The National Security Agency has released an email sent by Edward Snowden to its Office of General Counsel last year, claiming it is the only email Snowden sent to supervisors before leaking documents on agency spying. In the email, Snowden raised questions about whether executive orders supersede federal laws. The release came after Snowden told NBC’s Brian Williams he had raised concerns through multiple channels.
Edward Snowden: "The NSA has records. They have copies of emails right now, to their Office of General Counsel, to their oversight and compliance folks, from me, raising concerns about the NSA’s interpretations of its legal authorities. Now, I had raised these complaints not just officially, in writing, through email, to these offices and these individuals, but to my supervisors, to my colleagues, in more than one office. ... And the response, more or less, in bureaucratic language, was: 'You should stop asking questions.'"
Snowden told The Washington Post his correspondence extended far beyond the single email released by the NSA. He urged the White House to "require the NSA to ask my former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team about whether I, at any time, raised concerns about the NSA’s improper and at times unconstitutional surveillance activities. It will not take long to receive an answer."
In Ukraine, newly elected President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to take action against pro-Russian rebels who shot down a Ukrainian army helicopter near the eastern city of Slovyansk, killing 14 soldiers. The army has been seeking to oust the rebels from eastern areas where they have taken control. The tensions come as representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the European Union meet in Berlin today to address a gas dispute. Russia has threatened to cut off the gas supply to Ukraine if it fails to make a payment by Monday. A third of Europe’s gas comes from Russia; about half that supply passes through Ukraine.
In Egypt, presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi has conceded the race to former military general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted President Mohamed Morsi in a coup last year. Officials said 47 percent of eligible voters participated in the election, which saw Sisi take 95 percent of votes. Sabahi, Sisi’s only opponent, questioned the claims on turnout.
Hamdeen Sabahi: "The democratic scene in these elections was hit by many violations, breaches and loss of neutrality. I’m saying this with a responsible conscience through loving this country, a son of this country and a man who loves the (Egyptian) people, that we cannot give any credibility or belief to the numbers announced regarding the participation."
International election observers agreed Egypt’s election had failed to meet democratic standards, citing an environment of repression by the military-backed regime.
The CIA’s drone program in Pakistan is reportedly winding down, with no strikes reported there since December. The Associated Press cites unnamed U.S. officials who attribute the pause to a range of factors, including new rules to prevent civilian casualties and the deaths of top al-Qaeda figures. Drones in Pakistan are flown from bases that would be closed under Obama’s newly announced plan to pull nearly all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2016. But for now, the drones are still flying over Pakistan.
Argentina has reached a landmark deal with a group of creditor nations to repay its long-standing debt without the involvement of the International Monetary Fund. Argentina is still trying to recover from a massive economic crisis and default more than a decade ago, which followed years of neoliberal reforms backed by the IMF and World Bank. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner hailed the deal to pay the Paris Club $9.7 billion.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner: "It’s the first time in the history of the Paris Club that a country in our conditions has negotiated with a multilateral body without the intervention of the International Monetary Fund and without giving up the autonomy that a sovereign country should have, and which reveals to us that when we’re allowed to grow, when we’re allowed to develop our own policies, that when we’re allowed to generate jobs and employment, the conditions exist to honor one’s commitments and to take charge of its debt. We’re not, as the vultures say, serial debtors. They, the international financial capitalists, are serial predators, not just on our economy but of many economies in the world."
Part of Argentina’s plan for economic recovery involves opening its vast shale reserves to foreign oil and gas firms.
Veterans Affairs Secterary Eric Shinseki is facing continued pressure to resign following more revelations of healthcare flaws. Shinseki defended himself before lawmakers Thursday, a day after an inspector general’s review found VA officials across the system had falsified records to hide lengthy wait times for appointments. In one case reported by the Associated Press, a veteran in Arizona sought care for a skin lesion and was told it could take two years to see a dermatologist. When he sought outside care, he learned he had cancer.
A U.S. Army staff sergeant has been accused of sexually assaulting a dozen female soldiers over the past three years. The Washington Post reports Staff Sergeant Angel M. Sanchez could face a court-martial for allegedly using his position as a drill sergeant to threaten victims and, in one case, grabbing a female soldier by the hair and forcing her to perform oral sex. The Pentagon received more than 5,000 sexual assault reports last year, a 50 percent increase over the previous year.
The Obama administration is set to unveil new regulations on coal-fired power plants Monday in a bid to address the top U.S. source of carbon that is fueling global warming. Congressional Republicans have criticized the rules. House Speaker Boehner responded to a reporter’s question about climate change on Thursday.
House Speaker John Boehner: "Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change. But I am astute enough to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs. That can’t be the prescription for dealing with changes in our climate."
In environmental news, Greenpeace says its ship "Esperanza," or "Hope," is blocking the arrival of an oil rig in the Arctic by occupying the area where the company Statoil is seeking to drill the "world’s northernmost well." On Thursday, Norwegian authorities removed a group of Greenpeace activists who had occupied the oil rig for two days. Meanwhile in Canada, the French company Total SA has halted an $11 billion tar sands oil mine project in Alberta, citing high costs.
In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott has said the state can conceal the source of execution drugs, marking a reversal of his previous stance. Officials in a number of states have hidden the names of lightly regulated compounding pharmacies which are supplying the drugs, and a botched execution in Oklahoma last month involved drugs from a secret source. Texans for Public Justice notes that ahead of his decision, Attorney General Abbott received $350,000 in campaign donations from the owner of a compounding pharmacy to help him defeat Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis in the race for Texas governor. While that facility is not believed to be the state’s source for lethal drugs, the owner, Richie Ray, leads an industry PAC and is part of a trade group that has sold materials for execution drugs.
A Texas prisoner has filed a lawsuit against Wichita County, saying her baby died after she was forced to give birth in solitary confinement without medical care. Nicole Guerrero went into labor while being held on a drug possession charge in 2012. She says a nurse ignored her pleas for help and did not attempt to revive her baby after she was born with the umblical cord wrapped around her neck. According to the Wichita Times Record, the nurse’s license expired months before the incident.
A new report says the severity of violence against LGBT people increased last year. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs recorded more than 2,000 hate incidents in 2013, about the same number as the previous year. There were 18 anti-LGBT homicides in 2013, including three in New York City alone — 89 percent of the murder victims were people of color; 72 percent were transgender women.
President Obama has called for improved research and protocols to address concussions in youth sports. Speaking at a White House summit on the issue, Obama said he likely suffered a concussion when he was young.
President Obama: "Before the awareness was out there, when I was young and played football briefly, there were a couple times where I’m sure that that ringing sensation in my head and the need to sit down for a while might have been a mild concussion, and at the time you didn’t think anything of it. The awareness is improved today, but not by much. So the total number of young people who are impacted by this early on is probably bigger than we know."
In New Mexico, an autopsy report shows a homeless man killed by Albuquerque police at a campsite was shot in the back. The shooting of James Boyd sparked protests and a federal investigation after police helmet cam video showed Boyd apparently surrendering before police opened fire. Boyd was shot three times –- in the lower back and in each of his upper arms. Last month the Justice Department found most fatal shootings by Albuquerque police were unconstitutional. Since the review’s release, Albuquerque police have fatally shot three more people.
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has reached a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team for a record $2 billion after owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for making racist comments. Sterling’s estranged wife reached the deal with Ballmer, which now goes to the league for approval.
In New Jersey, the Bergen Record newspaper reports nearly all state employees tasked with honing and promoting the image of Republican Gov. Chris Christie have received pay raises averaging 23 percent in recent months, despite budget shortfalls. Some of the workers who received the biggest pay boosts had left state government to work on Christie’s re-election campaign, then returned to higher salaries and new titles. Christie, meanwhile, has withheld more than $2.4 billion in payments to New Jersey’s pension fund amid revenue woes. He is considered a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.