Just more than a week after publicly admitting he was the source who revealed the National Security Agency’s sweeping domestic spy program, whistleblower Edward Snowden defended his actions in an online chat. Speaking to Guardian readers and journalists, Snowden indicated he remains in Hong Kong after arriving there last month, but did not confirm his exact location. He stood by his assertion that as an NSA contractor he had the capability “to wiretap anyone” in the United States with a personal email address. At one point, Snowden was asked when, exactly, he made the decision to come forward. He said: “For me, there was no single moment. It was seeing a continuing litany of lies from senior officials to Congress — and therefore the American people — and the realization that Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies that compelled me to act. Seeing someone in the position of James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, baldly lying to the public without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy.”
President Obama defended his administration’s domestic spy program during an interview on PBS’s Charlie Rose show that aired Monday night. Obama drew a line between his administration’s efforts and those of the Bush administration. He also claimed NSA surveillance is actually transparent because requests are submitted to the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
President Obama: “It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court. Look, the whole point of my concern, before I was president — because some people say, 'Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he's, you know, Dick Cheney.’ Dick Cheney sometimes says, 'Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock and barrel.' My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather, are we setting up a system of checks and balances?”
China has issued its most direct response yet to reports of sweeping online surveillance by the United States. A foreign ministry spokesperson made the comments on Monday.
Hua Chunying: “We believe the United States should pay attention to the international community’s concerns and demands and give the international community the necessary explanation.”
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed last week the United States has been hacking computer targets in China and Hong Kong for years.
Apple has become the latest tech company to admit receiving a flood of requests for user data from U.S. law enforcement under the top-secret PRISM program revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. On Monday, Apple said during a six-month period ending in May, it received as many as 5,000 requests from local, state and federal agencies involving as many 10,000 user accounts. Facebook and Microsoft have also admitted receiving thousands of requests for user data.
Russia and the United States say they remain at odds over how to respond to the crisis in Syria following talks on the edges of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Russian President Vladimir Putin has blasted the U.S. decision to arm anti-government rebels. He spoke alongside Obama Monday about the conflict that has killed more than 90,000 people.
President Vladimir Putin: “Of course our opinions do not coincide, but all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria, to stop the growth of victims and to solve the situation peacefully, including by bringing the parties to the negotiation table in Geneva.”
Obama, meanwhile, announced an additional $300 million in U.S. humanitarian aid for Syria and neighboring countries coping with refugees from the crisis, bringing the total amount of such aid to $800 million.
Speaking at the G8 summit, President Obama also announced that formal talks for a massive free trade deal between the United States and Europe will open next month in Washington. The deal could see tariffs and other trade barriers eliminated between the United States and 27 European countries. British Prime Minister David Cameron touted the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as possibly “the biggest bilateral trade deal in history.”
Protests are continuing outside the G8 summit with thousands gathering to voice their opposition to U.S. foreign policy, environmental devastation and global austerity. The Guardian reports Britain has spent some $78 million on security for the G8 with thousands of police on hand, but so far protests have been peaceful, and only two people have been arrested at the summit.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in cities across Brazil Monday, marking the largest protests there in decades. The wave of actions capped weeks of smaller protests that began in São Paulo following a hike in public transit fares. The uprising soon spiraled nationwide amid outrage over government corruption, inequality, failing public services and police brutality against demonstrators. On Monday, roughly 100,000 people marched in Rio de Janeiro alone, while in the capital Brasilia some protesters stormed the Congress building and scaled its roof.
Turkish news reports say 87 people have been arrested in a series of raids targeting those suspected of participating in weeks of anti-government protests. Turkey’s interior minister said 62 people have been arrested in Istanbul alone with more arrests in the capital Ankara. Police earlier detained roughly a dozen demonstrators who defied a government crackdown by remaining in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which has been at the center of protests challenging Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
NATO forces in Afghanistan handed leadership of security efforts in the country to Afghan forces during a ceremony in the capital Kabul today. The U.S.-led occupation will remain in Afghanistan until the end of next year, purportedly in a more supporting role. On the same day the transition was announced, a suicide blast in Kabul killed at least three people.
The United Nations Children’s Fund says the number of child casualties under the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan has sharply increased. During the first four months of this year, at least 414 children were hurt or killed, an increase of more than 25 percent from last year. International and Afghan forces were deemed at fault for 14 percent of those casualties.
U.S. and Yemeni demonstrators joined together outside the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, Monday to call for Obama to comply with his five-year-old promise to close Guantánamo and transfer dozens of Yemenis and other prisoners back home. Former U.S. diplomat Col. Ann Wright was among them.
Col. Ann Wright: “I say the United States must close Guantánamo, clear the prisoners that have already — no charges. We must, the United States must release those prisoners. We also must stop our drone strikes in Yemen. They are very dangerous, they kill innocent civilians, and there are better ways to deal with terrorism.”
More than 100 of Guantánamo’s 166 prisoners are on hunger strike.
In a victory for voting rights, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled states cannot require proof of citizenship from those seeking to vote in federal elections. The 7-to-2 ruling struck down an Arizona law requiring people to provide documentary proof of citizenship when filling out a federal registration form. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said tens of thousands of people in Arizona have been barred from voting by the requirements.
An Indiana woman who drew international support when she was sentenced to death at the age of 16 has been released after nearly 30 years in prison. Paula Cooper became the youngest person on death row in 1986 after her conviction for killing Ruth Pelke, an elderly Bible teacher. Her case drew calls to spare her life from people around the world, including Pope John Paul II and the victim’s grandson, Bill Pelke. Her sentence was commuted to 60 years in 1989, but she was released early for good behavior and after earning a college degree behind bars.
The Washington Post has revealed the faces of more than 120 million people are being stored in massive state databases that are used by law enforcement to identify people deemed relevant to investigations. The databases were initially created to prevent driver’s license fraud, but also contain photos of millions who have sought non-driver state IDs. More than half of U.S. states allow federal or local law enforcement to comb through or request searches of the databases in order to identify suspects or even innocent bystanders by matching photos against images from surveillance footage or social media. The most commonly used facial recognition programs were honed in Iraq and Afghanistan to identify insurgents, but are now being used domestically with few legal restrictions. The Post reported: “As the databases grow larger and increasingly connected across jurisdictional boundaries, critics warn that authorities are developing what amounts to a national identification system — based on the distinct geography of each human face.”
House Republicans are expected to bring a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy to the floor today. The measure, backed by Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, would become the strictest anti-abortion bill in a decade to see a congressional vote. President Obama has vowed to veto the ban, calling it an “assault on a woman’s right to choose.”
As the court-martial of U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning entered its third week at Fort Meade, Maryland, a federal civilian court heard arguments Monday on whether the military should more quickly release records related to the trial. Media outlets have accused the government of interfering with their coverage by delaying or barring access to materials and heavily redacting those documents that are released. Democracy Now! is a plaintiff in the case brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights along with The Nation, WikiLeaks and The Guardian.
Federal prosecutors are accusing the owners of more than a dozen 7-Eleven convenience store franchises of imposing a system of modern-day slavery against undocumented workers. U.S. authorities seized 14 stores in New York and Virginia, while dozens more remain under investigation. According to prosecutor Loretta Lynch, many of the workers targeted were from Pakistan and the Philippines.
Loretta Lynch: “The franchise owners that we have charged were engaged in a pattern of fraud and worker exploitation that involved stolen identities, false information submitted to their payroll provider and the systematic exploitation of the mostly illegal immigrant workforce that they sought out and that they employed. Immigrant workers were routinely forced, upon threat of job loss or deportation, to work upwards of 100 hours a week, to live only in the houses the defendants owned, and were given only a small percentage of the money they earned.”
Nine owners and managers were arrested Monday. Authorities also found 18 undocumented workers victimized in the alleged scheme who are now facing possible deportation.
The director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has announced he is resigning to take a job in the financial sector. As head of ICE since 2009, John Morton presided over record deportations, including more than 400,000 in the last fiscal year alone. He will leave the agency next month to take a high-level position at Capital One.