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HeadlinesAugust 21, 2013

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Opposition Claims Hundreds Killed in Syria Chemical Attack

Aug 21, 2013

Syrian opposition activists are accusing the regime of Bashar al-Assad of killing hundreds of civilians in new chemical attacks. The Syrian Revolutionary Command Council claims as many as 650 people have died in a gas attack on rebel-held areas of eastern Damascus. The claims have not been independently verified, and the Syrian government has issued denials. If confirmed, they would mark the deadliest use of chemical agents in Syria’s more than two-year civil war. A United Nations inspections team is already in Syria to probe allegations of earlier chemical attacks. Speaking in Turkey, a spokesperson for the opposition Syrian National Coalition urged inspectors to investigate the new claims.

Khaled Saleh: “What we want is from those inspectors to come in and see the people that were killed in the countryside of Damascus. We want them to look at the victims. We want them to investigate who used those chemical weapons. It’s very obvious to us that these chemical weapons were used and were carried out using ballistic missiles. Only the regime has that capability, has the willingness to use them against innocent civilians.”

Japan Increases Severity Level at Fukushima Nuclear Plant

Aug 21, 2013

Japan has raised the severity level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to its worst point in two years. The move comes one day after the plant’s operator said about 300 tons of water contaminated with high levels of radiation have leaked from a storage tank into the ground, reportedly the worst such leak to date. Japan has upgraded the severity threat from one to three on a seven-point scale, going from “anomaly” to “serious incident.”

U.S. Denies Suspension of Military Aid to Egypt

Aug 21, 2013

The Obama administration is denying reports it has suspended military aid to Egypt but says it has not ruled out cuts in specific areas. In Washington, deputy White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said U.S. aid to Egypt is under review, but no decisions have been made.

Josh Earnest: “Reports, published reports to the contrary that suggest that assistance to Egypt has been cut off are not accurate. The other thing I can confirm for you is that because we have not made a decision to cut off aid to Egypt, it is possible that additional tranches of aid could go out, but that’s something that’s being evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

The office of Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy had claimed on Monday that U.S. military aid to Egypt was on hold. The European Union is also said to be reviewing its aid to Egypt. Saudi Arabia has pledged to make up for any shortfall should the United States and European Union cut funding.

Bradley Manning Faces Sentencing at Military Trial

Aug 21, 2013

A military judge is issuing a sentence today in the case of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning. Army Col. Denise Lind found Manning guilty last month on 20 counts related to his leaking of a trove of documents to WikiLeaks. Manning faces up to 90 years in prison, with military prosecutors seeking a 60-year term. Manning’s defense has argued his sentence should not surpass 25 years, the period of time after which many of the leaked documents would have been declassified automatically. Manning’s sentence will automatically go the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, where he can seek a reduction of his prison term. The sentence will be announced around an hour after Democracy Now!’s live broadcast at 10 a.m. ET.

Report: NSA Surveillance Covers 75% of Online Traffic

Aug 21, 2013

More details continue to emerge on the scale of government surveillance in the United States. The Wall Street Journal reports the National Security Agency’s spying network ensnares around 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic — more than officials have publicly disclosed. The NSA has the capacity to retain the content of emails between U.S. citizens and filter domestic phone calls made over the Internet. The filtering occurs at more than a dozen sites established near major Internet transit points across the country. The NSA gathers and filters content through close collaboration with the nation’s major telecom firms. In many cases, the telecoms’ lawyers act as the sole checks on whether data reaches the NSA. In one example of government-telecom collaboration, the NSA and FBI worked with Qwest Communications to monitor communications around the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. All email and text communications in the Salt Lake City area were monitored for a period of around six months.

British Prime Minister’s Office Involved in Forced Destruction of Guardian Hard Drives

Aug 21, 2013

The British government also continues to come under fire over news it forced The Guardian to destroy hard drives containing leaked information from Edward Snowden. The Guardian has revealed it agreed to smash several computers in its London office after the British government threatened legal action. On Tuesday, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said he agreed to the British government’s demand in order to avoid the newspaper’s potential closure.

Alan Rusbridger: “We were faced, effectively, with an ultimatum from the British government that if we didn’t hand back the material or destroy it, they would move to law. That would mean prior restraint, a concept that is anathema in America and other parts of the world, in which the state can effectively prevent a news publisher from publishing, and I didn’t want to get into that position. And I also explained to the U.K. officials we were dealing with that there were other copies already in America and Brazil, so they wouldn’t be achieving anything. But once it was obvious that they would be going to law, I would rather destroy the copy than hand it back to them or allow the courts to freeze our reporting.”

Rusbridger says identical copies of Snowden’s leaks are with Guardian reporters abroad, allowing the newspaper to continue its work. The office of British Prime Minister David Cameron has confirmed it had direct involvement in pressuring The Guardian over Snowden’s files. On Tuesday, the Obama administration sought to distance itself from the destruction of The Guardian’s hard drives. Asked at the White House news briefing if the U.S. government would ever take similar actions against a media outlet, deputy spokesperson Josh Earnest said: “That’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate.”

Tech Website Groklaw Closes Down over Surveillance Fears

Aug 21, 2013

A website devoted to legal and technology news has announced it is shutting down over fears of government surveillance. Groklaw becomes the third site in less than two weeks to close citing the same privacy concerns. The secure email providers Lavabit — which is believed to have been used by Edward Snowden — as well as Silent Circle, stopped operating earlier this month. Both companies appear to have refused requests to hand over customer data to the government. In a statement, Groklaw cited the concerns raised by Lavabit owner Lavar Levison, saying: “The owner of Lavabit tells us that he’s stopped using email and if we knew what he knew, we’d stop too. There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum … ensuring privacy online is impossible.”

Report: U.S. Advances Facial Recognition Surveillance

Aug 21, 2013

The U.S. government is reportedly making progress with a new surveillance system that can scan crowds to identify people by their face. According to The New York Times, the first test of the program, called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS), was held last fall. The program uses cameras and computers to scan through large groups of people to identify law-enforcement targets. Privacy advocates say the program’s advances should prompt the immediate drafting of regulations to ensure it’s not abused.

Afghan Victims Testify at Sentencing Hearing of U.S. Soldier

Aug 21, 2013

A sentencing hearing is underway in the trial of U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Bales, who has pleaded guilty to murdering 16 Afghan civilians during rampages on two villages last March. On Tuesday, a number of Afghan victims who have been flown to the United States took the stand to testify. Also Tuesday, a six-member jury of military personnel was empaneled to decide Bales’ fate. He would not face the death penalty as a result of his plea deal.

Prosecutors Rest Case in Ft. Hood Shooting Trial

Aug 21, 2013

Military prosecutors have rested their case in the court-martial of an Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people during a 2009 rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. Major Nidal Malik Hasan is charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. He could face the death penalty if convicted. The prosecutors wrapped their case after calling 89 witnesses in two weeks of testimony. Hasan has already admitted to the shooting in court. He is handling his own defense, meaning he could question some of the same people he is accused of attacking, and even question himself on the stand if he calls himself as a witness.

Gunman Arrested After Georgia School Standoff

Aug 21, 2013

A heavily armed gunman was arrested at a Georgia elementary school on Tuesday after a standoff with police. The man entered the school with an AK-47 and several other weapons, taking a few staff members hostage. He fired around six shots at police before ultimately agreeing to surrender. No one was injured.

Report: NRA Compiles Database of Gun Owners

Aug 21, 2013

The National Rifle Association has reportedly built a secret database of tens of millions of U.S. gun owners without their consent. According to the website Buzzfeed, the NRA has compiled a list of current, former and potential gun owners by culling state and national lists of gun permit holders, class registrations, gun-show attendees and subscribers to gun magazines. The database has been used to build the NRA’s membership base and rally support for its policies. It has maintained the list even while fiercely opposing a national registry of gun owners.

Interior Dept. Questions State Dept. Keystone Report

Aug 21, 2013

The Department of the Interior is openly questioning a State Department impact study that effectively endorsed the Keystone XL pipeline. Released earlier this year, the long-awaited assessment concluded the Keystone XL does not threaten the global climate and would lead to fewer emissions than critics have alleged. The State Department’s review marked a major boost to the Keystone XL pipeline’s chances as President Obama mulls whether to approve or reject it. But in a newly released letter, the Interior Department says the review ignores the pipeline’s long-term threat to wildlife along its proposed route. The Interior Department is the second federal agency to challenge the State Department assessment after the EPA expressed similar reservations in April. The EPA singled out the review’s conclusion that building the pipeline will not adversely affect climate change nor impact whether tar sands oil is extracted.

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