons to the list of Special Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN List”), but also from its willingness to remove persons from the SDN List consistent with the law. The ultimate goal of sanctions is not to punish, but to bring about a positive change in behavior,” the statement said.
Biden has been criticized for his decision to visit Saudi Arabia, which is a longtime U.S. ally, over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The journalist was a U.S. resident whose killing had been planned at the highest levels of the Saudi establishment, according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard on Monday made remarks on the ongoing detainment of WNBA star Brittney Griner by Russian authorities, asking if Los Angeles Lakers star forward LeBron James would be in detainment this long if he were in Griner's position.
Speaking to reporters after her team’s loss to the Los Angeles Sparks, Nygaard showed her frustration with the delay of Griner’s return to U.S. soil, saying that Griner being a Black and openly gay woman makes it harder to gain awareness for her case, according to USA Today.
Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star, has been held in detainment by Russian authorities since February and is accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
"If it was LeBron, he'd be home, right?" Nygaard asked the media. "It's a statement about the value of women. It's a statement about the value of a Black person. It's a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that's what hurts a little more."
Nygaard, who's in her first season as the Mercury's head coach, has been vocal about Griner’s case, comparing it to the case of Gabby Petito, whose disappearance and death last year gained national media attention.
“That white woman that was hiking, and we did everything to find her,” Nygaard said earlier this year, according to Arizona’s Cronkite News. “She was from Florida, and she went on a hike and her boyfriend killed her. How much attention went to that? BG hasn’t got half that attention. And that’s a crime. And that’s a statement about our society and who we value and we need to change that.”
The White House announced on Wednesday that President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, to offer support to the family as the trial resumes in Brittney Griner’s case.
Griner, an Olympic Gold medalist, wrote a letter to Biden over the holiday weekend, urging him and other top officials to do anything they can to bring her home. The State Department said months earlier that Griner’s case is a “top priority” for it.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote in her letter to Biden.
CUPERTINO, Calif. (AP) — Apple said it will roll out a “lockdown" option for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers intended to protect against spyware unleashed by state-sponsored hackers — although enabling that protection will also make these devices less useful.
The safeguard announced Wednesday is a tacit acknowledgement that not even Apple — the world’s most valuable company — has been able to adequately shield the iPhone and its other products against intrusions from state-backed hackers and commercial spyware. Governments have used these tools to violate the privacy of journalists, political dissidents and human rights activists.
The new feature, called “lockdown mode," will initially be offered as a test version so that security researchers can help Apple identify any bugs or weaknesses. Apple usually releases its major updates to its device operating systems in late September.
While only a handful of countries appear to have the resources to develop in-house mobile phone hacking tools, private companies like Israel’s NSO Group have been selling phone hacking software to government agencies around the world for years.
The growing hacker-for-hire problem prompted Apple to file a federal lawsuit late last year against NSO Group for breaking into iPhones and other Apple products. In its complaint, Apple accused NSO Group employees of being “amoral 21st century mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant abuse."
NSO, which has been blacklisted by the U.S. Commerce Department, has denied any wrongdoing and said its products have been used to thwart child abusers and terrorists.
Unlike the security features that Apple builds into most of its software, the company's lockdown feature is meant to serve as an emergency button that Apple expects will only be needed by a small number of its users.
The lockdown measure is considered a last resort for people targeted by spyware, since activating lockdown will disable many popular features. That includes sending attachments and links in texts, as well as the ability to receive FaceTime calls from new numbers. Web browsing will also be limited.
But Apple believes the extra layer of protection will be valuable to activists, journalists and other targets of hacking attacks launched by well-funded groups. Users will be able to activate and deactivate lockdown mode at will.
The growing use of encrypted communications through phone apps like WhatsApp and Signal have prompted governments to turn to commercial spyware vendors to gather information on targets.
Such mobile phone spyware vacuums up text messages, emails and photos while secretly controlling a smartphone’s microphones and cameras. Some of the more advanced tools can infect a phone using so-called “zero click” exploits that don’t depend on the user inadvertently activating them, such as by clicking on a malicious link.
Google, whose Android mobile phone platform is used by iPhone competitors, has also been targeted by commercial spyware vendors. The company's Threat Analysis Group says it’s tracking more than 30 such companies and routinely publishes reports on exploits used to hack into phones, making them far less effective.
Google also offers an “Advanced Protection Program” that uses a special security key hardware to make user accounts harder to hack. The company said it strongly recommends the program for “journalists, activists, business executives, and people involved in elections.”
Separately, Apple also provided more details about a $10 million grant it pledged last November to help counter large-scale hacking attacks. The money will go to the Dignity and Justice Fund, a philanthropic arm of the Ford Foundation.
Senate Democrats’ latest bill to lower prescription drug prices removes a provision to cap patients’ insulin costs at $35 per month, legislation that comes amid a push for a separate bipartisan bill on insulin.
Capping out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 per month has been a high-profile selling point for Democrats’ economic package and has been touted by President Biden, so removing it carries some risk.
The provision is part of a separate bipartisan bill from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), which is moving forward and could get a vote in the Senate this month.
But the Shaheen-Collins bill will require support from at least 10 Republican senators in order to clear a filibuster and pass. By contrast, the Democratic-only drug pricing measure is part of Biden’s economic package, which uses a process known as reconciliation to bypass a GOP filibuster, meaning it can pass with only 50 Democratic votes.
It is therefore unclear if going the bipartisan route on capping insulin costs will result in the measure being blocked by Republicans and not becoming law.
Asked about the provision’s removal from the Democratic-only bill, a Shaheen aide pointed to the Shaheen-Collins bill instead. “The Shaheen-Collins bill, including the $35 copay provision, will be handled via regular order, so that’s why you’re not seeing it,” the aide said.
It is also unclear if Democrats would seek to add the insulin cost cap back into the Democratic-only package if the bipartisan approach fails. There is also some question as to whether the insulin cap could pass muster with the complicated Senate rules governing the process for bypassing a GOP filibuster.
Aside from the insulin provision, Democrats’ drug pricing bill still includes major provisions to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices on a subset of drugs, limit drug price increases to the rate of inflation and cap Medicare beneficiaries’ out of pocket drug costs at $2,000 per year.
The fate of that measure still depends on Democrats reaching a broader deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on other parts of the package, like energy and tax policy.
U.S. federal agencies issued a joint advisory on Wednesday regarding North Korean state-sponsored cyber actors using Maui ransomware to target the health sector.
The FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of the Treasury said that particular ransomware has been used by North Korean government-backed hackers since at least last spring to target health care and public health sector organizations.
“This malicious activity by North Korean state-sponsored cyber actors against the healthcare and public health sector poses a significant risk to organizations of all sizes,” said Eric Goldstein, CISA's executive assistant director for cybersecurity.
The advisory also provides steps the health sector can take to mitigate and prevent ransomware attacks. Some of the recommendations include regularly installing and updating antivirus and antimalware software, implementing user training programs and phishing exercises, and avoiding using public Wi-Fi networks.
The agencies also discouraged health sector organizations from paying ransoms because doing so does not guarantee the recovery of stolen data. Businesses should instead adopt and improve cybersecurity best practices and report ransomware attacks to law enforcement.
“The North Korean state-sponsored cyber actors likely assume healthcare organizations are willing to pay ransoms because these organizations provide services that are critical to human life and health,” the advisory said.
“Because of this assumption, the FBI, CISA, and Treasury assess North Korean state-sponsored actors are likely to continue targeting [health care and public health] sector organizations.”
This is the latest joint advisory related to North Korean government-backed hackers. In April, the same federal agencies warned of increasing cyber threats involving cryptocurrency from a North Korean group.
The agencies said the group targeted various organizations in the cryptocurrency industry such as play-to-earn crypto video games, crypto trading companies and individual holders of valuable non-fungible tokens, often referred to as NFTs.
The April advisory followed an FBI press release alleging that North Korean hackers were responsible for stealing about $620 million in cryptocurrency in March from Axie Infinity, a virtual video game that uses NFTs.
Amazon and Grubhub announced a deal Wednesday that will allow Amazon Prime subscribers in the United States to get free delivery from certain restaurants.
The e-commerce giant also has an option to purchase a 2 percent stake in Grubhub as part of the deal. Amazon can purchase a further 13 percent stake at a “formula-based price,” calculated primarily by the number of new customers added in the deal.
Amazon Prime subscribers will be able to sign up for a free one-year membership of Grubhub’s premium service starting Wednesday, according to a press release from Just Eat Takeaway.com, the Dutch company that owns Grubhub.
“I am incredibly excited to announce this collaboration with Amazon that will help Grubhub continue to deliver on our long-standing mission to connect more diners with local restaurants,” Grubhub CEO Adam DeWitt said in a statement.
The deal comes as the food-delivery industry struggles after the surge in demand driven by the COVID-19 pandemic abates.
Just Eat has been considering a sale of Grubhub just over a year after purchasing the platform for $7.3 billion. Grubhub lost roughly $410 million in 2021.
News of the deal sent shares of Grubhub’s competitors down Wednesday, with Uber sliding more than 3 percent and DoorDash falling by 9 percent.
Amazon has previously added food delivery perks to Prime members in the United Kingdom and Ireland through a partnership with Deliveroo.
Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone is expected to testify Friday behind closed doors before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, according to multiple news reports.
A person familiar with the discussions told The New York Times Cipollone would be participating in a transcribed interview.
The Washington Post reported, citing people familiar with the matter, that the testimony is scheduled to take place for the first half of the day on Friday.
Cipollone did not respond to a request for comment. The Hill has reached out to the committee for comment.
The development comes exactly a week after the House panel issued a subpoena for the former Trump White House counsel following explosive public testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
During her testimony, Hutchinson said Cipollone urged Meadows to take action on the day of the riot, saying at one point “Mark, something needs to be done or people are going to die and the blood is going to be on your effing hands."
The former Meadows aide said Cipollone warned her that “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable” should former President Trump go to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and told her Trump should not be taken there.
Hutchinson, in previously recorded testimony, also characterized Cipollone’s office’s position on a fake elector scheme that was being promoted at the time as not “legally sound.”
The number of confirmed monkeypox cases in New York City has doubled in the past week, according to data from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The department said in a tweet on Tuesday that 111 people had tested positive in New York City so far, up from 55 a week prior. The tweet states that the city is expecting to receive additional doses of the monkeypox vaccine in the coming days and will make appointments available soon.
The department announced last month that men who have sex with men and have had sex with multiple partners or anonymous partners in the past two weeks would be eligible to receive the vaccine. The vaccine, the Jynneos smallpox vaccine, is administered in two doses four weeks apart from each other.
The city’s health department website states that most people infected with monkeypox in New York City have had mild illness, have not been hospitalized and have recovered on their own.
Mortgage applications sank for the second consecutive week even as rates dipped slightly amid fears of a looming recession.
Total mortgage demand fell 5.4 percent from the previous week, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association that covered applications for the week ending July 1. The dip in demand came as mortgage rates fell by 24 basis points over the previous two weeks.
The numbers indicate that prospective buyers aren’t swayed by modest mortgage rate reductions. The average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with conforming loan balances stands at 5.74 percent, down 10 basis points from the previous week but up from around 3.3 percent at the start of the year.
“Rates are still significantly higher than they were a year ago, which is why applications for home purchases and refinances remain depressed,” Joel Kan, the mortgage group’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, said in a statement. “Purchase activity is hamstrung by ongoing affordability challenges and low inventory, and homeowners still have reduced incentive to apply for a refinance."
Refinance applications were down nearly 8 percent from the previous week and 76 percent lower than the same period last year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association survey. It also found that home purchase applications fell by 4 percent.
Home sales are slowing as many first-time home buyers find themselves priced out of the market. Limited inventory is keeping home prices at record levels, coupled with sky-high mortgage rates that drive up the total cost.
The Federal Reserve’s move to hike interest rates in its battle against red-hot inflation caused mortgage rates to spike, though they have fallen slightly from their peak last month. Home builders have warned that higher interest rates will also reduce new home construction, further limiting the supply of houses for sale.
Buyers could see some relief in the near-term, however, as weaker demand for homes temporarily boosts housing supply. A recent report from Realtor.com found that active listings increased 18.7 percent year-over-year in June.
Top senators on the Intelligence Committee requested the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate TikTok over concerns that the company is misleading the public about its data practices.
Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a letter to the FTC Tuesday urging the agency to launch an immediate investigation on “the basis of apparent deception by TikTok.”
The letter escalates the scrutiny from lawmakers, largely among Republicans, on the popular video sharing app since BuzzFeed reported last month that employees of TikTok’s parent company in China have access to private data on U.S. users.
“In light of repeated misrepresentations by TikTok concerning its data security, data processing, and corporate governance practices, we urge you to act promptly on this matter,” the senators wrote.
In response to the letter, a TikTok spokesperson said "for two years, we've talked openly about our work to limit access to user data across regions, and in our letter to senators last week we were clear about our progress in limiting access even further through our work with Oracle.”
“As we've said repeatedly, TikTok has never shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government, nor would we if asked,” the spokesperson added
Last week, following other inquiries from U.S. officials, a spokesperson said the company will “gladly engage with lawmakers to set the record straight regarding BuzzFeed’s misleading reporting.”
“Like many global companies, TikTok has engineering teams around the world. We employ access controls like encryption and security monitoring to secure user data, and the access approval process is overseen by our US-based security team. TikTok has consistently maintained that our engineers in locations outside of the US, including China, can be granted access to U.S. user data on an as-needed basis under those strict controls,” the spokesperson said.
The announcement has seemingly done little to mollify critics.
Last week a group of Senate Republicans sent a letter to the Biden administration over national security concerns they said are raised by the video-sharing app. The Republicans said the administration is failing to address those concerns.
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, who was appointed by former President Trump, sent a letter last week to Apple and Google requesting they remove TikTok from their app stores over concerns about data harvesting.
Carr said TikTok’s announcement that is moving U.S. user data to Oracle servers doesn't address his concerns since the company has “long claimed” its U.S. user data has been stored on servers in the U.S. “and yet those representations provided no protection against data being accessed from Beijing.”