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A U.S. drone strike in Somalia has left at least two people dead. The strike hit a vehicle reportedly carrying top leaders of the militant group al-Shabab. One of the victims was said to be the Shabab’s top explosives expert, known as Anta. It was the first known U.S. military action in Somalia since a failed raid on a seaside villa earlier this month.
The Obama administration says it is considering halting the National Security Agency’s spying on leaders of U.S. government allies. The news follows a diplomatic uproar over leaks of Edward Snowden showing the NSA monitored the phones of at least 35 foreign politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In a statement, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, said the White House told her it will stop spying on friendly heads of state. But the White House later issued a denial, saying no final decision has been made. There are also no reported plans to stop the mass surveillance of millions of citizens in the countries involved. In an interview with the new U.S. cable network Fusion, Obama declined to answer whether he was previously aware of U.S. spying on foreign leaders.
President Obama: “Well, first of all, I’m not confirming a bunch of assumptions that have been made in the press, but what I have said is that the national security operations generally have one purpose, and that is to make sure that the American people are safe and that I’m making good decisions. And I’m the final user of all of the intelligence that they gather. But they’re involved in a whole wide range of issues, and we give them policy direction, but what we’ve seen over the last several years is their capacity has continued to develop and expand, and that’s why I’m initiating now a review to make sure that what they’re able to do doesn’t necessarily mean what they should be doing.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein said she opposes spying on allied foreign leaders, saying: “I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers.” Feinstein also suggested the National Security Agency’s spying on the world leaders was kept from Congress, saying her committee “was not satisfactorily informed.” She also announced what she promised to be a “major review of all intelligence collection programs.” Feinstein to date has been a key supporter of NSA surveillance. Speaking at the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged the United States may have to curb some of its surveillance operations.
Jay Carney: “We recognize that there need to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence. And it’s in the context of this dynamic technology environment that the president has directed us to review our surveillance capabilities. What I’m saying is, we’re acknowledging the tension that this has caused. We understand that this has caused concern in countries that represent some of our closest relationships internationally, and we are working to allay those concerns.”
A group of European lawmakers is in Washington this week to press their concerns over U.S. surveillance. Germany and France are now seeking a firm “no-spying” agreement with the United States. European Parliament members Axel Voss of Germany and Teresa Barrio of Spain spoke to reporters on Monday after a visit to Capitol Hill.
Axel Voss: “There’s a big discussion, a deep disappointment, and of course we are not considering our chancellor as a terrorist, and so, therefore, I would say they have to think about or to reconsider what data they really are interested in.”
Teresa Barrio: “I think we came here with a good will now and also with a strong message of our citizens saying that we don’t accept this. So we have to find the way of keeping the security of our citizens without breaking the privacy in this massive way.”
The European delegation met with lawmakers including Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Rogers said he hopes to address European concerns while still maintaining the U.S. capacity to conduct surveillance.
Rep. Mike Rogers: “We think we’ve made some progress. We’re starting to highlight some areas where we think we can work together to cover our differences. We are on a world wide web and information and people are flying across that web all at the same time, so they may be in our country in this second and they may be in France or Germany the next very second in their communications, and that’s, I think, the framework that we are all trying to figure out what is the best way forward and how do we do this that still maintains a mutual trust that we’ve developed, really, in the past 70 years.”
The nation’s spying apparatus will remain in the spotlight on Capitol Hill today when top officials including National Security Agency Director General Keith Alexander appear before the House Intelligence Committee.
The United Nations says Syria is on target to meet a deadline for destroying production equipment for its chemical weapons stockpile. Inspectors say they have been able to verify 21 of 23 chemical weapons sites, with the remaining two unreachable because they are located in a conflict zone. Syria is slated to destroy chemical production and mixing facilities by November 1, a key milestone in the U.N. Security Council deadline for the chemical program’s full destruction by June 30.
A polio outbreak has been confirmed among children in northeast Syria. At least 10 children in the province of Deir ez-Zor have been paralyzed with the disease. The World Health Organization says it is Syria’s first polio outbreak since 1999. With thousands of Syria refugees fleeing their homes by the day, health workers are warning the disease could spread.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has asked the United States to explain alleged abuses at Guantánamo Bay and grant immediate access to investigators. Citing the force-feeding of hunger-striking detainees, one panel member said the available evidence indicates a “general and systematic violation of human rights.” On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to the commission, Lawrence Gumbiner, was also asked to answer questions over NSA spying worldwide. On both Guantánamo and the NSA, Gumbiner said he couldn’t provide an immediate answer because the government shutdown left his team without enough time to prepare.
A Brazilian judge has ordered a halt to construction of a major hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rain forest, citing the violation of environmental commitments. The $11 billion Belo Monte Dam project was initially approved over the objections of indigenous communities who have warned of ecological damage and mass displacement.
A federal judge has ruled a key portion of the recent Texas anti-abortion law is unconstitutional. On Monday, District Judge Lee Yeakel struck down provisions that required onerous hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors. The restrictions would have forced at least a dozen abortion clinics to close their doors. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has vowed to appeal. The rest of the law goes into effect today, including a ban on abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization. The initial bill inspired a people’s filibuster and a stand from Texas State Senator Wendy Davis that thwarted state lawmakers’ first attempt to pass it.
Ohio is planning on using an unprecedented drug combination for an execution after a Danish company banned its sedative from involvement in the death penalty. Ohio officials say they will be forced to use midazolam and hydromorphone on a death row prisoner next month. The combination has never been tried in the United States. Ohio says it has run out of pentobarbital, made by the Danish firm Lundbeck and now banned from U.S. prisons that carry out capital punishment.
President Obama appeared at FBI headquarters on Monday to welcome new director James Comey. Obama told FBI staffers he will fight to restore the agency’s budget constraints under sequestration.
President Obama: “I’ll keep fighting for those resources because our country asks and expects a lot from you, and we should make sure you’ve got the resources you need to do the job, especially when many of your colleagues put their lives on the line on a daily basis, all to serve and protect our fellow citizens. The least we can do is make sure you’ve got the resources for it and that your operations are not disrupted because of politics in this town.”
Comey was sworn in at a private ceremony last month. He has instructed all new agents to visit the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Capitol Mall, as a lesson of what he called “the dangers in becoming untethered to oversight and accountability.” King was subjected to extensive FBI surveillance and harassment in the years before his death.
Penn State University has reached a nearly $60 million settlement with 26 victims of the child sex abuse committed by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Up to six other victims are not a part of the settlement and remain involved in talks with school officials. Sandusky is serving a sentence of 30 to 60 years for sexually abusing 10 young boys. Three former top Penn State officials are facing trial for their alleged role in the cover-up of Sandusky’s crimes.