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News Brief: North Korea Missile Test, Malware Spreads, Search For FBI Director


And we're going to begin this morning in North Korea. The North has successfully launched yet another missile. It's a missile some say could signal some new technological advances.


Yeah. Sunday's launch appears to have surpassed previous tests with a potential range of 2,500 miles. And that's important because that would put it within reach of a U.S. air base in Guam, not to mention North Korea's immediate neighbors. The U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley was on ABC's "This Week" yesterday, and she said Washington was going to keep the pressure on North Korea's leader.


NIKKI HALEY: What we're going to do is continue to tighten the screws. He feels it. He absolutely feels it. And we're going to continue whether it's sanctions, whether it's press statements, anything that we have to do, we're going to do.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Doesn't appear to be...

MARTIN: All right - joining us now from our New York studios is Joel Wit. He is a former State Department negotiator who is now with the Korea-U.S. Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Hey, Joel. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

JOEL WIT: Good morning.

MARTIN: How do you read the missile test on Sunday? How significant is it?

WIT: Well, it's significant in three ways. First - aside from developing a new missile that can reach targets in the region, it's probably testing new technologies that can be used for a missile that can reach the United States. Secondly, it shows that North Korea's rocket engineers are highly capable and have a lot of ingenuity in what they're doing. And third, the units that are conducting these test launches are the ones that are going to have the missiles in the field when they become operational, so it gives them a lot of experience.

MARTIN: So what does this latest test tell us about the overall objective of North Korea to develop a nuclear bomb that could be delivered to the West?

WIT: Well, I don't think it tells us anything new. It's been clear for some time now that North Korea is on that path. They've been building missiles. They've been producing nuclear weapons. And it's very clear that the weapons are supposed to go on top of the missiles. So it's just confirming what we already have known for a number of years now.

MARTIN: So then what leverage does the U.S. have? We heard Nikki Haley there say, we're going to keep the pressure up. We're going to keep up the sanctions. But this is the same line the U.S. has taken now for years and years. What difference does it make?

WIT: That's a very good question 'cause I don't think it makes any difference at all. The Trump administration has started out with the intention of putting a great deal of pressure on North Korea, and that was probably the right thing to do. But what it needs to do now is to think seriously about re-engaging North Korean dialogue. And the administration has sent signals along those lines, and the North Koreans are sending signals back. So I think we really need to give that avenue a chance before we figure out what to do next.

MARTIN: Any signs that you have been picking up that that dialogue might actually happen? Rex Tillerson suggested that there could be direct talks.

WIT: I really don't see any signs yet at all. There's a lot of public signaling, but I don't know what's going on privately. And the point here is both sides are saying it has to happen under the right conditions. The problem is that each side's conditions may be different from the other's, and that may lead nowhere.


Joel Wit of Johns Hopkins University - hey, Joel, thanks so much for talking with us.

WIT: Thank you.

GREENE: Rachel, I always love having Joel on because, you know, he's one of those seasoned veterans of diplomacy. And he says that we have learned nothing that we didn't already know, which, you know, while it sounds a little scary, it doesn't sound like we're going to some uncharted territory. But when Joel Wit starts freaking out, that's when I'm going to really start freaking out.

MARTIN: Yeah, right?

So let's move now to this big cyberattack that happened over the weekend. Still reverberating around the world even today, right, David?

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, the attacks are now coming against China. State media is reporting there that universities and other institutions are the latest targets in this thing. To date, the malware has hit more than 200,000 computers in more than a hundred and fifty countries, with both numbers expected to climb there. Steven Wilson is the head of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre.


STEVEN WILSON: It's beyond anything that we have seen before - the level of infection and the amount of damage, potentially, it's inflicted.

MARTIN: OK. So NPR's Rob Schmitz is following all this out of Shanghai. Hey, Rob.


MARTIN: What are people finding this morning when they switch on their computers?

SCHMITZ: (Laughter) Well, if they're running Microsoft operating system, which are vulnerable to this attack, yeah, many people here in China are finding a lot of problems. State media here in China is reporting that at least 40,000 companies and institutions have been hit by this particular ransomware attack. Universities were particularly vulnerable. Some of China's best colleges, like Peking and Tsinghua universities were attacked. Oil companies, too - PetroChina reported that the attack had disrupted the electric payment systems at many of its gas stations over the weekend. And finally, a couple of major cities in China reported that their traffic departments had to disconnect from the internet entirely after the attack over this weekend.

MARTIN: Wow. So it also looks like Microsoft is placing some of the blame on all of this at the feet of the NSA, the National Security Agency here in the U.S. Is that making it awkward between China and the NSA?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, that relationship between China and the NSA has always been a little awkward. China's government is likely not too pleased by what it sees as two American institutions that have suddenly made internet security much tougher in China, both Microsoft and the NSA of course.

But for Microsoft's part, it might want to blame the ease of pirating its own software. The company did offer a software patch in March, but many users here in China didn't install it because they're either using an outdated version of Microsoft's operating system or - what is more likely here in China - they're using illegal pirated copies of Microsoft's operating system. That's been a huge headache for Microsoft in China for many years, and now it appears that those institutions in China that were using pirated software - and there are many of them - are finally paying for that choice.

MARTIN: Are the Chinese taking any measures to prevent stuff like this from happening in the future?

SCHMITZ: Well, a Chinese internet security company named Qihoo 360 has quickly figured out a software patch that is reportedly able to recover data encrypted by the attack. They're offering this solution for free at the moment, and users don't need to be connected to the internet to use it. And I should mention that, this morning, 11 internet security companies like Qihoo had to suspend trading of their stocks because their shares rose too sharply. So a potential business...


SCHMITZ: ...Spike for China's big internet security companies as a result of this ransomware here.

MARTIN: NPR's Rob Shimitz (ph) - Rob Schmitz - there we go - in Shanghai.

SCHMITZ: (Laughter) Take care.

MARTIN: Hey - thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks a lot.


MARTIN: Lest you thought you were going to get through the morning without some James Comey news, or at least some FBI news, let's get to that, David.

GREENE: Yeah, there's still all kinds of questions about how the firing of James Comey happened and why it happened. But really, the immediate focus is turning to who is going to take James Comey's place at the FBI. Lawmakers from both parties are saying they want to see the president nominate someone who is above this political fray. This is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on NBC's "Meet The Press."


LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think it's now time to pick somebody that comes from within the ranks or as such of reputation that has no political background at all, that can go into the job on Day 1...

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis is here. Hi, Sue.


MARTIN: What names are out there for this job?

DAVIS: There were eight candidates interviewed over the weekend. There may be more, but there's eight public candidates. Not a lot of surprises on the list - two senior FBI officials, including the acting director, Andrew McCabe; two former national security advisers, a familiar face like Frances Townsend, someone who you may see on television regularly; and a top Republican senator on Capitol Hill, John Cornyn of Texas, is in the mix as well. And if he were to be tapped, he would be the first politician to be picked to run the FBI, which seems...

GREENE: So is the White House going to move on this quickly?

DAVIS: The president has said that he would like to move very fast, although the Senate is not an institution that tends to move very fast. And depending on who the nominee is, it could take some time. They have indicated they could appoint or pick the interim director as early as this week. That position does not require Senate approval.

MARTIN: The White House would like to move away from this whole Comey thing quickly. But the president himself seems to have a way of giving the story new legs, as we say. He suggested he might have tapes of these conversations he had with former Director Comey. And now Democrats want to see those tapes.

DAVIS: The White House has not confirmed or fully denied whether these tapes exist. But yes, Mark Warner, yesterday on television, said that if there are tapes, he's asked that they be preserved and has suggested they could be subpoenaed at a later date, as well as Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the oversight committee in the House, has said the same.

MARTIN: I want to play a cut of tape from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper He's been testifying on Capitol Hill, and he was on CNN's "State Of The Union" yesterday with Jake Tapper. Let's listen.


JAMES CLAPPER: Our institutions are under assault externally. And that's - big news here is Russian interference in our election system. And I think, as well, our institutions are under assault internally.

JAKE TAPPER: Internally from the president?

CLAPPER: Exactly.

MARTIN: Internally from the president - that's a pretty damning criticism from a very respected member of the intelligence community.

DAVIS: It is. But, you know, there is an increasing view that our institutions are being rocked. And Senator Ben Sasse, who's a Republican from Nebraska, echoed Clapper yesterday on CBS when he said that he believes we are, in his words, in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust.

GREENE: Those are big words.

DAVIS: Those are big words.

MARTIN: NPR's Susan Davis - we'll keep talking to you about all this, Susan. Thank you so much for coming in this morning.

DAVIS: You're quite welcome.

GREENE: Thanks, Sue.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUESTION'S "RAINY DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.