Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Clara Spera
Friday, January 17, 2014, 10:10 AM

In his much-anticipated speech later today, President Obama is set to call for an overhaul of NSA surveillance programs, according to The Washington Post.  A White House official has said that the president will defend the necessity of NSA’s metadata program, but also insist that the program better address liberty and privacy concerns. With all these things in mind, the president reportedly will seek to have some party other than the government keep custody of collected metadata.  The President also will insist that intelligence agencies get permission from the FISC before getting they can query the collected stuff. The Times also covers the story.  It thus seems those calling for heavy NSA reforms are bracing themselves for disappointment. Earlier reports suggested that President Obama is only going to suggest mild reforms. All of the speculation will---finally---be put to rest shortly. Stay tuned.

But, until then, more Snowdenia: leaked documents reveal that the NSA collects nearly 200 million personal text messagesdaily. This includes contact information, travel plans and even credit card information. The UK’s intelligence agency, GCHQ, is also in on the operation; the British agency has been scouring the NSA’s data for UK-based communications.

President Obama issued a directive on Wednesday that states that the United States should not sell arms that “may be destabilizing or dangerous to international peace and security.” That is, the U.S. should not sell weapons to countries that could potentially turn those weapons against U.S. allies or against the U.S. itself.

Secretary of State Kerry is urging the Syrian opposition to attend peace talks hosted by the U.N. and scheduled for January 22. The opposition is hardly unified; internal rifts suggest that opposition groups will not attend the conference at the end of the month. The Syrian government has confirmed that it will take part in the meeting.

The Taliban says it has gained control of much of Afghanistan and have pushed NATO forces back in fear---a claim BBC report JOhn Simpson views skeptically.  The looming departure of NATO and American troops at the end of the year, however, does cause worry, especially if President Karzai refuses to sign the bilateral security agreement with the United States.

Another Senator has pulled support for a new set of sanctions targeted at Iran. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) worries that the new measures will put the success of a nuclear agreement with Iran in jeopardy. Heinrich echoes the sentiments of the White House, which also stands strongly against a proposed Senate bill---the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act---which would increase sanctions on Iran but also sets up “unrealistic” conditions for a final nuclear deal.

The Associated Press reports on an incredibly disturbing story. The U.S. Marines Corps is “attempting to determine the authenticity of photos published by TMZ.com that the entertainment website says show Marines appearing to burn bodies of dead Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah in 2004.”

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