WikiLeaks on Thursday released 287 documents of what it called “the Spy Files,” a trove of files exposing the reach of the global surveillance industry.
The documents – brochures, manuals, catalogs and other literature – offer a glimpse into the clandestine world of spying technology used by governments and the companies that supply them.
While some of the information was previously published in a Wall Street Journal piece about the burgeoning retail market for surveillance tools, Thursday's release in conjunction with six other organizations paints a composite of just how difficult it is for the world's citizens to truly protect their privacy.
Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.
Readers were uneasy after reading a profile of Crystal, an HIV-infected woman who is homeless in Atlanta. CNN followed her story in conjunction with World AIDS Day, which is December 1. She's battled drugs and health issues, and bounced through a number of shaky living situations. At a time when Americans are struggling with the effects of a challenging economy, the story touched many nerves.
Commenter lurgy wrote the most-liked comment: "I normally skim these stories (about people like Crystal), but I think you have to expose yourself to it sometimes. I have relatives who died from drug overdoses, and the truth is, it could have been any one of us in her shoes, if circumstances were different."
Another popular comment from MTeeBizzy took the opposite view: "She has ruined her own life. Are we supposed to feel sorry for her? Why should we? It's her own fault that she ended up the way she did."
Politicians need to be prepared for pretty much anything. Between the tabloids and reporters – every bit of what they say is scrutinized. There are always going to be moments when politicians get caught off guard by the people they expect the least. You've gotta watch what happens when kids stump politicians on the tough questions starting with an incident between Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and a teenager.
Teen vs. presidential candidate - Bachmann is questioned by a high school student about her stance on same-sex marriage at a town hall meeting in Iowa. Watch the testy exchange as she just won't let up. See the full video from iReporter Anelia Dimitrova here.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has claimed responsibility for the capture in August of a 70-year-old American citizen in Pakistan, according to SITE, a website that monitors terrorist threats.
"Just as the Americans detain all whom they suspect of links to al Qaeda and the Taliban, even remotely, we detained this man who is neck-deep in American aid to Pakistan since the '70s," al-Zawahiri said, according to SITE.
The al Qaeda leader also listed demands that needed to be met before he would release Warren Weinstein. The demands included the ending of airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. He also added that Muslim prisoners including Abu Musab al-Suri, the "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdul Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, Sayyid Nosair, and the family of Osama bin Laden must also be released.
Police have arrested three suspects in the kidnapping of Weinstein, a development expert from the United States who was snatched August 13 in his home in Lahore, Pakistan, a police official said.
The official asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said she was not aware of any arrests.
Weinstein was abducted August 13 when gunmen, posing as neighbors offering food, pistol-whipped him and his driver and tied up his guards, U.S. Embassy and Pakistani officials said.
Weinstein works for J.E. Austin Associates Inc., a U.S. consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia, a Pakistani official said. He is a world-renowned development expert, with 25 years of experience, according to his company's website. The site says he was heading what the company described as the "Pakistan Initiative for Strategic Development and Competitiveness."
Four students were dismissed from a Florida university in connection with the death of a drum major last month in what officials have called a hazing-related incident, a spokeswoman for the school told CNN.
Authorities have not specified what caused 26-year-old Robert Champion's death after a performance earlier this month with the Marching 100 band from Florida A&M University (FAMU). Officials said hazing was involved, and his family has said it plans to sue the school "to get answers."
Under Florida law, any death that occurs as the result of hazing is a third-degree felony.
"At the center of my focus is the life of a young man that ended too early," President James H. Ammons said in a memo to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday.
"I want to report that four (4) students have been dismissed from the University in connection to the Robert Champion incident," he said in the memo. "Further, 30 students were dismissed from the band prior to the Florida Classic."
No reason was given for the dismissal of those 30 students.
In the memo, the president emphasized that any hazing accusations occurring in any campus organizations must be reported to the campus police.
"This is not a time for silence; if there are cases of misconduct then we encourage people to report these to the proper authorities," he said.FULL STORY
[Updated at 1:48 p.m. ET] One person was killed and 16 others injured Thursday in three separate chain-reaction crashes involving 176 cars north of Nashville, authorities said.
Heavy fog and black ice were thought to have contributed to the crashes on State Highway 386 in Sumner County, said county emergency medical services Capt. Vincent Riley.
The incidents began just before 8 a.m. ET, when a car ran off the highway and caused a chain reaction accident in "heavy, heavy fog," he said.
At least one school bus, with children aboard, was involved in the crashes, he said. None of the children were injured.
The man who died was driving a compact car that went under a semitrailer, Riley said. The 16 people transported to local hospitals were not critically injured, he said.
The highway remained closed throughout most of the day as authorities attempted to clear the wreckage. As of Thursday afternoon, one side of the highway was still blocked with 50 cars that were not driveable and must be towed, Riley said.
A fog advisory was not in effect for the area at the time of the crashes, said CNN meteorologist Sarah Dillingham, but the heavy fog could have been a localized event.
– CNN's Joe Sutton contributed to this report.
Siri can help you find drugstores and bars, but the iPhone 4S digital assistant is clueless when it comes to the locations of abortion clinics, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The advocacy group this week launched an online petition asking people to send e-mails to Apple saying that "if Siri can tell us about Viagra, it should not provide bad or no information about contraceptives or abortion care. Send a message to Apple: Fix Siri."
"Although it isn't clear that Apple is intentionally trying to promote an anti-choice agenda, it is distressing that Siri can point you to Viagra, but not the Pill, or help you find an escort, but not an abortion clinic," the group wrote in a blog post Wednesday. "We're confident that the developers at Apple want to provide iPhone users with accurate information."
Apple said Thursday the omission was not intentional:
"Our customers want to use Siri to find out all types of information and while it can find a lot, it doesn't always find what you want," Apple spokeswoman Natalie Harrison said. "These are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone. It simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better and we will in the coming weeks."FULL STORY
A Utah hunter was on the mend Wednesday after surviving a gunshot wound from man’s best friend - yes, a dog.
While authorities don't know all the particulars, this much is certain, hospital crews had to extract 27 pellets of birdshot from the man, according to news reports.
The incident happened over the weekend when two men and a canine set up to go duck-hunting in the Great Salt Lake near a bird refuge outside Brigham City, according to CNN affiliate KSL.
Before the hunting could commence, one of the men, a 46-year-old from Brigham City, got out of his boat and laid his 12-gauge shotgun across the bow of the vessel, KSL reported.
From there, it gets weird.
"The dog got excited, was jumping around inside the boat and then it jumped on the gun. It went off, shooting the (man) in the buttocks," Box Elder County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Kevin Potter told the Salt Lake City Tribune. The man was apparently setting up decoys when the gun went off, said Potter.
But how – exactly – did this happen?
The dog "did something to make the gun discharge," Potter told KSL. "I don't know if the safety device was on. It's not impossible the dog could have taken it off safety," he was quoted as saying.
Sunday's accident wasn't the only strange occurrence over the Thanksgiving weekend involving outdoorsmen. In North Carolina, fishermen encountered a great white shark - but it didn't shoot them.
Getting through the work day can be hard enough without having a bunch of cobras unleashed in your office.
Bureaucrats in a rural village in Northern India had a tough start to the week when an angry snake charmer walked into their tax office and dumped several dozen snakes, including four cobras, on the floor because he was upset about a land deal that had not gone through, according to numerous reports.
The workers jumped on their desks and some shook table cloths at the snakes who rose up with the strike position. It was "total chaos," said Ramsukh Sharma who was at the office in Harraiya, in Uttar Pradesh.
"Snakes started climbing up the tables and chairs. Hundreds of people gathered outside the room, some of them with sticks in their hands, shouting that the snakes should be killed," he said, according to the Australian newspaper.
No one was hurt and the snakes were eventually recaptured by experts.
The snake charmer claimed that he had apparently applied for a plot of land for the snakes but that officials wanted bribes to approve it. The office reportedly said that they had no record of the filing.
Evangelist Billy Graham is in "good spirits" and resting comfortably in an Asheville, North Carolina, hospital Thursday, a day after he was admitted for evaluation and treatment of his lungs, a spokesman said.
Graham spent time reading the Bible and praying with his daughter, Gigi, Wednesday night, Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross said on Twitter.
When Graham - who turned 93 on November 7 - was admitted to Mission Hospital, "he was alert, smiling and waving at hospital staff," according to a statement from the hospital.
"While no date has been set for discharge, Mr. Graham is looking forward to returning home to spend the upcoming Christmas holidays with his family," the statement said.FULL STORY
GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain won't decide whether to stay in the race until after he speaks with his wife in person, he told reporters.
After being on the road campaigning during a week that a woman came forward with allegations of a 13-year affair with Cain, which he denies, the embattled candidate said he will return home Friday and have the chance to talk in person with his wife Gloria.
"I haven't had an opportunity to sit down with her and walk through this with my wife and my family," Cain said Wednesday night in Ohio. "I will do that when I get back home on Friday."
He will also re-evaluate his support and the impact that this latest allegation has had on his fund raising, Cain said.
While Cain said he has spoken with Gloria Cain about the allegations many times since Monday by phone and had "lengthy conversations," he said he will not "make a decision until after we talk face to face."FULL STORY
A block away from the New York Stock Exchange, a few dozen Occupy Wall Street organizers show up to work every day at an office building in the heart of Manhattan's Financial District. The movement may have lost its public face – a handful of protesters appear at Zuccotti Park on any given morning – but the folks who sit at desks inside the office said Occupy is still very much alive despite the recent evictions of encampments across the country.
CNN was granted exclusive access to the office where signs with critical information and phone numbers hang on the walls alongside artwork featuring slogans familiar to the movement. Groups of people cram into the small conference rooms for strategy sessions.
The office space appears to be the movement’s nerve center. But the volunteers who plan future actions, network with other Occupy protests and deal with logistical issues insisted the location is not Occupy Wall Street’s headquarters.
“This is just an office space that a handful of people have tried to make a resource for the Occupy Wall Street movement,” said Han Shan, a member of Occupy Wall Street’s press relations and direct-action working groups. “Everybody is looking around trying to figure out where the heck the headquarters is, and the truth of the matter is this movement is bigger than any piece of geography, than any piece of real estate, than any square block.”
Click the audio player to hear more on this CNN Radio report:
“It’s nice at times to not have the rain over your head, especially when you’re trying to type on your computer,” Hayes said, “but we would still get the same amount of work done with or without this office space.”
Still, the effort critical to maintaining the movement’s momentum gets done in the cubicles and conference rooms at the office every day. The finance committee manages expenses and donations. A communications group disseminates information agreed upon by consensus. The housing group makes sleeping arrangements for protesters who had nowhere to go after police raided their encampment in Zuccotti Park.
“People recognized that there was a need for some sort of space to get work done that requires Internet, that requires electricity, that requires security and safety, that requires indoor space,” Shan said.
An American man who was held in Aruba for nearly four months in connection with the disappearance of his traveling companion insisted Thursday he had nothing to do with her vanishing, but said it will "weigh heavily on me for a very long time."
"I feel as if a person I cared about, a companion ... has disappeared on my watch," Gary Giordano said on ABC's "Good Morning America" in his first interview since being released from custody in Aruba earlier this week.
Giordano, 50, had been held in the disappearance of Robyn Gardner of Maryland, who was last seen August 2. Giordano told authorities the two were snorkeling when he signaled to Gardner to swim back. When he reached the beach, he told police, Gardner was nowhere to be found and has not been seen since.FULL STORY
The Syrian regime can "avoid the dangers of a foreign intervention" if it agrees to an Arab League plan to defuse the conflict, the league's secretary-general told CNN on Thursday.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby said the government hasn't accepted the league plan to send observers into the country to monitor the government's response to civil unrest. But he said the Syrian government has a chance to overcome the crisis by agreeing to the idea.
"The Syrian government is not complying with the Arab initiative plan and their inability to stop the violence is what led to the escalation of the procedures of the sanctions against it," el-Araby said in a statement.FULL STORY
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed a letter from President Barack Obama to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning face of Myanmar's democracy movement, on Thursday, as the two women met for the first time.
Obama thanks Suu Kyi "for the inspiration you provide all of us around the world who share the values of democracy, human rights, and justice.
"We stand by you now and always," he vows in the letter, which was released by the State Department.
Clinton is having dinner with Suu Kyi at the U.S. Chief of Mission residence in Yangon, a highlight of Clinton's historic visit to Myanmar.
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wraps up her historic visit to Myanmar with a meeting Thursday with the face of the country's democratic movement, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The dinner at the U.S. Chief of Mission residence in Yangon will be the first time Clinton will meet the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner. They have spoken on the phone before, a senior State Department official said.
It will be a fitting end to a whirlwind trip - the first in 50 years for an American secretary of state - made possible by the reclusive nation's unexpected steps at democratic reform.
Ruled by a junta since 1962, Myanmar is now under a new president, Thein Sein, who was elected in March.
The new government freed dozens of political prisoners in October.
And on Wednesday, Suu Kyi - herself released from a years-long house arrest in November last year - said she intends to run for parliament.
The developments prompted cautious optimism for the United States, which still refers to the country as Burma - the name it used before the junta took power.
The trip, the White House said, is an indication the time could be right to forge a new relationship between the nations.
"I am here today because President (Barack) Obama and myself are encouraged by the steps that you and your government have taken to provide for your people," Clinton told Sein during a meeting Thursday at the presidential palace in the capital of Naypyidaw.
Sein, in turn, said the trip will enhance cooperation between the two countries.
"Your excellency's visit will be an historic one," he said.FULL STORY
Even though Kanye West walked off with the most Grammy nominations Wednesday night, the chatter backstage was all about Adele.
West's seven nominations was one more than that of the 23-year-old British songstress. And she was the clear favorite among many of the artists to take home the most trophies at next February's awards show.
"I feel sorry for anybody whose got to go up against Adele this year," said country artist Jason Aldean, who said he was thankful Adele was not competing in the three categories he is nominated for.
Bruno Mars's "Doo Wops & Holligans" is pitted against Adele's "21" for album of the year and record of the year.
Mars gathered six nominations Wednesday, adding to the seven he got last year.
"Adele's awesome, but I heard she beats up little puppies," Mars joked backstage after the live Grammys nominations telecast Wednesday night.
Kimberly Perry, lead vocalist for best new artist nominee The Band Perry, said Adele's "21" album is the most-often played music on the group's tour bus.
It's uncertain if Adele will have recovered enough from this month's throat surgery to sing at the February 12 show, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said. The procedure to repair a "recurrent vocal cord hemorrhage" forced cancellation of the remainder of her 2011 shows.
Wednesday night's one-hour Grammy nominations telecast began and ended with Lady Gaga performances, including a finale with country duo Sugarland.
Gaga, nominated in three categories, is up against Adele for the highest honor - album of the year - with "Born This Way."
In addition to Adele, Mars and Gaga, the album of the year nominees include Foo Fighters' "Wasting Light" and Rihanna's "Loud."
Other artists with impressive collections of nominations include Lil Wayne and Skrillex with five each.
Indie favorites Bon Iver is up for four Grammys, including best new artist, best song and best record.FULL STORY