Presidential task force urges sweeping limits on government surveillance
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A presidential advisory panel has recommended sweeping changes to government surveillance programs, including limiting the bulk collection of Americans' phone records by stripping the National Security Agency of its ability to store that data in its own facilities. Court orders would be required before the information could be searched.
In a 300-page report released Wednesday, the five-member panel also proposed greater scrutiny of decisions to spy on friendly foreign leaders, a practice that has outraged U.S. allies around the world.
While the panel's 46 recommendations broadly call for more oversight of the government's vast spying network, few programs would be ended. There's also no guarantee that the most stringent recommendations will be adopted by President Barack Obama, who authorized the panel but is not obligated to implement its findings.
The task force said it sought to balance the nation's security with the public's privacy rights and insisted the country would not be put at risk if more oversight was put in place. In fact, the report concludes that telephone information collected in bulk by the NSA and used in terror investigations "was not essential to preventing attacks."
"We're not saying the struggle against terrorism is over or that we can dismantle the mechanisms that we have put in place to safeguard the country," said Richard Clarke, a task force member and former government counterterrorism official. "What we are saying is those mechanisms can be more transparent."
Georgia woman has 1 winning ticket in $636M Mega Millions jackpot; other ticket sold in Calif.
ATLANTA (AP) -- A Georgia woman who bought just one ticket and used family birthdays and lucky No. 7 to choose her numbers was one of two winners of the $636 million Mega Millions jackpot, the second largest in U.S. history.
Lottery officials in Georgia identified the winner as Ira Curry, of Stone Mountain, which is east of Atlanta. Curry will take a lump sum of about $120 million after taxes, Georgia Lottery chief executive Debbie Alford said.
"She has not decided how she'll spend those winnings," Alford said at a news conference that Curry did not attend.
The other winning ticket was sold at a gift shop in San Jose, Calif. That winner has one year to come forward.
Curry was driving to work Wednesday when an announcer on the radio talked about the Mega Ball being 7. Curry knew that was her Mega Ball number, so she called her daughter to check the ticket.
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. ADVISORY PANEL URGES LIMITS ON NSA SPYING
Obama is under no obligation to accept the recommendations, which include requiring a court to sign off on individual searches of phone records.
Many Guantanamo detainees could be closer to home under bipartisan congressional deal
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Up to half the terror suspects held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay could be closer to heading home under a bipartisan deal reached in Congress that gives President Barack Obama a rare victory in his fight to close the prison.
The deal would lift the most rigid restrictions Congress previously imposed on detainee transfers overseas and is part of a broad compromise defense bill awaiting final passage in the Senate this week. The House approved the measure last Thursday.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the compromise could have a dramatic impact on the 160 detainees still being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"About half of the detainees would be detainees that could be transferred to their third-world countries from which they come," Levin told reporters. "About half of the detainees would remain in Guantanamo because of the prohibition on transferring them to the United States for detention and for trial."
The defense bill marks the first time since Obama came to office promising to close Guantanamo that Congress is moving to ease restrictions instead of strengthen them. And it could signal changing political views toward the prison for terrorism suspects now that the war in Afghanistan is winding down.
In unusually heavy air assault, Syrian government pounds rebel areas of Aleppo
BEIRUT (AP) -- In a withering four-day air assault, the Syrian government pummeled opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city of Aleppo, leveling apartment buildings, flooding hospitals with casualties and killing nearly 200 people.
Rebels say the unusually intense airstrikes have prompted civilians to flee to the countryside and could portend a government ground offensive against the opposition-held half of the city, which has been divided for a year and half by grueling fighting.
The air campaign's timing -- five weeks ahead of an international peace conference -- also suggests that Syrian President Bashar Assad could be trying to strengthen his position on the ground while exposing the opposition's weaknesses before sitting down at the negotiating table.
The stakes are high in the battle for Aleppo, Syria's largest city and a former commercial and industrial hub. For the government, wresting back control of the entire city would deal a devastating blow to the rebels' morale and throw doubt on the opposition's long-term hold on the vast territory in northern Syria that it has captured over the past two years.
Since it began on Sunday, the government air assault has hammered more than a dozen neighborhoods in the rebel-held areas of Aleppo. The campaign has killed at least 189 people and wounded 879, the aid organization Doctors Without Borders said in a statement Wednesday.
Panel suggests less strict blood pressure goal for older adults; may mean fewer drugs needed
CHICAGO (AP) -- Many older adults with high blood pressure can be treated less aggressively, which could mean taking fewer pills to get it under control, according to new treatment guidelines from an expert panel. But not all experts are on board with the advice -- including the federal agency that appointed the group.
Panel members stressed that they are not changing the definition of high blood pressure: 140 over 90. For adults aged 60 and older, they are recommending a higher treatment threshold, prescribing medicine only when blood pressure levels reach 150 over 90 or higher.
Too aggressive blood pressure treatment can cause fainting and falls in older patients, or bad interactions with drugs they're already taking for other illnesses, panel members said.
The panel does endorse the lower target of 140 over 90 for younger adults -- and for all adults who also have diabetes or kidney disease.
The guidelines released Wednesday are based on a review of the most rigorous kind of medical research -- studies in which patients are randomly prescribed drugs or dummy pills -- published since the last update in 2003. The research suggests older patients can avoid major health problems like heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease even when their blood pressure is above the current recommended level, the panel said.
Secret Service investigating credit- and debit-card data theft from Target stores
NEW YORK (AP) -- The Secret Service says it is investigating a credit- and debit-card data theft at Target stores.
Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary confirms the agency is investigating, but declined to provide further details.
Minneapolis-based Target Corp. did not respond to requests for comment. A MasterCard representative referred questions to Target.
Target has 1,797 stores in the U.S. and 124 in Canada.
Scrappy NJ beagle who survived euthanasia attempt at Alabama pound will perform in Rose Parade
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Things are coming up roses for a scrappy New Jersey beagle who survived a dog pound gas chamber.
Daniel will be among eight shelter dogs riding on a float in the Rose Parade on New Year's Day in Pasadena, Calif.
The 2-year-old beagle mix was 6 months old on Oct. 3, 2011, when he was scheduled to be put down at the animal control facility in Florence, Ala. He was placed with 17 other dogs in a stainless-steel box roughly the size of a pickup truck bed that was filled with carbon monoxide.
Workers at the facility were surprised when he emerged, scared but unscathed, from the chamber. They named him Daniel after the biblical figure who survived the lion's den.
He was adopted by Joe Dwyer of Nutley, N.J., and has been living happily with Dwyer's family and other rescue dogs at their home about 10 miles west of New York City.
'Duck Dynasty' patriarch Phil Robertson off show indefinitely after anti-gay comments
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Phil Robertson is off the hit A&E reality series indefinitely after disparaging gays as sinners akin to adulterers and swindlers, the network said.
A&E announced Wednesday what it called a "hiatus" for Robertson, 67, after he disparaged gays in the January edition of GQ magazine. He also said that, growing up in Louisiana before the Civil Rights movement, he never saw mistreatment of blacks.
In a statement, A&E said it was extremely disappointed to see Robertson's anti-gay remarks, which it said were based on his personal beliefs and do not reflect those of A&E Networks or the show. A&E called itself a supporter of the lesbian and gay community.
The channel's move was lauded by the gay civil rights group GLAAD, which had quickly condemned Robertson's comments.
"What's clear is that such hateful anti-gay comments are unacceptable to fans, viewers, and networks alike," said GLAAD spokesman Wilson Cruz. Robertson's removal "has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value."
Down by 15 in 2nd half, Heat rally past Pacers 97-94 in Eastern Conference showdown
MIAMI (AP) -- Dwyane Wade scored 32 points, Ray Allen hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with just under a minute left and the Miami Heat erased a 15-point deficit in the second half to beat the Indiana Pacers 97-94 on Wednesday night.
LeBron James scored 24 on a bad left ankle for the Heat, who closed within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers. Chris Bosh added 15 points for Miami, including a 3 that tied it late in the fourth.
James set up Allen for the 3 that put Miami in front for good with 59.5 seconds left, capping a 10-0 run.
Paul George scored 25 points but missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it with 4 seconds left. David West had 23 and Lance Stephenson added 13 for the Pacers, who have dropped two straight.
Down by one, the Pacers saw their best chance go awry when George Hill turned the ball over on a bad pass with 14 seconds left. Allen made two free throws with 10.3 seconds remaining to put Miami up by three, and that capped a big comeback win for the two-time defending NBA champions.