Top news: The National Security Agency (NSA) is sweeping up nearly 5 billion mobile phone records per day in a massive surveillance program designed to track the movements of -- and thereby discern hidden relationships between -- individuals worldwide, the Washington Post reports. The program, detailed in documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is not designed to target Americans, although, like many of the other surveillance programs revealed in recent months, it collects data on some "incidentally." The NSA also spies on the millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones each year.
"[T]here is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States," Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Post. But according to an unnamed NSA official, the agency is "getting vast volumes" of location data from the cables that connect wireless networks around the globe, including in the United States.
China: Meeting with journalists in Beijing on Thursday, Vice President Joseph Biden publicly criticized China's recent crackdown on foreign press. The United States has "profound disagreements" with China's "treatment of U.S. journalists," he said, referring to the PRC's refusal to renew visas for some two dozen correspondents for the New York Times and Bloomberg News. "Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences," he said.
- Gunmen launched a double-pronged attack on Yemen's defense ministry on Thursday, exploding a vehicle and opening fire on people inside the complex.
- Libya's national assembly on Wednesday voted to make Islamic law the basis for all legislation and state institutions.
- A rocket attack on a regime-held area of Aleppo, Syria's second city, left at least 18 people dead on Wednesday.
- Malian authorities on Wednesday discovered a mass grave believed to contain the bodies of 21 soldiers missing since last year's coup.
- As many as 30,000 Eritreans have been abducted and held hostage by smugglers in the Sinai Peninsula since 2007, according to a new study.
- Former South African President Nelson Mandela is "on his deathbed," according to his daughter.
- India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is set to make gains in four key state elections, according to exit polls.
- In a meeting with Vice President Joseph Biden on Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping pushed back against U.S. criticism of China's air defense zone in the East China Sea.
- NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen said Wednesday that "time is of the essence" for the United States and Afghanistan to reach a long-term security deal.
- Mexican authorities on Wednesday said they had located the stolen radioactive material that prompted a two-day manhunt and set off a national scare.
- Brazil's parliament will wait until next year to vote on a bill that would require Internet companies like Google and Yahoo to store user data on servers inside the country.
- The governor of Argentina's Cordoba province on Wednesday called for "urgent help" in containing a spate of lootings that has already claimed one life.
- France deployed an additional 250 troops to the capital of the Central African Republic on Thursday amidst clashes between militiamen and former rebels.
- Italy's highest court ruled Wednesday that the country's electoral law, responsible for producing a hung-parliament in February, is unconstitutional.
- The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a staunch supporter of European integration, is actively supporting the anti-government protests in Ukraine.