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Members of the White House panel reviewing government surveillance have publicly rejected some of the National Security Agency’s key claims in justifying warrantless, mass spying. Appearing before a Senate hearing, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell and former national security aide Richard Clarke refuted assertions the bulk collection of phone data could have prevented 9/11.
Michael Morell: “It is absolutely true that the 215 program has not played a significant role in disrupting any terrorist attacks to this point. That is a different statement than saying the program is not important.”
Richard Clarke: “If the information that the federal agencies had at the time had been shared among the agencies, then one of them, the FBI, could have gone to the FISA Court and could have, in a very timely manner, gotten a warrant to monitor the appropriate telephones. They didn’t because they were unaware of the information that existed elsewhere in the government at the time. But there was a period of over two years where that information was available.”
President Obama is expected to present his plan for reforming the NSA on Friday.
In the latest of the revelations surrounding U.S. surveillance, The New York Times reports the National Security Agency has planted spying software in close to 100,000 computers around the world. The software allows for monitoring those machines and the creation of a new digital pathway to launch cyber-attacks on others. It works even if computers are not connected to the Internet by using a covert channel of radio frequencies. Reported targets since 2008 include the Chinese and Russian military, Mexican police and drug cartels, European Union trade institutions, and U.S. allies including Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan.
The latest news about National Security Agency spying comes amidst reports talks between the United States and Germany on a no-spying agreement are near collapse. Tensions peaked between the two countries last year after documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed U.S. surveillance of German citizens and officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. A German newspaper reports the negotiations are at a dead-end over a U.S. refusal to guarantee an end to spying on German politicians. Germany denies the claim and says the talks are ongoing.
A federal appeals court has struck down federal rules promoting equal access to the Internet. The telecom giant Verizon had challenged Federal Communications Commission regulations on net neutrality that force Internet providers to provide all content at equal speeds, regardless of the company’s own business interests. Advocates say the rules defend against corporate abuses and help preserve an open Internet. But the court ruled Tuesday that because the Internet is not a utility, companies are free to make side deals for faster streaming of their websites and services. In a statement, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said the decision “is poised to end the free, open, and uncensored Internet that we have come to rely on.” He added: “Without prompt corrective action to reclassify broadband, this awful ruling will serve as a sorry memorial to the corporate abrogation of free speech.”
At least 52 people have been killed today in a series of bombings across Iraq. The deadliest attack hit a crowd of mourners at a Sunni funeral near Baquba, leaving 18 dead. At least six car bombs in Baghdad claimed at least 34 lives. Iraq is facing its worst violence since the height of sectarian warfare that left tens of thousands dead six years ago.
At least 11 people were killed in Egypt on Tuesday as voting opened on a constitutional referendum. Egyptian forces clashed with demonstrators calling for a boycott of the vote and denouncing military rule. More violence has been reported today as the referendum continues for a second and final day. The vote could set the stage for a presidential run by Egypt’s military ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Israel’s defense minister has apologized to the United States after harshly dismissing Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a Middle East peace deal. Speaking to an Israeli newspaper, Moshe Ya’alon said: “Kerry has come to us determined and is acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and a messianic feeling. [He] cannot teach me a single thing about the conflict with the Palestinians. The only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone.” In Washington, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf called Ya’alon’s statement “offensive and inappropriate.”
Marie Harf: “To question his motives, to distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally. And again, if accurate, I think we’ve been very clear that we would find these comments offensive and inappropriate.”
Ya’alon’s dismissal of Kerry comes amidst the Israeli government’s ongoing expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite ostensibly negotiating over the creation of a Palestinian state there.
Two children have been seriously wounded after a classmate opened fire at a middle school in Roswell, New Mexico. The shooter, 12 years old, was armed with a shotgun. The victims were an 11-year-old boy in critical condition and a 12-year-old girl in serious condition. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez briefed reporters on the attack.
Gov. Susana Martinez: “Student from Berrendo Middle School walked into the school this morning, and while students were gathered in the gym because of the weather — they gather in the gym to stay out of the cold weather — this individual opened fire on the audience that was in the gym. The shooter was quickly stopped by one staff member who walked right up to him and asked him to set down the firearm, which he did. He was also assisted by a state lieutenant, state police lieutenant, who was dropping off his own child.”
The shooting was the third at a U.S. middle school in the past four months after deadly incidents in Nevada in October and in Colorado last month. It is also at least the 26th school shooting in just over a year since the Newtown massacre of December 2012.
A federal judge has struck down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ruled Oklahoma’s ban violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The decision is on hold, however, pending appeals from state officials. It’s the second time in a month that a federal judge has overturned a gay marriage ban in a traditionally Republican state, following Utah in December. The Supreme Court later put gay marriages on hold pending Utah’s appeal. Utah says it would not recognize any of the marriages performed during the three weeks when they were legal, but the Justice Department says they will be recognized at the federal level.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered a highly anticipated State of the State address on Tuesday amidst the unfolding scandal threatening his political future. Last week, Christie fired a top aide after it emerged she had ordered the closure of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, apparently to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for declining to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election. Christie opened his speech with an apology to voters.
Gov. Chris Christie: “Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we’re entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better. Much better. I am the governor, and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch, both good and bad. Now, without a doubt, we will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries to ensure that this breach of trust does not happen again. But I also want to assure the people of New Jersey today that what has occurred does not define us or our state.”
More developments threaten to expand the controversy. Newly released photos show Christie was with David Wildstein, another official tied to the scandal, at a memorial on September 11, the third day of the lane closings in Fort Lee. Christie has repeatedly claimed he and Wildstein have had little to no contact. State lawmakers are also readying new subpoenas to force the testimony of Christie’s aides. Federal investigators, meanwhile, are probing whether Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy relief money to fund a multimillion-dollar tourism ad campaign featuring his family.
The Obama administration is reportedly preparing to undermine strong environmental safeguards in trade talks with 11 other Pacific Rim countries. New documents released by WikiLeaks show the White House is ready to backtrack on a series of critical regulations in order to secure a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These include legally binding requirements for pollution limits, logging standards, and a ban on the harvesting of shark fins.