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First There Was Pink, Now There's a Deadly Opioid Called Gray Death

Synthetic opioids continue to morph into new and deadly forms. Take the latest warning from law enforcement in the Southeast about fatal overdoses from a compound dubbed “gray death.”

Consumed in rock or powder form, with the appearance of concrete mixing powder, this newly identified drug cocktail combines heroin, fentanyl and U-47700 and has been linked to at least four overdose deaths in Georgia  and Alabama, according to a law enforcement document obtained by NBC News.

Fentanyl and U-47700 are more powerful than heroin, and together, the drug combo is many times more powerful than heroin alone. Because the chemistry of the drug varies from batch to batch, it’s unpredictable how it will affect the user. 

Last year, two teen boys died from ingesting U-47700 in Park City, Utah after it was delivered — legally — to their homes via the mail. Also known as “Pink,” U-47700 is eight times stronger than heroin, and is part of a family of deadly synthetic opioids, all of them more powerful than heroin, that includes ifentanyl, carfentanil and furanyl fentanyl.

Total opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, rising from 8,050 to 28,647, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The portion of those deaths caused by synthetic opioids rose almost twice as fast, from just 730 in 1999 to 5,544 in 2014.

Image: Gray death rock
A potent new designer drug called "gray death" is responsible for recent overdoses and overdose-related deaths in the Gulf Coast region of the US. NBC News

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That North Korean Missile Really Worked, Say U.S. Officials

Two U.S. defense officials confirm that North Korea's launch of a KN-17 missile last Sunday was successful and that the missile's re-entry vehicle did successfully re-enter the atmosphere.

The re-entry was controlled and the vehicle did not burn up, the officials said. It landed in the sea near Russia

The KN-17 is a liquid fuel single-stage missile. In boasting of the successful launch, the North Koreans called it a "medium long-range" ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead.

The U.S. officials characterized Sunday's launch as an advancement for the North Korean missile program.

North Korea also launched one in mid-April, but it exploded seconds later.

Image: North Korea Missile
This picture taken on May 14, 2017 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15 shows a test launch of the ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location. AFP - Getty Images

U.S. Announces New Iran Sanctions, But Keeps Waiving Sanctions

The Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program Wednesday, but also said it will continue to waive sanctions as required by the Iran nuclear deal.

"The Treasury Department is imposing new sanctions on Iranian defense officials, an Iranian entity, and a China-based network that supplied missile-applicable items to a key Iranian defense entity,'" said a statement released by the Treasury Department. "The action reflects concern with Iran’s continued development of ballistic missiles, which is in inconsistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. 

The statement also said the waiver of sanctions "does not diminish the United States' resolve to continue countering Iran's destabilizing activity in the region. ... [A]bove all, the United States will never allow the regime in Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon."

Ex-NSA Official Confirms Ransomware Based on Flaw Swiped from NSA

A former senior National Security Agency official who consults with the agency told NBC News that it's true, as cybersecurity researchers report, that the WannaCry ransomware epidemic is the result of a software vulnerability identified and stockpiled by the NSA. And it became public when it leaked as part of the Shadow Brokers disclosures.

The NSA releases 90 to 95 percent of the software vulnerabilities it discovers, he said, but it sits on the rest for use in hacking and spying activities. In other words, it doesn't tell Americans about software holes that make them vulnerable -- so it can exploit those weaknesses to spy on foreigners.

In this case, after the leak, the NSA warned Microsoft and other companies, the official said. Microsoft released a patch in March.

But not everybody patches, and those running outdated systems may not even be able to.

The former official said some people would like the NSA to alert industry to every software hole it finds. But then, he said, the NSA would lose intelligence collection. And hackers would still find holes to exploit, because such holes are inevitable.

That said, he praised a new system in the UK, where spies sit with private researchers and share vulnerabilities in real time. That doesn't mean the Brits don't keep some secret, he added.

He sees a Russian hand in the Shadow Brokers disclosures, which would be ironic if true. Russia has suffered heavily from the ransomware attack because it uses pirated and outdated software.

Ransomware That Hit Europe's Computers Did Not Come From NSA Leak

Some media reports about the ransomware -- called WannaCry -- that rocked the UK health system, Spain's telecom industry, and other targets in Europe Friday say that hackers pulled it from a leaked NSA tool kit. 

That's not really accurate. 

Instead, computing experts say and a review of the computing code shows, the leaked NSA tool kit demonstrated to the hackers how they could attack these systems. The hackers didn't use NSA code, but they did copy something from the tool kit. 

"WannaCry ransomware uses one of the exploits released recently by Shadowbrokers in the leaked NSA tools archive," said Andrew Komarov, chief intelligence officer for the cybersecurity firm InfoArmor. "This is pretty normal practice, where cybercriminals are using the latest vulnerabilities in order to increase the efficiency of their malware."

The name of the NSA tool that the hackers drew on to develop the new ransomware is called "Eternalblue".

The software fix for the vulnerability that the ransomware exploits came out in March, before the Shadowbrokers leak, so experts say there was theoretically time to patch systems in advance of an attack. 

Komarov said there was no indication that WannaCry or Friday's attack had anything to do with the NSA "or any other state-sponsored cyber offensive activities."

Image: Illustration ot man typing on a computer keyboard
The FBI is warning that unknown hackers have launched cyberattack with 'destructive malware' in the U.S. Kacper Pempel

CIA Creates New Korean Mission Center, Won't Say Who Runs It

The Agency announced late Tuesday that it has established a "Korea Mission Center" to "harness the full resources, capabilities, and authorities of the Agency in addressing the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea." The CIA also announced that Director Mike Pompeo has named a "veteran intelligence officer" to run the center — but declined to name the officer for security reasons.

Both publicly and privately, the agency has said North Korea has been one of, if not the most, difficult of intelligence targets.

"Creating the Korea Mission Center allows us to more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts against the serious threats to the United States and its allies emanating from North Korea," said Pompeo. "It also reflects the dynamism and agility that CIA brings to evolving national security challenges."

Wyden Vows To Block Trump Nominee Till Senate Investigators Get Documents

Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden says he will block the nomination of Donald Trump’s pick to be the top Treasury intelligence official until Treasury’s anti-money-laundering agency produces documents requested by the Senate Intelligence Committee related to Trump.

Sen. Wyden says he will maintain a hold on the nomination of Sigal Mandelker to be under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence until the documents are produced. 

This week, Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, announced that the committee had asked the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) for records relating to President Trump and his associates.

"I have stated repeatedly that we have to follow the money if we are going to get to the bottom of how Russia has attacked our democracy," Wyden said. "That means thoroughly review any information that relates to financial connections between Russia and President Trump and his associates, whether direct or laundered through hidden or illicit transactions. The office which Ms. Mandelker has been nominated to head is responsible for much of this information."

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Top Senate Intel Dem Doesn't Expect Mike Flynn to Provide Requested Documents

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia told NBC News the Senate Intelligence Committee is meeting today to review material about Russia's meddling in the U.S. election — and that today is also the deadline for former Trump aides Mike Flynn and Carter Page to provide documents requested by the committee.

"The first round of information requests we made to General Flynn and some of the others were due today and we're going to be discussing first steps," said Warner, the committee's ranking Democrat.

"We've gotten word that we're getting some [documents]. Obviously some of the others, like Flynn, I'm not holding my breath on."

Image: US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn faces questions over contact with Russia
Michael Flynn, then, National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, attends a press conference on Feb. 10, 2017 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA file

Iran Test Fires High-Speed Torpedo Sunday

Three senior defense officials report that Iran test-fired a high-speed torpedo near the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday.

The Hoot torpedo is still in the testing phase, the officials report, but once it is fully operational it should be able to travel about 12,000 yards (approximately six nautical miles) at a speed of about 200 knots per hour (approximately 250 miles per hour). None of the officials could say whether the test was successful or not.

The USS George HW Bush strike group is in the Gulf right now but all three officials said the test did not pose a threat to U.S. ships or assets in the region.

Two of the officials said that the Iranian military last tested this torpedo in February 2015. 

ACLU Sues Feds for Records on Deadly Yemen Raid

The ACLU is suing four federal agencies for records related to the Jan. 29 raid in Yemen that killed a Navy SEAL and civilians, including children.

The civil liberties organization filed a freedom of information request for documents in March and then filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court on Monday to force the government to respond.

"After conducting an internal investigation, the government released little information about the circumstances surrounding the Raid, the legal or factual justifications for it, and its consequences," the suit said.

Among the information the ACLU wants is an accounting of the civilians killed in the raid, which erupted in a deadly firefight after, as one senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC News, "almost everything went wrong."

The head of U.S. Central Command told Congress between four and 12 civilians were killed, but Human Rights Watch and others have put the toll higher.

The Trump administration has characterized the raid as a huge success. However, NBC News has reported in March that none of the intelligence gleaned from the operation so far has proven actionable or vital.

Image: A man stands on the rubble of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 16, 2017.
A man stands on the rubble of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 16, 2017. At least one Saudi-led airstrike near Yemen's rebel-held capital killed at least five people on Wednesday, the country's Houthi rebels and medical officials said. Hani Mohammed / AP