· Plan B: Obama allows morning-after pill for under-17s – President’s reversal means emergency contraception drug will be available to women of all ages without a prescription
The Obama administration will stop trying to limit sales of emergency contraception pills, making the morning-after pill available to women of all ages without a prescription.
The US justice department said in a letter on Monday that it planned to comply with a court’s ruling to allow unrestricted sales of Plan B One-Step and that it would withdraw its appeal on the matter.
The move is the latest in a lengthy legal fight over the morning-after pill, which was until recently only available without a prescription to women 17 and older who presented proof of age at a pharmacist’s counter.
Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the FDA said the limit unfairly kept women and girls from accessing the drug, which is most effective when taken within 72 hours of intercourse.
On 5 April US district Judge Edward Korman said the US Food and Drug Administration had been “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” in rejecting a citizen petition to make emergency contraception available over the counter to girls of all ages.
Korman ordered the FDA to make emergency contraception available without age and point-of-sale restrictions but said the agency could lift restrictions on only the one-pill version of the drug, Plan B One-Step, if the FDA believed there was a significant difference between that and the two-pill version.
The justice department will not seek to lift restrictions on the two-pill Plan B product, which it says is significantly different from the one-pill version.
The FDA in April granted a petition from Plan B One-Step’s maker, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, to make the pill available without a prescription to girls as young as 15.
The FDA said it would lift the remaining age restriction on Plan B One-Step once it received the appropriate application from Teva. Teva declined to comment.
Annie Tummino, lead plaintiff and co-ordinator of the National Women’s Liberation, said: “This decision by the administration affirms what feminists have been fighting for all along: the morning-after pill should be available to females of all ages, on the shelf at any convenience store, just like aspirin or condoms.”
Plan B has been a political lightning rod. In 2011, after the FDA decided to approve over-the-counter sales with no age limits, US health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius had ordered it to reverse course, barring girls under 17 from buying the pills without a prescription.
Barack Obama supported that restriction, invoking his daughters. But the timing, 11 months ahead of the presidential election, sparked criticism that he was trying to placate social conservatives. Story Continued
· Majority Views NSA Phone Tracking as Acceptable Anti-terror Tactic – Public Says Investigate Terrorism, Even If It Intrudes on Privacy
A majority of Americans – 56% – say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, though a substantial minority – 41% – say it is unacceptable. And while the public is more evenly divided over the government’s monitoring of email and other online activities to prevent possible terrorism, these views are largely unchanged since 2002, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post, conducted June 6-9 among 1,004 adults, finds no indications that last week’s revelations of the government’s collection of phone records and internet data have altered fundamental public views about the tradeoff between investigating possible terrorism and protecting personal privacy.
Currently 62% say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy. Just 34% say it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.
These opinions have changed little since an ABC News/Washington Post survey in January 2006. Currently, there are only modest partisan differences in these opinions: 69% of Democrats say it is more important for the government to investigate terrorist threats, even at the expense of personal privacy, as do 62% of Republicans and 59% of independents.
However, while six-in-ten or more in older age groups say it is more important to investigate terrorism even if it intrudes on privacy, young people are divided: 51% say investigating terrorism is more important while 45% say it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible threats.
The survey finds that while there are apparent differences between the NSA surveillance programs under the Bush and Obama administrations, overall public reactions to both incidents are similar. Currently, 56% say it is acceptable that the NSA “has been getting secret court orders to track telephone calls of millions of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism.”
In January 2006, a few weeks after initial new reports of the Bush administration’s surveillance program, 51% said it was acceptable for the NSA to investigate “people suspected of involvement with terrorism by secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails between some people in the United States and other countries, without first getting court approval to do so.”
However, Republicans and Democrats have had very different views of the two operations. Today, only about half of Republicans (52%) say it is acceptable for the NSA to obtain court orders to track phone call records of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism. In January 2006, fully 75% of Republicans said it was acceptable for the NSA to investigate suspected terrorists by listening in on phone calls and reading emails without court approval.
Democrats now view the NSA’s phone surveillance as acceptable by 64% to 34%. In January 2006, by a similar margin (61% to 36%), Democrats said it was unacceptable for the NSA to scrutinize phone calls and emails of suspected terrorists.
Public Divided Over Internet Monitoring
The public is divided over the government’s monitoring of internet activity in order to prevent possible terrorism: 45% say the government should be able to “monitor everyone’s email and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks.” About as many (52%) say the government should not able to do this.
These views are little changed from a July 2002 Pew Research Center survey. At that time, 45% said the government should be able to monitor everyone’s internet activity if the government said it would prevent future attacks; 47% said it should not.
Young Differ on Principle, but Less on Practice
Younger Americans are more likely than older age groups to prioritize protecting personal privacy over terrorism investigations. Among people ages 18-29, 45% say it is more important for the federal government NOT to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats. That view falls to 35% among those ages 30-49 and just 27% among those ages 50 and older.
There are smaller age differences when it comes to the specific policies in the news this week. When it comes to whether the NSA tracking of phone records is acceptable, nearly the same share of 18-to-29 year-olds (55%) say the program is acceptable as those ages 65 and older (61%). Younger Americans are as divided as the nation overall about whether the government should or should not monitor email and online activities in the interest of preventing terrorism.
One-in-Four Following NSA News ‘Very Closely’
Roughly a quarter (27%) of Americans say they are following news about the government collecting Verizon phone records very closely. This is a relatively modest level of public interest. Only another 21% say they are following this fairly closely, while about half say they are following not too (17%) or not at all (35%) closely.
Interest in reports about the government tracking of e-mail and online activities is almost identical: 26% say they are following this story very closely, 33% not closely at all.
As with most news stories, interest is far higher among older Americans than the young: one-in-three (33%) Americans ages 50-and-older are following news about the government tracking phone records very closely. Among those ages 18-29, just 12% are following very closely, while 56% say they are not following closely at all.
Attention to these stories is higher among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents: 32% are following reports about the government tracking phone records very closely, compared with 24% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. The partisan gap in interest is almost identical when it comes to reports about government collecting email and other online information: 30% of Republicans and Republican-leaners are following very closely compared with 20% of Democrats and Democratic-leaners.
Overall, those who disagree with the government’s data monitoring are following the reports somewhat more closely than those who support them. Among those who find the government’s tracking of phone records to be unacceptable, 31% are following the story very closely, compared with 21% among those who say it is acceptable. Similarly with respect to reports about government monitoring of email and online activities, 28% of those who say this should not be done are following the news very closely, compared with 23% of those who approve of the practice. Story Continued
· Hillary’s sorry state of affairs – Probes into her department’s sex scandals were quashed, memo says.
WASHINGTON — A State Department whistleblower has accused high-ranking staff of a massive cover-up — including keeping a lid on findings that members of then-Secretary Hillary Clinton’s security detail and the Belgian ambassador solicited prostitutes.
A chief investigator for the agency’s inspector general wrote a memo outlining eight cases that were derailed by senior officials, including one instance of interference by Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills.
Any mention of the cases was removed from an IG report about problems within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), which provides protection and investigates crimes involving any State Department workers overseas.
US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, with his wife in Brussels, was investigated over claims he solicited prostitutes.
“It’s a cover-up,” declared Cary Schulman, a lawyer representing the whistleblower, former State Department IG senior investigator Aurelia Fedenisn.“The whole agency is impaired.
“Undue influence . . . is coming from political appointees. It’s coming from above the criminal- investigation unit,” added Schulman, whose client provided the document with the revelations.
Some of the revelations were first reported by CBS News.
Among the bombshell findings:
* A DS agent was called off a case against US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman over claims that he solicited prostitutes, including minors.
“The agent began his investigation and had determined that the ambassador routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” says the memo.
“The ambassador’s protective detail and the embassy’s surveillance detection team . . . were well aware of the behavior.”
Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy ordered the investigation ceased, and the ambassador remains in place, according to the memo.
Gutman was a big Democratic donor before taking the post, having raised $500,000 for President Obama’s 2008 campaign and helping finance his inaugural.
* At least seven agents in Clinton’s security detail hired prostitutes while traveling with her in various countries, including Russia and Colombia.
Investigators called the use of prostitutes by Clinton’s security agents “endemic.”
The liaisons with prostitutes allegedly occurred in the same hotel where Clinton slept, according to sources familiar with the incident.
But the agents involved got little more than a wrist-slap. Three were removed from the security detail, given one-day suspensions and reassigned.
“No further investigations have occurred regarding the remaining four, despite the possibility of counterintelligence issues,” says the memo.
According to the memo, members of the Special Investigations Division (SID) approached the agent who was probing “and reportedly told him to shut down the four investigations.”
The incident in Colombia occurred prior to the scandal involving President Obama’s Secret Service detail in Cartagena, Colombia, but the State Department’s misconduct did not come to light until now.
The memo references a “rumor” that after the Secret Service hooker scandal broke, Clinton asked the agent-in-charge of her security detail whether any “similar activities” had happened. “The response was: ‘No,’ ” according to the memo.
* The case in which Clinton enforcer Mills allegedly intervened centered upon Brett McGurk, Obama’s nominee to be US ambassador to Iraq.
McGurk’s expected nomination fell apart after a computer hack exposed his racy e-mails and an extramarital affair with Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon.
According to the memo, the SID “never interviewed McGurk, allegedly because Cheryl Mills from the Secretary’s office interceded.”
“Without that interview, SID has been unable to close the case,” the memo concludes.
The memo cites an e-mail from Mills showing her agreeing to a course of action, “but then reneging and advising McGurk to withdraw his name from consideration for the ambassadorship.”
McGurk withdrew right before consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
* The document states that a security officer stationed in Beirut, Chuck Lisenbee, allegedly engaged in sexual assaults against local guards.
A diplomatic security higher-up called the investigation a “witch hunt” and gave agents only three days to look into the charge, the memo says.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the agency was conducting internal investigations of all the cases that have come to light, and wouldn’t ignore serious charges against top officials.
“We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly,” she said.
“The notion that we would not vigorously pursue criminal misconduct in a case, in any case is preposterous.
“And we’ve put individuals behind bars for criminal behavior,” she said.
“Ambassadors would be no exception.”
Psaki said State has brought in outside officials with law-enforcement backgrounds to assist in the investigation. The agency that conducts internal investigations is bringing in “experienced law-enforcement officers” to conduct a review, she said.
Officials at The State Department declined to comment on the specific allegations.
Gutman said today in a statement, “I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating.
“I live on a beautiful park in Brussels that you walk through to get to many locations and at no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity.”
Still, even the IG, which is supposed to be independent, bowed to pressure to remove mention of these embarrassing cases, according to internal documents.
At a December 2012 meeting to prepare the report, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell said he was “stunned” by the findings, and requested that the cases should be omitted.
“He proposed that the subject ‘should be withheld’ from the inspection report until INV’s process determines if ‘there is something there,’” according to notes from the meeting.
“Boswell said putting the subject in the report would ‘generally damage [Department of State],’ would ‘probably damage the Department,’ and would be used by ‘every defense lawyer around,’” according to the notes.
They further said that he wanted to wait to see if something “came of it.”
Fedenisn, the whistleblower, did not take the notes but was charged with keeping them, according to her lawyer.
The draft report marked “Sensitive but Unclassified,” cites several examples of undue influence “from the top floor of the department, raising serious concerns about the quality and integrity” of investigations.
That statement was removed from the final report issued March 15.
The final report also removed mention of “an ambassador accused of pedophilia and another such senior official had [Diplomatic Security] stop an investigation of an ambassador designate.”
“Hindering such cases can result in counterintelligence vulnerabilities and can allow exploitive criminals to continue their activities,” said the draft report.
“Moreover, the interventions frustrate, even demoralize,” dedicated agents, it went on.
Fedenisn’s lawyer, Schulman, said that his client came forward after a long career as a State Department special agent and IG investigator because she was “thrust into this.”
“She did it because it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Aurelia courageously has come forward with nothing to gain at all . . . Nobody gives you a prize for this.”
He said that Fedenisn, who retired in December, has been threatened by State Department officials with criminal charges.
“She wants to go back to her life,” said Schulman. “She’s not looking for fame.” Story Continued
· Franken ‘Very Well Aware Of’ NSA Tracking Phone Records – ST. PAUL (WCCO) — US Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., says he’s not surprised by revelations that federal security agencies collect phone and computer data on American citizens.
The National Security Agency secretly gathered personal data on Americans since 2007, including their internet use and cell phone service. It’s something Franken says he “was very well aware of.”
“I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people,” Franken said.
Franken, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he got secret security briefings on the program and he says it prevented unspecified terrorist acts.
“I have a high level of confidence that this is used to protect us and I know that it has been successful in preventing terrorism,” Franken said.
Franken’s comments come one day after a former U.S. government intelligence worker, named Edward Snowden, identified himself as the person responsible for leaking documents about the program to a British Newspaper.
Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison told ABC News he has deep concerns and that very few members of Congress knew the extent of the secret surveillance.
“We need to peel it back and we need to make sure congress is considering the constitution when we write these laws,” Ellison said.
But Franken defends the secrecy of the program, saying the government is trying to strike a delicate balance between public right to safety and the public right to privacy.
“There are certain things that are appropriate for me to know that is not appropriate for the bad guys to know,” Franken said.
Franken said he believes it’s proper for the Justice Department to investigate the government worker who leaked the existence of the NSA program.
However, Franken did not answer our question on whether he thought the leaker should be extradited from Hong Kong and prosecuted. Story Continued
· US: No plans to end broad surveillance program – WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration considered whether to charge a government contractor with leaking classified surveillance secrets while it defended the broad U.S. spy program that it says keeps America safe from terrorists.
Facing a global uproar over the programs that track phone and Internet messages around the world, the Justice Department continued to investigate whether the disclosures of Edward Snowden, 29, an employee of government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, were criminal.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament planned to debate the spy programs Tuesday and whether they have violated local privacy protections. EU officials in Brussels pledged to seek answers from U.S. diplomats at a trans-Atlantic ministerial meeting in Dublin later this week.
The global scrutiny comes after revelations from Snowden, who has chosen to reveal his identity. Snowden has fled to Hong Kong in hopes of escaping criminal charges as lawmakers including Senate intelligence chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California accuse him of committing an “act of treason” that should be prosecuted.
(AP) In this June 6, 2013 file photo National Security Agency plaques are seen at the compound.
Officials in Germany and the European Union issued calm but firm complaints Monday over two National Security Agency programs that target suspicious foreign messages – potentially including phone numbers, email, images, video and other online communications transmitted through U.S. providers. The chief British diplomat felt it necessary to try to assure Parliament that the spy programs do not encroach on U.K. privacy laws.
And in Washington, members of Congress said they would take a new look at potential ways to keep the U.S. safe from terror attacks without giving up privacy protections that critics charge are at risk with the government’s current authority to broadly sweep up personal communications.
“There’s very little trust in the government, and that’s for good reason,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “We’re our own worst enemy.”
A senior U.S. intelligence official on Monday said there were no plans to scrap the programs that, despite the backlash, continue to receive widespread if cautious support within Congress. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive security issue.
The programs were revealed last week by The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers. National Intelligence Director James Clapper has taken the unusual step of declassifying some of the previously top-secret details to help the administration mount a public defense of the surveillance as a necessary step to protect Americans.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was considering how Congress could limit the amount of data spy agencies seize from telephone and Internet companies – including restricting the information to be released only on an as-needed basis.
“It’s a little unsettling to have this massive data in the government’s possession,” King said.
One of the NSA programs gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records to search for possible links to known terrorist targets abroad. The other allows the government to tap into nine U.S. Internet companies and gather all communications to detect suspicious behavior that begins overseas.
Snowden is a former CIA employee who later worked as a contractor for the NSA on behalf of Booz Allen, where he gained access to the surveillance. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine said, it was “absolutely shocking” that a 29-year-old with limited experience would have access to this material.
FBI agents on Monday visited the home of Snowden’s father, Lonnie Snowden, in Upper Macungie Township, Pa. The FBI in Philadelphia declined to comment.
The first explosive document Snowden revealed was a top secret court order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that granted a three-month renewal for a massive collection of American phone records. That order was signed April 25. The Guardian’s first story on the court order was published June 5.
In a statement issued Sunday, Booz Allen said Snowden had been an employee for fewer than three months, so it’s possible he was working as an NSA contractor when the order was issued.
Snowden also gave the Post and the Guardian a PowerPoint presentation on another secret program that collects online usage by the nine Internet providers. The U.S. government says it uses that information only to track foreigners’ use overseas.
Believing his role would soon be exposed, Snowden fled last month to Hong Kong, a Chinese territory that enjoys relative autonomy from Beijing. His exact whereabouts were unknown Monday.
“All of the options, as he put it, are bad options,” Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first reported the phone-tracking program and interviewed Snowden extensively, told The Associated Press on Monday. He said Snowden decided to release details of the programs out of shock and anger over the sheer scope of the government’s privacy invasions.
“It was his choice to publicly unveil himself,” Greenwald told the AP in Hong Kong. “He recognized that even if he hadn’t publicly unveiled himself, it was only a matter of time before the U.S. government discovered that it was he who had been responsible for these disclosures, and he made peace with that. … He’s very steadfast and resolute about the fact that he did the right thing.”
Greenwald told the AP that he had more documents from Snowden and expected “more significant revelations” about NSA.
Although Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S., the document has some exceptions, including for crimes deemed political. Any negotiations about his possible handover will involve Beijing, but some analysts believe China is unlikely to want to jeopardize its relationship with Washington over someone it would consider of little political interest.
Snowden also told The Guardian that he may seek asylum in Iceland, which has strong free-speech protections and a tradition of providing a haven for the outspoken and the outcast.
The Justice Department is investigating whether his disclosures were a criminal offense – a matter that’s not always clear-cut under U.S. federal law.
A second senior intelligence official said Snowden would have had to have signed a non-disclosure agreement to gain access to the top secret data. That suggests he could be prosecuted for violating that agreement. Penalties could range from a few years to life in prison. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the process of accessing classified materials more frankly.
The leak came to light as Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was being tried in military court under federal espionage and computer fraud laws for releasing classified documents to WikiLeaks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other items. The most serious charge against him was aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence. But the military operates under a different legal system.
If Snowden is forced to return to the United States to face charges, whistle-blower advocates said Monday that they would raise money for his legal defense.
Clapper has ordered an internal review to assess how much damage the disclosures created. Intelligence experts say terrorist suspects and others seeking to attack the U.S. all but certainly will find alternate ways to communicate instead of relying on systems that now are widely known to be under surveillance.
The Obama administration also now must deal with the political and diplomatic fallout of the disclosures. Privacy laws across much of Western Europe are stricter than they are in the United States.
“It would be unacceptable and would need swift action from the EU if indeed the U.S. National Security Agency were processing European data without permission,” said Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian member of the European parliament and a leader in the Alde group of liberal parties.
Additionally, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters Monday that Chancellor Angela Merkel would question President Barack Obama about the NSA program when he’s in Berlin on June 18 for his first visit to the German capital as president. In Germany, privacy regulations are especially strict, and the NSA programs could tarnish a visit that both sides had hoped would reaffirm strong German-American ties.
In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague was forced to deny allegations that the U.K. government had used information provided by the Americans to circumvent British laws. “We want the British people to have confidence in the work of our intelligence agencies and in their adherence to the law and democratic values,” Hague told Parliament.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was open for a discussion about the spy programs, both with allies and in Congress. His administration has aggressively defended the two programs and credited them with helping stop at least two terrorist attacks, including one in New York City.
Privacy rights advocates say Obama has gone too far. The American Civil Liberties Union and Yale Law School filed legal action Monday to force a secret U.S. court to make public its opinions justifying the scope of some of the surveillance, calling the programs “shockingly broad.” And conservative lawyer Larry Klayman filed a separate lawsuit against the Obama administration, claiming he and others have been harmed by the government’s collection of as many as 3 billion phone numbers each day.
Army records indicate Snowden enlisted in the Army around May 2004 and was discharged that September.
“He attempted to qualify to become a Special Forces soldier but did not complete the requisite training and was administratively discharged from the Army,” Col. David H. Patterson Jr., an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said in a statement late Monday. Story Continued