Comey’s comments, delivered at his symbolic swearing-in, came with Obama embroiled in a widening international controversy over alleged NSA spying on allied leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and monitoring of tens of millions of communications across Europe.Comey noted the FBI’s early years were “a time of great progress and achievement” — but clouded by “abuse and overreach, most famously with respect to Martin Luther King and others who were viewed as internal security threats.”(Obama did not directly address the controversy but approvingly quoted legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, famous for far-ranging surveillance overreach. “The most effective weapon against crime is cooperation,” the president said.)
U.S. spy chiefs face Congress amid spying rift with EuropeBy Tabassum Zakaria 8 hours ago National Security AgencyUnited States House Permanent Select Committee on IntelligenceWhite HouseView gallery From left, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Gen. Keith B. Alexander; Rand Beers, Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security; Patrick Gallagher, director of the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology; and Richard McFeely, Executive Assistant Director of Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, before the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on NSA surveillance. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)By Tabassum Zakaria WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When top U.S. intelligence officials testified at a congressional hearing weeks ago, the public uproar was over the National Security Agency collecting the phone and email records of Americans.But when the NSA director and other spy chiefs appear at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday it will be against a backdrop of angry European allies accusing the United States of spying on their leaders and citizens.The most prominent target appears to have been German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose mobile phone was allegedly tapped by the NSA.More than any previous disclosures from material given to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the reports of spying on close U.S. allies have forced the White House to promise reforms and even acknowledge that America’s electronic surveillance may have gone too far.”We recognize there needs to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate’s intelligence committee, joined the ranks of critics on Monday, expressing outrage at U.S. intelligence collection on allies, and pique that her committee was not informed.”With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies – including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany -let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed,” said Feinstein, who appeared to confirm U.S. spying on Merkel’s communications since 2002.The White House is conducting a review of intelligence programs prompted by disclosures about top secret spying programs to the media by Snowden, who is living in Russia, out of reach of U.S. attempts to arrest him.NSA Director General Keith Alexander, NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Attorney General James Cole will testify at an open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee at 1:30 p.m. (1730 GMT) on Tuesday.Their testimony will cover NSA programs and potential changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which regulates electronic eavesdropping.”The House Intelligence Committee continues to assess a number of proposals to improve transparency and strengthen privacy protections to further build the confidence of the American public in our nation’s FISA programs,” said Susan Phalen, spokeswoman for Republican committee Chairman Mike Rogers.The Senate Intelligence Committee conducted a similar hearing in late September at which Feinstein said proposals included putting limits on the NSA’s phone metadata program, prohibiting collection of the content of phone calls, and legally requiring that intelligence analysts have a „reasonable articulable suspicion” that a phone number was associated with terrorism in order to query the database.Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe, said the administration needed to be more proactive in handling the uproar.”The administration has been completely reactive to these leaks,” she said.The allegations of U.S. spying on Merkel and other leaders are likely to have a lasting impact on relations, Conley said.In the last several years, Europeans have been disappointed with the Obama administration over its failure to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and its use of drone strikes to kill terrorism suspects. The spectacle of the recent federal government shutdown also dented U.S. prestige in Europe.”It’s just raising really big doubts, uncertainties and question marks about not only the president’s leadership but whether the United States is a reliable ally,” Conley said.(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Steve Holland; Editing by Warren Strobel and Paul Simao)
View gallery Democratic nominee for Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe stands onstage as former U.S. President Bill …By Gary Robertson RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) – Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a 12-point lead among likely voters over Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the race to become Virginia’s next governor, according to a Washington Post-ABT-SRBI poll published Monday.According to the poll, 51 percent favored McAuliffe, to Cuccinelli’s 39 percent. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, who has achieved favor among voters who say they don’t like either of the major party candidates, had 8 percent.The outcome of the Virginia’s gubernatorial election November 5 is viewed as a possible bellwether of mid-term Congressional elections in 2014.The hotly contested gubernatorial race has drawn intense national attention and stars from both parties to Virginia.President Barack Obama will join McAuliffe on Sunday at a rally.Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who in 2008 sought the Republican presidential nomination, appeared earlier this month at a rally for Cuccinelli at Liberty University in Lynchburg, a conservative, Christian college founded by the late Jerry Falwell.McAuliffe, meanwhile, has called on the potent Democratic husband-and-wife team of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of state Hillary Clinton.McAuliffe has raised millions for each of them, during various election campaigns. He is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and also the former chairman of the Hillary Clinton for President Committee.In nearly every poll since July, McAuliffe has held the lead over Cuccinelli, according to a compilation of major polls by RealClear Politics, a Chicago-based political news and polling data aggregator.”This contest is becoming very one-sided,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.FUNDRAISING ADVANTAGE—McAuliffe not only dominates in recent polls, but he has a huge fundraising advantage over Cuccinelli, Sabato said.According to new numbers posted Monday by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, McAuliffe raised $8.1 million to Cuccinelli’s $2.9 million, between October 1-23.Overall totals show that McAuliffe has raised $34 million to just under $20 million for Cuccinelli.Growing unrest with Cuccinelli, whose strongly conservative views apparently have alienated a large portion of the electorate, is reflected in poll results.For example, among those supporting McAuliffe, 64 percent said they were voting against Cuccinelli rather than voting for McAuliffe.About 44 percent of Cuccinelli’s supporters said they were voting against McAuliffe, rather than for the attorney generalTwo other Democrats on the ballot are leading their Republican opponents, pointing to the possibility of the first Democratic sweep of statewide offices in Virginia since 1989.Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, leads Republican E.W. Jackson by 52 percent to 39 percent among likely voters.In the crucial and closely contested attorney general’s race to determine who would succeed Cuccinelli, Democrat Mark Herring edges Republican Mark Obenshain 49 percent to 46 percent. But that is well within the poll’s 4.5 percent margin of error in its sample of likely voters, meaning that the attorney general’s the race is virtually tied.The Washington Post/ Abt-SRBI poll was conducted by telephone October 24-27, among a random sample of 1,251 adults in Virginia.(Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Lisa Shumaker)
Report: Obama administration knew millions wouldn’t be able to keep insurance By Mike Krumboltz, Yahoo News 14 hours ago Barack ObamaPresidency of Barack ObamaPatient Protection and Affordable Care ActHealth careView galleryView gallery From left, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Gen. Keith B. Alexander; Rand Beers, Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security; Patrick Gallagher, director of the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology; and Richard McFeely, Executive Assistant Director of Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, before the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on NSA surveillance. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)Before the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, President Obama promised Americans they could keep their healthcare plan if they liked it. But already hundreds of thousands of citizens are receiving notification that their plans are being cancelled because they don’t comply with the new law, and, according to NBC News, the Obama administration has known for at least three years the cancellations were coming.While campaigning for health care reform in 2009, Obama went out of his way to make one thing perfectly clear: if you like your current health care plan, you will be able to keep it.On June 15, 2009, Obama said this: „We will keep this promise to the American people. If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep your healthcare plan. Period.”In 2012, he echoed that sentiment, saying, „“If [you] already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance.”However, many are finding that not to be the case. More than 300,000 cancellation notices have been sent out in Florida, according to Kaiser Health News, and another 180,000 in California. In New Jersey, the number of cancellations tops 800,000, the Star-Ledger reports. According to NBC News, approximately 50 to 75 percent of the 14 million Americans who buy their health insurance individually should expect to receive a cancellation letter over the next year „because their existing policies don’t meet the standards mandated by the new health care law.”This could result in millions of Americans being forced to purchase different policies, potentially at higher premiums.Top 5 Product Launch FailuresPlay video.”So how did the Obama administration know the cancellations would be coming?The Affordable Care Act states that people who had health insurance prior to March 23, 2010 – the day President Obama signed the bill into law – will be able to keep those policies even if they don’t meet the requirements of the new law. However, the Department of Health and Human Services tightened that provision, so that „if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date — the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example — the policy would not be grandfathered,” NBC News reports.Because the market for individual insurance experiences significant turnover, the insinuation is the Obama administration had to have known many policies „grandfathered” in would not qualify for the ACA. NBC News claims that the administration knew in 2010 that „more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.”“This says that when they made the promise [that individuals could keep their plans], they knew half the people in this market outright couldn’t keep what they had and then they wrote the rules so that others couldn’t make it either,” Robert Laszewski of Health Policy and Strategy Associates told NBC News.Monday, former Obama adviser David Axelrod said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that „most people are going to keep their own plan.” When asked about Axelrod’s admission of „most” as opposed to all, White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledge that some individual’s plans will be cancelled, but countered that the plans they switch to will be better and affordable.”What the president said and what everybody said all along is that there are going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act to create minimum standards of coverage,” Carney said. „… So it’s true that there are existing health-care plans on the individual market that don’t meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act.”Actually, what the President said back in 2009 was „[the Affordable Care Act] is for people who aren’t happy with their current plan. If you like what you’re getting, keep it. Nobody is forcing you to shift.”Only now, some who like their plans are being forced, including Laszewski. According to NBC News, he has a so-called „Cadillac plan” – „the best health insurance policy you can buy,” he said – but recently received notice in the mail that it was being cancelled.
Turkey fulfils sultan’s dream with Bosphorus tunnel1 hour agoView gallery Istanbul (AFP) – Turkey unveils Tuesday the world’s first sea tunnel connecting two continents, fulfilling a sultan’s dream 150 years ago in a three-billion-euro mega project driven by the Islamic-rooted government.The 13.6-kilometre (8.5 mile) long tunnel linking Istanbul’s European and Asian sides includes an immersed tube tunnel which officials say is the world’s deepest at 60 metres (nearly 200 feet) below the seabed.The inauguration of the ambitious scheme — dubbed „the project of the century” by the government — coincides with the 90th anniversary of the founding of modern Turkey.”Turkey will celebrate two feasts together,” Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said earlier this month.”We will mark the 90th anniversary of the republic on October 29 and also realise a one-and-a-half century dream of a major rail tunnel project in Istanbul.”View gallery.”View gallery.”A worker holds a cat in the Marmaray Tunnel under the Bosphorus on April 18, 2013, in Istanbul (AFP A worker holds a cat in the Marmaray Tunnel under the Bosphorus on April 18, 2013, in Istanbul (AFP …The tunnel in the country’s main gateway city is part of a larger „Marmaray” project that also includes an upgrade of existing suburban train lines to create a 76-kilometre (47-mile) line that links the two continents.The idea was first floated by Ottoman sultan Abdoul Medjid in 1860 but technical equipment at the time was not good enough to take the project further.However the desire to build an undersea tunnel grew stronger in the 1980s and studies also showed that such a tunnel would be feasible and cost-effective.Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, revived the plan in 2004 as one of his mega projects for the bustling city of 16 million people — which also include a third airport, a third bridge across the Bosphorus and a canal parallel to the international waterway to ease traffic.His ambitions were one cause for the massive anti-government protests that swept the country in June, with local residents complaining the premier’s urban development plans were forcing people from their homes and destroying green space.View gallery.”Employees work in the Marmaray Tunnel under the Bosphorus on April 18, 2013, in Istanbul (AFP Photo/ …Erdogan’s critics accuse him of bringing forward the inauguration of the Bosphorus tunnel in time for municipal elections in March 2014.The project will not be fully operational immediately and construction is expected to continue for several more years.Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be present at the official opening ceremony at 1300 GMT , as the Japan Bank for International Cooperation was the main financer contributing 735 million euros ($1 billion) to the project.Construction of the tunnel started in 2004 and had been scheduled to take four years but was delayed after a series of major archaeological discoveries.Some 40,000 objects were excavated from the site, notably a cemetery of some 30 Byzantine ships, which is the largest known medieval fleet.View gallery.”Employees work in the Marmaray Tunnel under the Bosphorus on April 18, 2013, in Istanbul (AFP Photo/ …But these unexpected finds eventually frustrated Erdogan, who complained two years ago that artefacts were trumping his plans to transform Istanbul’s cityscape.”First (they said) there was archaeological stuff, then it was clay pots, then this, then that. Is any of this stuff more important than people?”Transport is a major problem in Istanbul, and each day two million people cross the Bosphorus via two usually jammed bridges.”While creating a transportation axis between the east and west points of the city, I believe it will soothe the problem… with 150,000 passenger capacity per hour,” said Istanbul’s mayor Kadir Topbas.
Syria envoy warns of ‘Somalisation’ if peace bid fails1 hour agoView gallery Damascus (AFP) – UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, in Syria Tuesday on the most sensitive leg of a regional push for peace talks, has warned of the ‘Somalisation’ of the war-ravaged country.His grim warning came as fighting prevented chemical weapons inspectors from visiting two sites, although UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the mission to destroy Syria’s arsenal by mid-2014 was still on track.Brahimi has been seeking to build on the momentum of last month’s US-Russian deal to eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons in order to launch the so-called Geneva II peace talks proposed for next month.But the talks have been cast into doubt by the increasingly divided opposition’s refusal to attend unless President Bashar al-Assad agrees to step down, a demand rejected by Damascus.In an interview with a French website published Monday, Brahimi said Assad could contribute to the transition to a „new” Syria but not as the country’s leader.View gallery.”The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, arrives at the Sheraton hotel on October 28, 201 …”What history teaches us is that after a crisis like this there is no going back,” the Algerian diplomat told the Jeune Afrique website ahead of his first visit to Syria since December, when he angered the regime by insisting that all powers be handed over to a transitional government.The veteran troubleshooter admitted „the entire world will not be present” at the talks, but said the alternative to a political settlement could be a failed state in the heart of the Middle East.”The real danger is a sort of ‘Somalisation,’ but even more deep and lasting than what we have seen in Somalia.”More than 115,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Syria’s 31-month conflict, which erupted after the regime launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests.In the latest blow to peace efforts, 19 Islamist rebel groups said Sunday that anyone who attends the Geneva talks would be committing „treason” and could face execution.View gallery.”Two injured men are transported on a fruit barrow in the Syrian city of Aleppo after shelling, as fi …The warning added to doubts over whether any agreement reached by Syria’s external opposition could be implemented on the ground.In recent months rebel groups have clashed among themselves, and several prominent brigades have rejected the National Coalition — the main Western and Arab backed opposition group — which is to meet on November 9 to decide whether to take part in the Geneva talks.The intensity of the fighting in Syria has meanwhile slowed the unprecedented international mission to dispose of a vast chemical arsenal in a country torn apart by civil war.The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Monday its inspectors had been unable to reach the last two of 23 disclosed chemical weapons sites for „security reasons.”Inspectors were supposed to have visited all sites declared by Syria by Sunday as part of their mission to oversee the elimination of the country’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.View gallery.”A rebel fighter monitors the surrounding area during clashes with government forces in the northeast …UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the inspectors were still on track to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons production equipment by November 1, the first major deadline of a timetable set out by the Security Council.Ban said Damascus has extended „consistent, constructive” support to the mission but warned „the job is far from complete and much important work remains to be done.””Without sustained genuine commitment by the Syrian authorities, the joint mission will not fullfil its objectives,” he said.On the battlefield, Kurdish fighters advanced across the northeast after seizing an Iraqi border post from jihadists over the weekend, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group.It said the Kurds had seized two villages in Hasakeh province and surrounded a rebel brigade that is part of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, forcing it to surrender a tank, rocket launchers and vehicle-mounted canons and heavy machine guns.As the conflict has grown increasingly muddled, the Kurds have fought both the army and other rebel groups in a bid to carve out an autonomous zone modelled on the Kurdish region of Iraq.Jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have meanwhile sought control over the border to facilitate the flow of fighters and arms, as it has launched attacks in both Iraq and Syria.
Russia to ask Ukraine to pre-pay for gas3 hours ago MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says Russia will ask Ukraine to start pre-paying for gas supplies in case Ukraine doesn’t settle outstanding debts.Medvedev’s statement is the latest attempt to put pressure on Ukraine as it hopes to sign a landmark association agreement with the European Union next month, which would establish a free-trade zone and bolster political ties.Russia has warned Ukraine that doing business between the two countries will be more difficult if Ukraine signs the deal.Medvedev on Tuesday was reacting to a complaint of Alexei Miller, chief executive of Russian gas giant Gazprom, who said Ukraine owes Russia $882 million for the August deliveries and was due to pay for it by Oct. 1.
Leaders of S. African „Boer Army” plot receive long jail terms4 minutes agoView gallery Members of the right-wing „Boeremag” wait ahead of their sentencing at Pretoria High Court October 29, JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Five leaders of a „Boer Army” white supremacist plot in South Africa to assassinate Nelson Mandela and drive blacks out of the country were sentenced to 35 years in prison on Tuesday after a trial lasting more than 10 years.A Pretoria High Court handed down sentences ranging from 20 to five years to others of the 21 defendants of the „Boeremag”, a rag-tag militia of apartheid loyalists accused of a botched 2002 coup attempt in Africa’s biggest economy. This had including charges of causing explosions.Some of the sentences were suspended. Nine of the accused walked free after being held for 11 years behind bars during the trial, National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Medupi Simasiku told Reuters.In the course of the prolonged case, witnesses testified that the Boeremag planned to assassinate anti-apartheid hero Mandela, who was South Africa’s first black president, by planting a bomb along a route he was due to travel.Their plans however were thwarted when the world-famous statesman, now retired, aged 95 and convalescing at home in Johannesburg, travelled to his engagement by helicopter.Several of the Boeremag members were charged with causing nine explosions at various sites in Gauteng, South Africa’s richest province in October 2002, with most blasts taking place in the sprawling township of Soweto, south of Johannesburg, where one woman was killed.Racial tensions persist almost 20 years since the first democratic elections ended apartheid rule in South Africa. But groups like the Boeremag and the Afrikaner Resistance Movement of murdered far-right leader Eugene Terre’blanche have little backing from the country’s almost 5 million whites.The alleged mastermind of the Boeremag, former university lecturer Mike du Toit, was the first to be convicted last year for high treason, and was among those given a 35-year sentence.According to prosecution testimony, the Boeremag’s plot, concocted around barbeques and at fast food outlets, had suggested driving South Africa’s black majority of about 40 million out of the country and into Zimbabwe by lining a major national road between the two countries with food parcels.It had also proposed sending the 1.2 million Indians in the country back to the subcontinent by boat.
Israel to free second batch of Palestinian prisoners2 hours agoView galleryA relative of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, flashes the sign of victory on October 28, 2013 at the Red Cross office i Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel on Tuesday was preparing to release 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners, the second batch of 104 inmates who are to be freed in line with commitments to US-brokered peace talks.The release, which is due to take place late on Tuesday night, will see 21 prisoners returned to their homes in the West Bank and the remaining five returning home to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.All were convicted for killing Israelis, with most of the attacks occurring before the 1993 Oslo Accords, which granted the Palestinians limited self-rule, but failed to bring about an independent state.Of the 26, all but two prisoners were serving life sentences.Although Israel is currently engaged in direct peace talks with the Palestinians — relaunched in late July after a three-year hiatus — the move has sparked tensions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.And Israel has pledged to push through a wave of new settlement tenders in tandem with the release, in a move which officials say was coordinated in advance.”The decision to release the prisoners is one of the most difficult I’ve had to make,” Netanyahu told his rightwing Likud party on Monday in remarks broadcast on public radio.”It is unjust because these terrorists are being released before completing their sentence. My heart is with the families of the victims.”Netanyahu agreed to release a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners in four stages as part of the latest resumption of talks aimed at resolving the decades-old conflict.A first tranche of 26 prisoners were freed on August 13.”This decision was taken in light of the weight of reality which we are living in,” Netanyahu said.”We are obliged to operate in a complex international arena which forces us to take into account different elements for the good of Israel.”Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz was more blunt, saying: „We can’t say yes to the Americans one day, and three months later say no.”The prisoners were bussed to Ofer military prison on Monday, where they spent the night ahead of their release, a spokeswoman for Israel Prisons Service told AFP.She said the West Bank prisoners would be bussed from Ofer to the Beitunia checkpoint from where they would travel to Ramallah, while a second bus would take the remaining prisoners to the Erez crossing to enter Gaza.On Monday evening, around 2,000 Israelis rallied outside Ofer prison, among them families of the victims, chanting „Death to terrorists!” and raising placards reading: „Are we crazy? We’re releasing murderers.”Almagor, a group representing the victims’ families, is currently appealing to the High Court against the release, although such petitions are routinely thrown out.The issue is also sensitive for the Palestinians, the vast majority of whom view those held in Israeli jails as political prisoners punished for resisting occupation.Released prisoners are welcomed back with great fanfare, and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority has called for the release of all the estimated 5,000 Palestinians jailed by Israel.Among the demonstrators outside the prison was Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a hardliner from the far-right nationalist Jewish Home party, who vowed to ramp up settlement construction in response to the release.Media reports suggest Israel is planning to announce the construction of 1,500 new housing units in the coming days, up to two thirds of them in east Jerusalem.Last week, an Israeli official said new tenders were to be announced in the large settlement blocs and in east Jerusalem „in the coming months” as part of „understandings” reached with both the Palestinians and Washington.The Palestinians — who view continued settlement construction as a major obstacle to peace — flatly denied reaching any such agreement.In August, Israel announced plans for more than 2,000 new settler homes in tandem with the first prisoner release, angering the Palestinians.It was the settlement issue which brought about the collapse of direct talks in September 2010, with Israel refusing to renew a 10-month freeze on the construction of new West Bank settler homes.