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President Bush has ordered a number of sweeping changes to the nation’s intelligence services prompting civil liberties groups to warn that the country is moving closer to establishing a secret police force. Under the reorganization, the FBI will form a new National Security Service that will include counterintelligence, counterterrorism and intelligence divisions. In addition the country’s spy chief John Negroponte will be given greater oversight power of the FBI. Negroponte — who is the country’s first director of national intelligence — will have the authority to approve the hiring of the FBI’s top national security official and will have the power to communicate with FBI agents and analysts in the field on intelligence matters. The changes are also intended to break down old walls between foreign and domestic intelligence activities. Civil liberties groups are warning the changes represent a radical step toward the creation of a secret police force in the United States. Timothy Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union told the Washington Post, "Spies and cops play different roles and operate under different rules for a reason. The FBI is effectively being taken over by a spymaster who reports directly to the White House." Edgar went on to say, "It’s alarming that the same person who oversees foreign spying will now oversee domestic spying." The changes put in place by Bush were based on recommendations made by a special intelligence commission headed by senior appellate judge Laurence Silberman and former senator Charles Robb.
In Iraq, the Knight Ridder news agency has confirmed that one of the agency’s Iraqi reporters was shot dead last week presumably by U.S. troops. The reporter — Yasser Salihee — was killed as he drove near a joint patrol of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. Knight Ridder didn’t previously identify Salihee because his family was worried about reprisal from insurgents. Three Iraqi journalists have been killed over the past week.
In Afghanistan, the Pentagon now fears that there are no survivors from Tuesday’s military helicopter crash. 17 troops were on board — most of them were special forces. It is believed that Taliban fighters shot down the helicopter — making it the first such attack in Afghanistan. Earlier today U.S. forces recovered 13 bodies from the crash scene. The attack was the deadliest for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the U.S. invaded in 2001.
A top United Nations official is calling for an investigation into allegations that the Bush administration is holding detainees in secret prisons around the world including on U.S. military ships. The UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, called on the Bush administration to hand over a list of where prisoners are being held. Nowak said the charges of secret detention camps were very serious, amounting to enforced disappearances.
In news from the Middle East, the Israeli military has sealed off the Gaza Strip and declared it a military zone. The move effectively bans all non-residents from entering the region. The order comes a day after Israeli soldiers clashed with Jewish settlers. Israel is in the process of evicting all settlers from Gaza but the plan is facing mass opposition. On Wednesday at least five police officers were wounded and 147 protesters were arrested. During rush hour, protesters scattered nails and oil across one of the region’s main highways. Police said they had arrested a number of opponents of the withdrawal who were planning to disrupt water and electricity supplies. The military said in a statement "There is intelligence information that more extremist groups are moving toward the Gaza Strip with the intention of bolstering their friends and escalating acts of provocation." Israel plans to have all of the Gaza settlements — as well as four small West Bank settlements — evacuated by mid-August.
This new on military recruiting: A group of parents from the Leave My Child Alone coalition are calling on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today to establish a National Do Not Call List to safeguard family privacy from unwanted military recruitment. The request comes a week after it was disclosed that the Pentagon has teamed with a private marketing firm called BeNOW to form a massive database of high school and college students to target for recruitment purposes. The New York Times reports there are already 30 million names in the database. Megan Matson of the Leave My Child Alone coalition said, "Millions applauded when the FCC formed a Do Not Call List for consumers. Now we need the armed forces to create one to protect our children’s privacy."
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is expected to vote as early as today on CAFTA — the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The House is expected to take up the trade agreement in July. Earlier this week the Associated Press reported that the Labor Department kept secret for more than a year government-funded studies that supported claims by critics of CAFTA that several of the Central American countries have poor working conditions and have failed to protect workers’ rights.
In Spain, the nation’s parliament has approved a bill to allow same sex couples to marry and adopt children. The vote came just one day after Canadian legislators approved a similar law. Up until now the Netherlands and Belgium were the world’s only nations that had legalized same sex marriage.
And 45 years ago today on June 30 1960, the Republic of Congo won its independence from Belgium. Patrice Lumumba became the country’s first prime minister — he was assassinated six months later.