Three of the country’s largest telecom companies have provided the National Security Agency with the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans. This according to a report in USA Today. One source with direct knowledge of the program called it "the largest database ever assembled in the world" whose goal is to collect a record of "every call ever made" within the United States. The Bush administration has insisted its spy program focuses solely on international calls. The companies — AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth — have been under contract since after the 9/11 attacks. Only one major telecom company declined to participate in the program. The company, Qwest, reportedly asked the NSA to get FISA-court approval before it would hand over the records. The NSA refused. Although the program does not involve the direct monitoring of phone conservations, it amasses detailed records on who people have called and when they’ve called them. At least one company had already been implicated in the program. In a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation earlier this year, former AT&T technician Mark Klein said AT&T has been working with the National Security Agency to spy on Americans. In addition to raising new questions about the extent of the NSA spy program and the companies involved, the disclosure also raises new questions about CIA Director-nominee Michael Hayden. Hayden headed the National Security Agency at the time the spy program was implemented. He declined USA Today’s request for comment.
Meanwhile, a Justice Department investigation into the Bush administration’s domestic spy program has been closed because the National Security Agency refused to grant investigators security clearances. According to the Office of Professional Responsibility, investigators had been asking for the clearances since January, but were only told their requests had been denied this week. New York Democratic Congressmember Maurice Hinchey called for a probe of the NSA’s denial, saying: "The Bush administration cannot simply create a Big Brother program and then refuse to answer any questions on how it came about and what it entails."
The Los Angeles Times is reporting the Pentagon has delayed release of the revised Army Field Manual due to Congressional opposition to rules that would establish differing standards for how detainees can be treated. Congress adopted a torture ban last year which bars the mistreatment of all detainees in US custody — regardless of how the Pentagon chooses to classify them. But the Pentagon and the Bush administration are pushing for a separate set of rules that would allow laxer standards for the treatment of those detainees it deems "enemy combatants."
The World Food Programme has announced it will resume supplying food aid to North Korea. The agency suspended its operations late last year after the North Korean government asked it to focus on aid geared towards economic development. Tony Banbury, the World Food Programme’s Asia Director, made the announcement Wednesday.
In Somalia, the death toll from the last five days of fighting between warring groups in Mogadishu has risen to at least 122 people. The dead include a pregnant woman and her three children. On Wednesday, UN monitors raised new questions concerning the US role in supporting local warlords in their fight against Islamic militants. In a report to the Security Council, the monitors said they were investigating an unnamed country’s violation of an arms embargo through clandestine support for a local warlord group, the "Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism." Several observers said that country is likely the United States.
Britain’s Attorney General has called for the closure of the US prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In a speech in London, Lord Peter Goldsmith said: "The existence of Guantanamo remains unacceptable."
Back in the United States, the Los Angeles Times is reporting prosecutors have launched an investigation into another Republican member of Congress — California’s Jerry Lewis. Lewis is being investigated for his ties to a lobbyist linked to jailed former Congressmember Randy "Duke" Cunningham. The lobbyist, Bill Lowery, represents clients who received millions of dollars in government contracts under measures that Lewis proposed. Lewis is chair of House Appropriations, one of the most powerful committees in Congress.
In health news, a new study has found the US has the second-worst newborn mortality rate in the industrialized world, second only to Latvia. According to Save The Children, the country’s high rate of newborn mortality disproportionately affects minorities. African American babies are twice as likely as white babies to be born prematurely, have low-birth weight and to die at birth. Overall, more than 4 million babies worldwide die within their first month of birth.
In other news, a new census report shows nearly half of US children under five years old are racial or ethnic minorities. According to the report, Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States, accounting for nearly half of the country’s growth last year.
And New York City has become the latest metropolitan area to pass a bill in support of local control over public access media. On Wednesday, New York’s City Council unanimously passed a measure opposing the proposed Communications, Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act. Among several controversial provisions, the COPE bill would cut back the obligation of cable TV companies to devote channels to public access and fund the facilities to run them. It also would replace local cable franchises with national franchises. According to the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, over eighty cities or towns have proposed or passed resolutions similar to the one in New York City.