Revived talks between the United States and the Taliban are now in limbo just one day after they were announced. State Department and White House officials were due to meet with Taliban delegates in Qatar today for their first negotiations in more than a year. But hours after the talks were announced, the Afghan government said it would withdraw from the process as well as from ongoing negotiations on security cooperation with the United States. An Afghan government spokesperson said the United States violated a pledge to withhold official recognition of the Taliban. The Taliban has named its new political office in Qatar the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” The diplomatic uncertainty came amidst continued Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan on the U.S.-led NATO occupation. Four U.S. soldiers were killed Wednesday in a rocket attack on the Bagram military base.
President Obama is calling for the reduction of U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles by up to one-third. Speaking before thousands at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, Obama said he will seek the further reduction of nuclear warheads on top of the cuts in the 2010 “New START” treaty with Russia.
President Obama: “After a comprehensive review, I have determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”
The Obama administration is preparing to unveil what it calls a major initiative on tackling climate change. The White House says President Obama will soon announce the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants. At his speech Wednesday in Berlin, President Obama pledged action on global warming.
President Obama: “The effort to slow climate change requires bold action. And on this, Germany and Europe have led. In the United States, we have recently doubled our renewable energy from clean sources like wind and solar power. We’re doubling fuel efficiency on our cars. Our dangerous carbon emissions have come down. But we know we have to do more. And we will do more.”
At a public event in Washington, the White House coordinator for energy and climate change, Heather Zichal, said Obama will impose the new emissions limits through Environmental Protection Agency authority under the Clean Air Act. The move would not require congressional approval, meaning Obama could bypass expected Republican-led opposition. Describing Obama’s approach to global warming, Zichal said: “He is serious about making it a second-term priority. He knows this is a legacy issue.”
The FBI has acknowledged the use of drones to carry out surveillance within the United States. Under questioning by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed the domestic use of drones, but called it “very seldom.” He also said the bureau is still drafting regulations to address privacy concerns.
Robert Mueller, FBI director: “We are in the initial stages of doing that. And I will tell you that our footprint is very small. We have very few and of limited use, and we’re exploring not only the use, but also the necessary guidelines for that use.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley: “Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on U.S. soil?”
Robert Mueller: “Yes.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley: “I want to go on to a question” —
Robert Mueller: “And I — well, let me just put it in context, though.
Sen. Chuck Grassley: “Sure.”
Robert Mueller: “In a very, very minimal way, and very seldom.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley: “OK.”
In a statement, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall questioned whether drone spying is constitutional, saying: “I am concerned the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the 'initial stages' of developing guidelines to protect Americans’ privacy rights. I look forward to learning more about this program and will do everything in my power to hold the FBI accountable and ensure its actions respect the U.S. constitution.”
Democratic Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon continue to question the role of NSA surveillance programs in foiling militant plots in the United States and overseas. Top intelligence officials told Congress this week the NSA has helped thwart 50 “potential terrorist events,” including 10 within the United States. But in a statement on Wednesday, Wyden and Udall took specific issue with the claims that the mass collection of telephone records played a role. They said: “It appears that the bulk phone records collection program under section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act played little or no role in most of these disruptions. Saying that these programs have disrupted 'dozens of potential terrorist plots' is misleading if the bulk phone records collection program is actually providing little or no unique value.”
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is openly accusing the nation’s chief intelligence officer of lying to lawmakers in statements earlier this year. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told a Senate hearing in March that the National Security Agency does not “wittingly” amass the personal data of millions of Americans. Speaking to CNN, Paul said Clapper lied outright.
Sen. Rand Paul: “What I’m saying is that the director of national intelligence, in March, did directly lie to Congress, which is against the law. He said that they were not collecting any data on American citizens, and it turns out they’re collecting billions of data on phone calls every day. So it was a lie. What I’m saying is that by lying to Congress, which is against the law, he severely damaged the credibility of the entire intelligence committee — community.”
After the recent NSA revelations emerged, Clapper said his answer was the “least untruthful” response he could provide at the time.
In other National Security Agency news, the Internet giant Google has asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to lift its longstanding gag orders on the disclosure of government requests for customer information. Citing the need for “greater transparency,” Google says it wants permission to publicly disclose “aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures.” Google was one of nine tech companies named in leaked NSA documents as providing the government with direct access to users’ information through the surveillance program PRISM.
The whistleblower group WikiLeaks says it has made contact with Edward Snowden’s legal team to help him win asylum in Iceland. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange disclosed the news in a phone call with reporters. Assange also urged President Obama to drop the reported grand jury investigation of WikiLeaks for publishing leaked U.S. documents.
Julian Assange: “President Obama must do the right thing. He must immediately drop the immoral investigation against WikiLeaks, its staff and its office, before a precedent is set which will spell the end of national security journalism in the United States. We are in touch with Mr. Snowden’s legal team and have been — are involved in the process of brokering his asylum in Iceland.”
In another disclosure from WikiLeaks, the group is claiming the late journalist Michael Hastings said he was under FBI investigation just before he died. Hastings was killed in an early morning car wreck Tuesday in Los Angeles. In a Twitter message on Wednesday, WikiLeaks said: “Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him.”
Two of Brazil’s largest cities have revoked the public transit fare hikes that helped set off the country’s largest protests in several decades. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro made the announcement on Wednesday as protests continued nationwide. The rallies are expected to continue as part of a spiraling movement against government corruption, inequality, failing public services, police brutality, and government spending on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. On Wednesday, police fired tear gas at demonstrators trying to block a bridge in Rio de Janeiro. Protesters also marched on an international soccer match at a stadium in the city of Fortaleza.
The United Nations marked World Refugee Day with new warnings over the plight of the 1.6 million people who have fled the fighting in Syria. Announcing a plea for $1.7 billion in aid, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said the conflict in Syria marks one of the worst humanitarian crises of the last two decades.
António Guterres, UNHCR high commissioner: “I have no doubt that the Syrian crisis is not only one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises that we have faced since the Cold War, but it is the most dangerous one. And the risks of spillover and the risks of negative impact on the countries of the region are enormous. … Lebanon is facing an existential threat and needs and deserves massive support from the international community. It is absolutely essential that the wonderful generosity we witness here in villages like these is met by the whole world.”
The United Nations says Syria’s civil war has pushed the number of refugees to an 18-year high of 45.2 million across the globe.
At least 22 people were killed Wednesday in a militant attack on the U.N. compound in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu. Fighters raided the compound with guns after setting off a car bomb. Somalia’s militant Islamist Al Shabab rebel group has claimed responsibility and is threatening further attacks.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is calling for an end to the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Lawyers say at least 130 of the 166 remaining prisoners at Guantánamo are refusing to eat in protest of their indefinite imprisonment. Forty-three prisoners are now being force-fed through tubes four months after the strike began. In a letter to the Pentagon, Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “Hunger strikes are a long-known form of non-violent protest aimed at bringing attention to a cause, rather than an attempt of suicide. … The current approach raises very important ethical questions and complicates the difficult situation regarding the continued indefinite detention at Guantánamo.” Feinstein is one of the most senior U.S. lawmakers to oppose force-feeding at Guantánamo. During his speech Wednesday in Berlin, President Obama highlighted his pledge to seek Guantánamo’s closure.
President Obama: “Even as we remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism, we must move beyond the mindset of perpetual war. And in America, that means redoubling our efforts to close the prison at Guantánamo.”
New figures show the immigration bill up for debate in the Senate would cut federal deficits by nearly $200 billion over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office says the financial gains of adding millions of new taxpayers to the rolls would far outweigh any potential costs in paying out healthcare and welfare benefits, as well as the tab for the measure’s new spending on border enforcement. The conclusion undercuts a key claim of opponents who say immigration reform would cost billions of dollars.
A new look at the FBI’s internal investigations has found the bureau has cleared its agents in every single shooting incident dating back two decades. According to The New York Times, from 1993 until today, FBI shootings were deemed justified in the fatal shootings of 70 people and the wounding of 80 others. Out of 289 shootings that were found to be deliberate, no agent was disciplined except for letters of censure in five cases. The issue of FBI accountability has recently re-emerged following last month’s fatal shooting of Ibragim Todashev during questioning by agents in Orlando. A Chechen native, Todashev was interrogated over his ties to one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. The FBI later admitted he was unarmed.
The actor James Gandolfini has died at the age of 51. He reportedly died of a heart attack while on vacation with his family in Italy. Best known for playing the troubled mob boss Tony Soprano on the acclaimed television series “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini was a fixture of the stage and screen in New York City. He was a board member at New York’s Downtown Community Television, producing the documentary films, “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq” and “Wartorn 1861-2010,” about wounded U.S. soldiers. In a statement, DCTV co-founder Jon Alpert said: “James Gandolfini loved community media and hated war. He made the world better and more interesting for many people.”