In the latest revelations about the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance, The New York Times reports the NSA is searching through the contents of vast troves of email and text communications flowing into and out of the country. An unnamed senior intelligence official told The Times the NSA is not only intercepting the communications of Americans who are in touch with foreign targets — a practice that has been acknowledged publicly — they are also casting the net far wider to include those who cite information linked to foreign targets. In order to carry out the surveillance, The Times reports the NSA is “temporarily copying and then sifting through the contents of what is apparently most emails and other text-based communications that cross the border.” According to the unnamed official, after the communications are scanned for keywords or other red flags, those that do not raise alarms are deleted. The entire process takes seconds. The practice is touched on in a document leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to The Guardian about the NSA’s powers under the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The document notes the NSA “seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target.”
The latest NSA revelations follow the announcement Wednesday that President Obama has cancelled one-on-one talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin early next month after the country granted temporary asylum to Edward Snowden. In a statement, the White House cited “a lack of progress” with Russia on a number of issues, but acknowledged the decision on Snowden “was also a factor.” Obama will still attend the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg during the first week of September. During an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno earlier this week, Obama reacted to Russia’s announcement it would give Snowden asylum for one year.
President Obama: “I was disappointed, because even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect — if there’s a lawbreaker or an alleged lawbreaker in their country, we evaluate it, and we try to work with them. They didn’t do that with us. And in some ways it’s reflective of some underlying challenges that we’ve had with Russia lately.”
During his appearance on “The Tonight Show” Obama also responded to the growing controversy over the wide-ranging National Security Agency surveillance programs that Edward Snowden has revealed.
President Obama: “A lot of these programs were put in place before I came in. I had some skepticism, and I think there’s — we should have a healthy skepticism about what government is doing. I had the programs reviewed. We put in some additional safeguards to make sure that there’s federal court oversight, as well as congressional oversight, that there is no spying on Americans. You know, we don’t have a domestic spying program. What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat.”
Edward Snowden’s father said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will “continue to stand firm” in the face of pressure from the Obama administration to hand over his son, whom the United States is seeking to try for espionage. But Lon Snowden also said the public discussion should focus on the content of the leaks — not on Russia.
Lon Snowden: “This isn’t about Russia. The fight isn’t in Russia. That’s not where the fight — that’s what people would like to — again, it’s more misdirection. The fight is right here. OK? The fight is about these programs, OK, that undermine, infringe upon, violate our constitutional rights.”
The judge presiding over the sentencing hearing of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning has rejected some of the government’s evidence about the alleged damage caused by the publication of documents he gave to WikiLeaks. Army Col. Denise Lind said evidence about the supposed “chilling effect” of Manning’s leaks on U.S. foreign relations would only be admissible if the impact happened directly after the documents were released. Lind tossed out the claims by top State Department official Patrick Kennedy that the impact continues to this day. Manning is now facing up to 90 years in prison.
The group of young immigrants known as the “Dream 9” have been released from detention in Arizona while they seek asylum in the United States. The nine activists had been held for nearly three weeks after attempting to cross the border from Mexico to protest the Obama administration’s record deportations. The Dream 9 were all brought to the United States as children. While most had previously been deported or had left the United States due to current policies, some of them had flown to Mexico in order to accompany the others back. Several of the group members wore graduation outfits as they descended from a bus in Tucson, Arizona, Wednesday, where supporters were waiting. Officials this week determined the Dream 9 had a “credible fear” of persecution if deported to Mexico, a decision which allows their bid for asylum to move forward. That process could take years. In the meantime, the Dream 9 will be allowed to remain at home in the United States.
Syrian rebels are claiming to have fired rockets that hit the motorcade of President Bashar al-Assad as he traveled to a mosque in the capital Damascus. The government denied the claims, and state TV showed footage of Assad attending prayer services. The Syrian military on Wednesday killed more than 60 rebel fighters in an ambush near the capital. The state news agency said the rebels belonged to the al-Nusra Front, which the United States considers a terrorist group. On Wednesday, President Obama announced an additional $195 million in humanitarian and food aid to Syria, bringing the total amount of such aid to more than $1 billion. More than 100,000 people have died since the conflict in Syria began in 2011.
In Egypt, supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi are rallying today to renew calls for Morsi’s reinstatement and honor the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. The United States and European Union have both called on Morsi’s supporters and Egypt’s interim government to resolve what they termed a “dangerous stalemate” after Egypt’s interim president said diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict had failed. The Egyptian military is said to be holding off for now on threats to clear two sit-ins by Morsi’s supporters in Cairo over fears that Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei might resign over such a crackdown. Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi issued more warnings to pro-Morsi demonstrators on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi: “We ask them, once more, to leave quickly and return to their homes and work, without resistance. Those who do not have blood on their hands, the state promises to provide them with free transportation. The Cabinet warns against the continuing, dangerous escalation and incitement by those who are deceiving them from amongst the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood that threatens national security.”
A judge in Missouri has found death-row prisoner Reggie Clemons was beaten by police and coerced into confessing to a role in the murders of two women in 1991. In a sweeping review of the case, Judge Michael Manners found state prosecutors violated Clemons’ constitutional rights by concealing evidence about the beatings and said the suppression might have changed the outcome of the case. However, Judge Manners, who was appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to conduct the review, also said Clemons had not made a convincing case that he is innocent. Clemons, who is African American, was one of four men charged in the deaths of two white sisters who were raped on the Chain of Rocks Bridge and then drowned in the Mississippi River. He insists he is innocent. His case has been compared to that of Troy Anthony Davis, who was executed by the state of Georgia in September 2011 despite major doubts about his guilt. The Missouri Supreme Court will now decide Clemons’ fate.
Wal-Mart has agreed to improve safety conditions at more than 2,800 stores as part of a settlement with federal health and safety regulators. Federal inspectors had uncovered what they termed “repeat and serious” violations at a store in Rochester, New York. Under the deal, Wal-Mart will improve procedures related to trash compactors and the handling of chemicals and hire an outside monitor to ensure compliance at store locations in 28 states. Wal-Mart will also pay $190,000, a tiny fraction of its profits, which amounted to $17 billion last year. In a statement, the worker group OUR Walmart, which has recently led a number of historic strikes against the company, said, “This is just the latest indication of Walmart’s malfeasance throughout the supply chain, and these serious problems represent a major danger to workers, the environment, and the company’s future.” Last month workers at a California warehouse that moves products for Wal-Mart launched a two-day strike to protest alleged retaliation after reporting safety issues that included blocked emergency exits, non-functioning forklift brakes and a lack of sufficient ventilation and water under intense heat.
Japan’s prime minister has ordered government action to help stop radioactive water leaks at the embattled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Officials now estimate the contaminated water is leaking into the Pacific Ocean at a rate of 300 tonnes per day, enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in a week.
Reuters is reporting Chesapeake Energy has abandoned a two-year legal battle to retain leases on thousands of acres of land in New York. It had planned to drill on the land for natural gas using the controversial technique of fracking if the state lifted a ban on the practice. Landowners had been fighting to prevent the firm from extending leases signed over the past decade under their current terms. Now Chesapeake reportedly plans to walk away from the leases.
The gas drilling firm, Range Resources, has come under fire following revelations it imposed a gag order on a Pennsylvania couple that prevented their children from ever talking about fracking. The Hallowich family reached a settlement in 2011 after being sickened by a gas-drilling operation adjacent to their property. The settlement, which was unsealed last week, bars the family from ever commenting “in any fashion whatsoever about Marcellus Shale/fracking activities.” Transcripts show that during a hearing, a lawyer for Range Resources said the gag order applies to the whole family and would be enforced that way. At the time of the settlement, the couple’s children were seven and 10 years old. Last week a company spokesperson denied the gag order applies to the children.
More women have come forward with sexual harassment claims against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Thirteen women have now publicly accused Filner of unwanted sexual behavior ranging from verbal remarks to groping. According to CNN, at least eight of the women are military veterans, most of whom were victims of sexual assault while serving. Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Eldonna Fernandez, who was raped three times while in the military, says she was speaking last year at an event for the National Women’s Veterans Association of America, a group that supports survivors of military sexual assault, when Filner, then a U.S. congressmember, made unwanted advances. Filner had formerly served as head of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Fernandez told CNN she believes he targeted survivors specifically.
Eldonna Fernandez: “We’re all victims of military sexual assault. And it appears to me that he was targeting this organization and hitting on the women in this organization because they were easy prey. So he’s part of an organization that’s against sexual assault and sexual violence towards women and sexual harassment, but he’s doing the very thing that we are fighting to make stop in our service and in our country.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is reportedly completing a number of new rules to address rampant sexual assault in the military after a Pentagon survey estimated 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year.
The National Institutes of Health says it has reached an unprecedented deal with the family of Henrietta Lacks that gives them a say in how her genetic material is used for research. Henrietta Lacks was a poor, African-American tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer in Baltimore in 1951. Her cancer cells — collected without her consent or knowledge — did not die in the lab, as others had. Instead they multiplied and became the backbone for tens of thousands of studies, aiding in key medical breakthroughs. But Lacks’ family did not learn how the cells were being used until decades later. Their struggle to come to terms with that lack of control became the subject of the bestselling book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot. Then, this year, a group of European scientists published the genome of one of Lacks’ cell lines without telling the family. Family members objected and finally reached a deal that will require researchers to submit applications to access Lacks’ genome which will be reviewed by a panel that includes two members of the Lacks family. The family will also receive credit in scientific papers.
A grand jury in the Bronx borough of New York City has failed to re-indict the New York City Police officer who fatally shot unarmed African-American teenager Ramarley Graham. Ramarley was shot at close range last February after being chased by narcotics officers into his building. Police say Graham was trying to empty a small bag of marijuana into the toilet before he was killed. Officer Richard Haste was indicted for manslaughter, but a judge reluctantly threw out the indictment in May on procedural grounds. On Wednesday, another grand jury chose not to indict Officer Haste a second time. Graham’s mother Constance Malcolm told the New York Post: “My son is dead and this man is walking free.” The family will hold a news conference today to announce their next steps.