The White House is claiming it has already reformed some surveillance practices in the wake of the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden. On Tuesday, administration officials said an internal review has led to specific changes, without disclosing details. It is rumored President Obama will order an end to the National Security Agency’s spying on foreign leaders, yet no formal announcement has been made. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration is awaiting the findings of a separate review.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “What we’ve made clear is that we are undertaking a review of our activities around the world, with a special emphasis on examining whether we have the appropriate posture when it comes to heads of state, examining how we coordinate with our closest allies and partners, and examining what further guiding principles or constraints might be appropriate for our efforts.”
As the White House signaled a willingness to re-examine U.S. surveillance, the nation’s top intelligence officials defended their operations in an appearance on Capitol Hill. Speaking before the House Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said spying on foreign leaders is a standard practice.
James Clapper: “It’s one of the first things I learned in intel school in 1963, that this is a fundamental given in the intelligence business, is leadership intentions, no matter what level you’re talking about. That can be military leaders, as well.”
In his testimony, Clapper said the White House was regularly briefed on National Security Agency surveillance overseas, though he did not say if President Obama was personally informed. Obama has denied knowing the NSA tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Appearing alongside Clapper, the NSA’s director, General Keith Alexander, denied reports of collecting data on millions of Europeans.
Gen. Keith Alexander: “Chairman, the assertions by reporters in France, Le Monde, Spain, El Mundo, and Italy, L’Espresso, that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls are completely false. This not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.”
As Clapper and Alexander issued a defiant stance, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a measure that would rein in several NSA practices, including the bulk collection of U.S. phone records.
The top official in charge of the new healthcare exchanges has apologized for the technology problems that have slowed online enrollment. Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, spoke Tuesday before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Marilyn Tavenner: “We know that consumers are eager to purchase this coverage. And to the millions of Americans who have attempted to use healthcare.gov to shop and enroll in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should. We know how desperately you need affordable coverage. I want to assure you that healthcare.gov can and will be fixed, and we are working around the clock to deliver the shopping experience that you deserve. We are seeing improvements each week, and, as we’ve said publicly, by the end of November, the experience on the site will be smooth for the vast majority of users.”
Tavenner says the federal and state exchanges have received nearly 700,000 applications for health insurance. But she failed to say how many have actually enrolled, saying those figures will be available next month. During Wednesday’s hearing, Tavenner also faced Republican complaints that the new healthcare law is forcing the cancellation of many existing insurance plans. Hundreds of thousands of people who have purchased their own insurance have reportedly begun receiving notices that their plans will be cancelled or changed because they no longer meet the law’s coverage requirements.
Israel has freed 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of the agreement that reopened U.S.-backed peace talks earlier this year. It is the second wave of the releases that will ultimately free 104 of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. As jubilant crowds greeted the freed prisoners in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel announced today it plans to construct 1,500 new homes in an East Jerusalem settlement.
The United States-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are continuing behind closed doors. In a statement ahead of the prisoners’ release, top Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said Israel’s current stance in the talks is its most hard-line in more than 20 years. Abed Rabbo says Israel is seeking to hold onto major parts of the occupied West Bank, “undermining the possibility of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state.”
The United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba for the 22nd year in a row. The final vote was 188 to 2, with only Israel joining the United States. Just three countries abstained: Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. U.S. envoy Ronald Godard claimed Cuba’s record on human rights justifies the embargo.
Ronald Godard: “The international community cannot be — cannot in good conscience ignore the ease and frequency with which the Cuban regime silences critics, disrupts peaceful assembly, impedes independent journalism and, despite positive reforms, continues to prevent some Cubans from leaving or returning to the island. The Cuban government continues its tactics of politically motivated detentions, harassment and police violence against Cuban citizens.”
Speaking for the Cuban government, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said the embargo violates international law while hurting the Cuban people.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla: “The blockade is aggressively extraterritorial and a violation of international law, which lacerates the sovereignty of other states. It’s a transgression of the international rules that govern foreign trade and freedom of navigation. The cruel inclusion of medicines and foodstuffs is a violation of national humanitarian law. It is a hostile and unilateral act that should cease unilaterally.”
In his remarks, Parrilla singled out President Obama for tightening financial restrictions on Cuba instead of using his presidential authority to loosen the U.S. grip. Cuba says the embargo has cost it more than $1.1 trillion since President John F. Kennedy imposed it in 1962.
A Pakistani family who survived a U.S. drone strike has appeared before Congress in a historic hearing. On Tuesday, Rafiq Rehman and his two children told the story of the attack that killed Rafiq’s 68-year-old mother. Nine-year-old Nabila Rehman described watching her grandmother blown to pieces. Her brother, 13-year-old Zubair, who was injured with shrapnel wounds in the strike, said: “My grandmother was nobody’s enemy.” It was the first time ever Congress has heard directly from drone strike victims. Just five lawmakers, all Democrats, chose to attend.
Eleven people are dead following two multiple shootings on Tuesday. In South Carolina, six people were shot dead in what police called a murder-suicide involving a family. The victims included two children. Meanwhile, in Texas a shooting spree in the town of Terrell killed five people. The alleged gunman was captured after a door-to-door manhunt.
Alabama has agreed to withdraw several provisions in its controversial immigration law from 2011. In a settlement with civil rights groups, Alabama pledged to strike down measures in H.B. 56, including preventing courts from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants and allowing public schools to determine the immigration status of enrolled students. A federal appeals court initially blocked enforcement of parts of the law, but not before thousands of Latinos fled the state. In a statement, the Southern Poverty Law Center called the settlement a “significant victory.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched a probe of the retailers Macy’s and Barneys following complaints from black customers of racial profiling. Four shoppers say the stores’ employees alerted the police based on the racially biased suspicion they could not afford their expensive purchases. At a news conference with the National Action Network in Harlem, Barneys CEO Mark Lee denied the allegations.
Mark Lee: “Our preliminary investigation has concluded that in both of these instances no one from Barneys New York raised any issue with these purchases, no one from Barneys brought them to the attention of our internal security, and no one from Barneys reached out to external authorities.”
New York City tabloids have dubbed the episode “shop-and-frisk,” a riff on the “stop-and-frisk” tactics of the New York City Police Department.
Hundreds of people marched in Santa Rosa, California, on Tuesday to protest the fatal police shooting of a 13-year-old boy. Andy Lopez was shot dead after police mistook the pellet gun he was carrying for an assault rifle. Police say the replica was missing the plastic orange piece usually placed on toy guns.
Commemorations were held Tuesday to mark the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which flooded the East Coast and left 159 people dead. People lined up along the New Jersey coastline holding flashlights to light up the sky. On Staten Island, hundreds of people gathered at a beachside park to mark the time the storm made landfall. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city is being rebuilt to better handle future storms.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “If another storm like Sandy ever approaches our shores, it will find a far different city from the one that Sandy left behind — a city much more able to withstand the kind of surging sea waters and punishing winds that Sandy brought. We are building New York City back stronger and smarter so that we’ll be resilient to a broad range of extreme weather events in the future, including big coastal storms.”
Thousands of people remain homeless from Sandy one year after the storm.