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Morning news brief

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Presidents and prime ministers from the world's leading democracies are here in Europe today holding the Group of Seven summit in Italy.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The U.S. and other nations have been supporting Ukraine's defense against Russia, and their latest idea is to pay for the war using Russia's own money. They're negotiating a plan that would spend the interest on $300 billion of Russian assets that are frozen in Western banks.

SCHMITZ: NPR White House Correspondent Deepa Shivaram is in Puglia, Italy, where the leaders are meeting. She joins us now. Good morning, Deepa.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Good morning.

SCHMITZ: So Deepa, what is the plan with using these frozen Russian assets?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. So when Russia invaded Ukraine back in 2022 - right? - Russian assets that are in banks, mostly in Europe, were frozen. And that's money, securities, gold, bonds - things like that. And the interest collected from those frozen assets is generating a decent chunk of change, Rob - roughly $3 billion a year.

SCHMITZ: Wow, three - that's a lot of interest. How are they planning on using that money?

SHIVARAM: The idea is that the money can be given to Ukraine to help them with the weapons they need and also help rebuild their country when this war eventually ends. This idea has been discussed for months. And the thing that needs to be sorted out here is that the details of how much money Ukraine gets is in question. You know, at what rate can they get that money? Is it a big lump sum? Does it get spread out over the course of years? And who's responsible for this money going out of the banks and to Ukraine? Is it Europe's responsibility or the U.S.'?

So a lot of questions left - at this point, it's kind of unclear what the final agreement is going to look like on this issue. But there is a general consensus here that leaders do need a plan to continue helping Ukraine financially.

SCHMITZ: Got it. So this summit is taking place pretty soon after elections where some G7 countries, like France and Germany, saw far-right candidates win more seats. How is that factoring into these discussions?

SHIVARAM: I would say it's factoring pretty heavily. And I talked to Scheherazade Rehman, who's a professor of international finance at George Washington University. And she says that, when it comes to this conversation about funding Ukraine, how leaders in Europe are approaching it today might be different than before these elections in France and Germany took place, right? Far-right parties winning more seats, like France's National Rally Party, for example, could potentially complicate future support for Ukraine. So Rehman says there's more pressure on European leaders to hammer out this plan on securing funding.

SCHEHERAZADE REHMAN: There's a little bit of a monkey wrench in all of this because these recent European parliamentary elections - Europe has its own worries now, with snap elections in some key countries. The Europeans are coming into this meeting in a very different footing than if this was 10 days ago.

SCHMITZ: Elections, elections - there is one coming up in the United States. How is that going to impact everything?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, that's right. I would say it's been pretty top of mind, Rob, that this, you know, might be the last summit where all of these specific G7 leaders get together. And G7 leaders know what it was like to work with former President Trump, who wasn't a fan of the G7 and has been critical of giving more funding to Ukraine. So that's definitely contributing to this sense of urgency at this summit to find a way to economically support Ukraine no matter which candidate wins the election in November.

Finalizing these details on Ukraine is also a way to secure more funding without fully relying on Congress, which took months to pass the latest round of support for Ukraine. And in the meantime, Biden will also sign a security agreement today with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy which outlines U.S. support for Ukraine. But it's not a binding agreement, necessarily, so it's not really clear what will happen, depending on if there's a new president after the election in November.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Thanks for joining us, Deepa.

SHIVARAM: Thanks for having me.

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INSKEEP: Every few days, it seems, we come to you with an update on a possible cease-fire in Gaza.

SCHMITZ: Which is different from telling you of an actual cease-fire. Neither Israel nor Hamas have publicly agreed on a plan promoted by President Biden. Israel faces political complications. Hamas is demanding changes, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: Hamas has proposed numerous changes. Some of the changes are workable. Some are not.

INSKEEP: So to summarize, the United States says Israel favors a plan that Israel has not publicly supported, and the plan resembles one Hamas previously proposed, yet there's no deal. NPR's Daniel Estrin is on the line from Tel Aviv. Hello, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are the changes that Hamas wants?

ESTRIN: Well, Hamas officials tell us that their main demand here is a guaranteed end of the war. Now, both sides do agree to a six-week cease-fire at the beginning. There would be an initial exchange of hostages and Palestinian prisoners. It's the next phase of the deal here that is the sticking point. Israel says it won't guarantee the end of the war. It will only hold more talks to try to reach the end of the war.

And the way Israel sees this is that it won't agree to end the war until it ensures that Hamas cannot continue governing Gaza. They're also the Israeli far right, and government doesn't want to end the war. The way Hamas sees this, on the other hand, is that it wants to prevent Israel from resuming the war the minute it gets hostages back from Gaza.

INSKEEP: Oh, it's been using the hostages all along to try to bring an end to the conflict. The details here seem to matter a lot since so many thousands of people are being killed. So what are the other demands Hamas has made?

ESTRIN: Well, Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, is not revealing the details, but an Egyptian security official tells NPR that Hamas is demanding a few main things - first, that Israel withdraw its forces from Gaza's border with Egypt in the first week of the cease-fire. That may be unacceptable to Israel. This is a border area that's a lifeline to Hamas, and, you know, whoever controls that border controls Gaza. So that's a big question that still needs to be worked out.

Another demand of Hamas, according to a Hamas official who spoke with us, is that Hamas wants a say in which Palestinian prisoners Israel releases in this exchange. And Hamas might demand the most senior and high-profile Palestinian convicts who are serving multiple life sentences for deadly attacks on Israelis. So that demand might be something that would be very hard for Israel to swallow.

INSKEEP: Thanks for the reminder that this is also a prisoner exchange. Hamas wants people back as well. So how can the outside parties push this over the finish line?

ESTRIN: Well, Egypt and Qatar - their main negotiators here - they want to meet with Hamas now to discuss its latest response. Israel has not sent negotiators to Egypt or Qatar yet. So the mediators know that these talks are in a very difficult stage. They're trying to save the talks, and they're trying to save the prospect of a cease-fire.

Blinken has been saying that the onus is on Hamas here. That appears to be part of the negotiating tactics. I mean, the reality is that there are fundamental gaps. Hamas has a desire to end the war and survive the war. Israel wants to make sure Hamas does not survive the war. So that's the fundamental gap that negotiators are trying to bridge. Blinken was here in the Mideast for a few days. He says the U.S. is not only looking for a cease-fire but is looking for something much bigger - a plan it hopes to present in the coming weeks for bigger questions, like who governs Gaza after the war?

And I should just say here, Steve, there's another big pressure point - what's happening on the Israel-Lebanon border. Israel killed a senior Hezbollah official. More than 200 Hezbollah rockets rained down on northern Israel yesterday, and Blinken says the best way to prevent another war is to first reach a cease-fire in Gaza.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

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INSKEEP: OK, today, a House Committee here in Washington questions the president of Microsoft, Brad Smith.

SCHMITZ: That's right. The Homeland Security Committee wants to know about two cyberattacks by China and Russia in the past year. At the same time, a whistleblower is talking about a cyberattack several years ago. Back in 2020, Russian hackers gained access to the networks of around 100 companies as well as U.S. government agencies, including the department that maintains the nuclear weapons stockpile and the National Institutes of Health. The whistleblower says Microsoft had a chance to prevent what was called the SolarWinds cyberattack.

INSKEEP: Renee Dudley is a ProPublica reporter whose investigation is out today. Welcome to the program.

RENEE DUDLEY: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: OK, I was just yesterday explaining to my kids the way that Microsoft software is throughout our lives. It's used all over the place. And now you've got this whistleblower, Andrew Harris, who said they had a security flaw. What was it?

DUDLEY: So Andrew Harris said that, when he was a Microsoft employee a few years ago, he discovered this security weakness in a product that many customers, including the U.S. government, used to log onto their devices. This flaw could allow hackers to masquerade as legitimate employees and rummage through victims' most sensitive data, all without tripping alarms.

He said he repeatedly raised these concerns about this flaw to his colleagues inside Microsoft. But at every turn, they dismissed him. They said addressing this flaw would undermine their business goals. He was so frustrated that he quit his job in August 2020. Then, four months later, the SolarWinds hack - the biggest hack in U.S. history - was discovered. Russian spies exploited this very flaw that Harris had warned about to breach government agencies.

INSKEEP: How could it be that fixing a security flaw would get in the way of the company's business goals?

DUDLEY: I was very interested in that question, and one of the places that I focused on was the MSRC, which is short for Microsoft Security Response Center. This center is like a clearinghouse for reports of security bugs, and it was Harris' very first stop when he began warning colleagues of the flaw that he discovered. But the issue is that the center itself was understaffed and underresourced. And one employee who used to work there told me that staff is trained to think of cases in terms of how can I get to won't fix. So this center also clashed with the product teams.

INSKEEP: Wait, what does that mean? How can I get to won't fix?

DUDLEY: They were looking for excuses to not address the reports...

INSKEEP: Ah.

DUDLEY: ...Of weaknesses that security researchers like Andrew Harris brought to them. They had so much volume, dealing with hundreds or even thousands of reports of weaknesses a month, and they just didn't have the staff or the resources to get to them all.

And, you know, another big issue there is that they're clashing with the product teams that they need to fix the actual issues. So they would bring a security vulnerability to a product group. They'd say, you need to fix this flaw. But those groups were often unmotivated to act fast, if at all, because compensation is tied to the release of new products and features. One former employee told me that you'll get a promotion because you'll release the next new shiny product for the cloud - not because you fixed a bunch of security bugs.

INSKEEP: OK, so you reveal all of this about the SolarWinds hack back in 2020. What, if anything, is Microsoft saying about your reporting?

DUDLEY: They dispute nothing. They said that their No. 1 priority is customer security. And today, we'll hear from Brad Smith, Microsoft's president, at a hearing before Congress. Some members of Congress are very interested in the government's reliance on Microsoft products, especially as the Defense Department - a big Microsoft customer as it is - says it's moving towards spending even more to upgrade its existing Microsoft licenses.

INSKEEP: Renee Dudley is a reporter with ProPublica. Thanks so much.

DUDLEY: Thanks very much for having me.

INSKEEP: And we'll note - Microsoft is one of NPR's sponsors, and, as you may have just noticed, we cover them as we would any other company.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHMITZ: Hall of Fame basketball player Jerry West died yesterday at 86 years old. He was a point guard in the 1960s and '70s for the Minneapolis - and later, Los Angeles - Lakers.

INSKEEP: Even if you weren't around when Jerry West played, you've likely seen him, even if you didn't know it, because his silhouette, dribbling a basketball while turning, is the official logo of the NBA.

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ALAN SIEGEL: So in 1969, I got a call from the Licensing Corporation of America, and they said that the NBA needed a new logo.

SCHMITZ: That's Alan Siegel, a branding consultant for the design firm Siegel+Gale. He's 85 years old, and he's speaking here in a company video about the logo's history.

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SIEGEL: I called my friend, Dick Schaap, then the managing editor of Sport magazine, and I said, can I look through your portfolio of photographs? I need some inspiration to design this logo.

INSKEEP: Siegel looked at a lot of photos, and a picture of Jerry West weaving his way down the basketball court caught his eye.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIEGEL: It was very vertical, and there was a nice sway to it. So Bob Gale and I designed that logo in maybe an hour.

SCHMITZ: For decades, the NBA would not acknowledge that the image in the logo is Jerry West.

INSKEEP: What?

SCHMITZ: But West always knew it was him. Here he is last year on a podcast with NBA star Paul George.

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JERRY WEST: I don't like publicity. To me, you wish that no one knew who it was. Here's what my response is. That's me. I'm flattered. That's always my response. I never talk about it, but I'm flattered.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about all the modern debates about name, image and likeness of athletes. Well, this is a silhouette - name, image, likeness, silhouette. West was never paid for being the logo, which was created decades before players had these licensing deals.

SCHMITZ: Meanwhile, the NBA logo became the prototype for dozens of other sports. Here again is designer Alan Siegel.

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SIEGEL: So whether it's squash, tennis, soccer - as you move around the world, you see that virtually all sports identities are derivative from that design.

INSKEEP: Whether he liked it or not, Jerry West was the original.

And I guess we'll just mention - his Lakers are not in the NBA finals, but the Celtics are. They're now up three games to nothing against Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.