---- — Obama: Will work for ‘appropriate’ changes in NSA spying
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama promised Friday to work with Congress on “appropriate reforms” for the domestic surveillance programs that have stirred criticism at home and abroad, and said it is time to recalibrate the United States’ relationship with Russia, which is harboring NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden.
“It’s not enough for me to have confidence in these programs,” the president declared of NSA domestic intelligence-gathering programs at a White House news conference, one day before his scheduled departure on a weeklong vacation. “The American people have to have confidence in them as well.”
The president announced a series of changes in a program begun under the anti-terror Patriot Act that was passed in the wake of the attacks of Sept, 11, 2001. But none of the moves would alter the basic core of the program, the collection of millions of Americans’ phone records.
As for Snowden, recently granted temporary asylum by Russia, Obama said he is not a patriot, as some have suggested, and challenged him to return to the United States to face espionage charges.
On Russia, Obama said that given recent differences over Syria, human rights and Snowden, it is “probably appropriate for us to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia is going ... and recalibrate the relationship.”
Yemen officials say 7 Saudi militants killed in US drone strikes
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — At least seven suspected militants from Saudi Arabia were among the alleged al-Qaida members killed in Yemen in a recent wave of U.S. drone strikes, senior Yemeni officials said Friday, suggesting that Saudis are increasingly crossing the border to carry funds or seek terrorist training.
With several U.S. diplomatic posts closed temporarily in Africa and the Middle East this week amid a global alert about terrorism, Washington evacuated most of its personnel from Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city. The U.S., along with Britain, also flew diplomatic staff out of Yemen’s capital of Sanaa this week.
Since July 27, drone attacks in Yemen’s southern and central provinces have killed a total of 34 militants suspected of being members of the country’s al-Qaida branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, security officials have said.
On Thursday alone, the officials said U.S. drones conducted three airstrikes, killing 12 militants.
The drone strikes occurred in areas where the terrorist group enjoys protection from anti-government tribes or hides in mountainous areas.
al-Qaida’s Yemen boss left blueprint for jihad
TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — A year before he was caught on an intercept discussing the terror plot that prompted this week’s sweeping closure of U.S. embassies abroad, al-Qaida’s top operative in Yemen laid out his blueprint for how to wage jihad in letters sent to a fellow extremist.
In what reads like a lesson plan for the less-experienced jihadist, Nasser al-Wahishi, who spent years as Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary, provides a step-by-step assessment of what worked and what didn’t in Yemen.
Yet in the never-before-seen correspondence discovered by The Associated Press, the man at the center of the latest terror threat barely mentions the extremist methods that have transformed his organization into al-Qaida’s most dangerous branch.
Instead, he urges his jihadist colleague whose fighters had just seized northern Mali to make sure the people living in the areas they have just conquered have electricity and running water. And he offers tips for making garbage collection more efficient.
“Try to win them over through the conveniences of life,” he writes. “It will make them sympathize with us and make them feel that their fate is tied to ours.”
US seeks to exclude from upcoming trial
NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors want evidence of romantic and sexual relationships excluded from the upcoming trial of some of Ponzi king Bernard Madoff’s subordinates.
Prosecutors say in court papers filed in federal court in New York late Thursday that four of five defendants and several government witnesses were at times seeing each other romantically or were sexually involved with one another. They say one defendant was in a love triangle with Madoff himself.
The government says that over the course of Madoff’s multi-decade, multibillion-dollar fraud, a number of his employees and customers were dating or having affairs.
The government says it seeks to exclude the evidence from a fraud trial set to start Oct. 7. All five defendants pleaded not guilty Friday to charges in a rewritten indictment.
Signing student loan deal into law, Obama says ‘job is not done’ on college affordability
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama signed into law Friday a measure restoring lower interest rates for student loans, pledging the hard-fought compromise would be just the first step in a broader, concerted fight to rein in the costs of a college education.
Encircled by lawmakers from both parties in the Oval Office, Obama praised Democrats and Republicans alike for agreeing — finally — on what he called a sensible, reasonable approach to student loans even as he cautioned that “our job is not done.”
“Feels good signing bills. I haven’t done this in a while,” Obama said, alluding to the difficulty he’s faced getting Congress, particularly the Republican-controlled House, to approve his legislative priorities, such as gun control and budget deals.
“Hint, hint,” he added to laughter.
But even the feel-good moment at the White House came with reminders of the bitter partisanship that still makes future deals incredibly difficult for Obama. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the law part of the “Republican jobs plan,” while House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said it “stands in stark contrast to the House Republicans’ plan to saddle families with billions more in student debt.”
Family of missing Southern California teen relieved by Idaho sighting with possible abductor
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Family members of a California teen who has been missing for nearly a week say they are relieved she was sighted with her possible abductor in the Idaho wilderness.
Hannah Anderson’s father, Brett Anderson, said Friday he was cautiously optimistic about the chances of her safe return.
Anderson says he can’t explain why his daughter didn’t ask the horseback riders for help. He says it is impossible to understand her state of mind.
Mexico releases drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero after 28 years in prison for US agent killing
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero walked free Friday after 28 years in prison when a court overturned his 40-year sentence for the 1985 kidnap and killing of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, a brutal murder that marked a low point in U.S.-Mexico relations.
The court ruled that Caro Quintero was improperly tried in a federal court for a crime that should have been treated as a state offense. Prison officials were notified of the ruling on Thursday, and an official at the Jalisco state prosecutors’ office said the 61-year-old drug lord left prison before dawn on Friday. The official was not authorized to speak on the record.
News media were not alerted until hours after the release, and it was unclear whether U.S. authorities had received prior notification.
Caro Quintero still faces active charges in the United States and Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said it did not know if there was a current extradition request.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico did not immediately comment on the release or court ruling, which came on Wednesday.