Report: NSA secretly broke into Yahoo, Google data center links around world
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
A secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, indicates that NSA sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency’s Fort Meade, Md., headquarters. In the last 30 days, field collectors had processed and sent back more than 180 million new records -- ranging from "metadata," which would indicate who sent or received emails and when, to content such as text, audio and video, the Post reported Wednesday on its website.
The latest revelations were met with outrage from Google, and triggered legal questions, including whether the NSA may be violating federal wiretap laws.
"Although there’s a diminished standard of legal protection for interception that occurs overseas, the fact that it was directed apparently to Google’s cloud and Yahoo’s cloud, and that there was no legal order as best we can tell to permit the interception, there is a good argument to make that the NSA has engaged in unlawful surveillance," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center. The reference to ‘clouds’ refers to sites where the companies collect data.
The new details about the NSA’s access to Yahoo and Google data centers around the world come at a time when Congress is reconsidering the government’s collection practices and authority, and as European governments are responding angrily to revelations that the NSA collected data on millions of communications in their countries. Details about the government’s programs have been trickling out since Snowden shared documents with the Post and Guardian newspaper in June.
Growing European backlash over spying threatens billions of dollars in U.S. trade
BRUSSELS (AP) -- The backlash in Europe over U.S. spying is threatening an agreement that generates tens of billions of dollars in trans-Atlantic business every year -- and negotiations on another pact worth many times more.
A growing number of European officials are calling for the suspension of the "Safe Harbor" agreement that lets U.S.companies process commercial and personal data -- sales, emails, photos -- from customers in Europe. This little-known but vital deal allows more than 4,200 American companies to do business in Europe, including Internet giants like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon.
Revelations of the extent of U.S. spying on its European allies is also threatening to undermine one of President Barack Obama’s top trans-Atlantic goals: a sweeping free-trade agreement that would add an estimated $138 billion (100 billion euros) a year to each economy’s gross domestic product.
Top EU officials say the trust needed for the negotiations has been shattered.
"For ambitious and complex negotiations to succeed, there needs to be trust among the negotiating partners," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said Wednesday in a speech at Yale University.
Obama claims ‘full responsibility’ for health care website fixes as security concerns surface
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama claimed "full responsibility" Wednesday for fixing his administration’s much-maligned health insurance website as a new concern surfaced: a government memo pointing to security worries, laid out just days before the launch.
On Capitol Hill, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized to frustrated people trying to sign up, declaring that she is accountable for the failures but also defending the historic health care overhaul. The website sign-up problems will be fixed by Nov. 30, she said, and the gaining of health insurance will make a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans.
Obama underscored the administration’s unhappiness with the problems so far: "There’s no excuse for it," he said during a Boston speech to promote his signature domestic policy achievement. "And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP."
The website HealthCare.gov was still experiencing outages as Sebelius faced a new range of questions at the House Energy and Commerce Committee about a security memo from her department. It revealed that the troubled website was granted a temporary security certificate on Sept. 27, just four days before it went live on Oct. 1.
The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, said incomplete testing created uncertainties that posed a potentially high security risk for the website. It called for a six-month "mitigation" program, including ongoing monitoring and testing.
U.S. deficit falls to $680.3B, first time
in 5 years imbalance falls below $1T
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For the first time in five years, the U.S.government has run a budget deficit below $1 trillion.
The government said Wednesday that the deficit for the 2013 budget year totaled $680.3 billion, down from $1.09 trillion in 2012. That’s the smallest imbalance since 2008, when the government ran a $458.6 billion deficit. It’s still the fifth-largest deficit of all time.
The deficit is the gap between the government’s tax revenue and its spending. It narrowed for the budget year that ended on Sept. 30 because revenue rose while spending fell. Revenue jumped 13.3 percent to $2.77 trillion. Government spending declined 2.4 percent to $3.45 trillion.
A stronger economy created more jobs and income over the past year, which generated greater tax revenue. At the same time, the Obama administration and Congress agreed in January to end a temporary cut in Social Security taxes and also to raise income taxes on the wealthy.
And spending fell in part because of across-the-board cuts that took effect in March.
After Palestinian prisoners freed, Israel announces plans for more settlement homes
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel announced plans Wednesday to build more than 1,500 homes in Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, dealing a setback to newly relaunched peace efforts hours after it had freed a group of long-serving Palestinian prisoners.
The construction plans drew angry condemnations from Palestinian officials, who accused Israel of undermining the U.S.-led talks by expanding settlements on the lands where they hope to establish an independent state. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also condemned the Israeli decision, and Washington said it would not create a "positive environment" for the negotiations.
Israel had freed the 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a U.S.-brokered agreement to restart the talks. The construction was meant to blunt anger over the release of the prisoners, all of whom had been convicted of murder in the deaths of Israelis.
Israel’s Interior Ministry said 1,500 apartments would be built in Ramat Shlomo, a large settlement in east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city claimed by the Palestinians as their capital. It also announced plans for archaeology and tourism projects near the Old City, home to Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy sites.
Israel first announced the Ramat Shlomo plan in 2010 during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, sparking a diplomatic rift with Washington that took months to mend.
Earth-size planet found with rocky core like ours, but close to its sun, too hot for life
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Scientists have found a planet way out in the cosmos that’s close in size and content to Earth -- an astronomical first.
But hold off on the travel plans. This rocky world is so close to its sun that it’s at least 2,000 degrees hotter than here, almost certainly too hot for life.
Astrophysicists reported Wednesday in the journal Nature that the exoplanet Kepler-78b appears to be made of rock and iron just like Earth. They measured the planet’s mass to determine its density and content. It’s actually a little bigger than Earth and nearly double its mass, or weight.
Kepler-78b is located in the Cygnus constellation hundreds of light-years away. Incredibly, it orbits its sun every 8 1/2 hours, a mystery to astronomers who doubt it could have formed or moved that close to a star. They agree the planet will be sucked up by the sun in a few billion years, so its time remaining, astronomically speaking, is short.
Buffalo bus driver prevents distraught woman from jumping off highway overpass
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- A bus driver is being hailed as a hero for preventing a woman from jumping off a Buffalo highway overpass.
About 20 McKinley High School students had just stepped aboard Darnell Barton’s Metro bus Oct. 18 when he spotted a woman who had climbed over a guardrail and stood leaning over the afternoon traffic zipping along the Scajaquada Expressway below.
With cars and an occasional pedestrian continuing to pass by her, Barton wasn’t sure at first that the woman was in distress.
He stopped his bus, opened the door and asked if she needed help, at that moment conflicted between the rules of his job, which required him to call his dispatcher, and his training as a former volunteer firefighter and member of the Buffalo Special Police, which told him that if he made contact, he shouldn’t break it.
"It was an interesting situation, knowing what you know and knowing what you have to do," he said by phone Wednesday. "Dispatch picked up. I remember giving my location and saying, ‘Send the authorities, this young lady needs help’ and then dashing the phone down."
2nd mistress testifies at murder trial of former Utah doctor accused of killing his wife
PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Another mistress of a former Utah doctor accused of killing his wife testified Wednesday that he had once described how he could induce a heart attack in someone that would appear natural.
Ana Osborne Walthall took the witness stand and said she began a six-month affair with defendant Martin MacNeill in 2005 when he was a consulting doctor at a laser hair removal clinic that she operated.
MacNeill described the heart attack method during "pillow talk," she said.
Walthall quoted MacNeill as saying, "’There’s something you can give someone that’s natural that’s a heart attack that’s not detectable after they have a heart attack."’
No cause of death has been determined for Michele MacNeill.
Physics experiment deep in abandoned gold mine fails to find any sign of elusive dark matter
LEAD, S.D. (AP) -- Nearly a mile underground in an abandoned gold mine, one of the most important quests in physics has so far come up empty in the search for the elusive substance known as dark matter, scientists announced Wednesday.
But physicists on the project were upbeat, saying they had developed a new, more sensitive method of searching for the mysterious material that has mass but cannot be seen. They planned to keep looking.
"This is just the opening salvo," said Richard Gaitskell of Brown University, a scientist working on the Large Underground Xenon experiment, or LUX, the most advanced Earth-based search for dark matter. A detector attached to the International Space Station has so far failed to find any dark matter either.
The researchers released their initial findings Wednesday after the experiment’s first few months at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, which was built in the former Homestake gold mine in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
With more than 4,800 feet of earth helping screen out background radiation, scientists tried to trap dark matter, which they hoped would be revealed in the form of weakly interacting massive particles, nicknamed WIMPS. The search, using the most sensitive equipment in the world, is looking for the light fingerprint of a WIMP bouncing off an atomic nucleus of xenon cooled to minus 150 degrees.