WASHINGTON — Russian hackers obtained classified information about National Security Agency cybersecurity programs after breaching a personal computer used by an agency contractor in 2015, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The contractor, who wasn’t identified, took the classified material home, where Russian hackers stole it by exploiting vulnerabilities in Kaspersky Lab Inc. software that he had on his computer, according to the person, who asked not to be identified.

The breach, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is the latest to plague the NSA involving the use of government contractors. Harold Martin, who was contracted to work at the NSA, was arrested last year and told investigators that he knowingly took home documents and digital files that contained highly classified information.

Martin’s case followed the 2013 revelations of Edward Snowden, who fled his job as an NSA contractor in Hawaii for Hong Kong and then Russia after stealing and releasing a trove of data on classified U.S. data-collection programs. While both Martin and Snowden were employed by Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., the official wouldn’t say who employed the contractor in the latest breach.

The NSA, which monitors, collects and processes the most classified communications data for national security purposes, wouldn’t confirm or deny that the incident occurred but said in a statement that it has taken steps to improve its security.

“For the past several years we have continued to build on internal security improvements while carrying out the mission to defend the nation and our allies around the clock,” the NSA said. “We’re not relying on only one initiative. Instead, we’ve undertaken a comprehensive and layered set of enterprise defensive measures to further safeguard operations and advance best practices across the intelligence community.”

The U.S. government last month banned all use of Kaspersky Lab software in federal information systems, citing concerns about the Moscow-based security firm’s links to the Russian government and espionage efforts.

—Bloomberg News


Georgia teacher under fire for Nazi student assignment

ATLANTA — Gwinnett County school district officials said Thursday that they are addressing a teacher’s recent homework assignment to sixth-graders asking them to draw a Nazi mascot.

The assignment was given Monday at Shiloh Middle School in Snellville, said Sloan Roach, a school district spokeswoman. A parent contacted Gwinnett school officials to raise concerns about the exercise, Roach said.

“The year is 1935 and you have been tasked with creating a mascot to represent the Nazi party at its political rallies,” the assignment read. “Think about all of the information you have learned about Hitler and the Nazi party. You will create a COLORFUL illustration of the mascot. Give the mascot a NAME. You will also write an explanation as to why the mascot was chosen to represent the Nazi party.”

Gwinnett officials said the unidentified teacher was teaching a social studies class that was studying, in part, the rise of Nazism and its use of propaganda and events that led to the Holocaust.

“This assignment is not a part of the approved materials provided by our social studies department and is not appropriate and the school is addressing the use of this assignment with the teacher,” Roach said.

—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Mnuchin’s $800,000 travel upheld by Treasury watchdog

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Treasury’s watchdog found Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s use of government aircraft at a cost of about $800,000 was in line with the agency’s rules, but asked for “more rigor” backing up the need for such expenses in the future.

Mnuchin made nine requests for use of government aircraft since he was sworn in as Treasury chief in February, including three international trips. Eight were approved, while a request for a jet for his European honeymoon in August was withdrawn. One of the approved requests covers a trip to the Middle East scheduled for later this month.

“I see no violation of law in these requests and uses,” Rich Delmar, counsel for the Office of Inspector General for Treasury, wrote in an memo to Inspector General Eric Thorson released Thursday. The report advises “more rigor” in justifying government air use “especially regarding cost comparisons and needs for security and other special factors.”

Mnuchin’s travel office estimated that a trip to Miami in June — that cost an estimated almost $44,000 on Air Force planes — would have been $688 for a commercial round trip flight.

Trump’s Cabinet has faced an uproar over use of private and military jets at taxpayer expense, with the controversy claiming one member already. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned last week after it was reported that he took more than two dozen private flights at taxpayer expense, as well as trips to Europe, Africa and Asia on military aircraft. The total cost was more than $1 million.

Ron Wyden, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said the inspector general’s report suggested that the Trump administration had been giving rubber-stamp approval to requests for top officials’ use of military aircraft and private charters.

“It’s time for the Trump Administration to come clean with the American people and show us what other top officials in this administration have been using the White House as a luxury travel agency,” Wyden said in a statement emailed to reporters.

The review of Mnuchin’s travel was sparked by inquiries into the Treasury secretary’s use of a government plane to fly to Kentucky on Aug. 21 for an event to discuss tax change plans and to tour Fort Knox.

The Kentucky trip set off outrage after Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, posted a photo of herself exiting the jet on social media with hashtags of the designer brands she was wearing, sparking criticism she was flaunting their wealth. That plane trip cost $26,900 and Mnuchin made the “applicable reimbursement” for his wife’s travel, the OIG’s report said.

Treasury should “present as strong and convincing a case as possible to justify this increasingly visible use of a government asset,” the report said.

—Bloomberg News


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