National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden remains in Hong Kong after publicly admitting to leaking information on massive U.S. government surveillance days ago. Snowden had briefly dropped out of public view after coming forward, but on Wednesday re-emerged with an interview in the South China Morning Post. Snowden said he intends to stay in Hong Kong until asked to leave, and vowed to fight any extradition attempt by the U.S. government. Snowden said: “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.”
Snowden’s comments come as National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander testified before Congress for the first time since Snowden’s leaks were published last week. Alexander said the NSA’s mass-collection of phone records has helped thwart dozens of attacks.
Gen. Keith Alexander: “I gave an approximate number to them in a classified — in a classified [briefing], but it’s dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy: “Dozens?”
Gen. Keith Alexander: “For both here and abroad, in disrupting or contributing to the disruption of terrorist attacks.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy: “Out of those millions, dozens have been critical?”
Gen. Keith Alexander: “That’s correct.”
Claims that NSA spying has thwarted attacks have been the subject of debate. In a statement on the collection of phone records under the PATRIOT Act, Democratic Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “After years of review, we believe statements that this very broad Patriot Act collection has been a critical tool in protecting the nation do not appear to hold up under close scrutiny.”
The United Nations has raised its estimate of the death toll in Syria’s more than two-year civil war to nearly 93,000, up from 59,000 in January. In a statement today, the U.N.’s human rights office says an average of 5,000 people have been killed monthly since last July. The U.N. warns the actual number of killings is “potentially much higher,” as the “constant flow of killings continues at shockingly high levels.”
At a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. continues to weigh its options for aiding Syria’s rebels.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “We are deeply concerned about the dire situation in Syria, including the involvement of Hezbollah as well as Iran across state lines in another country. So we are focusing our efforts now on doing all that we can to support the opposition as they work to change the balance on the ground.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has issued a 24-hour deadline for the end of two weeks of protests against his government. On Wednesday, Erdogan suggested a harsher response to the protests that have swept his country, saying: “We have not responded to punches with punches. From now on security forces will respond differently. This issue will be over in 24 hours.” His comments came one day after riot police forcibly removed thousands of protesters from Istanbul’s Taksim Square with their most forceful crackdown to date. Hundreds of protesters have returned to the square following their eviction. In one of his few concessions to demonstrators, Erdogan also said he would consider a referendum on the issue that sparked the initial protests, the razing of a public park.
Workers are staging a national strike in Greece today in protest of the government’s decision to close the country’s state broadcaster. The channels of ERT were abruptly pulled off the air in the latest of a series of cost-cutting moves demanded by international creditors. Thousands of people have taken part in protests against ERT’s closure led by fired workers outside the network’s headquarters.
Manolis Kypraiou: “The prime minister said a few minutes ago we have a total war with the press. This is hard-line political thinking.”
The Greek government says it plans to reopen ERT with a smaller workforce in the next few weeks. Laid-off workers have remained on the air with broadcasts over analog signals and the Internet.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela is reportedly making progress in his ongoing hospital stay for a recurring lung infection. South African President Jacob Zuma announced the news, which fell on the 49th anniversary of Mandela’s sentencing to life imprisonment.
South African President Jacob Zuma: “I’m happy to report that Madiba is responding better to treatment from this morning. We are very happy with the progress that he is now making following a difficult few days. On this crucial historical anniversary, our thoughts are with President Mandela and his family.”
The House Judiciary Committee has advanced a measure that would ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, which anti-choice activists believe marks the point at which a fetus can feel pain. The measure now goes to the House floor. It has no chance of passing the Senate, and federal appeals courts have recently struck down similar measures in Idaho and Arizona, although other bans remain in place in several states. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Congressmember Trent Franks of Arizona, sparked controversy on Tuesday when he claimed the rate of pregnancies resulting from rape is “very low.”
Rep. Trent Franks: “Before, when my friends on the left side of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject — because, you know, the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”
Franks’ comments are being widely compared to those of former Republican Senator Todd Akin, who lost his re-election bid last year after claiming that women can suppress pregnancy in instances of what he called “legitimate rape.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee has advanced a measure that rejects independent oversight of sexual assault in the armed forces. The panel’s personnel subcommittee had approved Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal to remove the handling of sexual assault cases from the military’s chain of command and instead place it in the hands of military prosecutors. But Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, the Armed Services Committee chair, replaced that measure with one preserving military leaders’ final say. The issue has erupted following a recent report showing 26,000 sex crimes within military ranks last year, and the arrests of several Army officials involved in policing sexual harassment within the ranks.
Michael Morell has announced his resignation as deputy director of the CIA. White House lawyer Avril Haines has been tapped as his replacement. She would become the first woman to hold one of the CIA’s top two posts.
The Obama administration is backing calls for a court-appointed monitor to oversee New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk policing program. In a brief filed Wednesday night, the Justice Department endorsed the appointment of a monitor in the event “stop and frisk” is deemed to be unlawful. A New York judge is set to decide on a lawsuit that says “stop and frisk” is unconstitutional and unfairly targets people of color. Nearly 90 percent of people stopped by police in 2011 were black and Latino, and nine out of 10 were neither arrested nor ticketed. We’ll have more on this story later in the broadcast.
An ongoing wildfire in Colorado has destroyed at least 90 homes while displacing thousands of residents on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. The Black Forest fire has burned through over 8,500 acres with another 3,000 acres still in its path.
A prisoner who became publicly known for chronicling his life on death row was executed Wednesday in Florida. William Van Poyck was convicted for the 1987 killing of a prison guard during a botched attempt to free another prisoner. Van Poyck has blamed the murder on another man who was later beaten to death by prison guards. While in prison, Van Poyck wrote three books and a series of blog posts about his life behind bars. His last-minute bid for a stay of execution was denied by the Supreme Court.
The suspect in the kidnapping and capture of three Cleveland women has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight were freed last month after Berry managed to alert a neighbor. Berry’s six-year-old daughter, who was born in captivity, was also rescued. On Wednesday, suspect Ariel Castro entered pleas of not guilty to all 329 charges he faces. They include two counts of aggravated murder for allegedly forcing Knight to miscarry through beatings and starvation. After the hearing, defense attorney Craig Weintraub admitted some charges are not in doubt.
Craig Weintraub: “The arraignment marks the first step in the formal legal process. Although certain charges in the indictment cannot be disputed, a not guilty plea at this stage requires the prosecutor to continue to evaluate their case and determine whether medical and forensic evidence can actually support an aggravated murder conviction for the death of a fetus and whether the death penalty is warranted.”
A new study from the International Energy Agency says emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels rose to record levels last year. Global emissions increased by 1.4 percent, putting the world on pace for a temperature hike of up to 5.3 degrees Celsius, or 9 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than double the 2-degree-Celsius target set by world leaders. The agency’s chief economist called that scenario a “disaster for all countries.”
And commemorative events were held in Mississippi on Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of rights organizer Medgar Evers. On June 12, 1963, Evers was assassinated in the driveway outside his home in Jackson. He had served as the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi, working to end segregation and racist violence. Among those attending Wednesday’s events was Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams.