A panel looking into U.S. electronic surveillance activities in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations has recommended removing the NSA's authority to store Americans' telephone data.
The key recommendation was one of dozens that the panel put forward; however, it did not propose a wholesale scaling back of domestic spying by the National Security Agency and other intelligence branches.
The Associated Press says: "It was not immediately clear whether the proposed changes would limit the scope of the collections."
Reuters says the report also recommended:
"[New] criteria that should be met before the United States engages in surveillance of foreign leaders."
Before spying on such leaders, U.S. officials should determine if there are other ways to obtain the necessary information and weigh the negative effects if the surveillance becomes public, panel members wrote in one of 46 recommendations."
President Obama ordered the review board after a series of exposes in British and U.S. newspapers detailing leaks by former NSA contractor Snowden, who fled the U.S. and is now living in temporary asylum in Russia. He is not obligated to accept their proposals.
The White House said Wednesday that the president had met with the panel:
"This meeting offered President Obama an opportunity to hear directly from the group's members and discuss the thinking behind the 46 recommendations in their report. The President noted that the group's report represented a consensus view, particularly significant given the broad scope of the members' expertise in counterterrorism, intelligence, oversight, privacy and civil liberties. The President again stated his expectation that, in light of new technologies, the United States use its intelligence collection capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security while supporting our foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosure."
The Obama administration's ambassador to the U.N. says this is a pivotal moment for Central African Republic and time for the international community to take steps to prevent further atrocities there.
Samantha Power, a former journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is well known as an advocate for humanitarian intervention. How she and the Obama administration handle the conflict in CAR is a major test of that.
"Many countries on the continent are now scrambling to pull forces together so they can deploy them to ensure that those forces get to the Central African Republic in a timely fashion," she told NPR in an interview in her cabin during a flight to Nigeria. "President Obama has just authorized up to $100 million to support the African Union forces on the ground."
Nigeria is a leading member of the African Union and soon-to-be-member of the U.N. Security Council. During her visit there, Power is discussing ways the country could help speed up the deployment of African Union troops to Central African Republic.
For its part, the U.S. has already begun airlifting peacekeepers from Burundi to join the French-led African Union mission in Central African Republic. The U.S. is also providing equipment and training and considering military advisers to help the African troops restore order.
While some experts have described the conflict there as "pre-genocidal," Power calls this "an important prevention moment."
"We know from history that in the early phase of conflict and violence that is motivated by ethnic or religious tensions that there are key moments to change the calculus of individuals on the ground who every day are making decisions about whether they want to take the side of peace or take up arms and begin to target their neighbors," Power said. "Central African Republic is in one of those periods right now where people are making those choices every day."
The latest crisis started in March, when Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, toppled the government and rampaged through villages, burning churches and homes. Christian militias have since committed atrocities against Muslim communities. And the U.N. estimates that the conflict has affected half the population.
Leading aid organization Doctors Without Borders, also known by the French acronym of its name, MSF, blasted the United Nations recently for failing to respond quickly enough. Sylvain Groulx, who runs the MSF office in Bangui, the capital, says the U.N. has been too timid.
"There was a period of time after the rebel coalition arrived at the doors of Bangui — that for six months there was no U.N. agency outside of Bangui. That was deplorable," Groulx says. "All during this time while they were evacuated outside the country or held up in their compounds, we continued doing the work."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York this week that the U.N. is trying now to ramp up aid efforts.
"Because of the very dire and dangerous security situation, it was very difficult in some cases to deliver, and the government is not functioning," he said. "This transitional government is not property functioning."
U.S. officials say they are hopeful that the African troops can open aid corridors to reach hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced since March. Power, the U.S. ambassador, has spoken with the country's coup leader to urge him to get Central Africa Republic on the path of reconciliation and on the road to elections.
"Central African Republic is not a place that has seen mass atrocities committed by one religious community against another in the past," she said. "There have been some interfaith tensions — but what we have seen in recent months since a military takeover of the government are atrocities on religious grounds."
At Code Switch, we receive a whole bunch of emails and messages from readers and listeners. And many times, folks ask questions that get us buzzing during our editorial discussions.
One Code Switch reader sent us a note seeking book recommendations for a multiracial teen. The emailer described the teen as not very "bookish" but still a good reader.
What books do you recommend that feature race in a way that a teen would find compelling? Nothing preachy or earnest or heavy. Shout us out in the comments, or holler at us on Twitter at @NPRCodeSwitch using #codeswitchbooks.
*Some of the language in the summaries above has been provided by publishers.
P.S. If you're looking for book suggestions in general, our friends over at NPR Books came up with this really neat, lovely, awesome tool that's essentially a genius book recommender of all the great pieces of literature from 2013.
When it comes to the Olympics, politics intrudes more often than not.
President Obama has decided not to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February. The official U.S. delegation will not include a president, vice president, first lady or former president for the first time since 2000.
Instead, Obama asked athletes including openly gay tennis great Billie Jean King and two-time hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow to represent the country. American gay-rights groups, angered by an anti-gay law Russia enacted in June, applauded the move.
The Olympic charter bans any "kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda" from Olympic sites, yet political protest and international gamesmanship have been a near-constant during modern games.
The Council on Foreign Relations even hosts a slide show highlighting controversies over the past century, narrated by NPR contributor Frank Deford.
"I am frequently asked, 'Must politics be a part of the Olympic Games?' " Alfred Senn, an Olympic historian, once wrote. "My answer is, 'Yes.' "
A Clash Of Nations
The Olympics are intended to be a pure celebration of sports and goodwill. But with nearly every country in the world participating, politics inevitably intrudes.
The 1972 Summer Games in Munich, for example, are remembered mostly for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches by Palestinian terrorists.
And at an earlier Olympics, in Berlin in the summer of 1936, Adolf Hitler's plans to showcase his theories of racial superiority were blown apart by African-American sprinter Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals.
"After the 1936 Olympics or the '72 Olympics, how could anyone expect politics wouldn't intrude?" asks historian and journalist Eric Marcus.
Later, the Olympics provided propaganda value during the Cold War. The U.S. took great pride in its "Miracle on Ice" upset win by the men's hockey team over the Soviets in the winter of 1980.
Conversely, the Soviets trumpeted their victory in men's basketball in the summer of 1972 — the first time the Americans had lost an Olympic basketball game, let alone the gold medal.
The Whole World Is Watching
The last Olympics held in Russia — during the summer of 1980 in Moscow — saw a U.S.-led boycott by more than 60 nations in protest of the invasion of Afghanistan by what was then the Soviet Union.
In retaliation, the Soviets led more than a dozen socialist countries in refusing to participate in the 1984 Summer Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles.
The 1988 games in Sydney, in fact, were the first Summer Games since 1972 that were not the subject of a formal boycott.
In 1976, some African nations were angry that the International Olympic Committee allowed New Zealand to participate in the games despite the fact that its rugby team had recently toured in South Africa. Because of apartheid, South Africa's racial segregation laws, South Africa was barred from the games from 1964 until 1992. Some 30 African nations stayed home from Montreal to protest New Zealand's inclusion.
Meanwhile, China and Taiwan have had frequent spats over the freedom to compete. China stayed home between 1956 and 1980, after Taiwan was admitted as a separate entrant. For its part, Taiwan withdrew from the 1976 games after China pressured Canada not to allow the island nation to compete.
China was eager to showcase its economic success at the Beijing Summer Games in 2008. Many groups protested the country's human rights record, but formal boycotts didn't get off the ground.
President George W. Bush attended the Beijing Olympics, but both Obama and his GOP presidential rival that year, Arizona Sen. John McCain, said they would have stayed home if they were in the White House.
Last year, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who had proved his managerial mettle in helping to run the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, earned himself public rebukes from British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson by suggesting there were "disconcerting" signs that London wasn't quite ready to host the Summer Games.
Other individuals have used the Olympics as a political platform — notably Tommie Smith and John Carlos, African-American athletes who had finished first and third in the 200-meter race at the 1968 games in Mexico. On the winner's stand, they raised their fists in the black power salute as a protest against racism back home.
For the most part, though, it's been nations themselves that have used the games as a political platform.
U.S. relations with Russia may not be as bleak as during the Cold War days, but given recent differences, some sort of political squabbling around the upcoming games may have been inevitable.
Back in 2008 — long before Russia passed its "homosexual propaganda" law — two Pennsylvania representatives called for the games to be moved out of Sochi, because of Russia's movement of troops into Georgia.
"The Olympics has a long history of issues that intrude from the outside," says Marcus, the historian. "It's always been incredibly naive to think somehow you can screen out everything that's going on in the world during a given period of time, particularly in a part of the world that's problematic."
Secretary of State John Kerry has telephoned a top official in New Delhi to express regret for the strip search of an Indian diplomat after her arrest last week in New York on charges of visa fraud.
"As a father of two daughters about the same age as [Indian diplomat] Devyani Khobragade, the Secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms. Khobragade's arrest," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a written statement, relating Kerry's conversation.
"In his conversation with National Security Advisor [Shivshankar] Menon, he expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India," Harf added.
Menon had called the Khobragade's treatment "despicable and barbaric."
As NPR's Krishnadev Calamur reported on Tuesday, the 39-year-old Indian diplomat is accused of using false documents to get a work visa for her Manhattan housekeeper.
Reaction in India has been harsh and the Indian government even removed concrete barriers near the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in an apparent signal of its unhappiness over the situation. India has also withdrawn all airport passes and halted import clearances for the U.S. Embassy.
Australian Network News, quoting Indian media, reported that New Delhi had transferred Khobragade to the United Nations Permanent Mission in New York on Wednesday in a bid to grant her full diplomatic immunity. India's Foreign Ministry has yet to confirm the reports, however.