U.S. intelligence agencies have officially confirmed the surveillance programs exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. In a letter to Congress released on Saturday, U.S. officials said the blanket collection of phone records and the spying on foreigners’ Internet usage are covered under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The National Security Agency also says it investigated less than 300 phone records seized in the broad collection of metadata last year. The NSA claims the monitoring has foiled terror plots in the U.S. and 20 other countries, but hasn’t provided any details. The phone records program has been in effect since 2006. According to The Washington Post, FISA courts have renewed orders for the bulk collection of metadata every three months since May of that year, from companies including AT&T and BellSouth. The court orders were prompted by a request from an unspecified telephone provider after warrantless surveillance was exposed. The company apparently asked the Bush administration to come up with the orders so it was legally bound to comply.
Edward Snowden is believed to remain in Hong Kong as he faces an ongoing U.S. investigation. On Saturday, a group of demonstrators braved heavy rain in Hong Kong in a show of support for his case.
Tom Grundy, rally organizer: “He says he’s not a hero or a traitor, and he’s just a regular citizen. And I think we agree today, and we’re going to be standing in solidarity with him and hoping that rule of law in Hong Kong is upheld.”
Sally Tong, Socialist Action: “Today there are many Hong Kong people coming out to defend the basic democratic rights of Snowden because he has exposed the truth and the secrets from the U.S. government. And now it is really our responsibility to come out and to defend his democratic rights — not only his, but also the democratic rights of us.”
Revelations continue to emerge from the NSA files Edward Snowden disclosed. The Guardian of London reports the British government conducted extensive surveillance on foreign diplomats attending the 2009 G20 summit in London. Britain’s NSA counterpart, the GCHQ, established fake Internet cafés to spy on foreign delegates’ computer use. The agency also hacked into officials’ Blackberrys to monitor their emails and phone calls. The NSA played a role in the operation by sharing information on the phone calls of Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev. Other targets included British government allies such as South Africa and Turkey. The spying appears to have been spurred by the British government’s desire for an advantage in the G20 talks. An internal briefing paper said the GCHQ’s “intent” was to provide “intelligence relevant to [the government’s] desired outcomes for its presidency of the G20.”
The news comes just as Britain is hosting the G8 summit, which begins today. All G8 members belong to the G20, and the latest revelations are likely to fuel tensions. Ahead of the G8, thousands of people marched in Northern Ireland near where the two-day summit is being held.
Patricia McKeown, regional secretary, UNISON: “Well, G8 has come, and for every action there’s a reaction. Our reaction is: You need to listen to the people. There’s a chance for a better world here. The way you’re doing it isn’t working, and it isn’t fair.”
Noaise O’Beirne, protester: “We’re with our kids today to teach them how to protest peacefully against what we see are greedy fat cats who are here to take over this small part of the world and all of the world.”
On Sunday, Amnesty International staged a rally for the closure of Guantánamo Bay outside a Belfast venue where President Obama is speaking today. Amnesty spokesperson Patrick Corrigan said Guantánamo’s continued existence undermines Obama’s global credibility on critical issues.
Patrick Corrigan: “And we say to President Obama, come here, support our peace, but support peace and the rule of law internationally by closing Guantánamo and ceasing the breaches of international law. Then we can take you more seriously as a global leader.”
At least 10 Syrian soldiers have been killed in a bombing of a military checkpoint in Damascus. Ten others were wounded.
Syria is expected to dominate talks at today’s G8 summit in Ireland. As world leaders arrived today, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the U.S. for last week’s decision to arm Syrian rebels, saying the aid will go to fighters who eat human flesh. Putin was referring to an infamous video that circulated last month of a Syrian rebel biting into the organ of a dead Syrian soldier. At the United Nations, outgoing U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice defended the decision to arm Syrian rebels and played down speculation the U.S. will seek to impose a no-fly zone on Syria.
Susan Rice: “Our intelligence community has high confidence that chemical weapons, including sarin, have been used by the government against the opposition on multiple occasions over the course of the last year, on a small scale. On the issue of a no-fly zone, we have been clear that we’re not excluding options, but at this stage no decision has been taken. And as my colleagues in Washington described at some length yesterday, that option has some downsides and limitations that we are very well aware of and will factor into any decision.”
Days after announcing plans to arm Syria’s rebels, the White House now says U.S. warplanes and antimissile batteries will be stationed in neighboring Jordan. The planes and batteries had been deployed there for joint military drills but will now remain indefinitely. The new U.S. weapons will likely be delivered to the Syrian rebels through the CIA’s ongoing operations in Jordan.
The Egyptian government has announced it’s severing all ties to the Syrian government and backing the rebel fight seeking to oust Bashar al-Assad. On Saturday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told supporters he’s closing the Syrian embassy in Cairo and recalling his government’s envoy from Damascus.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: “The Syrian people are facing a campaign of extermination and planned ethnic cleansing, fed by regional and international states who do not care for the Syrian citizen. The people of Egypt support the struggle of the Syrian people, materially and morally. And Egypt — its nation, leadership and army — will not abandon the Syrian people until it achieves its rights and dignity.”
In his comments, Morsi also called on the international community to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria and urged all Hezbollah members fighting alongside Assad’s forces to return to Lebanon. In response, the Syrian government said Morsi has joined the “conspiracy and incitement led by the United States and Israel against Syria.” The U.S. has denied pressuring Egypt on Syria.
One of Turkey’s leading unions is staging a national strike today in protest of the crackdown on nearly three weeks of protests. More than 800,000 workers are believed to be taking part. The strike follows a weekend that saw the protests’ worst violence to date. On Sunday, around 400 people were arrested as police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets in the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and other cities. Medics treating wounded demonstrators were among those detained. On Sunday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a massive crowd of supporters the opposition is attempting minority rule over the majority he enjoys.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “Minorities are trying to rule over the majority. The privileged are trying to dominate victims, and they are trying to regain their privileges. We know what is truly behind the dirty games that they play as they pretend to care for trees, the environment and Gezi Park. We know those who are trying to undermine the people’s will. We know them well. We won’t pave the way for those who are in search of certain options other than elections. We won’t give them the opportunity.”
In his remarks, Erdogan also singled out the foreign news outlets for their reporting on Turkey’s crisis, accusing them of “lying.” We’ll have more from Turkey later in the broadcast.
At least 33 people were killed and more than 100 wounded on Sunday in a wave of attacks across Iraq. Twelve more died in three separate attacks earlier today. Around 2,000 Iraqis have been killed in sectarian violence since April, making this the country’s bloodiest period in five years.
Iran has elected former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani as the new president, replacing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani is considered a moderate compared to the other candidates. He took just over half the vote in a national turnout of 72 percent. Rouhani has called for greater engagement with Western countries, while urging respect for Iran’s right to nuclear energy. On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough called Rouhani’s election “a potentially hopeful sign.” We’ll have more on the Iranian elections after headlines.
North Korea is offering negotiations with the U.S. after months of tensions. On Sunday, the North Korean regime proposed high-level talks at a date and venue of Washington’s choice. The proposal reaffirms North Korea’s longstanding call to tie any reduction of its nuclear arsenal with broader regional denuclearization, including by the United States. It comes on the heels of multiple North Korean threats to launch attacks on the U.S. as the U.S. conducted war games with South Korea.
The Obama administration is expected to announce today the appointment of a new envoy to head the effort to close Guantánamo Bay. Clifford Sloan, a Washington lawyer, has been tapped to head the State Department’s Office of Guantánamo Closure. The office has been idle since January after the administration effectively abandoned the closure effort. More than 100 Guantánamo Bay prisoners remain on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite imprisonment.
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño is in Britain for talks on the diplomatic standoff over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. This week marks one year since Assange took refuge inside Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden. On Sunday, Patiño and Assange met before an audience of supporters.
Julian Assange: “I’m good. Lovely to see you. We have such an audience, it’s a bit overwhelming. I’m not used to so many people. My situation here has been physically difficult. But the staff at the embassy have all been kind and supportive, despite the occasional entertainment outside, whether they are people chanting or policemen coming down on ropes.”
Patiño is expected to meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague during his stay to discuss Assange’s case.
Federal officials are reportedly investigating after two blasts at Louisiana chemical plants on Thursday and Friday. The second explosion killed one worker and left seven people wounded at a site producing nitrogen.
Gun violence was rampant in Chicago over the weekend with the shootings of at least 36 people. Seven were killed. The violence followed Friday’s six-month anniversary of the Newtown massacre.
And the Supreme Court is in the final two weeks of its current term with a number of high-profile decisions still ahead. The court is expected to first rule on the case of a white Texas student challenging affirmative action in college admissions. A decision is also expected on a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires several states and counties with a history of racial discrimination to clear election-related changes with the federal government. The court will also decide on two landmark cases challenging federal and state laws that restrict gay marriage rights: the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8.