NSA Director: Surveillance Program Prevented 'Dozens' of Terror Attacks

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The director of the National Security Agency Wednesday defended the agency’s secret surveillance program, attempting to validate the recently-revealed controversial data mining program for having stopped “dozens” of potential terrorist attacks in the past.
“It's dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent,” Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, explained on Capitol Hill Wednesday, “both here and abroad.”
Alexander testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee and said that the collection of phone records was done lawfully, insisting that the NSA takes Americans' privacy seriously.  He acknowledged multiple times the need to explain to the public what they are doing while still balancing the security of the programs.
“I think what we're doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing…we aren't trying to hide it. We're trying to protect America,” he said. “I want the American people to know that we're trying to be transparent here, protect civil liberties and privacy but also the security of this country.”
Alexander said if Americans had all the information they’d feel differently about the program.
“The perspective is that we're trying to hide something because we did something wrong. We're not. We want to tell you what we're doing and tell you that it's right and let the American people see this… I don't want to jeopardize the security of our country or our allies, so that's what we have to weigh in what we look at what we're going to declassify to allow this very public debate.”
Senator Udall , D-Colo., quipped that it is very difficult to have a transparent debate “about secret programs approved by a secret court issuing secret court orders based on secret interpretations of the law.”
With the leak of the program, Alexander warned the security of the nation is at risk.

“Great harm has already been done by opening this up,” he said. “The consequence, I believe, is our security is jeopardized. There is no doubt in my mind that we will lose capabilities as a result of this and that not only the United States but those allies that we have helped will no longer be as safe as they were two weeks ago.”
If more information is leaked other than what the NSA is ready to potentially declassify, Alexander again gave a strong warning.
“Because if we tell the terrorists every way that we're going to track them, they will get through, and Americans will die -- that's wrong -- and our allies. We've got to come up with a way of doing this.”
Senator Merkley, D-Ore., held up his Verizon phone and waved it from his seat at Alexander: “So here I have my Verizon phone, my cell phone. What authorized investigation gave you the grounds for acquiring my cell phone data?”
Alexander did not answer, insisting he was not shirking but asking for the ability to answer that in a classified setting, with the intent to declassify some of his eventual answer.
“If we can get it declassified and out to the American people so they see exactly how we do it, because I do think that should be answered,” he said.
Specifically on NSA leaker Edward Snowden, Gen. Alexander said he does have “concerns” about his access.
“I have grave concerns over that, the access that he had, the process that we did. And those are things that I have to look into and fix from my end and that, across the intel community,” he said, adding, "I would point out that in the IT arena, in the cyber arena, some of these folks have tremendous skills to operate networks. That was his job for the most part from the 2009, '10 is an IT -- a system administrator within those networks. He had great skills in that area.”
Later, Sen. Mikulski, D-Md., pinpointed this comment from Alexander, quipping that just because someone is a champion swimmer, does not qualify them to be a Navy SEAL.
Alexander explained the program over a series of pointed questions from senators -- saying what they “create is a set of data and we put it out here, and then only under specific times can we query that data.”
Asked if they can check to see what people are Googling or emailing, Alexander said this program only talks about phone metadata. If you want to get the content, he said, you’d have to get a court order.
He said the claim by Edward Snowden that in his position at the NSA he could tap into virtually any American’s phone call or emails is false: “I know of no way to do that.”
Regardless of the success of the program, as defined by Alexander, he also admitted that changes need to be made, starting with making some information to the public available about the program and a call for more oversight.
“We do have to go back and look at these processes, the oversight in those,” he said, “Where they went wrong and how we fix those.”
General Alexander will brief the full Senate and House Intelligence Committee in separate classified meetings on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Trayvon Martin Case: Did Potential Zimmerman Juror Lie to Court?

Joe Burbank - Pool/Getty Images(SANFORD, Fla.) -- A potential juror at the George Zimmerman trial who told the court he had little knowledge of the case apparently indicated otherwise on Facebook.

“I CAN tell you THIS. ‘Justice’…IS Coming,” the juror appeared to write of the Zimmerman case on the Facebook page for the “Coffee Party Progressives,” a page with which he was confronted in Judge Debra Nelson’s courtroom.

The potential juror, assigned the number E7, who described himself as an “underemployed” musician and painter, told the court that he did not have a lot of knowledge about the case when it first happened.

In February 2012, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Fla., shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after a scuffle in the dark. Zimmerman has said he shot the African-American teen, who he said had been acting “suspiciously,” in self-defense.

The shooting triggered a national debate about race, as well as protests, marches, and even high school walkouts.

Sixteen months later, Zimmerman faces a charge of second-degree murder.

Susan Constantine, a jury consultant, told ABC News, “This is a very high-profile trial, so who wouldn’t want to sit on it? It’s one reason we get people who would love to be in the position of being that one juror in the middle of all the limelight they never had before.”

When the assistant state attorney, Bernie De La Rionda, first questioned potential juror E7 Wednesday morning, he asked whether the prospective juror was exposed to the case in February 2012 or whether he kept up with it. E7 answered, “No.”

The potential juror was then asked what else he knew about the Zimmerman case beyond what was listed on his questionnaire.

“Hmm. To be strictly honest, it’s hard to remember,” the potential juror said.

He was asked whether he used Facebook or posted anything about the Trayvon Martin shooting.

“No. Best to avoid, at times,” E7 said, adding he had not formed an opinion on the case.

Moments later, both counsels approached the bench and had a discussion over a piece of paper. Potential juror E7 came back into the courtroom and was handed a piece of paper by Judge Nelson.

“There was a posting on Facebook from March 21 under Coffee Party Progressives,” Nelson said. “Is that your writing?”

The prospective juror confirmed it was his posting and left.

An ABC News search of the Facebook page revealed that a person resembling E7 wrote on March 21, 2012, the same date as on the court record, an inflammatory comment in response to a posting about the case touting the site Besides vowing that justice was coming, the Facebook comment apparently by the prospective juror alleged a conspiracy involving Zimmerman and local police.

“With the noise WE made…it couldn’t be covered up,” the commenter said. “I only hope the Feds go farther than just THIS case in investigating This ‘Police Force.’…”

That comment subsequently vanished from the Facebook thread.

A spokeswoman for the Seminole County Court, Michelle Kennedy, told ABC News that four jurors were dismissed Wednesday. It was not clear if E7 was one of them.

With jury selection underway in the small community of Sanford, Fla., all but one of the potential jurors questioned in court expressed their willingness to be on the jury. One potential juror even said Wednesday she was “happy” when she got the summons.

By the end of day three, 25 potential jurors had been questioned in court.

Six jurors will be returning Thursday to be questioned.

Twenty jurors are in the potential pool. Ten more are needed before the court will begin regular voire dire. A total of 75 jurors have been dismissed.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Feds Target Jailed Evangelist Tony Alamo’s Property

Hemera/Thinkstock(FORT SMITH, Ark.) -- Nearly four years after evangelist Tony Alamo was convicted of transporting minors across state lines for sex, the federal government has filed a suit to seize his Arkansas properties to compensate his victims.

Conner Eldridge, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced in a statement this week that the government is seeking property, including 27 pieces that are either owned or controlled by Alamo.

Alamo, 78, was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman. The Jewish-born Hoffman converted to Christianity and became an evangelical pastor, establishing the Tony Alamo Christian ministries in Fort Smith, Ark. From 1994 to 2005, he transported five victims younger than 18 from his home in Arkansas to molest them. He was convicted in November 2009 and is serving a 175-year prison sentence.

The court ruled in January 2010 that Alamo owed the victims a total of $2.5 million in restitution, which he has failed to pay. The government wants to liquidate Alamo’s property and give the money to the victims.

“We will use every tool at our disposal to see that Tony Alamo pays the $2.5 million he owes to the victims in this case,” U.S. Attorney Eldridge said in the statement. “The victims in this case suffered from horrendous abuse at his hands. We will do all we can to ensure that they receive the restitution that was ordered.”

The properties that the government has filed to seize are under the control of Alamo, even though they are listed as being owned by individual members of the Christian ministry, Eldridge said.

The Alamo Christian Ministries has not responded to requests for comment.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Deputy CIA Director Morell Retiring

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell has announced he is retiring to spend more time with his family.

“I am passionate about two things in this world— the Agency and my family. And while I have given everything I have to the Central Intelligence Agency and its vital mission for a third of a century, it is now time for me to give everything I have to my family,” Morell said in a written statement.

“Whenever someone involved in the rough and tumble of Washington decides to move on, there is speculation in various quarters about the ‘real reason.’  But when I say that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that,” he added.

Morell, however, will still have a strong voice in crafting administration policy. President Obama has announced he is appointing Morell as a member of his influential Intelligence Advisory Board.

Avril Haines, the current deputy assistant to the president and legal adviser to the National Security Council, will replace Morell as deputy CIA director, Director John Brennan announced.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Hagel Opposes Gillibrand’s Bill on Sex Assaults in Military

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s legislation that would remove sexual assault cases in the military from the chain of command and turn them over to independent military prosecutors appears on the ropes.  Her bill was opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during a hearing last week and has also drawn opposition by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who favors keeping the chain of command involved.

Though her amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act cleared her Senate Armed Services subcommittee on Tuesday, the full committee’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich) has announced that he will offer an alternative bill that would replace Gillibrand’s bill.  Gillibrand’s bill has garnered 28 co-sponsors, including four Republicans, but does not seem to have majority support in the committee.

Levin’s legislation would provide for an automatic review of any command decision not to prosecute a sexual assault.  The full committee will vote later Wednesday on both proposals as well as other amendments to be included in the final bill which sets the policy for the Defense Department.

Earlier Wednesday, Hagel explained to the Senate Budget Committee why he favors keeping the chain of command during the investigation of sexual assault cases.  

“I don’t think you can fix the problem,” said Hagel, “or have accountability within the structure of the military without the command involved in that.”

Hagel added that he’s a firm believer in accountability and “if you don’t hold people accountable then you’re not going to fix the problem. You can pass all the laws you want and that isn’t going to work. “

Hagel had said he favors change, but “I don’t personally believe that you can eliminate the command structure in the military from this process because it is the culture.  It is the institution. It’s the people within that institution that have to fix the problem.”

He said “that’s the culture, the people are the culture.  So I don’t know how you disconnect that from the accountability of command.  As I said, we need to change some things.  We could to do some things much better.  We have to.  But I think we have got to be very careful when we talk about taking the command structure out of this process.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Colorado Wildfires Force Thousands to Be Evacuated

David McNew/Getty Images(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) -- A wildfire in Colorado has damaged dozens of homes in the Black Forest area north of Colorado Springs, officials said on Wednesday.

"At this point I would not be surprised if we have crossed over 80 homes and are approaching 100," said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, who earlier had said 40 to 60 structures had been damaged.
The blaze, along with four other large fires in the state, is burning in record heat, and dry, windy conditions.
"If the winds do double back on us, property that we felt, or that we identified as being salvaged or unaffected, it could very easily be consumed by the fire today," Maketa said.

The Black Forest fire has charred about 8,000 acres and has prompted the evacuation of more than 7,000 people.  No missing persons, injuries or deaths have been reported.

The fire, which is 0 percent contained, is considered a Type I incident -- the most serious kind.  Dozens of firefighters, in addition to aircraft, are fighting the flames.

"That fire is far from under control or extinguished," said Maketa.

Elsewhere in Colorado, a fire near Canon City has torched an estimated 3,800 acres and has destroyed at least three structures, officials said.  Meanwhile, another fire in Rocky Mountain National Park has burned 300 to 400 acres.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


New York Woman Helps Catch Father’s Suspected Killer

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Joselyn Martinez was just 9 when her father, Jose, was shot and killed outside of the family’s Dominican restaurant in New York City in 1986.

His killer was never caught.

Now, 27 years later, Joselyn may have helped solve her father’s murder by using online background checks that she gave to the New York police department.

“They shot him outside. My father was unarmed,” Martinez told ABC News. “How do you just forget it?”

Police identified a suspect in the aftermath of the shooting, a 16-year-old named Justo Santos who escaped to the Dominican Republic during the investigation and was never tracked down.

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that the department closed the case mistakenly when Santos was arrested and imprisoned in the Dominican Republic.

“In fact he was arrested, but it turns out he was only in jail for a couple of years,” Kelly said.

Martinez spent years looking for information on Santos, and eventually paid money to websites that perform background searches on a person with the same name and birthday as the alleged killer. The websites said that Santos was living in Florida.

“I thought it isn’t even real, because this can’t be,” Martinez said.

Martinez gave the information to New York police, who last Thursday arrested Santos.

“I applaud her,” Kelly said. “Obviously she made a concerted effort and it paid off.”

Santos has confessed to the crime, according to police. He appeared in court in Miami on Tuesday and will be extradited to New York to face murder charges.

Martinez said the arrest will allow her and her family to have peace.

“We know it’s not going to bring the person back, but this is for my dad,” Martinez said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Ky. Cops Get Death Threats After Colleague Ambushed

Hemera/Thinkstock(BARDSTOWN, Ky.) -- Kentucky cops investigating the ambush murder of a colleague have been receiving death threats including one message that warned ominously "there is more to come."

Among the threats was a letter that is being examined by the FBI's questionable document experts.

The Bardstown police department began receiving the threats following the death of Officer Jason Ellis, 33, who was gunned down when he got out of his car to remove tree debris from a highway off ramp while on his way home.

Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin told ABC News the threats have come in the form of phone calls and social media messages. One message read, "one down, 20 to go," referring to the small department where officer Ellis had served for seven years.

"To my knowledge, no other law enforcement agency in Kentucky has received any type of threat," McCubbin said.

The chief indicated the threats are not credible. "It's just hopefully someone who is half nuts and the other half is on drugs," he said.

Nevertheless, Bardstown police department now has two officers instead of the normal one responding to all calls.

"If he will shoot and kill one police officer, what would prevent him from doing it to another. We want him in cuffs yesterday," McCubbin said.

The police are also receiving tips about Ellis' killing, but have no suspects in the murder, the chief said.

Ellis was on his way home last month when he stopped about 3 a.m. on May 25 because of tree limbs in the road on exit 34, the same ramp he took every day off the Blue Grass Parkway in Nelson County. The exit is 10 miles from Bardstown. When Ellis began removing the debris, Kentucky State Police say he was ambushed in a "premeditated attack" and shot multiple times.

Investigators believe the limbs were intentionally placed to draw someone out of his or her vehicle.

Ellis, a father of two, was an extremely active officer making a number of drug arrests in Bardstown. Kansas State police have looked at Ellis' past arrests trying to find any connection to the ambush.

McCubbin says the death of officer Ellis has rattled the entire town of 12,000 people, located 40 miles southeast of Louisville.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


James 'Whitey' Bulger Was a 'Hands on Killer,' Prosecutor Tells Jury

Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Arthur "Bucky" Barrett was a small-time jewel thief in 1983 when he was lured to a meeting with alleged Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, chained to a chair and tortured for hours, a federal prosecutor told jurors during opening arguments in the accused Irish gangster's murder trial on Wednesday.

After Bucky Barrett talked, "This man over here, James Bulger, shot him in the back of the head,'' Assistant United States Attorney Brian T. Kelly said.  And then, Bulger took a nap as others allegedly buried Barrett in the dirt cellar of the small house on E. Third Street in South Boston.

"It's crimes like these, vicious crimes, that Bulger stands accused of,'' Kelly said, telling jurors that the Bulger case will tell the story of "a group of criminals that ran amok for almost 30 years."

While they went amok, Kelly said, people died.

Bulger killed Eddie Connors because he had a big mouth; Brian Halloran was executed, along with his friend Michael Donahue, because he was an informant; Roger Wheeler refused to play ball; Debbie Davis was a liability, Kelly said.

Then, the prosecutor played a slideshow with photographs of all 19 people Bulger stands accused of killing, including two women.

"At the center of all this murder and mayhem is one man: James Bulger,'' Kelly said.  "He was a hands-on killer."

The long-awaited Bulger trial began 18 years after Bulger fled Massachusetts and became one of the FBI's Most Wanted fugitives, second only to Osama bin Laden.

Bulger escaped prosecution until Wednesday, Kelly said, because he had been tipped to a pending federal indictment by a corrupt FBI agent and went on the lam, settling in a small apartment in a tiny section of Santa Monica, Calif., in 1996 with his longtime companion Catherine Greig.

"Bulger runs away and hides,'' Kelly said.  "But then his luck ran out."

In June 2011, more than a dozen FBI agents and U.S. marshals waited in the garage of the Princess Eugenia apartments where Bulger and Greig lived as Charlie and Carol Gasko for 16 years.  Their apartment was rent-controlled and two blocks away from the beach.

The building's manager, Josh Bond, cooperated with FBI agents on the night Bulger was arrested and told his neighbor Charlie that someone had broken into his storage locker.  When Bulger came into the garage, he was arrested.  He called Greig from an agent's phone and said, "It's over."

Bond had befriended "the nice old man" and told ABC News he continues to exchange letters with Bulger, who is being held at the Plymouth County House of Correction near Cape Cod, Mass.

Bulger's attorney, J.W. Carney, attacked the credibility of some of the government's witnesses who are ex-mobsters who are expected to testify against him.  But the bulk of his opening statement was about the "depth of corruption in federal law enforcement" he claims ran rampant through the Boston FBI field office throughout the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.  He also rejected the FBI's insistence that Bulger was a top echelon federal informant.

"James Bulger was not an informant,'' Carney said.  "James Bulger is an Irish person.  The worst thing an Irish person could do is become an informant."

Carney argued that Bulger instead was paying the FBI for information that allowed the Winter Hill Gang to create a stronghold on bookmaking, loansharking and drug dealing in Boston without fear of federal prosecution, not providing information on Italian criminal compatriots.

"In order to protect this business, he wanted information and paid for it from corrupt law enforcement officers,'' Carney said.  "He was told where the bugs were placed, where search warrants were being executed, so he could clear his stuff out."

Carney pointed out that Bulger was making "millions upon millions upon millions of dollars" with his criminal enterprise but was never targeted for federal prosecution until 1995.

"What does that tell you?" Carney said.

Corrupt agents, Carney argued, didn't look for Bulger, whose California apartment was seven miles from FBI headquarters in Los Angeles.

"He settled in California.  Not hiding.  Living openly in plain sight while those FBI agents pretended to look for him,'' Carney said.

The Gaskos, who blended in with the elderly community who live along the beach, walked the Santa Monica promenade most nights, ate at an upscale Italian eatery named Michael's a block away from their apartment, and watched the Celtics win a championship at the Boston-themed bar Sonny McCleans.

Bostonians have described the Bulger case as the trial of the century.  The 83-year-old defendant stared ahead wordlessly from the defense table wearing a green long-sleeved jersey.  His brother, John "Jackie" Bulger, was in the courtroom.

Spectators hoping to see another Bulger brother, former Massachuestts Senate president William Bulger, were disappointed.  After Whitey Bulger fled, William Bulger famously testified at a Congressional hearing that he had no idea his brother was a criminal.

Also present in the courtroom were family members of murder victims.  Some families wore buttons emblazoned with the names or photographs of their slain loved ones.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Ariel Castro Pleads Not Guilty to Imprisoning Three Women

ABC News(CLEVELAND) -- Ariel Castro, the Ohio man accused of keeping three kidnapped women captive in his home for a decade, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to 329 counts of rape, torture and murder.

A bearded Castro remained silent during his court appearance Wednesday, keeping his head down while his attorneys entered a plea for him.

Castro, 52, is accused of kidnapping Georgina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight, imprisoning them in his Cleveland home, and repeatedly raping them.

The former school bus driver is also accused of the aggravated murder of a fetus for allegedly forcibly causing an abortion in one of his victims that he is accused of impregnating -- a charge that could potentially carry the death penalty.

Knight, 32, told investigators she became pregnant five times by Castro, but he punched her in the belly until she miscarried.

Berry, 27, meanwhile, delivered Castro's baby while in captivity.  That girl is now 6.

The women were freed on May 6 when neighbors heard Berry screaming for help behind a closed door.

After Wednesday's court hearing, Castro's lawyer Craig Weintraub said at a news conference that he hoped the two sides could work "towards a resolution to avoid a trial" and to avoid the death penalty for Castro.  The lawyer urged prosecutors to drop the aggravated murder charge.

A grand jury indicted Castro on 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felonious assault and one count of possession of criminal tools.

Judge Lauren C. Moore called the charges against him a "hefty indictment" and agreed to his lawyer's request to waive his right to hear the charges read in court.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio