Edward Snowden
(Mandel Ngan /AFP/Getty Images)
November 03, 2013

No Clemency For Snowden, U.S. Officials Say

Congressional leaders and the White House had one message for Edward Snowden on Sunday: There will be no clemency for illegally leaking documents that have revealed some of the U.S. government's most secret programs.

Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat of California, and her House counterpart, Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan, expressed that view on CBS' Face the Nation and White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said pretty much the same on ABC's This Week.

Politico reports on Feinstein and Rogers:

"Feinstein said Snowden had done an 'enormous disservice to our country,' saying he squandered an opportunity to become a legal whistleblower and approach the intelligence committees with his information. Snowden had 'stripped our system,' she said, and should be fully prosecuted.

"And Rogers said he would not accept clemency for committing 'a crime that actually puts soldiers lives at risk in places like Afghanistan,' and the Russians are allowing Snowden to stay in the country in order to gain intelligence.

"Snowden 'took and stole information, he violated his oath, he disclosed classified information that, by the way, has allowed three different terrorist organizations, affiliates of Al Qaeda, to change the way they communicate,' Rogers said."

The New York Times reports that Pfeiffer said the administration had not considered clemency for Snowden and that he should just return to the country and face charges.

Of course, all of this comes just days after Snowden wrote an open letter in which he argued that "speaking the truth is not a crime."

Today, the German news magazine Der Spiegel published "A Manifesto for the Truth," in which Snowden argues that his revelations have spurred much-needed debate in the U.S. about surveillance.

"Instead of causing damage, the usefulness of the new public knowledge for society is now clear because reforms to politics, supervision and laws are being suggested," Snowden wrote, according to an English translation of the piece by Reuters. "Citizens have to fight against the suppression of information about affairs of essential importance for the public. Those who speak the truth are not committing a crime."


Edward Snowden
(AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
October 18, 2013

Snowden Says He Ditched Classified Docs, Before Fleeing To Russia

In an extensive interview with The New York Times, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden says by the time he got to Russia, he had given all his classified files to journalists.

Snowden did that to prevent the Russians from gaining access to secret American documents and "because it wouldn't serve the public interest," he said.

He added that he was familiar with Chinese spying capabilities, so he is also sure that they did not gain access to the encrypted files while he was in Hong Kong.

Snowden's leaks have produced a trickle of major stories that have uncovered details of some of the United States' most secret surveillance programs and have rekindled a major, national debate about their legality. The 30-year-old, who has been called a traitor and a patriot, was granted one-year of asylum in Russia.

The whole New York Times interview is worth a read, so we encourage you to click through. We'll leave you with what Snowden said triggered his decision to leak these top-secret documents:

"Mr. Snowden said he finally decided to act when he discovered a copy of a classified 2009 inspector general's report on the N.S.A.'s warrantless wiretapping program during the Bush administration. He said he found the document through a "dirty word search," which he described as an effort by a systems administrator to check a computer system for things that should not be there in order to delete them and sanitize the system.

"'It was too highly classified to be where it was,' he said of the report. He opened the document to make certain that it did not belong there, and after seeing what it revealed, 'curiosity prevailed,' he said.

"After reading about the program, which skirted the existing surveillance laws, he concluded that it had been illegal, he said. 'If the highest officials in government can break the law without fearing punishment or even any repercussions at all,' he said, 'secret powers become tremendously dangerous.'"

The Guardian published that leaked 2009 IG report. Here's a copy (pdf).


Vladimir Putin
(Klimentyev Mikhail /ITAR-TASS /Landov)
September 12, 2013

Challenging Obama, Putin Appeals Directly To Americans On Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unusual and direct appeal to the American people Wednesday night to reject President Obama's calls for possible use of force against Syria, using an op-ed in The New York Times to counter many of the arguments Obama made 24 hours earlier in a speech to the nation.

"The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders," Putin warned. "A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance."

Countering Obama's historical references justifying possible "limited" U.S. strikes to damage Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical weapons, Putin painted his own picture of an international community endangered by the use of U.S. military might.

"It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America's long-term interest? I doubt it," wrote Putin. "Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan 'you're either with us or against us.' "

In m any respects, Putin seemed to echo the arguments from critics of Obama's call for military strikes, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Putin also seemed to be playing to the fears many Americans have expressed in polls that show an overwhelming opposition to a military strike on Syria.

In a prime-time address to the nation Tuesday, Obama described the history of chemical weapons dating from World War I and said a failure to act forcefully against Assad could be read by some world leaders as a sign that the international community would turn a blind eye to future use of such weapons.

But Obama also used the speech to announce that he had asked Congress to delay voting on his call for authorization for a military strike to give time for an 11th hour diplomatic solution to work. The deal, which would require Assad to turn over chemical weapons to an international body, has been brokered in part by the Russians.

Putin directly challenged Obama's claim that the use of sarin gas on Damascus suburbs, which killed more than 1,400 civilians on Aug. 21, came directly and inarguably from Assad's forces. Wrote Putin:

"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored."

And on the 12th anniversary of 9/11, Putin warned that a U.S. military strike could strengthen terrorists:

"Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world."

"Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?"

Finally, Putin argued that the use of U.S. military power without international backing actually gives foreign powers an incentive to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

"The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded."

The muscular assault on Obama's credibility, published late Wednesday, included Putin's ironic claim that his working relationship with Obama "is marked by growing trust." It comes just weeks after the White House canceled a meeting with Putin before the G-20 summit, angered by Russia's granting temporary asylum to NSA contractor and leaker Edward Snowden.


September 12, 2013

Shimkus Still Opposed To Strike In Syria, Doesn't Trust Russia

Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Collinsville says he’s still not convinced a military strike against Syria is a good idea.

President Obama has urged Congress to allow him to move forward with an attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who he claims has used chemical weapons against his own people.

But the president now says a Russian initiative could remove the threat of chemical weapons in Syria without the use of force, and he’s urging Congress to postpone a vote on military action.

Congressman Shimkus said he's skeptical about a possible diplomatic deal.

"I'm not very hopeful that you can trust a dictator who just gassed his people - and a country that intervenes in the internal affairs of other countries, and invaded a sovereign country of Georgia," he said. "We better be careful who we're trusting."

Shimkus said he questions whether rounding up chemical stockpiles will actually happen.

“So, we gather up 99-percent of them," he said.  "Does this become another Iraq where we think they still have small percentages, and they’re hidden and moved around.”

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Rodney Davis of Taylorville says he doesn't think lawmakers should back U.S. military involvement in Syria.

Davis said he thinks President Obama lacks a clear objective for Syria.


Edward Snowden
(AP Photo/Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina)
July 12, 2013

Snowden Wants To Stay In Russia, Says He Will Stop Leaking

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wants asylum in Russia and is willing to stop sharing information as a trade-off for such a deal.

That is according to a parliament member who was among a dozen activists and officials to meet with him Friday.

Snowden appeared nervous, but in apparently good health during the meeting behind closed doors in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport where he's been marooned for weeks, Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov told reporters.

A photo attributed to a Human Rights Watch representative who attended the meeting was posted on the Guardian and other websites, the first image to appear of Snowden since the newspaper broke the story of widespread U.S. Internet surveillance based on his leaks.

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, told Russian news agencies after the announcement Friday that Russia has not yet received a new bid for asylum from Snowden and that Putin would continue with his insistence that Snowden stop leaking information.

Both Nikonov and Genri Reznik, a lawyer who participated in the meeting, said Snowden was willing to stop leaks.

"He said he was informed of this condition and that he can easily accept it. He does not intend to damage the United States' interests given that he is a patriot of his country," Nikonov said.

Snowden is believed to have been stuck in the transit zone since June 23, when he arrived on a flight from Hong Kong, where he had gone before his revelations were made public. He had been expected to transfer in Moscow to a Cuba-bound flight, but did not get on the plane and had not been seen in public since then.

Snowden made an initial bid for Russian asylum, but Putin said he would have to agree to stop leaking before asylum would be considered. Snowden then withdrew his bid.

Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua recently have offered him asylum, but it is unclear if he could fly to any of those countries from Moscow without passing through airspace of the United States or its allies.

The activists at the meeting included Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International's Russia office, and Tatiana Lokshina, deputy head of the Russian office of Human Rights Watch. Also taken into the meeting room was Russia's presidential human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin.

They came after an email in Snowden's name was sent on Thursday. On Facebook, Lokshina posted the text of the email, which says in part that Snowden wants to make "a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation."

Hundreds of journalists flocked to the airport, but were kept in a hallway outside the meeting area which was behind a gray door marked "staff only." It was not clear if Snowden would have to come out that door or if he could exit by another route.

The text of the invitation did not directly address the offers of asylum, though it expressed gratitude for asylum offers and says "I hope to travel to each of them." It accuses the United States of "an unlawful campaign ... to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum."

Russia has said it cannot extradite him because by remaining in the transit zone he is technically outside Russian territory.


Edward Snowden
(The Guardian)
June 23, 2013

Snowden Arrives In Moscow From Hong Kong

The US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden has arrived in Moscow on a flight from Hong Kong.

But he is only thought to be in transit before leaving for Venezuela or Ecuador, via Cuba.

The US wanted him extradited from Hong Kong but the government said Washington had failed to meet its requirements.

Mr Snowden, an intelligence contractor, fled to Hong Kong in May after revealing extensive internet and phone surveillance by US intelligence.

The Aeroflot Airbus, flight SU213, landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport at 17:10 local time (13:10 GMT).

Russian media say he was picked up at the airport by either a Venezuelan or Ecuadorean embassy car.

A source at the airline company was quoted as saying that he would fly on to Cuba, and from there to Venezuela. Both countries are believed unlikely to comply with any US extradition request.

It has been suggested he may travel on from Venezuela to Ecuador.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently sheltering in the Ecuadorean embassy in London after being granted asylum last year.

Wikileaks issued a statement saying that it has helped to find Mr Snowden "political asylum in a democratic country".

No legal basis'

Mr Snowden's departure from Hong Kong casts further uncertainty over the prospect of him facing justice in the US.

On Saturday, the White House contacted Hong Kong to try to arrange his extradition. But the territory's administration, in a statement issued on Sunday, said the documents submitted by Washington did not "fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law".

As a result, Hong Kong says it requested further information from the US government.

However, the statement goes on: "As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong."

The US Justice Department has said it will seek cooperation from whichever country Mr Snowden arrives in.

We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel," Nanda Chitre, a spokeswoman for the justice department said in a statement.

University of Hong Kong law professor Simon Young expressed surprise at the Hong Kong authorities' decision on extradition.

He said that under local law, a very low threshold is required before a provisional warrant can be put in place.

The US government will wonder why the Hong Kong government feels the surrender paperwork needs to be fully in place before the provisional warrant can be obtained," he said.

Mr Snowden left the US after leaking details of his work as an NSA (National Security Agency) analyst and the extensive US surveillance programme to Britain's Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post.

He has been charged in the US with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.

Each of the charges carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. The complaint is dated 14 June although it was made public only on Friday.

The leaks have led to revelations that the US is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data under an NSA programme known as Prism.

Mr Snowden said earlier that he had decided to speak out after observing "a continuing litany of lies" from senior officials to Congress.

US officials have since defended the practice of gathering telephone and internet data from private users around the world.

They say Prism cannot be used to intentionally target any Americans or anyone in the US, and that it is supervised by judges.


meteorite damage in Russia
(Oleg Kargapolov/AP)
February 15, 2013

Meteor Strike Injures Hundreds in Russia

A meteor crashing in Russia's Ural mountains has injured at least 950 people, as the shockwave blew out windows and rocked buildings.

Most of those hurt, in the Chelyabinsk region where the meteor fell, suffered cuts and bruises but at least 46 remain in hospital.

A fireball streaked through the clear morning sky, followed by loud bangs.

President Vladimir Putin said he thanked God no big fragments had fallen in populated areas.

A large meteor fragment landed in a lake near Chebarkul, a town in Chelyabinsk region.

The meteor's dramatic passing was witnessed in Yekaterinburg, 200km (125 miles) to the north, and in Kazakhstan, to the south.

"It was quite extraordinary," Chelyabinsk resident Polina Zolotarevskaya told BBC News. "We saw a very bright light and then there was a kind of a track, white and yellow in the sky."

"The explosion was so strong that some windows in our building and in the buildings that are across the road and in the city in general, the windows broke."

Officials say a large meteor partially burned up in the lower atmosphere, resulting in fragments falling earthwards.

Thousands of rescue workers have been dispatched to the area to provide help to the injured, the emergencies ministry said.

The Chelyabinsk region, about 1,500km (930 miles) east of Moscow, is home to many factories, a nuclear power plant and the Mayak atomic waste storage and treatment centre.

'Blinding'

Chelyabinsk's health department said 985 people had sought medical treatment, including 204 children, Russia's Interfax news agency reports. Two people in the town of Kopeysk were in a serious condition, it added.

The governor of Chelyabinsk region, Mikhail Yurevich, was quoted elsewhere as saying 950 people had been hurt, two seriously.

Mr Putin promised "immediate" aid for people affected, saying kindergartens and schools had been damaged, and work disrupted at industrial enterprises.

Many children were at lessons when the meteor fell at around 09:20 (03:20 GMT).

Video posted online showed frightened, screaming youngsters at one Chelyabinsk school, where corridors were littered with broken glass.

Chelyabinsk resident Sergei Serskov told BBC News the city had felt like a "war zone" for 20 to 30 minutes.

"I was in the office when suddenly I saw a really bright flash in the window in front of me," he said.

"Then I smelt fumes. I looked out the window and saw a huge line of smoke, like you get from a plane but many times bigger."

"A few minutes later the window suddenly came open and there was a huge explosion, followed by lots of little explosions."

In Yekaterinburg, 36-year-old resident Viktor Prokofiev was driving to work when he witnessed the event.

"It was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

"I felt like I was blinded by headlights."

Debris also reportedly fell on the west Siberian region of Tyumen.

Governor Yurevich reported that the meteor had landed in a lake 1km outside Chebarkul, which has a population of 46,000.

A Russian army spokesman said a crater 6m (20ft) wide had been found on the shore of the lake.

Asteroid coincidence

The Russian Academy of Sciences estimates that the meteor weighed about 10 tonnes and entered the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of at least 54,000 km/h (33,000mph).

It would have shattered about 30-50km (18-32 miles) above ground, with most of the meteor burning up.

Scientists have played down suggestions that there is any link between the event in the Urals and 2012 DA14, an asteroid expected to race past the Earth on Friday at a distance of just 27,700km (17,200 miles) - the closest ever predicted for an object of that size.

Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's University Belfast, said there was "almost definitely" no connection.

"One reason is that 2012 DA14 is approaching Earth from the south, and this object hit in the northern hemisphere," he told BBC News.

"This is literally a cosmic coincidence, although a spectacular one."

Such meteor strikes are rare in Russia but one is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km (1,250m) in Siberia in 1908.

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