National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is reportedly set to meet today with international human rights groups in the transit area of a Moscow airport where he has been holed up for nearly three weeks. Snowden has received asylum offers from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. But in an email invitation purportedly sent by Snowden to the groups, he condemns “an unlawful campaign by officials in the U.S. government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum.” The United States has been exerting heavy pressure on Latin American countries not to help him.
The latest documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal how Microsoft collaborated with U.S. intelligence agencies to facilitate the interception of online communications. The Guardian reports Microsoft worked closely with the National Security Agency, even helping it skirt the company’s own encryption on Outlook.com web chats. The firm reportedly worked with the FBI to facilitate NSA access to its popular cloud storage service SkyDrive. The documents also relate to Skype, the Microsoft-owned Internet phone service. A document from July 2012 shows the NSA bragged that the number of Skype video calls being collected through its top-secret PRISM program had tripled due to a new capability. Microsoft issued a statement in response to the revelations, saying it follows the law and “does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product.”
The leading U.S. diplomat on Afghanistan has dismissed the possibility the United States might withdraw all troops from Afghanistan at the end of the combat mission next year. The remarks by James Dobbins came after reports President Obama is seriously considering a total withdrawal following tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over peace talks with the Taliban. Dobbins spoke before a Senate committee Thursday.
James Dobbins: “Without an agreement on our presence in Afghanistan, we would not remain. But we do not believe that that’s the likely outcome of these negotiations. Unlike Iraq, to which comparisons are often made, the Afghans actually need us to stay.”
In Egypt, supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohamed Morsi are holding rival rallies today. The Muslim Brotherhood is refusing to halt its protests until Morsi resumes power, even though many of the group’s leaders have been detained by the Egyptian army, which took power last week.
The New York Times is reporting there is increasing evidence that allies of Egypt’s military establishment and former President Hosni Mubarak helped fuel the popular uprising that led to Morsi’s ouster. Morsi’s supporters say fuel shortages and blackouts were orchestrated purposefully to incite public outcry. The Times reports, “The apparently miraculous end to the crippling energy shortages, and the re-emergence of the police, seems to show that the legions of personnel left in place after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 played a significant role — intentionally or not — in undermining the overall quality of life under the Islamist administration of Mr. Morsi.” One man who reportedly played a key role in the protests was Naguib Sawiris, billionaire and opponent of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood who said he backed the opposition group Tamarod by donating offices, boosting media coverage and commissioning a music video without the group realizing he was involved. Despite the military’s ouster of Morsi and deadly crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the United States is reportedly planning to move ahead with the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt’s military.
The trial of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin is wrapping up in Florida. In his closing remarks Thursday, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda accused Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, of profiling Trayvon Martin as the 17-year-old walked through a gated community carrying only Skittles and iced tea. The prosecutor opened his statement with these words.
Bernie de la Rionda: “A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own. He is dead because another man made assumptions.”
Zimmerman could face up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. On Thursday, the judge told jurors they could also find Zimmerman guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, which could carry up to 30 years in prison. The defense will make its closing statement today followed by a rebuttal from prosecutors. Then a jury of six women, five of them white, will deliberate Zimmerman’s fate.
A Texas state Senate committee has approved an anti-choice bill opponents say could virtually end abortion access in the state, setting the stage for a showdown at the state Capitol today as the full state Senate debates the bill. Protesters successfully blocked the sweeping restrictions last month following a nearly 11-hour filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis.
The North Carolina state House has passed sweeping anti-choice restrictions attached to a motorcycle safety bill, prompting some opponents to arrive for the vote wearing motorcycle helmets. The bill now goes to the state Senate.
In another defeat for abortion rights, the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled the state can enforce a law requiring abortion providers to notify the parents of girls under 18 at least 48 hours before an abortion. Thirty-eight other states require some form of parental notification for minors. And in Washington, D.C., a House subcommittee has slipped a rider into a general appropriations bill that would ban D.C. from usings its own tax revenues to fund abortions for low-income women through Medicaid.
House lawmakers have passed a version of the farm bill that expands government subsidies to agribusiness but, for the first time in 40 years, does not include funding for the food stamp program. Republicans say they will seek a separate bill on food stamps, continuing a battle between Democrats and right-wing lawmakers who are seeking deep cuts to the program.
A federal judge has ordered commanders at Guantánamo Bay prison to stop conducting invasive genital searches of prisoners seeking to meet with their lawyers. Judge Royce Lamberth ruled the searches were aimed at hindering prisoners’ access to legal counsel. “The choice between submitting to a search procedure that is religiously and culturally abhorrent or forgoing counsel effectively presents no choice for devout Muslims,” he said. Judge Lamberth also said prisoners weakened in an ongoing hunger strike must be allowed to meet with attorneys at their housing camp, instead of being forced to travel. On Thursday the military counted 104 hunger strikers at the prison, claiming two had ended their strike; 45 are being force-fed.
In London, six climbers with the environmental group Greenpeace were arrested Thursday for scaling the tallest building in Western Europe in order to protest Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. The all-woman climbing team topped the more than 1,000-foot Shard tower over a period of 15 hours. A Greenpeace spokesperson said they chose the building because it is in full view of Shell’s offices.
Leila Dean: “This is one of our biggest actions ever, and it really is a huge ascent to do: 310 meters (1,017 ft.) into the air. So hopefully this will really bring home to Shell that we will not be ignored, they need to listen to the three million people that are calling on them to stop drilling in the Arctic and protect our planet.”
Japan’s lead nuclear regulator has admitted the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has likely been leaking water contaminated with radioactive material for the past two years, ever since it was heavily damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami. Shunichi Tanaka, head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, confessed neither operators nor regulators know the origin of the leaks or how to stop them. Meanwhile, Masao Yoshida, the manager of the plant who led the hazardous fight to staunch the 2011 nuclear disaster, has died of esophogeal cancer at the age of 58.
The state of Georgia is set to put a mentally disabled prisoner to death on Monday unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes. Warren Hill was sentenced to death for murdering a fellow prisoner while serving a life sentence for fatally shooting his girlfriend. He was granted a last-minute reprieve before his last scheduled execution in February. A 2002 Supreme Court ruling bans the execution of people deemed mentally retarded, but Georgia is the only state that requires proof of such disabilities “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Three experts who once testified Hill did not meet the criteria have since recanted. The New York Times wrote in an editorial Thursday: “All seven experts who have examined Mr. Hill now agree he is mentally retarded. If that doesn’t count as proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it is hard to imagine what would.” Warren Hill will die Monday at 7 p.m. from a single injection of pentobarbitol unless the Supreme Court stays his execution.