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   SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge in San Francisco stopped the destruction Monday of millions of telephone records collected by the National Security Agency more than five years ago.
   U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White, who is overseeing an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the agency, issued a nationwide order Monday to safeguard evidence until March 19, when he will hold a hearing on extending the deadline further.
   The secret federal court that approved the agency's surveillance has required that documents be purged after five years for privacy reasons. On Friday, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court denied the federal government's request to keep the records for the sake of pending lawsuits.
   The NSA, which has acknowledged obtaining phone numbers and other information on all U.S. calls, was prepared on Tuesday to destroy all records collected more than five years ago, according to court documents.
   White said he was enforcing an order he had issued in an earlier NSA surveillance case that halted evidence from being destroyed.
   He wrote that "the Court would be unable to afford effective relief once the records are destroyed" and before he decided if their collection was legal. The plaintiffs in the lawsuits include civil rights, environmental and religious groups as well as gun organizations and marijuana advocates.
   The NSA started collecting domestic phone call records in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Since 2006, the agency has obtained warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
   The White House referred questions on the NSA records to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Published in National News
Thursday, 31 October 2013 02:35

After unity, Obama faces Democratic pushback

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Just two weeks after President Barack Obama saw his Democratic Party put up an unyielding front against Republicans, his coalition is showing signs of stress.

   From health care to spying to pending budget deals, many congressional Democrats are challenging the administration and pushing for measures that the White House has not embraced.

   Some Democrats are seeking to extend the enrollment period for new health care exchanges. Others want to place restraints on National Security Administration surveillance capabilities. Still others are standing tough against any budget deal that uses long-term reductions in major benefit programs to offset immediate cuts in defense.

   Though focused on disparate issues, the Democrats' anxieties are connected by timing and stand out all the more when contrasted with the remarkable unity the party displayed during the recent showdown over the partial government shutdown and the confrontation over raising the nation's borrowing limit.

   "That moment was always going to be fleeting," said Matt Bennett, who worked in the Clinton White House and who regularly consults with Obama aides. "The White House, every White House, understands that these folks, driven either by principle or the demands of the politics of their state, have to put daylight between themselves and the president on occasion."

   Obama and the Democrats emerged from the debt and shutdown clash with what they wanted: a reopened government, a higher debt ceiling and a Republican Party reeling in the depths of public opinion polls.

   But within days, attention turned to the problem-riddled launch of the 3-year-old health care law's enrollment stage and revelations that the U.S. had been secretly monitoring the communications of as many as 35 allied leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And with new budget talks underway, Democratic Party liberals reiterated demands that Obama not agree to changes that reduce Social Security or Medicare benefits even in the improbable event Republicans agree to increase budget revenues.

   The fraying on the Democratic Party edges is hardly unraveling Obama's support and it pales when compared to the upheaval within the Republican Party as it distances itself from the tactics of tea party conservatives. But the pushback from Democrats comes as Obama is trying to draw renewed attention to his agenda, including passage of an immigration overhaul, his jobs initiatives and the benefits of his health care law.

   The computer troubles that befell the start of health insurance sign-ups have caused the greatest anxiety. Republicans pounced on the difficulties as evidence of deeper flaws in the law. But Democrats, even as they defended the policy, also demanded answers in the face of questions from their constituents.

   "The fact is that the administration really failed these Americans," Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., told Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner at a hearing this week. "So going forward there can be just no more excuses."

   In the Senate, 10 Democrats signed on to a letter seeking an unspecified extension of the enrollment period, which ends March 31. "As you continue to fix problems with the website and the enrollment process, it is critical that the administration be open to modifications that provide greater flexibility for the American people seeking to access health insurance," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., wrote.

   Another Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has called for a one-year delay in the requirement that virtually all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine.

   Democrats who have talked to White House officials in recent days describe them as rattled by the health care blunders. But they say they are confident that the troubled website used for enrollment will be corrected and fully operational by the end of November.

   The spying revelations also have created some tensions between the administration and Democrats. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and until now a staunch supporter of the NSA's surveillance, called for a "total review of all intelligence programs" following the Merkel reports.

   She said that when it came to the NSA collecting intelligence on the leaders of allies such as France, Spain, Mexico and Germany, "Let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed."

   With Congress renewing budget talks Wednesday, liberals have been outspoken in their insistence that Democrats vigorously resist efforts to reduce long-term deficits with savings in Social Security or Medicare. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who usually votes with Democrats, has been the most outspoken, saying he fears a budget deal will contain a proposal in Obama's budget to reduce cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security and other benefit programs.

   Obama, however, has proposed that remedy only if Republicans agree to raise tax revenue, a bargain that most in the GOP firmly oppose. Moreover, leaders from both parties as well as White House officials have signaled that budget talks are looking for a small budget deal, not the type of "grand bargain" that would embrace such a revenue-for-benefit-cuts deal.

Published in National News

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Faced with a flood of revelations about U.S. spying practices, the White House is considering ending its eavesdropping on friendly foreign leaders, a senior administration official said.

   A final decision has not been made and the move is still under review, the official said. But the fact that it is even being considered underscores the level of concern within the administration over the possible damage from the months-long spying scandal — including the most recent disclosure that the National Security Agency was monitoring the communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

   On Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for a "total review of all intelligence programs" following the Merkel allegations. In a statement, the California Democrat said the White House had informed her that "collection on our allies will not continue."

   The administration official said that statement was not accurate, but added that some unspecified changes already had been made and more were being considered, including terminating the collection of communications from friendly heads of state.

   The official was not authorized to discuss the review by name and insisted on anonymity.

   Reports based on new leaks from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden indicate that the NSA listened to Merkel and 34 other foreign leaders.

   "With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies — including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany — let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed," Feinstein said. She added that the U.S. should not be "collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers" unless in an emergency with approval of the president.

   In response to the revelations, German officials said Monday that the U.S. could lose access to an important law enforcement tool used to track terrorist money flows. Other longtime allies have also expressed their displeasure about the U.S. spying on their leaders.

   As possible leverage, German authorities cited last week's non-binding resolution by the European Parliament to suspend a post-9/11 agreement allowing the Americans access to bank transfer data to track the flow of terrorist money. A top German official said Monday she believed the Americans were using the information to gather economic intelligence apart from terrorism and said the agreement, known as the SWIFT agreement, should be suspended.

   European Union officials who are in Washington to meet with lawmakers ahead of White House talks said U.S. surveillance of their people could affect negotiations over a U.S.-Europe trade agreement. They said European privacy must be better protected.

   Many officials in Germany and other European governments have made clear, however, that they don't favor suspending the U.S.-EU trade talks which began last summer because both sides stand to gain so much through the proposed deal, especially against competition from China and other emerging markets.

   As tensions with European allies escalate, the top U.S. intelligence official declassified dozens of pages of top-secret documents in an apparent bid to show the NSA was acting legally when it gathered millions of Americans' phone records.

   Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said he was following the president's direction to make public as much information as possible about how U.S. intelligence agencies spy under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Monday's release of documents focused on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the bulk collection of U.S. phone records.

   The document release is part of an administration-wide effort to preserve the NSA's ability to collect bulk data, which it says is key to tracking key terror suspects, but which privacy activists say is a breach of the Constitution's ban on unreasonable search and seizure of evidence from innocent Americans.

   The release of the documents comes ahead of a House Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday on FISA reform.

   The documents support administration testimony that the NSA worked to operate within the law and fix errors when they or their systems overreached. One of the documents shows the NSA admitting to the House Intelligence Committee that one of its automated systems picked up too much telephone metadata. The February 2009 document indicates the problem was fixed.

   Another set of documents shows the judges of the FISA court seemed satisfied with the NSA's cooperation. It says that in September 2009, the NSA advised the Senate Intelligence Committee about its continuing collection of Americans' phone records and described a series of demonstrations and briefings it conducted for three judges on the secretive U.S. spy court. The memorandum said the judges were "engaged throughout and asked questions, which were answered by the briefers and other subject matter experts," and said the judges appreciated the amount and quality of information the NSA provided.

   It said that two days later, one of the judges, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, renewed the court's permission to resume collecting phone records.

   The documents also included previously classified testimony from 2009 for the House Intelligence Committee by Michael Leiter, then head of the National Counterterrorism Center. He and other officials said collecting Americans' phone records helped indict Najibullah Zazi, who was accused in a previously disclosed 2009 terror plot to bomb the New York City subways.

   The documents also show the NSA considered tracking targets using cellphone location data, and according to an April 2011 memo consulted the Justice Department first, which said such collection was legal. Only later did the NSA inform the FISA court of the testing.

   NSA commander Gen. Keith Alexander revealed the testing earlier this month to Congress but said the agency did not use the capability to track Americans' cellphone locations nor deem it necessary right now.

   Asked Monday whether the NSA intelligence gathering had been used not only to protect national security but American economic interests as well, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "We do not use our intelligence capabilities for that purpose. We use it for security purposes."

   National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden later clarified that: "We do not use our intelligence capabilities to give U.S. companies an advantage, not ruling out that we are interested in economic information."

   Still, he acknowledged the tensions with allies over the eavesdropping disclosures and said the White House was "working to allay those concerns," though he refused to discuss any specific reports or provide details of internal White House discussions.

   ___

   Associated Press writers Ted Bridis and Jack Gillum in Washington, Frank Jordan, Geir Moulson and Robert H. Reid in Berlin, Juergen Baetz in Brussels, Ciaran Giles, Jorge Sainz and Alan Clendenning in Madrid and Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris contributed to this report.

Published in National News
Thursday, 10 October 2013 03:38

Edward Snowden's father arrives in Moscow

   MOSCOW (AP) — The father of former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow Thursday morning to meet with his son who has received asylum in Russia and has been living at a secret location.

   Lon Snowden told Russian television outside Moscow's airport that he doubts his son, Edward Snowden, will return to the United States, where he is charged with violating the Espionage Act for disclosing NSA's highly classified surveillance of phone and Internet usage around the world.

   "I'm not sure that my son will be returning to the U.S. again," Lon Snowden said but added that "that's his decision." He also said he has not had direct contact with his son and would not say when or where he will be meeting him.

   Edward Snowden was stuck at a Moscow airport for more than a month after his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23. He was granted asylum in Russia in August. His whereabouts remain secret although his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, insists that Snowden lives in Russia.

   Lon Snowden said that it is his understanding that his son has now stopped leaking information.

   He thanked Russia and President Vladimir Putin for sheltering his son.

   Edward Snowden's asylum status has strained the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Russia, and President Barack Obama called off a meeting with President Putin at a Russia-hosted summit in September.

Published in National News

   RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Brazilian television report that aired Sunday night said Canadian spies targeted Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry.

   The report on Globo television was based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and was the latest showing that Latin America's biggest nation has been a target for U.S., British and now Canadian spy agencies.

   The report said the "metadata" of phone calls and emails from and to the Brazilian ministry were targeted by Canada's Communications Security Establishment to map the ministry's communications, using a software program called Olympia. It didn't indicate if emails were read or phone calls listened to.

   Brazilian Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao told Globo that "Canada has interests in Brazil, above all in the mining sector. I can't say if the spying served corporate interests or other groups."

   American journalist Glenn Greenwald, based in Rio de Janeiro, worked with Globo on its report. Greenwald broke the first stories about the NSA's global spy program focusing on Internet traffic and phone calls.

   Globo previously reported that the communications of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and also state-run oil company Petrobras were targeted by NSA spying.

   Earlier, Greenwald wrote articles in the O Globo newspaper saying that the NSA was gathering metadata on billions of emails, phone calls and other Internet data flowing through Brazil, an important transit point for global communications.

   The fallout over the spy programs led Rousseff last month to cancel a planned visit to the U.S., where she was to be the guest of honor for a state dinner.

   Rousseff last month spoke at the United Nations General Assembly and called for international regulations on data privacy and limiting espionage programs targeting the Internet.

Published in National News

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