House passes USA Freedom Act, ending NSA bulk collection of American phone records

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House on Thursday passed legislation to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records, the first legislative response to the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Although the compromise measure was significantly "watered down," in the words of Democrat Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, it passed by a vote of 303 to 120, with 9 members not voting.

"We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Schakowsky, an intelligence committee member, said in summing up the feelings of many Republicans and Democrats who voted for the measure but wanted tougher provisions. Dropped from the bill was a requirement for an independent public advocate on the secret intelligence court that oversees the NSA.

The USA Freedom Act would codify a proposal made in January by President Barack Obama, who said he wanted to end the NSA’s practice of collecting the "to and from" records of nearly every American landline telephone call under a program that searched the data for connections to terrorist plots abroad.

The bill doesn’t ask the phone companies to hold records for any longer than they already do, which varies by carrier. The bill would give the NSA the authority to request certain records from the companies to search them in terrorism investigations in response to a judicial order. The phone program was revealed last year by Snowden, who used his job as a computer network administrator to remove tens of thousands of secret documents from an NSA facility in Hawaii.

Bungled nuke silo security drill prompted more training for nightmare scenarios

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An Air Force security team’s botched response to a simulated assault on a nuclear missile silo has prompted a blistering review followed by expanded training to deal with the nightmare scenario of a real attack.

The Air Force recognized the possibility of such an intrusion as more worrisome after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But an internal review of the exercise held last summer at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana said the security forces were unable to speedily regain control of the captured silo, and called this a "critical deficiency."

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The previously unreported misstep was the reason the 341st Missile Wing flunked a broader safety and security inspection. The unit, which has been beset with other problems in recent months, including an exam-cheating scandal that led its commander to resign in March, passed a do-over of the security portion of the inspection last October.

The failure was one of a string of nuclear missile corps setbacks revealed by the AP over the past year. The force has suffered embarrassing security, leadership and training lapses, discipline breakdowns and morale problems. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered two reviews, still underway, to address his concern that the lapses could erode public trust in the security of the nation’s nuclear weapons.

Deaths of 2 mentally ill inmates put New York’s jail system under scrutiny

NEW YORK (AP) -- The grisly deaths of two inmates -- one who "baked to death" in his overheated cell, another who sexually mutilated himself while locked up alone for seven days -- have raised new questions about the New York City jail system’s ability to deal with a burgeoning number of mentally ill people.

The two cases -- both exposed by The Associated Press -- have prompted a city lawmaker to schedule oversight hearings next month.

"No inmate should be treated that way, especially those with mental health needs. The city has to do more to protect them," City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said Thursday. "A lot of people who are in Rikers Island should be in a hospital, in a clinical setting, not in a jail."

Bradley Ballard, a 39-year-old inmate who family members said had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, died in September after he was confined to his cell in a mental observation unit at Rikers for seven days for making a lewd gesture at a female guard, according to interviews and documents obtained by the AP.

Denied some of his medication, the agitated inmate tied a rubber band tightly around his genitals. During that period, guards repeatedly peered through the window in his cell but didn’t venture inside until it was too late, according to corrections officials’ account.

Deadliest attack yet on Ukrainian troops: 16 killed, 30 wounded ahead of election

BLAHODATNE, Ukraine (AP) -- In the deadliest raid yet on Ukrainian troops, pro-Russia insurgents attacked a military checkpoint Thursday, killing 16 soldiers, and the interim prime minister accused Moscow of trying to disrupt the upcoming election for a new president to lead the divided country out of its crisis.

A rebel commander said one of his fighters also died in the raid in eastern Ukraine, which left a gruesome scene of charred military vehicles and scorched bodies near the town of Volnovakha, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of the city of Donetsk.

Witnesses, including a medical worker, said more than 30 Ukrainian troops were wounded, with some in grave condition. Fighting also raged in at least two other villages.

The armed uprising and the government’s offensive to put it down have cast a shadow over Sunday’s election, with Kiev acknowledging it will be impossible to hold the vote in some areas. In the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatists have declared independence and pledged to derail the vote, election workers reported threats and interference from gunmen.

Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of escalating the conflict and trying to disrupt the election. In a post on Facebook, he called for an urgent session of the U.N. Security Council and said Ukraine would present evidence of Moscow’s involvement.

Police say kidnapped California woman’s mother convinced her to go to authorities

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- A California woman who says she was kidnapped a decade ago by her mother’s boyfriend lived a seemingly ordinary life with her alleged captor year after year, but was too scared to go to authorities until she recently reunited with her mother, police said Thursday.

The woman, who disappeared when she was 15, eventually married the man and started a family with him. Neighbors said she worked for a nearby janitorial service, took Zumba classes and went on trips to the beach and Disneyland.

Orange County prosecutors on Thursday filed five felony charges against the alleged abductor, Isidro Garcia, including rape and kidnapping to commit a sexual offense. He did not enter a plea, and his arraignment was continued until June 9. He was jailed on $1 million bail.

Garcia’s attorney said the woman’s claims of physical and sexual abuse are lies made up because the couple is separating. Neighbors in a working-class city south of Los Angeles described an outwardly happy family, while authorities and psychologists cautioned that both could be true -- Garcia could have been a doting husband who controlled his wife without physically restraining her through years of abuse.

The case began to emerge Monday, when the woman went two blocks from her apartment complex to the police department in working-class Bell Gardens and accused Garcia of domestic violence. During that conversation, officers learned of her connection to a 2004 missing-persons case in Santa Ana, about 20 miles away.

Thailand’s army seizes power in bloodless coup in risky bid to end political turmoil

BANGKOK (AP) -- Without firing a shot, Thailand’s powerful military seized control of this volatile Southeast Asian nation Thursday, suspending the constitution and detaining Cabinet ministers in a risky bid to end half a year of political upheaval that many fear will only deepen the nation’s crisis.

The coup, the second in eight years, accomplished in a few minutes what anti-government protesters backed by the nation’s traditional elite and staunch royalists had failed to achieve on the street: the overthrow of a democratically elected government they had accused of corruption.

The new junta leader, army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced he was taking power almost immediately after talks between the nation’s bitter political rivals -- which lasted a mere four hours over the last two days -- ended in deadlock and the government refused to resign.

Prayuth claimed he had to act to restore stability and "quickly bring the situation back to normal" amid increasing spasms of violence that together with controversial court rulings had rendered the government powerless and the country profoundly divided.

But troubles for Thailand, a regional economic hub whose idyllic white-sand beaches and elephant-filled jungles draw millions of tourists a year, could be just beginning.

Nigerians protest government inaction over kidnappings of schoolgirls

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- Scores of protesters chanting "Bring Back Our Girls!" marched Thursday to Nigeria’s presidential villa to demand more action to find and free nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants, but President Goodluck Jonathan did not meet with them, leaving an aide to deliver a lecture that further angered the demonstrators.

"Another small window for Jonathan and he refuses to use it!" one protester yelled. "What a stupid move!"

The protesters complained of the insensitivity of Jonathan, who did not even meet parents of some of the abducted children when they came to Nigeria’s capital earlier this month.

Many schools across the country were closed Thursday to protest the abductions, the government’s failure to rescue the girls and the killings of scores of teachers by Islamic extremists in recent years.

Protesting teachers in Abuja also demanded compensation for the families of slain colleagues.

Outspoken Mavericks owner apologizes to Trayvon Martin family for choice of words

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban apologized Thursday to Trayvon Martin’s family over his choice of words in a videotaped interview in which he addressed bigotry and prejudice.

Cuban even revealed some of his own prejudices in the interview with Inc. magazine, and said he believes everyone has "prejudices and bigotries" on some level. But after his words -- which came with the NBA still dealing with the fallout over racist remarks made by now-banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling -- created a stir in social media and other circles, Cuban took to Twitter to offer his apology.

"In hindsight I should have used different examples," Cuban wrote. "I didn’t consider the Trayvon Martin family, and I apologize to them for that."

Cuban also said he stands by the substance of the interview.

Martin was the black Florida teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February 2012. Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt -- commonly called a "hoodie" -- that night, and that particular piece of clothing became a rallying cry for those who demanded justice.