Ordered by court, NSA reveals it collected thousands of US communications with no terror links
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has given up more of its surveillance secrets, acknowledging that it was ordered to stop scooping up thousands of Internet communications from Americans with no connection to terrorism — a practice it says was an unintended consequence when it gathered bundles of Internet traffic connected to terror suspects.
One of the documents that intelligence officials released Wednesday came because a court ordered the National Security Agency to do so. But it's also part of the administration's response to the leaks by analyst-turned-fugitive Edward Snowden, who revealed that the NSA's spying programs went further and gathered millions more communications than most Americans realized.
The NSA declassified three secret court opinions showing how it revealed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that one of its surveillance programs may have collected and stored as many as 56,000 emails and other communications by ordinary Americans annually over three years. The court ruled the NSA actions unconstitutional and ordered the agency to fix the problem, which it did by creating new technology to filter out buckets of data most likely to contain U.S. emails, and then limit the access to that data.
The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, released the information Wednesday "in the interest of increased transparency," and as directed by President Barack Obama in June, according to a statement accompanying the online documents.
But it wasn't until the Electronic Freedom Foundation, an Internet civil liberties group that sued for the release of one of the documents, disclosed the court order that Obama administration officials also acknowledged that the release was prodded by the group's 2012 lawsuit.
Syrian troops bomb area day after alleged chemical attack east of Damascus, activists say
BEIRUT (AP) — President Bashar Assad's forces pressed on with a military offensive in eastern Damascus on Thursday, bombing rebel-held suburbs where the opposition said a chemical weapons attack the day before killed over 100 people.
The government has denied allegations it used chemical weapons in artillery barrages on the area known as eastern Ghouta on Wednesday as "absolutely baseless." The United States, Britain and France have demanded that a team of U.N. experts already in Syria be granted immediate access to investigate the site.
Syrian opposition figures and activists have reported widely varying death tolls from Wednesday's attack, from 136 to as high as 1,300. But even the most conservative tally would make it the deadliest alleged chemical attack in Syria's civil war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had no word on casualties in the Thursday morning bombing of eastern Ghouta. It said Syrian warplanes conducted several air raids on eastern and western suburbs of Damascus, including three that took place within five minutes.
Wednesday's alleged chemical weapons attack left scores of children dead, their lifeless bodies appearing in amateur videos wrapped in white cloths, their pale skin unmarked by any wounds.
Bradley Manning attorney plans new tactics in fight to free him, including presidential pardon
FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — The fight to free Pfc. Bradley Manning takes a new turn as he returns to prison to serve a 35-year sentence for leaking classified information and his lawyer says he will ask the Army for leniency — and the White House for a pardon.
Even Manning's supporters have pivoted. During the sentencing hearing Wednesday, they wore T-shirts reading, "truth," as they had for the entire court-martial. Hours later, they had changed into shirts saying, "President Obama: Pardon Bradley Manning."
"The time to end Brad's suffering is now," defense attorney David Coombs told a news conference after Manning's sentence was handed down. "The time for our president to focus on protecting whistleblowers instead of punishing them is now."
Just a few miles away on an Army base outside Baltimore, Col. Denise Lind announced the stiffest punishment ever handed out in the U.S. for leaking information to the media. With good behavior and credit for the more than three years he has been held, Manning could be out in as little as seven years, Coombs said. Still, the lawyer decried the government's pursuit of Manning for what the soldier said was only an effort to expose wrongdoing and prompt debate of government policies among the American public.
The sentencing fired up the long-running debate over whether Manning was a whistleblower or a traitor for giving more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents, plus battlefield footage, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. By volume alone, it was the biggest leak of classified material in U.S. history, bigger even than the Pentagon Papers a generation ago.
Ousted China politician denies corruption charges; prosecutors say wife, son helped in graft
JINAN, China (AP) — Standing trial Thursday in China's biggest scandal in decades, ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai defended himself against allegations that he took bribes, saying he was coerced into making a confession and hoped that the court will judge his case fairly.
And after months in which little was revealed about the case against Bo, prosecutors began rolling out details, saying that he used his wife and son to help collect more than $4.3 million in illicit money.
Once the powerful party boss in the megacity of Chongqing, the charismatic Bo fell into disgrace early last year following allegations that his wife had killed a British businessman, and that he attempted to cover it up. Thursday marked the first time he was seen in public in 18 months, since shortly after the scandal emerged.
He's accused of abuse of power, bribery and embezzlement in a case that appears to be carefully focused to avoid allegations that could expose the party's factional squabbling or show the impunity with which top Chinese officials operate before they fall from favor.
Reporters from foreign media outlets were kept out of the courtroom for the trial, which is widely presumed to have a predetermined outcome: conviction. But in an unusual display of openness for a major political trial in China, court officials have been releasing frequent microblog updates on the testimony, suggesting ruling Communist Party officials are confident of minimizing damage from a scandal that exposed a murder and machinations among China's elite.
Egypt's ex-president Mubarak to leave prison, be put under house arrest following release
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak is expected to be freed from prison and placed under house arrest on Thursday after being ordered released the previous day, following more than two years in detention.
The development is a new twist in the saga of the long-time president, toppled in Egypt's popular uprising in 2011, and could potentially stoke tensions in the deeply divided nation. It could also amplify the anger against the military-backed government and Islamist allegations that last month's military coup against Mubarak's successor, Mohammed Morsi, was a step toward restoring the old regime.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi ordered Mubarak be put under house arrest as part of the emergency measures imposed this month after Morsi's removal from office. The decision appeared designed to ease some of the criticism over Mubarak being freed from prison and ensure that he appears in court next week for a separate trial.
El-Beblawi's announcement came hours after a court ordered Mubarak be released for the first time since he was first detained in April 2011.
Prison officials said he may be released as early as Thursday but it was unclear where he will be held under house arrest, whether in one of his residences or in a hospital, considering his frail health.
Evidence stacked against suspect in Fort Hood rampage as jury set to begin deliberations
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Army Maj. Nidal Hasan is sending only a single piece of evidence to the jury room when deliberations likely start Thursday about whether he is guilty of the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood: an evaluation from his boss that called him a good soldier.
Then there's the trove military prosecutors are handing over.
Pill bottles that rattle with bullets removed form soldiers. Photos of Hasan prowling the outside of a Fort Hood medical building with a gun during the time of the shooting. Jurors can even handle that gun, an FN 5.7 semi-automatic pistol, which Hasan volunteered belonged to him during the 12-day trial.
In all, the U.S government produced more than 700 pieces of evidence against Hasan, who hasn't put up a fight against charges that he killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in the deadliest mass shooting ever on a U.S. military base.
Yet on the eve of when the jury is expected to start deliberations, Hasan on Wednesday perked up about what he says all that evidence doesn't show — that the attack he admits to carrying out was somehow impulsive.
Family says German woman dies after week-long battle to recover from Hawaii shark attack
HONOLULU (AP) — A 20-year-old German woman who lost her right arm in a shark attack off of Hawaii last week is being remembered by her family as beautiful and strong after fighting to stay alive in a Maui hospital.
"We are sad to say that she lost her fight today," her family said Wednesday in a statement through Maui Memorial Medical Center.
Jana Lutteropp was the first person to die from a shark attack in Hawaii since 2004. The incident is drawing attention from state officials, who say they're getting calls from the public asking if beaches are safe. At the same time, they hope a new study will close gaps in scientific knowledge about shark movements around Maui.
Lutteropp had been on life support since a shark bit her on Aug. 14 as she snorkeled about 100 yards off of Palauea Beach.
A vacationing California high school teacher heard Lutteropp screaming, saw the surf flooded with blood and jumped in to save her. He swam her back to shore, worried that the shark that bit off her arm was still lurking nearby.
'Boyfriend Tracker' app stirs up Brazilians following revelations about US spying on Brazil
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilians were outraged when they learned their country was a top target of the U.S. National Security Agency's overseas spying operation, with data from billions of calls and emails swept up in Washington's top secret surveillance program.
Yet when it comes to the cloak and dagger effort of catching philandering lovers, all high-tech weapons appear to be fair game — at least to the tens of thousands of Brazilians who downloaded "Boyfriend Tracker" to their smartphones before the stealthy software was removed from the Google Play app store last week, apparently in response to complaints about privacy abuses and its potential to be used for extortion or even stalking.
"Brazilians are a jealous people, what can I say? Of course it's going to be popular," said Marcia Almeida, a 47-year-old woman in Rio whose marriage ended seven years ago in large part because of what she said was her husband's infidelity.
"It's a different type of spying," she said of comparisons to the NSA surveillance program. "You're checking up on somebody you know intimately, not some stranger."
The app, called "Rastreador de Namorados" (Portuguese for Boyfriend Tracker), promises to act like a "private detective in your partner's pocket."
Scientists say test tube-babies could be made for 200 euros with lab the size of a shoebox
LONDON (AP) — Since the first test-tube baby was born more than three decades ago, in vitro fertilization has evolved into a highly sophisticated lab procedure. Now, scientists are going back to basics and testing a simpler and cheaper method.
In the West, many would-be parents spend thousands of dollars for IVF, which involves pricey incubators and extensive screening. But European and American scientists say a simplified version of the entire procedure aimed at developing countries could be done for about 200 euros ($265) with generic fertility drugs and basic lab equipment that would fit inside a shoebox.
"IVF is made to sound complicated but the fact is that the early embryo is not very demanding," said Jonathan Van Blerkom, a fertility expert at the University of Colorado.
A human embryo doesn't need much beyond some basic solutions, a steady pH level and constant temperature, he said.
The simpler approach calls for women to take cheaper fertility tablets to stimulate their ovaries to release more than one egg per month. In conventional IVF, expensive, potent drugs that are injected can produce more than 20 eggs.
Going bananas: W. Pa. city, nearby college teaming with fruit giant Dole to celebrate 'splits'
PITTSBURGH (AP) — People are going nuts in one western Pennsylvania city that claims to be the birthplace of the banana split.
The residents of Latrobe, a city of 9,000 some 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, are poised to scoop on peanuts, chocolate sauce and whipped cream as they honor the frozen concoction.
But the cherry on top is a celebration that's morphed into three scoops of fun — Friday, Saturday and Sundae, er, Sunday — underwritten by Dole, the banana and fruit company, with help from nearby St. Vincent College, which has adopted the banana split as its unofficial festive food.
"We started throwing this idea around and it turns into this weekend celebration," Dole spokesman Bil Goldfield said. "It got pretty big, pretty fast."
Latrobe officials got the ball rolling when the historical commission agreed in April that the city made its case for a historical marker crediting the first fruit-filled sundae to David Strickler 109 years ago.