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Thursday, June 6, 2013

NSA Collecting Daily Phone Records of Millions of Unsuspecting Customers

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting the telephone records of millions of individuals, whether they are targeted by intelligence agencies or not, through top a secret court order issued in April and revealed by the Guardian newspaper. The order requires Verizon, a US telecommunications company, to give the NSA information about all telephone calls in its systems. This includes the numbers of both parties on a call, location data, call duration, unique identifiers as well as the time the calls were made. The contents of conversations made during the calls was not covered by the order. Although US security officials had disclosed this practice to reporters under the Bush administration, this is the first time documents have revealed the practice is ongoing under President Obama. According to the Guardian, the nature of the records handed over to the NSA is unusual because they normally only cover an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state or a precise number of individually named targets. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Thursday that the order is a three-month renewal of an “ongoing practice”. Other lawmakers said the practice is legal under the Patriot Act.

Syrian Army Retakes Golan Heights Crossing from Rebel Forces

The Syrian army has retaken control of a UN-monitored crossing briefly occupied by rebel forces in the Golan Heights, according to an AFP correspondent and Israeli security sources. The Quneitra crossing and the village of the same name, which are in a demilitarised zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied sector, were retaken by Syrian army troops using tanks. “We can confirm that opposition forces have overrun the town of Quneitra and the border post,” said Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Captain Arye Shalicar. Israel also lodged a complaint with the UN over the entry of Syrian army tanks into the demilitarised zone as they moved to retake Quneitra. The site is the only crossing point between Syria and the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Height. Meanwhile, Austria said it would withdraw its 380 troops from the area, part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), because the threat to its soldiers had “reached an unacceptable level”. “The Austrian army’s participation in the UNDOF mission can no longer be maintained for military reasons”, said an official statement.

Turkish PM Says Redevelopment of Gezi Park to Go Ahead Despite Protests

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said plans to redevelop Gezi Park in Istanbul would go ahead despite the mass protests against the plans sweeping the country. Speaking during an official visit to Tunisia, Erdoğan recognised that the country’s security forces had used “excessive force” against activists at the original sit-in against the redevelopment, but said that the mass protests were fanned by more radical elements. “Among the protesters, there are extremists, some of them implicated in terrorism,” he told reporters in Tunis. He also said the project respected Turkey’s “history, culture and environment”. “What we are doing is to protect the rights of the majority and to preserve the beauty of Istanbul”, said the prime minister. He dismissed the demands made by protesters to Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, saying that “the logic of ‘If I take this, I give this,’ ‘If you give this, I want this’ has no place in running a state”. He added that the protesters had a right to demonstrate, “but you cannot demonstrate everywhere and burn and demolish”.

IMF Admits to Mistakes Over Greek Bailout

The International Monetary Fund has admitted to making mistakes over its handling of Greece and its bailout since the crisis started three years ago, according to an internal report leaked to the Wall Street Journal. It also says the impact of the austerity policies imposed on the country was badly underestimated and that EU leaders pushed from in order to benefit politically at the expense of the Greek economy. A particularly telling admission contained in the report is that the IMF says the Greek bailout was not drawn to benefit the country itself, but designed simply as a “holding operation” to give “the euro area time to build a firewall to protect other vulnerable members and averted potentially severe effects on the global economy”. The report also criticised the other two partners in the so-called troika, the body created to run the Greek bailout, namely the European Commission and the European Central Bank. “The Fund’s program experience and ability to move rapidly in formulating policy recommendations were skills that the European institutions lacked. There were occasionally marked differences of view within the troika, particularly with regard to the growth projections”, said the report.

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