Verizon Communications, the nation’s second largest telecom company, has admitted it turned over the private telephone records of its customers to the government 94,000 times since 2005. Verizon made the admission in a letter to congressional Democrats. The Washington Post reports that in about 700 of the cases, Verizon turned over records even when federal investigators did not have a court order. AT&T and Qwest also responded to inquires from Congress but declined to say how often they handed over customer records. All three companies refused to answer most questions about their involvement in the government’s domestic surveillance program.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has accused the Pentagon of conniving with the FBI to obtain hundreds of financial, telephone and Internet records without court approval. The ACLU says the Pentagon secretly issued hundreds of national security letters to obtain the private records. ACLU attorney Melissa Goldman said: “The expanded role of the military in domestic intelligence gathering is troubling.” National security letters are secretly issued by the government to obtain access to personal customer records from Internet service providers, financial institutions, and credit reporting agencies. Recipients of the national security letters are usually forbidden, or “gagged,” from disclosing that they have received the letters.
A former top U.S. general has admitted the war in Iraq was about oil. Former CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid told an audience at Stanford University, “Of course it’s about oil. We can’t really deny that.” At the same forum, Thomas Friedman said, “We’ve treated the Arab world as a collection of big gas stations. Our message to them is: Guys, keep your pumps open, prices low, be nice to the Israelis, and you can do whatever you want out back.” General Abizaid’s comments come one month after former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan wrote that “the Iraq War is largely about oil.”
[Editor’s Note: Friedman’s quote was originally attributed to Abizaid during the broadcast. The source of this headline — The Stanford Daily — made an error in its initial reporting on the event.]
Meanwhile, new questions are being raised over how a personal friend of President Bush secured an oil deal with the Kurdish regional government in Iraq. The Texas-based company Hunt Oil signed the deal in September. Hunt CEO Ray Hunt has been a key Republican fundraiser. He sits on the board of directors for Halliburton and is a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under an appointment from President Bush. On Monday, Democratic Congressmen Henry Waxman and Dennis Kucinich questioned whether Hunt used nonpublic information learned from his position on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to further his company’s economic interests.
Three Iraqi newspaper employees were killed near Kirkuk on Monday during an ambush. Killed in the attacks was the editor of the al-Watan newspaper and two security guards. On Sunday, a Washington Post correspondent was shot dead in Baghdad.
The Guardian newspaper reports six Iraqi resistance groups have taken a step toward unifying the factions fighting the U.S. by announcing the creation of a political umbrella organization. A spokesperson described the alliance as “the political council of the Iraqi resistance.” The six Sunni groups said they are opposed to al-Qaeda in Iraq but vowed to continue to attack U.S. occupation forces. The new political alliance has refused to recognize the government led by Nouri al-Maliki.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday it’s now time for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Rice made the comment during a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Bush administration is prodding Israel and the Palestinian faction Fatah to take part in U.S.-sponsored Middle East talks this fall. Rice said, “The United States sees the establishment of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution as absolutely essential for the future, not just of Palestinians and Israelis but also for the Middle East and indeed to American interests.” Rice said Israel and leaders from Fatah must agree on how and when to start formal peace talks.
Condoleezza Rice: “But it’s hard. I was standing in this room several months ago when all of the questions were: 'Would anybody be willing to talk about the core issues?' and now we’re talking about a joint document that will seriously and substantively address core issues. We’ve come quite a long way. We’ve got quite a long way to go. But we’re not going to tire until I’ve given it my last ounce of energy and my last moment in office.”
Meanwhile, a peace concert promoting a two-state solution has been called off after threats were made to Palestinians supporting the event. The concert was scheduled to take place on Thursday in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and the West Bank town of Jericho.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that it has no information to support claims that Syria may be building a nuclear reactor. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that an Israeli air strike on Syria last month targeted a partially built nuclear reactor that was modeled on one in North Korea. The IAEA has urged the U.S. and other countries to share any intelligence it has on such nuclear-related activities with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
The European Union has widened its sanctions against Burma by adding a ban on imports of timber, gemstones and precious metals. But the EU shied away from targeting Burmese oil and gas exports or to prevent European companies from operating in those sectors in Burma. On Monday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged the international community to support Burma’s economic recovery if the military junta agreed to democratic reforms.
Gordon Brown: “We will continue to press the Burmese regime to make changes. We will continue to give support to Aung San Suu Kyi and those people who are fighting for reconciliation and democracy. And we will continue to ensure that the gaze of the whole world is upon this repressive regime, so that the changes that are necessary, so that the human rights are respected, and that we can begin to make progress.”
Meanwhile, a group of jewelers in the United States is calling on Congress to bar Burmese gems from being imported to the United States from third countries. Burma is world renowned for its rubies. It also has a wealth of jadeite and sapphires.
U.S. and Iraqi officials are reportedly negotiating Baghdad’s request that the private military company Blackwater be expelled from the county within six months following last month’s deadly shoot out in Baghdad. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports Blackwater is attempting to expand its operations elsewhere. The company recently outbid Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon for a five-year, $15 billion Pentagon contract to fight terrorists with drug ties. The U.S. government reportedly wants to use contractors to help its allies thwart drug trafficking and provide equipment, training and people.
New government statistics show the gap between America’s richest and poorest is at its widest in at least 25 years. The richest 1 percent of the country earned over 21 percent of all income in 2005.
And on Capitol Hill, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing today on the Jena Six case. The Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders are scheduled to testify.