Texas held its primary contests Tuesday, kicking off the 2014 election season with two top Republicans guarding their seats in Congress against conservative challengers and gubernatorial candidates Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott ready to square off in November. Texas voters also boosted another Bush’s quest for statewide office. As expected, likely nominees for Governor, Republican Greg Abbott, who is state attorney general, and Democrat Wendy Davis, a state senator, both overwhelming won their primaries.
They will advance to November’s general election to replace Republican Gov. Rick Perry. The longtime governor, in office since December 2000, decided against running for re-election, and instead may make a second bid for the White House in 2016. Democrats haven’t won the governor’s office in Texas in more than two decades, but the party is hoping Davis’ star power, gained largely from her filibuster of an abortion bill last year, is enough to pull the historically red state into the blue. The race is already one of the most expensive -if not the most expensive – gubernatorial contests in the country. Abbott’s campaign reported having nearly $30 million cash on hand last week, while Davis’ team reported having $11.3 million. Davis, however, raised slightly more than Abbott in the reporting period from January 24 to February 22.
Tuesday’s primary election brought sobering results for Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who finished second to primary challenger Dan Patrick and will compete with the Houston state senator in the May 27 runoff. The longtime incumbent — who hovered below 30 percent of the vote as ballot counting continued into Wednesday morning — appeared likely to trail Patrick by at least a 10-point margin in final vote tallies. ”This race is going into overtime and we’re going to win it,” Dewhurst told supporters at his campaign headquarters in Houston. “We’re in this fight, not just for ourselves, we’re in this fight for you, your families, your state and for our nation.”
While a runoff was expected in the four-way race, Patrick’s showing was stronger than many observers anticipated. The win came after a steady stream of attacks from the other two candidates in the race, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and after reports emerged that Patrick had hired undocumented immigrants to work in a chain of sports restaurants he owned in the 1980s. Patrick also lagged behind his opponents in fundraising during the last month before the election. During that time, Dewhurst collected $1.4 million from donors, followed by Staples, who brought in about $650,000 from political supporters.
In a speech Tuesday night, Patrick attributed his win to grassroots support. ”In 2006, I said my voice wasn’t going to the Texas Senate, the people’s voice was going to the Texas Senate. And tonight, the people’s voice took the first step of going to the lieutenant governor’s office in the state of Texas,” Patrick said, recalling his first state Senate race in 2006, in which he soundly defeated two other establishment-backed candidates in the Republican primary. Results early Wednesday indicated that Patrick was poised to win the vote in nearly every heavily populated area in the state, including Bexar, Tarrant, Collin, Montgomery, Harris and Dallas counties.
The No. 2 ranking Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, easily won his primary, grabbing nearly 62% of the vote, according to the tally of the Texas Secretary of State’s office. That’s well over the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff, which is required by Texas law if no candidate receives a majority. Cornyn faced several challengers, namely controversial conservative Rep. Steve Stockman, who launched a last-minute bid in December. Cornyn is one of 12 Republican senators running for re-election this year, half whom will face conservative primary challenges. Pete Sessions, a nine-term congressman who represents Texas’ solidly Republican 32nd district around northern Dallas, also sailed through Tuesday’s primary, grabbing more than two-thirds of the vote to bea tea party challenger Katrina Pierson.
Pierson lagged far behind in fund-raising despite gaining support from three powerful national tea party-aligned groups and backing from conservative firebrands former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Sessions, the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, was one of eight GOP House leaders or committee chiefs nationwide who face primary challenges this year. George P. Bush grabbed three-quarters of the GOP vote in beating conservative David Watts in the primary for Texas land commissioner, marking Bush’s first big contest as he launches what many political observers expect to be a must-watch career in politics. Bush, who was considered the favorite going in to the primary and is favored to win in November, is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush and grandson of former President George H.W. Bush.
At the age of 90, Republican Rep. Ralph Hall is the oldest member of the U.S. House. Hall, who’s running for an 18th term in Congress, grabbed 46% of the vote against five primary challengers. He’ll face former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe, who came in second. Ratcliff, 48, has made Hall’s age an issue in the race. Tuesday’s primary was the first in the Lone Star State since Cruz’s U.S. Senate victory two years ago, thanks in part to strong support from tea party and other grassroots conservative activists. While Cornyn and Sessions easily beat back conservative challengers, other more establishment lawmakers were forced into May runoffs by challengers backed by Cruz.
Amy Kremer, head of the Tea Party Express, one of the leading national tea party groups, told CNN that while she’s disappointed that the candidate they backed, Pierson, came up short against Sessions, but said “I am proud that we had one of our own step up and take on an entrenched establishment candidate.” ”The big takeaway from last night is that the tea party movement is alive and well in the state of Texas. Tea Party candidates won big on the local and state level, and while the tea party lost one congressional race, there was no serious primary challenge in the Senate race. Also, Ted Cruz endorsed 5 candidates, with 4 of them winning and one heavily favored in a runoff. With that, Texas didn’t let us down!” Kremer added.
PARIS, France | DMN – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has begun talks with US counterpart John Kerry and key EU ministers to try to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. The US wants independent observers in the flashpoint region of Crimea and direct talks between Kiev and Moscow. Russia is likely to call for greater representation for Ukraine’s Russian-speaking areas in the Kiev government. The EU earlier offered 11bn euros ($15bn; £9bn) in aid to Ukraine and froze the assets of 18 Ukrainians. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the package of loans and grants over the next couple of years was “designed to assist a committed, inclusive and reforms-oriented government” in Kiev. Ukraine’s finance ministry has predicted it needs $35bn to rescue its economy.
In other developments in Ukraine:
The national flag is once again flying over the administrative headquarters in Donetsk, replacing the Russian flag hoisted there five days ago. The building was evacuated after an apparent bomb threat
In Crimea, pro-Russian demonstrators have turned away families bringing food and supplies to Ukrainian troops refusing to surrender their bases
Russian forces have seized two Ukrainian missile-defence sites in Crimea, according to unconfirmed reports
Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry, along with several EU foreign ministers, met on the sidelines of a long-planned conference on Lebanon in Paris. Nato and Russia are also due to hold parallel talks in Brussels. The Paris gathering is being seen above all as a chance to test the waters for a dialogue about Ukraine, says the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall. But UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Russians had already failed to appear at one meeting with the Ukrainians in Paris so he was “not optimistic” of making progress later. ”If we cannot make progress on that course there will be costs and consequences,” he said, in reference to a threat of sanctions by the US and EU.
Earlier, Mr Lavrov underlined Moscow’s differences with Western nations, accusing them of setting a bad example by supporting protesters – some of whom now make up the government – in their “armed coup d’etat”. But he did stress that Russia would “not allow bloodshed”, adding: “We will not allow attempts against the lives and wellbeing of those who live in Ukraine and Russian citizens who live in Ukraine.” He also said it was up to the people of Ukraine and Crimea to decide if they wanted international monitors. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) later confirmed that it had sent 35 unarmed military monitors – from 18 European countries – to Ukraine in response to a request from Kiev. It was not clear if they would be deployed to Crimea.
Mr Lavrov also insisted Moscow had no power to remove what it calls “self-defense forces” currently guarding key sites in Crimea, explaining that they were not Russian troops. Personnel from the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet – which is based at the Crimean port city of Sevastopol – were in their normal positions, he added, while admitting Moscow had taken “additional special steps to raise awareness and tighten security” at its base. While visiting Kiev on Tuesday, Mr Kerry condemned what he called Russia’s “act of aggression” and praised the “restraint” of Ukraine’s interim government. He has said he wants to see the crisis managed through international institutions such as the OSCE.
Jonathan Marcus BBC diplomatic correspondent
The first of two sophisticated naval landing ships being built in France for the Russian navy is to set sail on Wednesday afternoon for its initial sea trials. The vessel – the Vladivostok – is based upon the Mistral class already in service with the French navy. The deal was signed in June 2011. The vessel can operate smaller landing craft and helicopters and would significantly enhance Russia’s amphibious capabilities.
The deal to sell such a sophisticated piece of equipment to Moscow has always been controversial; even more so today given the crisis in Ukraine with the French government insisting that if there is no de-escalation of tensions, then rapid EU sanctions could follow. The timing is perhaps a little delicate for Paris, with high-level talks on the crisis under way in the French capital. But at least this is not the Vladivostok’s sister vessel that is putting to sea – that is to be named Sevastopol.
Moscow has been calling for a return to an agreement reached on 21 February with the then President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. This agreement included constitutional reform that would fully take into account the interests of all regions of Ukraine – giving the Russian-speaking areas in the east more influence and greater legal protection. This, says the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow, would give Russia more leverage over the future direction of Ukraine. Moscow has strongly condemned the recent change of government in Ukraine, which came after months of street protests, more than 90 deaths and the flight of President Yanukovych, a Russian ally.
Since his fall, Moscow has retained de facto control of Ukraine’s southern autonomous region of Crimea. Pro-Russian troops in unmarked uniforms began taking control of strategic points on Saturday. Troops are surrounding Ukrainian military bases and other installations, while two Ukrainian warships are reported to be blocked by a Russian ship in Sevastopol’s harbor. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu named photos of military hardware with Russian numbers in Crimea posted in media as an act of provocation. “Certainly, this is an act of provocation,” Shoigu replied to a question how he comments on such media reports.
Shoigu also noted that there was no information that people blocking Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea had received modern weaponry, including Tigr and Rys personnel armored carriers. “I do not have any idea about this,” the minister said. In his words, people in military uniform without any insignia are not linked with Russia army at all. “It is absolutely false,” Shoigu said. In reply to a journalist’s question whether there were Russian servicemen among these people without any insignia in Crimea, he said, “Absolutely, not. There were none of them.”
Warships of the Baltic Fleet which participated in surprise military exercises of forces from Western and Central Military Districts came back to their permanent bases on Wednesday, head of the information support department of the press service of the Western Military District for the Baltic Fleet Captain 2nd Rank Vladimir Matveyev told Itar-Tass. “More than 30 warships, cutters and logistic support vessels were involved in different military exercises that were held at maritime ranges in the Baltic Sea,” he said. Warships performed gun and missile fire drills, deepwater bombing and mine planting, drilled anti-submarine missions and had a drill to unblock a Russian ship from unidentified ships violating international sea law.
“Military exercises were held in a hard tactical situation, difficult hydro-meteorological conditions and with limited visibility due to fog,” a Baltic Fleet’s official said. Units of coastal troops and sea-based aviation of the Baltic Fleet were also engaged in surprise military exercises. “Naval forces deployed in Russian westernmost Kaliningrad region and north-western Russia’s Leningrad region came back to routine training and daily life at their permanent bases,” Matveyev stated.
The upper house of Russia’s parliament is mulling measures allowing property and assets of European and US companies to be confiscated in the event of sanctions being adopted against Russia over its threatened military intervention in Ukraine. The bill’s author, Federation Council constitutional legislation committee head Andrei Klishas, said Wednesday that lawyers are currently studying whether the proposed confiscations would be constitutional. “But we have no doubts that it clearly corresponds to European standards,” Klishas told RIA Novosti. “The recent events in Cyprus spring to mind, where the confiscation of assets was the main demand made by the European Union in return for economic aid.”
An adviser to President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that authorities would issue general advice to dump US government bonds if Russian companies and individuals were targeted by sanctions over events in Ukraine. According to US Treasury data from the end of 2013, Russian investments in US government bonds total around $139 billion out of a total of $5.8 trillion of US debt held in foreign hands. Earlier this week, US and European officials warned that Russia’s alleged actions in Ukraine could lead to economic sanctions and asset freezes. US Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that the United States and some of its allies were “prepared to go to the hilt to isolate Russia.” Putin has denied any Russian troops have already been deployed in the southern Ukrainian republic of Crimea, although numerous eyewitnesses have reported seeing large numbers of well-armed troops without insignia moving around the peninsula in military vehicles bearing Russian license plates.
33,000 people live in Indiana’s Greene County nestled in the Southwest corner of the state between Evansville and Terre Haute. The police blotter in Linton, the County Seat, reads like something you would expect in a small Midwest town. Animal complaints, an occasional suspicious person, vandalism and information requests. It’s not the place you would expect a horrific rape and murder of a teenager. Yesterday, one of the most horrific murder cases in Linton’s history came closer to an end.
25-year old Randal Crosley was sentenced to 81 years in the murder of 19-year-old Katelyn Wolfe. 27-year-old Jordan Buskirk is due to be sentenced March 18 after pleading guilty to murder, criminal confinement and the same two conspiracy counts. Wolfe’s body was found June 10 in a lake outside her hometown about 75 miles southwest of Indianapolis. Greene County Prosecutor Jarrod Holtsclaw said this case was the worst thing he’s ever dealt with in all his years in the prosecutor’s office. ”This goes way beyond murder,” said Holtsclaw. He said in some cases, the motive is anger, revenge, greed, but in this case, “She was killed for sport, for entertainment.”
Last summer police arrested Crosley and Jordan Buskirk in connection to Wolfe’s death. They both eventually confgessed to killing the teen. Tuesday, Jordan Buskirk himself, took the stand to testify against Crosley. It was then that the family heard Katelyn’s killer explain, for the first time in person, how he and Crosley kidnapped and murdered her. Buskirk explained they wanted to see what it would be like to rape and kill someone. Buskirk told about the long-standing relationship between the two men and their lives leading up to the planning of the murder. Buskirk’s testimony lasted at least one hour as he recounted the events before, during and after the murder step-by-step.
During the sentencing hearing, a number of details surfaced, including results of tests performed on items sent to the Indiana State Police Lab, and additional information on the evidence that would have been presented if the cases had gone to trial, including:
* Evidence that Crosley’s phone had been used to search for lakes in the area during the planning of the murder
* Video that showed Crosley and Buskirk shopping at Cirilla’s, selecting items to be used for rape and murder, smiling, having a good time
* Video that showed the two men at Gander Mountain, first going to the aisle with ropes, then to anchors, lifting anchors up, then purchasing two types of rope, a 20-pound anchor and a bag of candy
* Phone records that showed all three phones, belonging to Crosley, Buskirk and Wolfe, were together for an extended period of time – officers knew the three had been together
* Katelyn Wolfe’s DNA was found on Crosley’s shirt and on his blue jeans
* Katelyn Wolfe’s DNA was found on Buskirk’s blue jeans
* Crosley’s DNA was found on a cigarette butt found at one of the rural locations where events took place and other items of evidence were found
* Prints from Crosley and Buskirk were found on pieces of duct tape found on the road
* DNA found on duct tape on the victim was consistent with Crosley but not Buskirk
* Duct tape found on the victim was consistent with other duct tape found on road and other places
* Buskirk testified that they did not do anything sexual to the victim
* Buskirk testified that he did not strike the victim but he saw Crosley punch her in the face and head several times because she was trying to bite him
* Buskirk testified that at one point, he asked the victim if she was scared and she tried to answer but he couldn’t understand her. Then Crosley got down close to her and told her it was “the bogeyman” then got up and said three times that Buskirk needed to kill her
* Crosley told Buskirk it was “one something” meaning sometime after 1 a.m. when Wolfe died
* Video at a gas station showed the them making a stop for gas, then both looking into the trunk, Buskirk changing his shirt and discarding the one he’d been wearing. It also showed Crosley with dirt and stains on the knees of his blue jeans
* Officers noticed a chemical odor and a wet spot in the trunk of the car and they found drugs and a ledger in the car after the car was impounded
* When the car was searched, they found synthetic drugs, duct tape and a stain
* Katelyn Wolfe’s DNA was found on the stain.
* Buskirk said after the murder, Crosley started to burn the SIM card from Wolfe’s phone in Buskirk’s car and Buskirk asked him why he was burning it in his car. They stopped and finished burning it on the side of a road, and they got rid of the battery — the rest of the cell phone was thrown out at another location.
Wolfe’s body was found June 10 in a lake outside her hometown about 75 miles southwest of Indianapolis. Affidavits in the case say after the two men killed Wolfe and dumped her body in the rural Sullivan County lake, Crosley then used Wolfe’s cellphone to update her Facebook account to hide their actions. The post stated Wolfe was “out on a walk with creeps that keep driving by.” Buskirk told police he and Crosley traveled to Terre Haute, Ind., to purchase condoms, handcuffs, restraint straps, rope and a 20-pound weight, and they were preparing to rape and kill someone, court documents said.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Buskirk told police he and Crosley picked Wolfe up at her home about 1 a.m. then drove around doing drugs awhile before deciding to stop and kill her. She was strangled with a rope. ABC News reports the two were childhood friends wanted to know what it was like to kill, with Buskirk telling police they had conversations about ”forcing themselves onto a complete stranger for at least a week” and that the idea to kill was “just something that popped into their heads.” Also connected to the case was the wife of Crosley, 19-year-old Tamera Crosley. Green County Authorities charged her with obstruction of justice and two counts of false informing for impeding the investigation into Wolfe’s death.
Before Greene Superior Court Judge Dena Martin handed down a sentence of 81 years to Randal Edward Crosley for the murder of Katelyn Wolfe, she expressed her dismay at the nature of the crime. ”The way you did this,” said Martin to Crosley, “this was just evil in nature.” The judge called Crosley’s acts cold and calculated — a heinous offense, and she said our community is not safe with him out on the street. Though the defense said Crosley had shown remorse during a pre-sentence investigation, the judge disagreed. ”I’ve watched you,” said Martin, telling the defendant she had watched him during his initial hearing, watched him during his change of plea hearing, and watched him during the sentencing hearing, and she had not seen him shed a tear except when his own sister took the stand. ”You might be feeling bad,” said Martin, “because you’re sitting here.”
Martin said the biggest factor she was taking into consideration in making a sentencing decision was that Crosley had a plan to commit murder and he had thought it over. ”That is just scary,” said Martin. “You planned it.” When the judge spoke to the Wolfe family, she said, “Most days I love my job. Today is not one of them. ”No matter what I do, I can’t bring Katelyn back.”
WTHI-TV and The Greene County Daily World contributed to this report.
The Indianapolis Star reports that the Indiana Supreme Court has ousted Marion County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Brown, only the third Indiana judge to be permanently removed from the bench for misconduct in the past 20 years. “We conclude that protecting the integrity of the judicial system and ensuring the fair and timely administration of justice require that (Brown) be removed from office,” the Supreme Court said in an order. “This removal renders (Brown) ineligible for judicial office.” Brown is the first Indiana judge to be permanently removed since 2004.
The disciplinary decision in Brown’s case cannot be appealed, and the court did not place any time limits on Brown’s ineligibility to serve as a judge. That means she is, effectively, permanently barred from holding judicial office. The court did not suspend Brown’s law license, and she will be able to work as an attorney. Brown has been on a paid suspension since Jan. 9 and has filed to run in the Democratic primary in May for the party’s nomination to seek re-election. The party has slated another candidate for her post. Whether Brown’s name would remain on the primary ballot was unclear Tuesday.
The judge’s attorney, Karl Mulvaney, did not respond to phone and email messages from The Indianapolis Star seeking reaction to the Supreme Court order. Brown was suspended after a three-judge “masters” panel, which heard evidence on the misconduct allegations, called for her to be permanently removed from the bench. The panel heard testimony during a weeklong trial in November. Brown, in the final year of her first term on the bench, was charged in August by the state Commission on Judicial Qualifications with 47 counts of misconduct. The commission said she delayed the release of at least nine defendants from jail, failed to train or supervise court employees, created a hostile environment for staff and attorneys, and failed to cooperate with the commission’s investigation.
Brown argued that she was saddled with a bad staff and had taken steps to correct many of the issues cited by the commission. Later, however, she offered a belated apology and offered to accept a 60-day suspension. Retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan also submitted a letter to the court offering to serve as a mentor to Brown if she were allowed to return to the bench. All five Supreme Court justices concurred with the decision to bar Brown from judicial office, but Justice Robert Rucker argued in a separate opinion that the court’s goal of preserving the integrity of the judicial system could be achieved by suspending Brown for 60 days without pay, then staying her removal for one year, during which she would be on supervised probation. He noted the charges against Brown did not involve “acts of moral depravity,” and neither the court nor the commission found that she had engaged in “willful misconduct in office.”
During the probationary period, Rucker wrote, “(Brown) would carry the burden of demonstrating that she has the capacity to manage her court efficiently and effectively. A failure to do so would result in a probation violation and immediate removal from office.” The Supreme Court order noted Brown was not a novice judge and that her misconduct occurred as part of her official duties. “It violated multiple Rules of Judicial Conduct, and much of it prejudiced the administration of justice. It was not singular, isolated, or limited to a particular subset of cases or persons. It was often repeated or continuing in nature. “This misconduct not only displayed a lack of dignity, courtesy and patience required of judges, but it also negatively affected parties, court staff and others interested in the efficient operation of the criminal justice system,” the order said.
Joel Schumm, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis who has closely followed Brown’s disciplinary case said that “Judge Brown did not dispute she committed multiple ethical violations.” “The Indiana Supreme Court appropriately noted that these violations were repeated and pervasive, affecting many people and cases. In order to preserve even minimal effectiveness of the judicial system and protect its integrity, the court had no choice but to remove Judge Brown from the bench.” The Supreme Court order noted that Brown’s “pattern of neglect, hostility, retaliation and recalcitrance toward investigating officials indicates an unwillingness or inability on her part to remedy deficiencies.” The last judge to be removed by the Supreme Court was Lake Superior Court Judge Joan Kouros in 2004. The court found she “proved either unable or unwilling to issue timely and documented decisions in the cases assigned to her.”
Description: Optimus Prime stands strong and ready for battle in this poster for the upcoming installment in the Transformers series. Mark Wahlberg and Nicola Peltz star as a father and daughter who unwittingly get entangled in the war between Auto…
Jared Leto won an Oscar on Sunday, and today his band 30 Seconds to Mars announced a major summer tour, joining forces with Linkin Park and a special guest! ET’s Rocsi Diaz got Jared and brother Shannon’s take on the big news.
The outgoing director of the National Security Agency lashed out at media organizations reporting on Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations, suggesting that British authorities were right to detain David Miranda on terrorism charges and that reporters lack the ability to properly analyze the NSA’s broad surveillance powers. General Keith Alexander, who has furiously denounced the Snowden revelations, said at a Tuesday cybersecurity panel that unspecified “headway” on what he termed “media leaks” was forthcoming in the next several weeks, possibly to include “media leaks legislation.”
In perhaps his most expansive remarks to date since Miranda – the partner of former U.K. Guardian newspaper journalist Glenn Greenwald – was detained for nine hours at Heathrow airport last summer, Alexander noted that a panel of UK judges found Miranda’s detention to be legal. “Recently, what came out with the justices in the United Kingdom … they looked at what happened on Miranda and other things, and they said it’s interesting: journalists have no standing when it comes to national security issues. They don’t know how to weigh the fact of what they’re giving out and saying, is it in the nation’s interest to divulge this,” Alexander said. “And I just put that on the table because that’s a key issue that we as a nation [are] going to face. My personal opinion: these leaks have caused grave, significant and irreversible damage to our nation and to our allies. It will take us years to recover,” he said.
Miranda was held for the maximum amount of time allowable under schedule 7 of the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000. The Guardian paid for Miranda’s trip from his Rio de Janeiro home to Berlin, during which he met with filmmaker Laura Poitras, one of the recipients of Snowden’s leaks. Miranda carried with him encrypted files that included thousands of classified UK surveillance documents that came from Snowden, in order to facilitate journalism about the source material. Although the statute cited to detain Miranda concerns terrorism – with which UK officials have never suspected Miranda of involvement – a panel of three UK judges last month quashed a legal challenge to his detention.
Lord Justice Laws, a member of the panel, found that the objective of Miranda’s detention “was not only legitimate but very pressing,” a decision criticized by press-freedom advocates in the UK and beyond. Alexander said he would be at the White House on Tuesday to discuss proposed changes to the NSA’s mass collection of US phone records, less than a week after he seemed to soften his opposition to the NSA acquiring only metadata related to terrorism. The general, who is due to retire in the next several weeks, said that the furor over Snowden’s surveillance revelations – which he referred to only as “media leaks” – was complicating his ability to get congressional support for a bill that would permit the NSA and the military Cyber Command he also helms to secretly communicate with private entities like banks about online data intrusions and attacks. “We’ve got to handle media leaks first,” Alexander said.
“I think we are going to make headway over the next few weeks on media leaks. I am an optimist. I think if we make the right steps on the media leaks legislation, then cyber legislation will be a lot easier,” Alexander said. The specific legislation to which Alexander referred was unclear. Angela Canterbury, the policy director for the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, said she was unaware of any such bill. Neither was Steve Aftergood, an intelligence policy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. The NSA’s public affairs office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Alexander has previously mused about “stopping” journalism related to the Snowden revelations. “We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policymakers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” he told an official Defense Department blog in October. While Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that he had no plans to pursue charges against Greenwald, pro-NSA officials have recently taken to using loaded legal language when referring to the journalists reporting on the Snowden documents. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, called on Snowden and unnamed “accomplices” to return the surveillance documents cache during congressional testimony in January. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers of Michigan, called Greenwald a “thief” last month.
Like other NSA officials and their allies over the past several months, Alexander has become more visible to the public, part of the NSA’s push to regain control of the public narrative as the Obama administration and members of Congress debate the future scope of the NSA’s powers. In an October interview with the New York Times, Alexander said: “I do feel it’s important to have a public, transparent discussion on cyber so that the American people know what’s going on.” But staff at Georgetown University, which sponsored the Tuesday cybersecurity forum, took the microphone away from a Guardian reporter who attempted to ask Alexander if the NSA had missed the signs of Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine, which appeared to take Obama administration policymakers by surprise.
Although the event was open to reporters, journalists were abruptly told following the NSA director’s remarks that they were not permitted to ask questions of Alexander, who did not field the Ukraine question. Following the event, security staff closed a stairwell gate on journalists who attempted to ask Alexander questions on his way out. It comes as no surprise to this journalist that Alexander would prefer to muzzle the press. Intelligence, military and political hawks always want to shut down the messenger usually when it threatens ‘state national security.’
U.S. counter-terrorism officials are attempting to track down Heda Umarova, a female friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber, after she traveled to Chechnya last year and is believed to have since posted ‘alarming’ jihadi imagery online.
Federal agents are frantically searching for a female friend of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the young woman left her suburban Boston home on a trip to her family’s native Chechnya last year and never returned. Heda Umarova, 23, reportedly stayed at the end of the August 2013 trip to get married to a man she met there while her parents returned to their Chelsea, Mass., home, ABC News reported. But in the interim, Umarova has posted “alarming” jihadi-type photos to social media sites, sparking fears the young woman has been radicalized to carry out violence in the name of Islam during her trip to the restive region – just like family friend Tsarnaev, who is accused of killing three and injuring hundreds during the bombing near the finish line of the Boston race course last April.
Tsarnaev, 20, and brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, reportedly carried out the bombings April 15 using two pressure cooker bombs. Tamerlan was later killed by police during a shootout days after the bombing. Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent months in 2012 living in his family’s native Dagestan, where authorities believe he was indoctrinated to carry out jihad in the U.S. as a statement against American aggression in the Muslim world. Counter-terrorism authorities fear Umarova, whose family fled the war-torn region in 2004, could come under similar influences in Chechnya during her unplanned, extended stay there. ”No one is calling Heda a terrorist but her travel has certainly garnered some attention. People are concerned that a 23-year-old is in Chechnya, a country that she fled from … and now she is deciding to stay on her own,” a ranking law enforcement source involved in the Boston Marathon investigation told ABC News.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges, and faces the death penalty if convicted of carrying out the attack. The suspected bomber was close friends with Umarova’s two brothers, Adam, 20, and Junes, 18, who themselves were eyed by cops because of support they showed for their jailed friend online. They also reportedly tweeted back and forth with Dzhokhar just a day before the bombings. Those messages led investigators directly to the Umarov family’s Chelsea home shortly after the bombing during the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers. The family allowed law enforcement to search the home, to no avail. ”We were already concerned about the social media exchanged with her brothers, who remain on the radar, especially the younger brother Junes, who was Dzhokhar’s best friend,” the source told ABC News.
Heda Umarova raised concerns by postings she made online, including “depictions of Chechen jihadis brandishing weapons and a photo-shopped image of a U.S. passport in a carry-on bag bearing the black flag of jihad,” ABC News reported. And last June, Umarova was quoted in a Bloomberg News story about listening to conspiracy radio host Alex Jones, who has put forth theories that the marathon bombing was perpetrated by the U.S. government – which has used the Tsarnaevs as scapegoats. Umarova admitted in the story to being active online in advancing the theory that her friends, the Tsarnaev brothers, were not involved in the bombings. “A lot of it is ‘Oh my god, he is crazy,’ but a lot of stuff he says make sense,” she told Bloomberg of Jones. “He brings up a lot of valid points.”
The Tsarnaev parents and four children met the Umarovs and their five kids when the latter fled to Massachusetts 10 years ago. Both families are native Chechens – who haven’t kept in touch, Heda’s mother, Raisa Umarova, told ABC News. The family confirmed they have been questioned by several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. ”She is getting married,” the mother told ABC News through tears. “She doesn’t speak good Russian. They [the Umarov children] come to this country as babies. This is my home now. I love this country. I love my children being here.” Heda Umarova has not been charged with any crimes, but law enforcement is actively trying to track her down, according to ABC News. She told Bloomberg last June that she was raising money for the Tsarnaev family as she actively tried to clear the brothers’ names. “When I first started I thought nobody would support this,” Heda Umarova said. “I thought I would take all the heat. I expected nobody to support what I was doing.”
The American Civil Liberties Union wants to learn more about any secret surveillance gadgets used by Florida law enforcement agencies after uncovering proof that police there relied on one type of spy tool upwards of 200 times without permission. Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, wrote on Monday this week that his organization has filed public records requests with nearly 30 police and sheriffs’ departments across the Sunshine State in hopes of having documents unsealed that would disclose how those agencies use certain surveillance tools to track down cell phones.
Police agencies across the country are increasingly relying on specialized devices known as “stingrays” to conduct investigations, but the powerful tools aren’t discussed in public that much. Much to the ACLU’s surprise, however, officers in Florida have been using such tools without even the oversight or authorization of the court, raising new concerns about exactly how rampant this type of surveillance actually is. When implemented properly, a stingray can mimic the behavior of a cell phone tower like the ones managed by major telecommunication companies, tricking mobile devices into sending signals that could then be used to track down a handheld phone to a physical location within just a few feet.
Privacy advocates aren’t pleased by these devices, though, since they allow law enforcement to suck up huge chunks of information about potentially thousands of innocent people at once. And according to the ACLU’s Wessler, Florida police have been playing with these gadgets just about completely unchecked. “As revealed in a recent opinion of a Florida appeals court, Tallahassee police used an unnamed device — almost certainly a stingray — to track a stolen cell phone to a suspect’s apartment,” he wrote on Monday this week. A stingray-like device absolutely aided the police in finding that stolen cell phone and the suspect responsible, and the cops raided the residence in order to make an arrest. Wessler wrote that they didn’t bother obtaining a warrant in order to enter the apartment, though, nor did they ask for the court’s authorization to set up a fake cell tower.
In fact, Wessler revealed, the fact that the Tallahassee Police Department actually had such a device at their disposable was something that was supposed to be kept under wraps. “Police opted not to get warrants authorizing either their use of the stingray or the apartment search. Incredibly, this was apparently because they had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the company that gave them the device,” he wrote. “The police seem to have interpreted the agreement to bar them even from revealing their use of stingrays to judges, who we usually rely on to provide oversight of police investigations.” This was far from an isolated incident, though. Wessler wrote that only when the case was appealed later on was it revealed that TPD turned on their stingray at least 200 times to collect information, without once ever asking for a warrant from a judge or magistrate.
“Potentially unconstitutional government surveillance on this scale should not remain hidden from the public just because a private corporation desires secrecy. And it certainly should not be concealed from judges,” Wessler wrote. “That’s why we have asked the Florida court that originally sealed the transcript to now make it available to the public. And that’s also why we have asked police departments throughout Florida to tell us whether they use stingrays, what rules they have in place to protect innocent third parties from unjustified invasions of privacy, and whether they obtain warrants from judges before deploying the devices.”