NSA and GCHQ spy on virtual worlds, pose as players, and gather data on gamers

LONDON (AP) -- American and British intelligence operations have been spying on gamers across the world, media outlets reported, saying that the world’s most powerful espionage agencies sent undercover agents into virtual universes to monitor activity in online fantasy games such as "World of Warcraft."

Stories carried Monday by The New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica said U.S. and U.K. spies have spent years trawling online games for terrorists or informants. The stories, based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, offer an unusual take on America’s world-spanning surveillance campaign, suggesting that even the fantasy worlds popular with children, teens, and escapists of all ages aren’t beyond the attention of the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ.

Virtual universes like "World of Warcraft" can be massively popular, drawing in millions of players who log months’ worth of real-world time competing with other players for online glory, virtual treasure, and magical loot. At its height, "World of Warcraft" boasted some 12 million paying subscribers, more than the population of Greece. Other virtual worlds, like Linden Labs’ "Second Life" or the various games hosted by Microsoft’s Xbox -- home to the popular science fiction-themed shoot-em-up "Halo" -- host millions more.

Spy agencies have long worried that such games serve as a good cover for terrorists or other evildoers who could use in-game messaging systems to swap information. In one of the documents cited Monday by media outlets, the NSA warned that the games could give intelligence targets a place to "hide in plain sight."

Linden Labs and Microsoft Inc. did not immediately return messages seeking comment. In a statement, Blizzard Entertainment said that it is "unaware of any surveillance taking place. If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."

Congress set to
renew undetectable gun ban but block tougher curbs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Racing a midnight deadline, Congress is ready to renew the expiring ban on plastic firearms that can evade airport detection machines. But lawmakers are sure to reject toughening those restrictions -- the latest defeat for gun-control forces in the year since the grade school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

The Senate planned to give final congressional approval Monday evening to a 10-year extension of the prohibition against guns that can slip past metal detectors and X-ray machines. The quarter-century-old ban has been renewed twice and would expire Tuesday without action.

But first, senators were set to defeat an effort by Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to strengthen the ban by requiring that such weapons contain undetachable metal parts. Some plastic guns meet the letter of current law with a metal piece that can be removed, making them a threat to be slipped past security screeners at schools, airports and elsewhere.

"Who in God’s name wants to let plastic guns pass through metal detectors at airports or stadiums?" Schumer said in an interview Monday.

The National Rifle Association, which has been instrumental in blocking gun restrictions, has expressed no opposition to renewing the law. But the gun lobby said it would fight any expanded requirements, including Schumer’s, "that would infringe on our Second Amendment rights" to bear arms.

’Rainbow Nation’ mourners black and white flock to Mandela’s mansion

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Along a street lined with walled mansions shaded by graceful jacaranda trees, mourners, black and white, by the thousands rubbed shoulders Monday outside the villa where Nelson Mandela died, placing flower bouquets and condolence notes on top of piles already knee-high. Others danced while singing praise for the anti-apartheid leader -- a vivid example of the "Rainbow Nation" unity of race-blind multiculturalism championed by Mandela for South Africa.

As players for the nation’s top Kaizer Chiefs soccer team were escorted inside the villa in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods to grieve with Mandela’s relatives, hospital receptionist Nelson Jabulani Dube said the crowd of black, white and mixed race mourners transforming a street corner into a makeshift shrine was evidence that Mandela succeeded in breaking down barriers in a country defined for generations by race-based hate.

"It’s all because of him, because he forgave the enemies at that time, they no longer are the enemies," said Dube, 33. "For me the outcome is really stunning and unites us, and what you see here is a reflection of that."

Michele Marija, an elderly white Johannesburg resident, spontaneously hugged a black woman, calling her "my sister," after the woman made space for her so she could get a better view of the shrine. Then Marija’s daughters also hugged the woman.

Marija insisted that her daughters and granddaughters visit Mandela’s house, saying his decision to forgive his white oppressors after being released from 27 years in jail saved South Africa from brutal bloodshed.

South Africa prepares for massive Mandela memorial where world leaders will eulogize icon

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- An eclectic mix of world leaders including President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro will eulogize Nelson Mandela before a crowd of nearly 100,000 mourners at a massive memorial service Tuesday in the World Cup soccer stadium where the anti-apartheid champion made his last public appearance.

"What a fantastic gift God gave to us in this Mandela, who quickly became an icon, a global icon of forgiveness, of generosity of spirit," Archbishop Desmond Tutu told a gathering Monday at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

"He really was like a magician with a magic wand, turning us into this glorious, multi-colored, rainbow people."

Study says many lung cancer tumors prove harmless; ‘A disease we didn’t need to find’

CHICAGO (AP) -- Harmless lung cancer? A provocative study found that nearly 1 in 5 lung tumors detected on CT scans are probably so slow-growing that they would never cause problems.

The analysis suggests the world’s No. 1 cause of cancer deaths isn’t as lethal as doctors once thought.

In the study, these were not false-positives -- suspicious results that turn out upon further testing not to be cancer. These were indeed cancerous tumors, but ones that caused no symptoms and were unlikely ever to become deadly, the researchers said.

Still, the results are not likely to change how doctors treat lung cancer.

For one thing, the disease is usually diagnosed after symptoms develop, when tumors show up on an ordinary chest X-ray and are potentially life-threatening

18 current, former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies face array of criminal charges

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Federal officials on Monday unsealed five criminal cases filed against 18 current and former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies as part of an FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption in the nation’s largest jail system.

The charges were announced at a press conference after 16 of 18 defendants were arrested earlier in the day. They were expected to be arraigned later in U.S. District Court.

"These incidents did not take place in a vacuum -- in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. "The pattern of activity alleged in the obstruction of justice case shows how some members of the Sheriff’s Department considered themselves to be above the law."

Four grand jury indictments and a criminal complaint allege unjustified beatings of jail inmates and visitors at downtown Los Angeles jail facilities, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation into misconduct at the Men’s Central Jail.

The FBI has been investigating allegations of excessive force and other misconduct at the county’s jails since at least 2011. The official said the arrests were related to the abuse of individuals in the jail system and also allegations that sheriff’s officials moved an FBI informant in the jails possibly to thwart their probe.

U.S. veteran held in North Korea says video confession was coerced with threat of long jail term

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The 85-year-old U.S. veteran who was detained for weeks by North Korea said Monday that the videotaped confession in which he apologized for killing North Koreans during the war was given involuntarily and under duress.

In a written statement issued Monday, Merrill Newman, of Palo Alto, Calif., said he tried to show that the words he read on the recording were not his own by emphasizing the apology’s awkward phrasing and poor English grammar.

"Anyone who has read the text of it or who has seen the video of me reading it knows that the words were not mine and were not delivered voluntarily," Newman said. "Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me ‘confess’ to."

The former Army lieutenant said that while the North Koreans treated him well during his detention at a Pyongyang hotel, an interrogator told him repeatedly that if he did not apologize for his alleged crimes during the Korean War and during his visit to the communist nation, he would be sentenced to 15 years in jail for espionage.

"Under these circumstances, I read the document with the language they insisted on because it seemed to be the only way I might get home," he said.