Russian Hacking, ISIS bride, Angela Merkel: Your Friday Briefing

Russian Hacking, ISIS bride, Angela Merkel: Your Friday Briefing

Russian Hacking, ISIS bride, Angela Merkel: Your Friday Briefing

Russian Hacking, ISIS bride, Angela Merkel: Your Friday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering accusations of a Russian hack to steal coronavirus research, Angela Merkel’s big European Union test and struggling street musicians in New York.

The U.S. National Security Agency said that a hacking group implicated in the 2016 break-ins of Democratic Party servers had targeted intelligence on vaccines from universities and other health care organizations. Britain’s National Cyber Security Center said that the cyberattacks were first detected in February, but that no evidence had emerged that data was stolen.

Government officials would not identify any victims. But the primary target appeared to have been Oxford University and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which have been jointly working on a vaccine, one former British intelligence official said.

Response: Russian officials said they did not know who could have hacked the companies or research centers in Britain, with one calling it an attempt to discredit Moscow’s own vaccine work.

What this means: According to American intelligence officials, the Russians were aiming to steal research to develop their vaccine more quickly, not to sabotage other countries’ efforts.

A British court ruled on Thursday that Shamima Begum, a London woman who traveled to Syria as a schoolgirl to join the Islamic State, should be allowed to return to appeal a decision to strip her of her citizenship.

Allowing Ms. Begum into the country, the court said, was the only way to pursue a “fair” and “effective” appeal.

Britain’s Home Office said it would appeal what it called “a very disappointing decision.”

Ms. Begum, now 20, spent years in ISIS territory but has been stranded in a refugee camp in northwestern Syria after the extremist group lost control in the region.

Her case shows the challenges many Western governments face with citizens who join ISIS; some argue they would pose a national security threat if repatriated.

Details: Ms. Begum and two classmates traveled to Syria to reach ISIS territories in 2015. She married a Dutch ISIS fighter weeks after arriving and later gave birth to three children. All have since died.

After she was stripped of her British citizenship, a special tribunal said the decision had been lawful because she also had Bangladeshi citizenship by descent from her mother. But Bangladesh has said that Ms. Begum never claimed citizenship there and would not be allowed in.

As her 15-year reign as chancellor of Germany winds down, Angela Merkel has her last chance to shape the future of the bloc — and her own legacy.

With Germany assuming the European Union’s rotating presidency this year, she faces her first big test on Friday, when European leaders convene their first in-person summit in Brussels since the coronavirus outbreak emerged in the continent five months ago. The urgent goal: to reach a consensus on how to help European nations clobbered by the virus.

The bloc is divided over a coronavirus recovery plan, a new seven-year-budget and threats to the rule of law in eastern member states, and there will be a fight over the distribution of money.

What to expect: Many expect the same reluctance to take bold steps that has characterized Ms. Merkel’s response to past European crises. But she has also consistently sought that sweet spot where German and European interests align, our diplomatic correspondent writes.

No one knows exactly why Thailand has been spared.

Is it the social distancing embedded in Thai culture — the habit of greeting others with a wai, a prayer-like motion, rather than an embrace? Did Thailand’s early adoption of face masks help blunt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic? Is it genetics? Or some amalgamation of all these factors?

Whatever it is, it’s working. Despite an influx of foreign visitors early in the year, Thailand has recorded fewer than 3,240 cases and 58 deaths. As of Thursday, there had been no reported cases of local transmission for about seven weeks. Above, students in Bangkok learning about hand-washing this month.

Vatican: The church told bishops around the world to report cases of clerical sexual abuse to the civil authorities even where local laws don’t require it. Advocates for abuse victims said it was a step forward but gave bishops too much leeway.

Poland’s election: Supporters of the mayor of Warsaw filed legal claims on Thursday to challenge the validity of Sunday’s election, won by President Andrzej Duda. The main opposition party called for the election to be declared invalid.

U.K. privacy: The police in England and Wales said on Thursday that they would stop routinely asking crime victims for consent to comb through their electronic devices after concerns that it would deter people from reporting offenses, particularly in sexual assault cases.

Snapshot: Above, patrons basking in the music of Colin Huggins, known as the piano man of New York City’s Washington Square Park. For 15 years, he has dragged a 900-pound Steinway grand piano to the park to perform for tips, but he and other street musicians are barely getting by in a time of thin and hesitant audiences.

Cook: Leftovers of all kinds can make baked tomatoes sing. Melissa Clark’s latest version uses ricotta cheese as the base for a creamy, savory herb and Parmesan-flecked filling.

Read: “Putin’s People” documents the ruthless and relentless reach of Kremlin corruption and includes a telling chapter on President Trump. And yet our critic wondered “whether a cynicism has embedded itself so deeply into the Anglo-American political classes” that the incriminating information “won’t make an actionable difference.”

Listen: We collected 15 songs you might not know by name but whose sounds and samples were the building blocks for pop, dance music and hip-hop hits.

Looking for more ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home? Look to our At Home collection.

We’ve recently come across a few stories about doctors who have said their patients were reinfected with the coronavirus after testing negative — a worrying prospect that could affect the effectiveness of vaccines and our ability to reach herd immunity.

To understand more about the possibility, we turned to Apoorva Mandavilli, a science reporter for The Times.

How long does immunity last?

We don’t know. One of my sources put it to me this way yesterday: The only way to know how long immunity lasts is to wait that amount of time. And we’re not there yet.

Is reinfection real?

It’s possible to get Covid twice, but that’s possible for any virus, ever. Some people will not, just as a matter of statistics, make strong immune responses to a virus, so they remain vulnerable. And that may also be true for coronavirus.

Still, the virus began circulating in China almost eight months ago now, and in New York not long after that. So if reinfection were possible this early on, and in a lot of people, we would have seen it already. We’re going to hear more about possible reinfections because it’s affecting so many people and we are looking at it so closely.

What’s going on with the reported cases of reinfection?

We don’t know for sure. They may be these rare cases. Or somebody who thought they had recovered may not have fully recovered. It may be that the tests were faulty and gave a false negative. It may be that their immune system was keeping the virus down to levels at which the test wasn’t picking it up for a while. It may be that there wasn’t a lot of virus in their nose or wherever they put in the swab. There are a lot of possible explanations.

That’s it for this briefing. It’s Friday! Have a rejuvenating weekend.

— Isabella

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news, and Jonathan Wolfe, on the Briefings team, for the Back Story. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode revisits a restaurant owner in Baton Rouge, La., who grappled with whether to reopen.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Ocean predator (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• On our Visual Investigations team, David Botti, a former Marine who covered the Arab Spring as a freelancer for The Times in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, is being promoted to a senior producer. And Dmitriy Khavin, a native Russian speaker who edited our visual investigation into Russia’s bombing of Syrian hospitals, is joining the team full time.

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