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President Obama has signed into law a measure ending the mass phone surveillance program exposed by Edward Snowden two years ago. The Senate passed the USA FREEDOM Act on Tuesday with a vote of 67 to 32. The law stops the bulk collection of telephone records. It instead requires the NSA to ask companies for a specific user’s data rather than vacuuming up all the records at once. It also appoints a civilian advocate to represent the public interest before the secret FISA court that approves government spying requests. The NSA will still retain wide surveillance powers, including over Internet data. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union said: “This is the most important surveillance reform bill since 1978, and its passage is an indication that Americans are no longer willing to give the intelligence agencies a blank check. Still, no one should mistake this bill for comprehensive reform.”
More than 400 people remain missing after a cruise ship capsized in China’s Yangtze River. Just 14 people have been saved, while seven bodies have been recovered in the rescue effort. China says it is in a “race against time” to find survivors.
The head of the international soccer governing body FIFA has resigned over a growing corruption scandal. Sepp Blatter’s announcement follows last week’s indictments of 14 people on corruption charges, including two FIFA vice presidents. Blatter had vowed to stay on and was re-elected to a fifth term on Friday. But in a dramatic reversal, Blatter said Tuesday he will step down.
Sepp Blatter: “I decided to stand again to be elected because I was convinced it was the best option for our institution. The elections are closed, but the challenges that FIFA is facing have not come to an end. FIFA needs a profound restructuring. Although the members of FIFA have given me a new mandate, have re-elected me president, this mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of soccer — supporters, clubs, players, those who inspire life in soccer.”
Blatter’s announcement came after The New York Times reported Blatter’s secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, allegedly made $10 million in bank transactions that are central elements of the bribery scandal. U.S. officials have confirmed Blatter is the focus of a criminal investigation, with investigators hopeful those already charged will cooperate. The resignation won’t take effect for another four months due to FIFA rules.
The U.S. says the Islamic State has lost over 10,000 fighters since coalition airstrikes began in Iraq and Syria last August. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the claim after attending a meeting of the anti-ISIL coalition in Paris. The group of Western and Arab states voiced support for Iraq’s plan to retake territory from ISIL. Blinken said Washington is confident ISIL will be defeated.
Antony Blinken: “It becomes clearer every single day that Daesh stands for nothing and depends on people who will fall for anything. I emerge from this meeting confident that we will defeat them through our unity, our determination and our commitment to create a future of opportunity and peace for people in Iraq.”
Israel has labeled the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement a “strategic threat” amid new efforts to combat its presence on college campuses. The billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is reportedly set to host a conference in Las Vegas this weekend on how to counter BDS at universities nationwide. This comes as President Obama has warned Israel risks losing international credibility if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to reject a two-state solution. Obama made the comment in an interview with Israeli television.
President Obama: “I think subsequently his statements have suggested that there is the possibility of a Palestinian state, but it has so many caveats, so many conditions, that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met any time in the near future. And so, the danger here is that Israel, as a whole, loses credibility. Already, the international community does not believe that Israel is serious about a two-state solution. The statement the prime minister made compounded that belief that there’s not a commitment there.”
A victim whose torture is documented in last year’s Senate report is accusing the CIA of more abuses than previously disclosed. Guantánamo Bay prisoner Majid Khan was among those subjected to rectal feeding. But according to Reuters, Khan has also told lawyers “interrogators poured ice water on his genitals, twice videotaped him naked and repeatedly touched his [genitals].” Khan says he suffered hallucinations and wished for his interrogators to take his life.
Boston police have shot dead a man they say was being monitored for terrorism and who tried to attack two officers. Police say an officer and FBI agent approached 26-year-old Usaama Rahim for questioning when he lunged at them with a knife. A relative has disputed the account, saying Rahim was talking on the phone to his father when officers shot him in the back three times. Announcing the killing, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said the officers were forced to open fire.
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans: “We have video depicting this individual coming at officers while the officers are retreating. The individual in question has what can be described as a large military knife. The officers are retreating, and that’s from the video we have available as well as witnesses’ account. And they kept retreating, verbally giving commands to drop the weapon, drop the weapon. And at some point, the individual’s proximity came close that the officers were in danger, their lives were in danger, when two officers discharged their weapons.”
A government probe has found wide security lapses at U.S. airports. Checkpoint screeners failed to detect fake explosives and weapons in 95 percent of tests carried out by undercover agents. Melvin Carraway, the acting head of the Transportation Security Administration, has been reassigned as a result. At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said steps are being taken to address the issue.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “The president does continue to have confidence that the officers of the TSA do very important work that continues to protect the American people and continues to protect the American aviation system. Now, what’s also true is that there were specific concerns that were raised by this classified report that was conducted by the independent inspector general. And in response to that report, the director of Homeland Security directed the TSA to undertake seven specific steps to try to address those concerns.”
And the Associated Press has revealed the FBI is operating a civilian air force made up of scores of low-flying surveillance planes which are concealed behind the names of fake companies. The AP identified more than 100 flights in 11 states and Washington, D.C., over a 30-day period ending last month, including parts of Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Southern California. The aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras, and some can also carry devices that mimic cell towers and can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call or in public.
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