News Wrap: Deadly Explosion at Chemical Plant in Louisiana
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KWAME HOLMAN: One person died and at least 73 people were injured in Louisiana today when a chemical plant exploded and caught fire. Amateur video showed a thick plume of smoke rising from the facility 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge. The plant produces highly flammable gases, ethylene and propylene. There was no immediate word on what sparked the explosion.
Revelations of extensive surveillance by the National Security Agency already are doing damage. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation made that claim today, backed up by some in Congress. It was the latest in the uproar over the NSA’s data collection on phone calls and online communications.
FBI head Robert Mueller told a House hearing the leaks have done significant harm to national security by putting terror suspects on alert.
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI Director: There are persons who are out there who follow this very, very, very, very closely. And they are looking for ways around it.
One of the great vulnerabilities that terrorists understand is their communications. And any tidbit of information comes out in terms of our capabilities and our programs and the like, they are immediately finding ways around it.
KWAME HOLMAN: At the same time, Mueller tried to calm privacy concerns, saying the collected telephone data can be used only within strict limits.
ROBERT MUELLER: The program is set up for a very limited purpose and a limited objective, and that is to identify individuals in the United States who are using telephone for terrorist activities and to draw that network.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lawmakers also received more closed-door briefings. After one, the NSA’s director, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, emerged to say he wants more details made public.
GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, Director, National Security Agency: It’s important that you have that information, but we don’t want to risk American lives in doing that. So what we’re being is very deliberate in this process so that we don’t cause a terrorist attack by giving out too much information.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, there were new calls to find and punish Edward Snowden, the intelligence contractor behind the leaks.
Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, suggested Snowden had ulterior motives for fleeing to Hong Kong.
REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER, D-Md.: Some people are saying that he’s a hero. He’s broken the law. We have laws in the United States for whistle-blowers and for people that think there’s an injustice being done.
All he had to do was raise his hand. Yet, he chose to go to China, a country that is taking — cyber-attacking us every single day, taking billions of dollars of American business data.
KWAME HOLMAN: Snowden now is the subject of a Justice Department investigation.
Later, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the NSA now plans to release on Monday a list of attacks prevented by the surveillance programs.
The Senate today took its first major vote on amendments to the immigration bill. A Republican proposal would have mandated the southern border be fully secure for six months before immigration reform measures kick in. It was voted down 57-43.
There’s fresh evidence that whites are losing majority status in the U.S. The Census Bureau reported today that, as of 2012, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for half the population under the age of five. The report said, within five years, minorities will make up more than half the population under 18. The trend is being fueled partly by immigration and higher birth rates among minorities.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued an ultimatum to protesters. He demanded thousands of demonstrators end their occupation of a park in central Istanbul. The sit-in was triggered by the government’s plans to bulldoze the site. Erdogan addressed leaders of his ruling political party in Ankara.
PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkey: Nobody can invade the park. Therefore, we have been patient until now, but now patience is running out. This is my final warning. I am calling on mothers and fathers, please do something about your children.
KWAME HOLMAN: Five people have died in two weeks of clashes with police, and more than 5,600 have been injured.
A former president of Iran urged voters today not to boycott tomorrow’s presidential election. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been barred from running by conservative hard-liners. He said reform-minded voters still should go to the polls. Meanwhile, there appeared to be a late surge of support for Hassan Rowhani, a relatively moderate cleric. There were widespread claims of fraud in the 2009 election, but the regime cracked down on protests.
The U.S. economy sent another positive signal on hiring today. First-time claims for unemployment benefits hit a five-year low in a signal the labor market is improving. The news helped Wall Street break a three-day losing streak. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 180 points to close at 15,176. The Nasdaq rose nearly 45 points to close at 3,445.
Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Jeff.