WASHINGTON – The National Security Agency reported its own violations of surveillance rules to a U.S. intelligence court and promised additional safety measures to prevent similar missteps over and over again, according to more than 1,000 pages of newly declassified files about the federal government’s controversial program of collecting Americans’ phone records during the past seven years.
According to court records from 2009, after repeated assurances the NSA would obey the court’s rules, it acknowledged it had collected material improperly. In one instance, the government said violations were caused by “poor management, lack of involvement by compliance officials and lack of internal verification procedures, not by bad faith.” In another case, the NSA said it improperly collected information due to a typographical error.
The intelligence court judge, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, said in the 2009 case that since the government had repeatedly offered so many assurances despite the problems continuing, “those responsible for conducting oversight at the NSA had failed to do so effectively.” Bates called his conclusion “the most charitable interpretation possible.”
The Obama administration published the heavily censored files Monday as part of an ongoing civil liberties lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the government’s collection of phone records, which the White House has said is crucial to countering terrorism.
Pastor broke rules at gay wedding
A United Methodist pastor was convicted Monday of breaking church law by officiating his son’s same-sex wedding and could be defrocked after a high-profile trial that has rekindled debate over the denomination’s policy on gay marriage.
The Methodist church put the Rev. Frank Schaefer on trial in southeastern Pennsylvania, accusing him of breaking his pastoral vows by presiding over the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts.
The jury will reconvene this morning for the penalty phase, where Schaefer faces punishment ranging from a reprimand to losing his ministerial credentials.
Schaefer, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, could have avoided the trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-gender wedding, but he declined because three of his four children are gay.
Cheneys step into daughters’ spat
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife stepped into a sibling squabble Monday after their daughters became involved in a public feud over gay marriage that began on “Fox News Sunday” and soon spread to social media.
Discussing her U.S. Senate campaign on the talk show, Liz Cheney restated her support for the “traditional definition” of marriage. She added that states should be free to decide for themselves whether to allow or prohibit same-sex unions.
Her sister, Mary Cheney, who is married to a woman, shot back on Facebook: “You’re just wrong.”
Things got testy enough that their parents were compelled to address the matter.
“This is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public,” read a statement distributed by Dick and Lynne Cheney.
“Since it has, one thing should be clear,” the statement continued. “Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage. She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect, exactly as she should have done.”
Immigrant game planned in Texas
A conservative student group announced Monday they will play a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game” this week on the University of Texas at Austin, drawing condemnation from Democrats and a threat of expulsion from campus officials.
The Young Conservatives of Texas have planned the game for Wednesday. Club members will wander the campus wearing signs that say “illegal immigrant,” and students who capture them and take them to the Young Conservatives’ recruiting table will get $25 gift certificates.
“The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives,” said a statement posted by spokesman Lorenzo Garcia.
Libyan military set to take on militias
Libya’s military swept into the capital Monday with dozens of pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns in an operation to drive out militiamen, met by a warm welcome from Libyans seething with anger against the numerous armed groups running rampant in the country.
Libya is seeing its strongest public uproar yet against militias, which have fueled lawlessness nationwide since the 2011 fall of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. The heavily armed groups, some of them led by Islamic extremist commanders, have defied control by the weak central government, carving out fiefdoms, acting as a law unto themselves, and imposing their control.
Sanitation a matter of life and death
The lack of access to a decent toilet is no joke for a third of the world’s people, but a matter of life and death.
Some 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation, the United Nations says, and more than 1 billion practice open defecation – a problem that contributes to countless deaths from preventable diseases.
“We must break the taboos and make sanitation for all a global development priority,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in declaring Tuesday to be the inaugural World Toilet Day.
Each year, more than 800,000 children younger than 5 die from diarrhea, the U.N. says, many caused by poor sanitation.