An encrypted email service believed to have been used by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden shut down abruptly on Thursday amid a legal fight that appeared to involve U.S. government attempts to win access to customer information. The owner of Lavabit, Ladar Levison, wrote a message online saying, "I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people, or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit." Levison said he was barred from discussing the events over the past six weeks that led to his decision. Levison went on to write: "This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States." Later on Thursday, another secure email provider called Silent Circle also announced it was shutting down.
New information has come to light about a secretive unit inside the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration called the Special Operations Division. Earlier this week, Reuters revealed the unit funnels information from overseas NSA intercepts, domestic wiretaps and informants to help DEA agents launch criminal investigations of Americans. DEA agents are then instructed to recreate the investigative trail in order to conceal the origins of the evidence. Reuters is now reporting the DEA has also provided classified intelligence obtained by the NSA and other sources to the Internal Revenue Service to help in their investigations of Americans. Like at the DEA, IRS agents are then instructed to cover up how they obtained the tips.
In news from Pakistan, the U.S. State Department has ordered most personnel to leave the consulate in Lahore because of a threat to the mission. Meanwhile, gunmen in the Pakistani city of Quetta fired on the vehicle of a politician driving past worshipers leaving a mosque, killing nine people and wounding 27. The attack came one day after a suicide bomb attack in the same city killed 30 people at a policeman’s funeral.
Three U.S. drone strikes killed at least 12 people in Yemen on Thursday. According to the Associated Press, the United States has now carried out at least eight drone strikes in Yemen since July 27, killing 34 people.
In news from Europe, the unemployment rate in Greece has reached a new high of 27.6 percent. The job market is even worse for young people. Nearly 65 percent of those between 15 and 24 years old are out of work. The latest unemployment data in Greece was released as President Obama was meeting with Greek’s prime minister in Washington.
President Obama: "Greece is going through incredible challenges, and so far the prime minister has taken some very bold and difficult actions to initiate the structural reforms that can help reduce the debt burden that Greece experiences, but, even more importantly, can unleash the incredible talents of the Greek people so that they are effectively competing in this new world economy."
While President Obama praised Greece’s economic initiatives, residents of Greece say years of tax rises, wages and pensions cuts continue to take their toll.
Yannis, unemployed Greek worker: "The business I worked for has closed. I am 66 years old, unemployed, and will not get a pension. I am looking in the garbage to find something to eat."
A Miami Beach police officer has been placed on paid administrative leave after he fatally shot an 18-year-old graffiti artist with a taser. The teenager, Israel Hernandez, was an award-winning artist whose work had been exhibited locally. The police officer, Jorge Mercado, began chasing Hernandez after he saw the artist spray-painting his tag on a boarded-up McDonald’s storefront. Hernandez, who was born in Colombia, was reportedly shot after a 10-minute chase. According to witnesses, the police officers involved in the chase celebrated after they trapped and tased Hernandez by slapping each other with high-fives as the teenager lay dying in the street. Hernandez’ high school art teacher Frank O’Hare said: "In my 20 years as an art teacher, Israel was one of the most unique and talented students I have ever encountered." Hernandez’ parents are calling for an independent investigation into his death.
The Justice Department has announced it will review the case of Ramarley Graham, the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot dead inside his own home by a New York City police officer last year. On Wednesday, a grand jury failed to indict the narcotics officer who fatally shot Graham. Officer Richard Haste was initially indicted for manslaughter, but a judge reluctantly threw out the indictment in May on procedural grounds. Ramarley Graham’s father Frank Graham spoke Thursday outside the Bronx District Attorney’s Office.
Frank Graham: "Richard Haste is able to go back and do his job and maybe kill again. And we have to ask ourselves this question: Had Ramarley been white, would this have happened? Would they have run into a white person’s home? We don’t want to talk about racism in America. But why not? We need the system to change. As our attorney says, we need a special prosecutor to deal with this type of case. We cannot trust the DA’s office, who works so close with the NYPD to prosecute them. I don’t think it will ever change as long as they are prosecuting these police. We need real changes."
Attorney General Eric Holder has openly criticized the U.S. drug war, saying too many people are behind bars and it is now time for federal sentencing reform. Holder made the comments in an interview on NPR.
Eric Holder: "I think there are too many people in jail for too long and for not necessarily good reasons. The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old. There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There has been a kind of a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color."
One of nation’s most prominent doctors has announced he has shifted his stance in support of medical marijuana. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, appeared on television this week and openly apologized for his past reporting dismissing the medical uses of the drug.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: "I have apologized for some of the earlier reporting, because I think, you know, we’ve been terribly and systematically misled in this country for some time. And I — I was — I did part of that misleading. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t look deep enough. I didn’t look at labs in other countries that are doing some incredible research. I didn’t listen to the chorus of patients who said, 'Not only does marijuana work for me, it's the only thing that works for me.’ I took the DEA at their word when they said it is a Schedule I substance and has no medical applications. There was no scientific basis for them to say that."
At least 20 people have been arrested in Idaho this week as Native Americans and environmentalists try to block a massive truck carrying refining equipment to the tar sands mining area in Canada. On Tuesday night, hundreds of protests — including members of the Nez Perce tribe — formed a human blockade to stop the megaload.
A federal judge hinted he may lack jurisdiction to grant attorney Lynne Stewart’s request for compassionate release from federal prison so she can die from cancer at home surrounded by her family. Her prison physician estimates she has less than 18 months to live — a key requirement for early release. As supporters looked on from a packed courtroom during arguments Thursday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember told the judge: "It’s our position that Ms. Stewart has no authority to make the motion she has made, and your honor has no authority to consider it ... It is only the director of the Bureau of Prisons who has the authority." The Bureau denied the request earlier this year. U.S. District Judge John Koeltl at times appeared sympathetic to Stewart’s request, but told her defense team, "If I grant your motion, I would be violating the plain words of the statute" instructing the court on when it can grant early release. At one point during the hour-long hearing, Judge Koeltl asked the prosecutor: "You don’t think she has a strong argument for compassionate release, do you?" Dember replied: "There’s no doubt Ms. Stewart is ill. No one’s disputing Ms. Stewart’s illness, your honor." This is Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter’s reaction after the arguments.
Ralph Poynter: "The prosecution more or less said, 'Die or not, let's stick to the letter of the law.’ And his interpretation of the letter of the law is that there was no way for a judge to intercede in the bureaucratic chain of the prisons. And that is a very difficult pill to swallow."
[For more on the case, see Thursday’s segment on Lynne Stewart]