Top news: The National Security Agency has gained direct access to the servers of nine prominent tech companies, enabling the spy agency to gather e-mails, videos, and photographs, among other digital communications, according to reports in the Washington Post and the Guardian.
The existence of the highly classified program, known as PRISM, was confirmed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper late Thursday. “It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States,” he said. “Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.”
The program has become a central tool in the NSA's arsenal, and an increasingly large share of the intelligence reporting generated by the agency now comes from data generated by PRISM. Run with the assistance of the Silicon Valley tech companies it targets -- Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple -- the program offers the NSA access to a wide range of communications on the Internet.
"They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type," the intelligence officer who provided documents about the program to the Post told the paper.
Syria/Golan Heights: Syrian rebels briefly took control of the border crossing between Syria and Israel at the Golan Heights. Amid fighting at the border, the Austrian peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights withdrew, and while the Syrian army claims to have retaken the crossing, the tussle for control at the border has brought the Syrian civil war to Israel's doorstep, raising the possibility that Israel may take military action to secure its borders.
- The United Nations launched an appeal for $5 billion in humanitarian aid for Syria, the largest such request in the organization's history.
- Following victory in al-Quisair, the Syrian army is turning its sights toward the center of Syria, including Aleppo and Homs.
- A series of car bombs killed 14 people in and around Baghdad.
- North and South Korea traded counterproposals over where to conduct talks, the lastest sign of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
- Six Georgian troops were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
- The operator of the damaged nuclear plant at Fukushima in Japan discovered radioactive water leaking from a storage tank.
- Upon returning from a trip abroad, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded an end to ongoing protests.
- A French left-wing activists was killed in central Paris after being attacked by skinheads.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife of nearly 30 years announced they are divorcing.
- U.S. President Barack Obama is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday at a summit in California that is expected to tackle American allegations of Chinese hacking activity.
- The Mexican army freed 165 migrants trying to cross to the United States who had been taken hostage by a gang.
- A man accused of raping and murdering a woman was buried alive by villagers in the grave of his victim in Bolivia.
- A group of 124 Chinese nationals accused of illegal gold mining were detained in Ghana.
- EU naval forces thwarted an attack by pirates on a cargo ship off the coast of Somalia.
- Al Shabab militants executed two men for allegedly spying on behalf of the Somali government.
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