Category: Business

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New Clues Discovered About Silent Brain Changes That Precede Alzheimer’s 

WASHINGTON — Alzheimer’s quietly ravages the brain long before symptoms appear, and now scientists have new clues about the dominolike sequence of those changes — a potential window to one day intervene. 

A large study in China tracked middle-aged and older adults for 20 years, using regular brain scans, spinal taps and other tests. 

Compared to those who remained cognitively healthy, people who eventually developed the mind-robbing disease had higher levels of an Alzheimer’s-linked protein in their spinal fluid 18 years prior to diagnosis, researchers reported Wednesday. Then every few years afterward, the study detected another so-called biomarker of brewing trouble. 

Scientists don’t know exactly how Alzheimer’s forms. One early hallmark is that sticky protein called beta-amyloid, which over time builds up into brain-clogging plaques. Amyloid alone isn’t enough to damage memory — plenty of healthy people’s brains harbor a lot of plaque. An abnormal tau protein that forms neuron-killing tangles is one of several co-conspirators. 

The new research, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, offers a timeline for how those abnormalities pile up. 

The study’s importance “cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Richard Mayeux, an Alzheimer’s specialist at Columbia University who wasn’t involved in the research. 

“Knowledge of the timing of these physiological events is critical” for testing new ways of treating and maybe eventually even preventing Alzheimer’s, he wrote in an accompanying editorial. 

The findings have no practical implications yet. 

First treatment

More than 6 million Americans, and millions more worldwide, have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. There’s no cure. But last year, a drug named Leqembi became the first to be approved, with clear evidence that it could slow the worsening of early Alzheimer’s — albeit for a few months. 

It works by clearing away some of that gunky amyloid protein. The approach also is being tested to see if it’s possible to delay Alzheimer’s onset if high-risk people are treated before symptoms appear. Still, other drugs are being developed to target tau. 

Tracking silent brain changes is key for such research. Scientists already knew that in rare, inherited forms of Alzheimer’s that strike younger people, a toxic form of amyloid starts accumulating about two decades ahead of symptoms, and at some point later, tau kicks in. 

The new findings show the order in which such biomarker changes occurred with more common old-age Alzheimer’s. 

Researchers with Beijing’s Innovation Center for Neurological Disorders compared 648 people eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and an equal number who remained healthy. The amyloid finding in future Alzheimer’s patients was the first, 18 years or 14 years prior to diagnosis depending on the test used. 

Differences in tau were detected next, followed by a marker of trouble in how neurons communicate. A few years after that, differences in brain shrinkage and cognitive test scores between the two groups became apparent, the study found. 

“The more we know about viable Alzheimer’s treatment targets and when to address them, the better and faster we will be able to develop new therapies and preventions,” said Claire Sexton, the Alzheimer’s Association’s senior director of scientific programs. She noted that blood tests are coming soon that promise to also help by making it easier to track amyloid and tau. 

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Zimbabwe Launches New Polio Vaccination Campaign Amid Outbreak

Zimbabwe has launched an emergency polio vaccination campaign to contain a new outbreak, even as it fights a cholera outbreak that has claimed close to 500 lives. Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare. Camera: Blessing Chigwenhembe.

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Head of Boeing’s 737 MAX Program Leaves After Midair Incident

WASHINGTON — Boeing said on Wednesday it was replacing the head of its troubled 737 MAX program effective immediately, the first major executive departure since the January 5 midair panel blowout of a new Alaska Airlines MAX 9. 

Ed Clark, who had been with the plane-maker for nearly 18 years, departed as Boeing has been dealing with its latest crisis and has vowed to ramp up quality efforts. 

Regulators have curbed the plane-maker’s production, and lawmakers and customers have been scrutinizing production and safety measures.  

Boeing has scrambled to explain and strengthen safety procedures after a door panel detached during flight on a new Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing while passengers were exposed to a gaping hole 16,000 feet above the ground.  

Clark’s departure came after Boeing’s board met this week and approved the changes, according to sources familiar with the matter. He oversaw the company’s production facility in Renton, Washington, where the plane involved in the accident was completed. 

Clark was previously chief mechanic and engineer for the 737 before being named head of the program in 2021. He was the fifth person in four years to run the 737 program. 

Katie Ringgold is replacing him as vice president and general manager of the 737 program, according to a memo seen by Reuters sent to staff by Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal, who said the plane-maker was working to ensure “that every airplane we deliver meets or exceeds all quality and safety requirements. Our customers demand, and deserve, nothing less.” 

The latest mishap occurred as Boeing was still working to rebuild its reputation following the 20-month grounding of the 737 MAX following two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people. That grounding was lifted in November 2020.  

Airline industry executives have expressed frustration with Boeing’s quality control. The only other major manufacturer of commercial aircraft is France’s Airbus. 

The memo was first reported by the Seattle Times. 

The FAA grounded the MAX 9 for several weeks in January and has capped Boeing’s production of the MAX while it audits the plane-maker’s manufacturing process, which has suffered a string of quality issues in recent years. 

The door panel that flew off the MAX 9 appeared to be missing four key bolts, according to a preliminary report from the U.S. National Safety Transportation Board in early February. The panel is a plug-in placed on some 737 MAX 9s instead of an additional emergency exit.  

According to the report, the door plug in question was removed to repair rivet damage, but the NTSB has not found evidence the bolts were reinstalled. 

The disclosure has prompted anger among Boeing’s airline customers. Some, including Alaska Airlines, announced they would conduct enhanced quality oversight of planes before they leave the Boeing factory. 

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Medics Set Up Blood Transfusion Station Near Donbas Front Line

When Ukrainian soldiers are wounded during combat, they are taken to what is called a stabilization point, where combat medics take care of them. Now, thanks to overseas donors, medics at one of the stabilization points in Ukraine’s Donbas region can perform blood transfusions. Anna Kosstutschenko has the story. VOA footage by Pavel Suhodolskiy.

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Private US Spacecraft Enters Orbit around the Moon Ahead Of Landing Attempt

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A private U.S. lunar lander reached the moon and eased into a low orbit Wednesday, a day before it will attempt an even greater feat — landing on the gray, dusty surface.

A smooth touchdown would put the U.S. back in business on the moon for the first time since NASA astronauts closed out the Apollo program in 1972. The company, if successful, also would become the first private outfit to ace a moon landing.

Launched last week, Intuitive Machines’ lander fired its engine on the back side of the moon while out of contact with Earth. Flight controllers at the company’s Houston headquarters had to wait until the spacecraft emerged to learn whether the lander was in orbit or hurtling aimlessly away.

Intuitive Machines confirmed its lander, nicknamed Odysseus, was circling the moon with experiments from NASA and other clients. The lander is part of a NASA program to kickstart the lunar economy; the space agency is paying $118 million to get its experiments on the moon on this mission.

On Thursday, controllers will lower the orbit from just under 60 miles (92 kilometers) to 6 miles (10 kilometers) — a crucial maneuver occurring again on the moon’s far side — before aiming for a touchdown near the moon’s south pole. It’s a dicey place to land with all the craters and cliffs, but deemed prime real estate for astronauts since the permanently shadowed craters are believed to hold frozen water.

The moon is littered with wreckage from failed landings. Some missions never even got that far. Another U.S. company — Astrobotic Technology — tried to send a lander to the moon last month, but it didn’t get there because of a fuel leak. The crippled lander came crashing back through the atmosphere, burning up over the Pacific.

A rundown on the moon’s winners and losers:

First victories

The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 successfully touches down on the moon in 1966, after its predecessors crash or miss the moon altogether. The U.S. follows four months later with Surveyor 1. Both countries achieve more robotic landings, as the race heats up to land men.

Apollo rules

NASA clinches the space race with the Soviets in 1969 with a moon landing by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Twelve astronauts explore the surface over six missions, before the program ends with Apollo 17 in 1972. Still the only country to send humans to the moon, the U.S. hopes to return crews to the surface by the end of 2026 or so, a year after a lunar fly-around by astronauts.

China emerges

China, in 2013, becomes the third country to successfully land on the moon, delivering a rover named Yutu, Chinese for jade rabbit. China follows with the Yutu-2 rover in 2019, this time touching down on the moon’s unexplored far side — an impressive first. A sample return mission on the moon’s near side in 2020 yields nearly 4 pounds (1.7 kilograms) of lunar rocks and dirt. Another sample return mission should be launching soon, but this time to the far side. Seen as NASA’s biggest moon rival, China aims to put its astronauts on the moon by 2030. 

Russia stumbles 

In 2023, Russia tries for its first moon landing in nearly a half-century, but the Luna 25 spacecraft smashes into the moon. The country’s previous lander — 1976’s Luna 24 — not only landed, but returned moon rocks to Earth. 

India triumphs on take 2  

After its first lander slams into the moon in 2019, India regroups and launches Chandrayaan-3 (Hindi for moon craft) in 2023. The craft successfully touches down, making India the fourth country to score a lunar landing. The win comes just four days after Russia’s crash-landing. 

Japan lands sideways 

Japan becomes the fifth country to land successfully on the moon, with its spacecraft touching down in January. The craft lands on the wrong side, compromising its ability to generate solar power, but manages to crank out pictures and science before falling silent when the long lunar night sets in. 

Private tries 

A privately funded lander from Israel, named Beresheet, Hebrew for “in the beginning,” crashes into the moon in 2019. A Japanese entrepreneur’s company, ispace, launches a lunar lander in 2023, but it, too, wrecks. Astrobotic Technology, a Pittsburgh company, launches its lander in January, but a fuel leak prevents a landing and dooms the craft. Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines plan more moon deliveries. 

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Commercial Spaceship Set for Lunar Touchdown, in Test for US Industry

WASHINGTON — A company from Texas is poised to attempt a feat that until now has only been accomplished by a handful of national space agencies but could soon become commonplace for the private sector: landing on the moon.

If all goes to plan, Houston-based Intuitive Machines will guide its spaceship named Odysseus to a gentle touchdown near the lunar south pole on Thursday at 2249 GMT, then run experiments for NASA that will help pave the way for the return of astronauts later this decade.

A previous effort by another U.S. company last month ended in failure, raising the stakes to demonstrate private industry has what it takes to put an American lander on Earth’s cosmic companion for the first time since the Apollo era.

“Accepting risk was a challenge posed by the United States to the commercial business sector,” Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus said ahead of launch. “Our collective aim is to return to the moon for the first time in 52 years.”

The company plans to run a live stream on its website, with flight controllers expected to confirm landing around 15 seconds after the milestone is achieved, because of the time it takes for radio signals to return.

As it approaches the surface, Odysseus will shoot out an external “EagleCam” that captures images of the lander in the final seconds of its descent.

About the size of a big golf cart, Odysseus is hexagon-shaped and stands on six legs.

It launched on Feb. 15 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and boasts a new type of supercooled liquid oxygen, liquid methane propulsion system that allowed it to race through space in quick time, snapping pictures of our planet along the way.

Its destination, Malapert A, is an impact crater 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the lunar south pole.

NASA hopes to eventually build a long-term presence and harvest ice there for both drinking water and rocket fuel under Artemis, its flagship Moon-to-Mars program.

The U.S. space agency paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to ship science hardware to better understand and mitigate environmental risks for astronauts, the first of whom are scheduled to land no sooner than 2026.

Instruments include cameras to investigate how the lunar surface changes as a result of the engine plume from a spaceship, and a device to analyze clouds of charged dust particles that hang over the surface at twilight as a result of solar radiation.

The rest of the cargo was paid for by Intuitive Machines’ private clients and includes 125 stainless steel mini moons by the artist Jeff Koons.

After touchdown, the experiments are expected to run for roughly seven days before lunar night sets in on the south pole, with the lack of solar power rendering Odysseus inoperable.

Dubbed IM-1, the mission is the second under a NASA initiative called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), which it created to delegate cargo services to the private sector to achieve savings and stimulate a wider lunar economy.

Four more CLPS launches are expected this year, which would make 2024 among the busiest ever for moon landings.

The first, by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, launched in January, but its Peregrine spacecraft sprung a fuel leak and it was eventually brought back to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Spaceships landing on the moon have to navigate treacherous boulders and craters and, absent an atmosphere to support parachutes, must rely on thrusters to control their descent. Roughly half of the more than 50 attempts have failed.

The Soviet Union was the first country to achieve a survivable landing on a celestial body when its Luna 9 spaceship touched down and transmitted pictures back from the moon in February 1966.

Next came the United States, which is still the only country to also put people on the surface.

In America’s long absence, China has landed three times since 2013. India reached the moon in 2023, and Japan was the latest, last month.

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Artificial Intelligence Is Being Used to Help Save Lives

Health care professionals are increasingly using artificial intelligence to better diagnose and treat serious medical conditions. However, with the use of artificial intelligence in medicine growing, there are concerns among medical ethicists about how emerging technologies should be deployed

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Alabama Supreme Court Rules Frozen Embryos Are ‘Children’ Under State Law

Montgomery, Alabama — The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, a ruling critics said could have sweeping implications for fertility treatments. 

The decision was issued in a pair of wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic. Justices, citing anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, ruled that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the death of a minor child “applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.” 

“Unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the majority ruling Friday from the all-Republican court. 

Mitchell said the court had previously ruled that fetuses killed while a woman is pregnant are covered under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and nothing excludes “extrauterine children from the Act’s coverage.” 

The ruling brought a rush of warnings about the potential impact on fertility treatments and the freezing of embryos, which had previously been considered property by the courts. 

“This ruling is stating that a fertilized egg, which is a clump of cells, is now a person. It really puts into question the practice of IVF,” Barbara Collura, CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, said in an interview Tuesday. The group called the decision a “terrifying development for the 1 in 6 people impacted by infertility” who need in-vitro fertilization. 

She said it raises questions for providers and patients, including if they can freeze future embryos created during fertility treatment or if patients could ever donate or destroy unused embryos. 

The plaintiffs in the Alabama case had undergone IVF treatments that led to the creation of several embryos, some of which were implanted and resulted in healthy births. The couples had paid to keep others frozen in a storage facility at the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center. A patient in 2020 wandered into the area and removed several embryos, dropping them on the floor and “killing them,” the ruling said. 

The justices ruled that wrongful death lawsuits by the couples could proceed. 

An anti-abortion group cheered the decision. “Each person, from the tiniest embryo to an elder nearing the end of his life, has incalculable value that deserves and is guaranteed legal protection,” Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action said in a statement. 

Chief Justice Tom Parker issued a concurring opinion that quoted the Bible as he discussed the meaning of the phrase “the sanctity of unborn life” in the Alabama Constitution. 

“Even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory,” Parker said. 

Justice Greg Cook, who filed the only full dissent to the majority opinion, said the 1872 law did not define “minor child” and was being stretched from the original intent to cover frozen embryos. 

“Moreover, there are other significant reasons to be concerned about the main opinion’s holding. No court — anywhere in the country — has reached the conclusion the main opinion reaches,” he wrote, adding the ruling “almost certainly ends the creation of frozen embryos through in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Alabama.” 

The Alabama Supreme Court decision partly hinged on anti-abortion language added to the Alabama Constitution in 2018, stating that it is the “public policy of this state to ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child.” 

Supporters at the time said it would “be a declaration of voters’ beliefs” and would have no impact unless states gain more control over abortion access. States gained control of abortion access in 2022. Critics at the time said it would have broad ramifications for civil and criminal law beyond abortion access and that it was essentially a “personhood” measure that would establish constitutional rights for fertilized eggs. 

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Kenyan Companies Embrace AI for Marketing Efficiency, Cost Savings

Kenyan companies, facing economic challenges, are turning to artificial intelligence to reduce production and advertising expenses. That’s causing anxiety among artists and ad agencies, who fear reduced income and job losses if AI can replace the work they’ve always done. Mohammed Yusuf reports from Nairobi.

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Newly Discovered Quasar May Be Universe’s Brightest Object

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA — Astronomers have discovered what may be the brightest object in the universe, a quasar with a black hole at its heart growing so fast that it swallows the equivalent of a sun a day. 

The record-breaking quasar shines 500 trillion times brighter than our sun. The black hole powering this distant quasar is more than 17 billion times more immense than our sun, an Australian-led team reported Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy. 

While the quasar resembles a mere dot in images, scientists envision a ferocious place. 

The rotating disk around the quasar’s black hole — the luminous swirling gas and other matter from gobbled-up stars — is like a cosmic hurricane. 

“This quasar is the most violent place that we know in the universe,” lead author Christian Wolf of Australian National University said in an email. 

The European Southern Observatory spotted the object, J0529-4351, during a 1980 sky survey, but it was thought to be a star. It was not identified as a quasar — the extremely active and luminous core of a galaxy — until last year. Observations by telescopes in Australia and Chile’s Atacama Desert clinched it. 

“The exciting thing about this quasar is that it was hiding in plain sight and was misclassified as a star previously,” Yale University’s Priyamvada Natarajan, who was not involved in the study, said in an email. 

These later observations and computer modeling have determined that the quasar is gobbling up the equivalent of 370 suns a year — roughly one a day. Further analysis shows the mass of the black hole to be 17 to 19 billion times that of our sun, according to the team. More observations are needed to understand its growth rate. 

The quasar is 12 billion light-years away and has been around since the early days of the universe. A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles. 

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Beatles To Get Fab Four of Biopics

NEW YORK — The Beatles are getting the big-screen biopic treatment in not just one film, but a Fab Four of movies that will give each band member their own spotlight — all of which are to be directed by Sam Mendes.

For the first time, the Beatles, long among the stingiest rights granters, are giving full life and music rights to a movie project. Sony Pictures announced Monday a deal that may dwarf all music biopics that have come before it, with the stories of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr spread out over a quartet of films.

The films, conceived by Mendes, are expected to roll out theatrically in innovative fashion, with the movies potentially coexisting or intersecting in theaters. Precise release plans will be announced at a later date. Sony is targeting 2027 for their release.

McCartney, Starr and the families of John Lennon and George Harrison have all signed off on the project through the band’s Apple Corps. Ltd. Sony Music Publishing controls the rights to the majority of Beatles songs.

“I’m honored to be telling the story of the greatest rock band of all time, and excited to challenge the notion of what constitutes a trip to the movies,” Mendes said in a statement.

Each film will be from the perspective of a Beatle.

“We intend this to be a uniquely thrilling, and epic cinematic experience: four films, told from four different perspectives which tell a single story about the most celebrated band of all time,” said producer Pippa Harris. “To have The Beatles’ and Apple Corps’ blessing to do this is an immense privilege.”

The Beatles’ most famous forays into film were in their early years. Between 1964 and 1970, they appeared in five movies, including “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) and the animated “Yellow Submarine” (1968). They’ve, of course, been the subject of many documentaries, most recently Peter Jackson’s 2021 “The Beatles: Get Back.”

In 2023, the Beatles reunited with the aid of artificial intelligence in the newly released song “Now and Then.” The recording was made possible by technology used by Jackson on “Get Back,” and featured a music video made by the New Zealand director.

Attempts to dramatize the Beatles’ story have been more sporadic and less impactful. A 1979 biopic, made when Lennon was still alive, called “The Birth of the Beatles” was produced with Beatles original drummer Pete Best as an adviser. The 1994 indie drama “Backbeat” chronicled Lennon’s relationship with Stuart Sutcliffe before the Beatles were famous. “Nowhere Boy” (2009) starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a teenage Lennon.

But in the last decade, music biopics have become big business. Box-office hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody,””Rocketman” and “Elvis” have sent Hollywood executives chasing the next jukebox blockbuster. Over Presidents Day weekend, “Bob Marley: One Love,” produced with the Marley estate, was the No. 1 movie in theaters. A Michael Jackson biopic is in production.

“Theatrical movie events today must be culturally seismic. Sam’s daring, large-scale idea is that and then some,” said Tom Rothman, chair and chief executive of Sony Pictures’ Motion Picture Group.

The combination of Mendes’ team “with the music and the stories of four young men who changed the world, will rock audiences all over the globe,” Rothman said. “We are deeply grateful to all parties and look forward ourselves to breaking some rules with Sam’s uniquely artistic vision.”

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Britain, US, EU, Allies Take Down Lockbit Cybercrime Gang

LONDON — Lockbit, a notorious cybercrime gang that holds its victims’ data for ransom, has been disrupted in a rare international law enforcement operation by Britain’s National Crime Agency, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Europol and a coalition of international police agencies, according to a post on the gang’s extortion website on Monday.

“This site is now under the control of the National Crime Agency of the UK, working in close cooperation with the FBI and the international law enforcement task force, ‘Operation Cronos,’” the post said.

An NCA spokesperson confirmed that the agency had disrupted the gang and said the operation was “ongoing and developing.”

A representative for Lockbit did not respond to messages from Reuters seeking comment but did post messages on an encrypted messaging app saying it had backup servers not affected by the law enforcement action.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The post named other international police organizations from France, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Germany.

Lockbit and its affiliates have hacked some of the world’s largest organizations in recent months. The gang makes money by stealing sensitive data and threatening to leak it if victims fail to pay an extortionate ransom. Its affiliates are like-minded criminal groups that are recruited by the group to wage attacks using Lockbit’s digital extortion tools.

Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts data. Lockbit makes money by coercing its targets into paying ransom to decrypt or unlock that data with a digital key.

Lockbit was discovered in 2020 when its eponymous malicious software was found on Russian-language cybercrime forums, leading some security analysts to believe the gang is based in Russia.

The gang has not professed support for any government, however, and no government has formally attributed it to a nation-state. On its now-defunct dark web site, the group said it was “located in the Netherlands, completely apolitical and only interested in money.”

“They are the Walmart of ransomware groups, they run it like a business — that’s what makes them different,” said Jon DiMaggio, chief security strategist at Analyst1, a U.S.-based cybersecurity firm. “They are arguably the biggest ransomware crew today.”

Officials in the United States, where Lockbit has hit more than 1,700 organizations in nearly every industry from financial services and food to schools, transportation and government departments, have described the group as the world’s top ransomware threat.

In November of last year, Lockbit published internal data from Boeing, one of the world’s largest defense and space contractors. In early 2023, Britain’s Royal Mail faced severe disruption after an attack by the group.

According to vx-underground, a cybersecurity research website, Lockbit said in a statement in Russian and shared on Tox, an encrypted messaging app, that the FBI hit its servers that run on the programming language PHP. The statement, which Reuters could not verify independently, added that it has backup servers without PHP that “are not touched.”

On X, formerly known as Twitter, vx-underground shared screenshots showing the control panel used by Lockbit’s affiliates to launch attacks had been replaced with a message from law enforcement: “We have source code, details of the victims you have attacked, the amount of money extorted, the data stolen, chats, and much, much more,” it said.

“We may be in touch with you very soon” it added. “Have a nice day.”

Before it was taken down, Lockbit’s website displayed an ever-growing gallery of victim organizations that was updated nearly daily. Next to their names were digital clocks that showed the number of days left to the deadline given to each organization to provide ransom payment.

On Monday, Lockbit’s site displayed a similar countdown, but from the law enforcement agencies who hacked the hackers: “Return here for more information at: 11:30 GMT on Tuesday 20th Feb.” the post said.

Don Smith, vice president of Secureworks, an arm of Dell Technologies, said Lockbit was the most prolific and dominant ransomware operator in a highly competitive underground market.

“To put today’s takedown into context, based on leak site data, Lockbit had a 25% share of the ransomware market. Their nearest rival was Blackcat at around 8.5%, and after that it really starts to fragment,” Smith said.

“Lockbit dwarfed all other groups and today’s action is highly significant.”

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US-China Rivalry Expands to Biotech; Lawmakers Raise Alarm

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers are raising alarms about what they see as America’s failure to compete with China in biotechnology, warning of the risks to U.S. national security and commercial interests. But as the two countries’ rivalry expands into the biotech industry, some say that shutting out Chinese companies would only hurt the U.S.

Biotechnology promises to revolutionize everyday life, with scientists and researchers using it to make rapid advances in medical treatment, genetic engineering in agriculture and novel biomaterials. Because of its potential, it has caught the attention of both the Chinese and U.S. governments.

Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to bar “foreign adversary biotech companies of concern” from doing business with federally funded medical providers. The bills name four Chinese-owned companies.

The Chinese Embassy said those behind the bills have an “ideological bias” and seek to suppress Chinese companies “under false pretexts.” It demanded that Chinese companies be given “open, just, and non-discriminatory treatment.”

The debate over biotechnology is taking place as the Biden administration tries to stabilize the volatile U.S.-China relationship, which has been battered by a range of issues, including a trade war, the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity and militarization in the South China Sea.

Critics of the legislation warn that restrictions on Chinese companies would impede advances that could bring a greater good.

“In biotech, one cannot maintain competitiveness by walling off others,” said Abigail Coplin, an assistant professor at Vassar College who specializes in China’s biotech industry. She said she was worried that U.S. policymakers would get too obsessed with the technology’s military applications at the cost of hindering efforts to cure disease and feed the world’s population.

In a letter to senators sponsoring the bill, Rachel King, chief executive officer of the trade association Biotechnology Innovation Organization, said the legislation would “do untold damage to the drug development supply chain both for treatments currently approved and on market as well as for development pipelines decades in the making.”

But supporters say the legislation is crucial to protecting U.S. interests.

The National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology, a group created by the U.S. Senate to review the industry, said the bill would help secure the data of the federal government and of American citizens and it would discourage unfair competition from Chinese companies.

The commission warned that advancement in biotechnology can result not only in economic benefits but also rapid changes in military capabilities.

Much is at stake, said Rep. Mike Gallagher, chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. Gallagher introduced the House version of the bill and last week led a congressional delegation to Boston to meet with biotech executives.

“It’s not just a supply chain battle or a national security battle or an economic security battle; I would submit it’s a moral and ethical battle,” Gallagher said. “Just as the sector advances at a really astronomic pace, the country who wins the race will set the ethical standards around how these technologies are used.”

He argues that the U.S. must “set the rules of the road” and if not, “we’re going to live in a less free, less moral world as a result.”

Both the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, have identified biotech as a critical national interest.

The Biden administration has put forward a “whole-of-government approach” to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing that is important for health, climate change, energy, food security, agriculture and supply chain resilience.

The Chinese government has plans to develop a “national strategic technology force” in biotech, which would be tasked with making breakthroughs and helping China achieve “technological independence,” primarily from the U.S.

“Both the Chinese government and the Americans have identified biotech as an area important for investment, a sector that presents an opportunity to grow their economy,” said Tom Bollyky, the Bloomberg chair in global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. He said any restrictive U.S. measures should be tailored to address military concerns and concerns about genomic data security.

“Naturally there’s going to be competition, but what’s challenging in biotech is that we are talking about human health,” Bollyky said.

Ray Yip, who founded the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in China, also worries that the rivalry will slow medical advancements.

The benefit of coming up with better diagnostics and therapy is beyond any individual country, Yip said, “and will not overshadow the capacity or prestige of the other country.”

What concerns Anna Puglisi, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, is Beijing’s lack of transparency and its unfair market practices. “Competition is one thing. Unfair competition is another thing,” she said.

Puglisi described BGI, a major Chinese biotech company identified in both the House and Senate bills, as “a national champion” that is subsidized and given favored treatment by the state in a system that “blurs private and public as well as civilian and military.”

“This system creates market distortions and undermines the global norms of science by using researchers and academic and commercial entities to further the goals of the state,” Puglisi said.

BGI, which has stressed its private ownership, offers genetic testing kits and a popular prenatal screening test to detect Down syndrome and other conditions. U.S. lawmakers say they are concerned such data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government.

The Defense Department has listed BGI as a Chinese military company, and the Commerce Department has blacklisted it on human rights grounds, citing a risk that BGI technology might have contributed to surveillance. BGI has rejected the allegations.

In raising its concerns about BGI, the National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology says the company is required to share data with the Chinese government, has partnered with the Chinese military, and has received considerable Chinese state funding and support.

State subsidies have allowed BGI to offer genomic sequencing services at a highly competitive price that is attractive to U.S. researchers, according to the commission. The genomic data, once in the hands of the Chinese government, “represents a strategic asset that has privacy, security, economic, and ethical implications,” it said.

BGI could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Strike Closes Eiffel Tower in Blow to Tourists Ahead of Paris Olympics

Paris — The Eiffel Tower, one of the most visited tourist sites in the world, closed on Monday as staff went on strike in protest against the way the Paris monument is managed financially, disappointing the crowds below.

The strike comes as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, which begin on July 26 and will feature metal from the tower in the winners’ medals.

Visitors stood outside the barriers of the tower grounds in front of a giant screen announcing the strike.

“It’s a real shame, really, because we come just for three days, and we’re not going to be able to get up,” Nelson Navarro, from Norfolk, England, said.

Vito Santos, from Canada, had planned to revisit the monument 15 years after his honeymoon and show if off to his children.

“It’s disappointing… The plan was to come here really early to get a ticket as early as possible. However, it was a surprise for us, the strike is here, so we cannot make the tour,” he said.

Unions claim Paris City Hall, which owns 99% of the company that oversees the tower, Societe d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), is underestimating the cost of maintenance and repairs to the monument planned ahead of the Olympics.

This in turn could result in lax maintenance work and put visitors at risk, they say.

This is the second time this year staff have gone on strike for the same reason.

The wrought-iron 324-meter (1,063 ft) high tower, built by Gustave Eiffel in the late 19th century, welcomes about six million visitors each year.

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Berlin Film Fest Grapples With Nazi Past, Far-Right Threat

BERLIN — This week’s Berlin international film festival is wrestling on- and off-screen with the weight of the Nazi past and the menace of a resurgent far right.

The 74th Berlinale, as the event is known, has a reputation for confronting political realities head-on with high-profile movies and hot-tempered debates.

German director Julia von Heinz brought together an unlikely pair, U.S. actor Lena Dunham and Britain’s Stephen Fry, for her drama “Treasure,” about a Holocaust survivor who returns to Poland with his journalist daughter.

Inspired by a true story, the film shows their journey following the fall of the Iron Curtain, after decades of family silence about the Nazi period.

Fry plays the seemingly jovial Edek searching for a connection with his uptight daughter Ruth (Dunham).

Their travels take them to Edek’s childhood home in Lodz, where they make the chilling discovery that a family living in his old flat is still using his parents’ porcelain tea service, silverware and a green velvet sofa they abandoned when they were deported.

Fearful it is the last chance to record his memories, Ruth convinces Edek to return to Auschwitz.

‘A new perspective’

Von Heinz, speaking after a warmly received screening, said that a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the wake of the Gaza war had spurred her to finish the film for the Berlinale.

She rejected suggestions there had been “enough” movies dealing with the Nazi period.

“There can never be enough stories to be told about this and I think we are giving it a new perspective,” she said.

Fry added: “While history may not repeat itself, as somebody once put it, (it) rhymes and there are similar feelings now as we know rising up.”

The actor, who had several relatives who were killed at Auschwitz, said it was “an extraordinary feeling” to shoot scenes outside the former death camp.

Dunham, who also lost ancestors in the Holocaust, insisted its lessons are both rooted in the Jewish experience and transcend it.

“It’s important to acknowledge that the far right, be it here or in the U.S. — there’s an incredible and shocking amount of anti-Semitic rhetoric and there’s also a shocking amount of Islamophobic rhetoric, anti-Black rhetoric, transphobic rhetoric,” she said. “The goal is to isolate people based on their identities and make them feel inhuman and that’s a universal story unfortunately.”

Resistance ‘superheroes’

“From Hilde, With Love,” starring Liv Lisa Fries of international hit series “Babylon Berlin,” also debuted at the festival over the weekend.

It tells the true story of Hilde Coppi, a member of the “Red Orchestra” anti-Nazi resistance group, who gave birth to a son in prison while awaiting her execution for “high treason” in 1942.

Director Andreas Dresen grew up in communist East Germany, a region where the far-right AfD is poised to make strong gains in key state elections later this year.

He said that in school, resistance members were often portrayed as larger-than-life “superheroes,” meaning many felt incapable of having similar courage to stand up to authority.

Fries, whose vivid portrayal impressed critics, said Coppi joined the Red Orchestra in trying to sabotage the Nazi war effort out of a basic sense of right and wrong.

“It was not only decency but also a sense of solidarity — solidarity is always worth standing up for,” she said.

Dresen stripped the movie of historical images familiar from Nazi movies such as “waving swastika flags and thumping jackboots.”

“Political terror is part of our present and unfortunately not as far away as we would like,” he said. “I really wish this film weren’t so topical.”

“From Hilde, With Love” is one of 20 films in competition for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize Saturday.

Commitment to ’empathy’

The two films premiered amid a fierce debate over whether the Berlinale should continue to invite AfD politicians to its galas.

A bombshell revelation last month — that party members attended a meeting outside Berlin at which mass deportations of foreigners and “poorly assimilated” German citizens were discussed — raised the stakes.

After initially insisting that the elected representatives should attend, the Berlinale backtracked and disinvited five AfD officials, citing its commitment to “empathy, awareness and understanding.”

The move was widely praised by the artistic community, but dissenters argued that democratic culture meant tolerating even offensive views.

Kenyan Mexican actor Lupita Nyong’o, the festival’s first black jury president, was asked whether she would have attended the opening ceremony Thursday in the presence of far-right officials.

“I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question,” she replied. “I’m glad I don’t have to be in that position.”

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