President Obama has called for releasing the torture report at the heart of a dispute between its author, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and its subject, the CIA. Panel chair Senator Dianne Feinstein has openly accused the CIA of spying on Senate staffers and seizing material from their computers as part of an effort to undermine the exhaustive report on the agency’s torture and rendition program. The report has yet to be released but reportedly documents extensive abuses and a cover-up by CIA officials. At the White House, Obama said he will push for declassifying the report.
President Obama: “We have worked with the Senate committee so that the report that they are putting forward is well informed, and what I’ve said is that I am absolutely committed to declassifying that report as soon as the report is completed. In fact, I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report, send it to us. We will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past, and that can help guide us as we move forward.”
Despite aiding momentum for the report’s release, Obama also offered tacit support to the CIA in its showdown with Congress. In his remarks, Obama said he would stay out of the dispute over whether the CIA broke the law in spying on the Senate.
President Obama: “With respect to the issues that are going back and forth between the Senate committee and the CIA, John Brennan has referred them to the appropriate authorities, and they are looking into it. And that’s not something that is an appropriate role for me and the White House to wade into at this point. But the one thing that I want to emphasize is the substantive issue, which is how do we operate even when we’re threatened, even when we’ve gone through extraordinary trauma, has to be consistent with rule of law and our values. And I acted on that on the first day, and that hasn’t changed.”
Obama’s apparent backing of the CIA falls in line with new reports showing the White House has helped stonewall the Senate’s investigation. McClatchy reports that for the last five years, the Obama administration has withheld 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the panel as part of its probe. The news suggests the White House has been more involved in the torture probe than it has publicly claimed.
New disclosures from Edward Snowden show the NSA is massively expanding its computer hacking worldwide. Software that automatically hacks into computers — known as malware “implants” — had previously been kept to just a few hundred targets. But the news website The Intercept reports the NSA is spreading the software to millions of computers under an automated system codenamed “Turbine.”
More leaks from Snowden have identified key court orders that loosened restrictions on the collection of Americans’ private information. Most pivotal is the July 2002 “Raw Take” order, which granted intelligence agencies the authority to share private information with others without having to delete details irrelevant to investigations.
President Obama’s pick to head the National Security Agency, Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, has appeared before the Senate ahead of his upcoming confirmation vote. Rogers would replace General Keith Alexander, who is set to retire. In his remarks, Rogers vowed to implement the proposed NSA reforms unveiled in the fallout over Edward Snowden’s disclosures.
Vice Admiral Michael Rogers: “We must do all of this in a manner which protects the civil liberties and privacy of our citizens. I will ensure strict adherence to policy, law and the oversight mechanisms in place. I will be an active partner in implementing the changes directed by the president with respect to aspects of the National Security Agency mission, and my intent is to be as transparent as possible in doing so and in the broader execution of my duties, if confirmed.”
Under questioning from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, Rogers declined an invitation to deem Snowden a “traitor,” but said he doesn’t see him as a hero.
Senator Joe Manchin: “And you’ve said before, some of the things he’s done and has continued to do is irreparable?”
Vice Admiral Michael Rogers: “I’m not sure that I said irreparable, but I believe it has significant risk, damage and consequences for us.”
Senator Joe Manchin: “So you would look at him as a traitor?”
Vice Admiral Michael Rogers: “I don’t know that I would use the word 'traitor,' but I certainly do not consider him to be a hero.”
If confirmed, Rogers would also lead the new Pentagon unit in charge of offensive cyber-operations, despite recommendations by a presidential advisory panel to separate the two posts. In his testimony, Rogers said every major combat command in the U.S. military is slated to have its own cyber-attack operations.
President Obama hosted Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House on Wednesday in a show of support for the interim Ukraine government in its standoff with Russia. The meeting comes days before the Russian-backed government in Crimea is holding a referendum on whether to secede and join Russia. Obama warned Russia of consequences if Ukraine is divided.
President Obama: “We will continue to say to the Russian government that if it continues on the path that it is on, then not only us, but the international community, the European Union and others will be forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violations of international law and its encroachments on Ukraine. There’s another path available, and we hope that President Putin is willing to seize that path. But if he does not, I am very confident that the international community will stand strongly behind the Ukrainian government in preserving its unity and its territorial integrity.”
Borrowing the famous line from Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, Yatsenyuk called on Putin to drop his designs on Crimea.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk: “So my message to President Putin: Mr. Putin, tear down this wall, the wall of war, intimidation and military aggression. Let’s stop. Let’s calm down.”
At their meeting, Obama backed a tentative proposal that would potentially open more autonomy to Crimea if Russian forces withdraw. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to hold talks with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in London on Friday.
Israel has launched its most intense bombing of the Gaza Strip since the assault of late 2012. Around 30 Israeli attacks have hit Gaza since Wednesday following a barrage of Palestinian rocket fire. No casualties have been reported on either side. The group Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks in what it called a response to earlier Israeli strikes that killed three people. More rockets have now been fired from Gaza as the flare-up continues for a third day.
Overall, at least six Palestinians have died in Israeli attacks on the Occupied Territories this week. The casualties include a Palestinian judge living in Jordan who was fatally shot while crossing the border to visit his comatose daughter. Israel says the victim was fired on after he tried to seize a soldier’s weapon. A witness, however, claims he was shot after shoving a soldier who had forced him to the ground. Israel has expressed “regret” for the incident but has refused to apologize. Another victim was a male Palestinian teen shot by a soldier at point-blank range.
The search is continuing for a missing jetliner five days after it disappeared en route from Malaysia to China. On Thursday, satellite imagery picked up what investigators said may have been the plane’s debris in the South China Sea, but ships sent to the area found nothing. Adding to the mystery around the plane’s disappearance, The Wall Street Journal reports U.S. investigators believe it may have flown for four hours after last making contact with air traffic control.
President Obama is using his executive authority to expand overtime pay for millions of American workers. The move will expand overtime eligibility to workers whom corporations have classified as “executive or professional” employees in an effort to avoid paying them for extra work. These include store managers, office workers, loan officers and computer technicians. Corporate lobbying groups have long opposed the expansion of overtime pay. Republicans are expected to mount opposition on top of their effort to block Obama’s raising of the minimum wage for federal workers to $10.10 an hour.
The auto giant General Motors has acknowledged it received complaints about a key safety defect in 2001 — three years earlier than previously disclosed. The failure of ignition switches in GM cars has been tied to 12 deaths and 31 accidents over the past decade. It finally prompted a recall of 1.6 million cars last month.
And in New York City, at least seven people are dead, more than 70 wounded, and others remain missing, after two buildings in Harlem collapsed in an explosion triggered by a gas leak. The force of the blast shattered windows in nearby buildings.
Another tragedy hit the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, where a suspected drunk driver chased by police drove into a crowd of people leaving a music event. At least two people were killed and more than 20 wounded.