Here's what's happening across the United States and around the world today.
Latest Snowden leak: NSA helped British spies hack Dutch company to break into mobile phones
WASHINGTON (AP) — Britain's electronic spying agency, in cooperation with the U.S. National Security Agency, hacked into the networks of a Dutch company to steal codes that allow both governments to seamlessly eavesdrop on mobile phones worldwide, according to the documents given to journalists by Edward Snowden.
A story about the documents posted Thursday on the website The Intercept offered no details on how the intelligence agencies employed the eavesdropping capability — providing no evidence, for example, that they misused it to spy on people who weren't valid intelligence targets. But the surreptitious operation against the world's largest manufacturer of mobile phone data chips is bound to stoke anger around the world. It fuels an impression that the NSA and its British counterpart will do whatever they deem necessary to further their surveillance prowess, even if it means stealing information from law-abiding Western companies.
The targeted company, Netherlands-based Gemalto, makes "subscriber identity modules," or SIM cards, used in mobile phones and credit cards. One of the company's three global headquarters is in Austin, Texas. Its clients include AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint, The Intercept reported.
The Intercept offered no evidence of any eavesdropping against American customers of those providers, and company officials told the website they had no idea their networks had been penetrated. Experts called it a major compromise of mobile phone security.
A spokeswoman for Sprint Nextel said Thursday that her company had no comment on the report, while a spokeswoman for T-Mobile said her company was referring reporters to Gemalto and declined further comment.
Ukraine says rebels attacked nearly 50 times in past day despite cease-fire
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — A Ukrainian military spokesman says separatist rebels fired on Ukrainian positions nearly 50 times over the past day, despite a cease-fire that was called into effect five days ago.
Lt. Col. Anatoliy Stelmakh said Friday that the village of Kurakhovo, west of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, was hit by fire from Grad rockets and that the village of Berdyansk near the port city of Mariupol was hit by artillery and mortar fire during the night.
After Ukrainian forces withdrew this week from the city of Debaltseve, concern has risen about whether rebels would aim to take Mariupol. The city lies on the Sea of Azov between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean peninsula.
Police say teenage neighbor is suspected in Las Vegas road-rage killing
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Police took an important step toward solving the mystery surrounding the killing of a Las Vegas mother outside her home, arresting a teenage neighbor who had a history with the family that reached a boiling point the night of the shooting.
Erich Nowsch, 19, was arrested on suspicion of murder Thursday after SWAT teams surrounded his home a block away from the residence of victim Tammy Meyers. Las Vegas police Capt. Chris Tomaino said detectives believe Nowsch was the gunman. He was arrested on a murder warrant, but not been formally charged.
Tomaino said police are seeking a second suspect.
Police and the family of the victim have characterized the case as a road rage altercation that escalated into the deadly encounter a week ago. The exact circumstances of the fight remained unclear, but the family knew the suspect said Robert Meyers, the victim's husband.
He said Tammy Meyers took on a nurturing role for Nowsch, giving him money and food and urging him to dress properly.
Closed-door 2016 jockeying on tap as governors from across nation meet in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pay little attention to the official agenda for this weekend's meeting of the National Governors Association. It's the presidential politics being played in the hallways and private rooms that may matter most.
Around panel discussions on cybersecurity and education reform, several state executives will spend much of the NGA's winter meeting looking ahead at 2016. After all, the three-day gathering that begins Friday comes at a critical time for ambitious Republican governors looking to make the jump into the presidential contest.
Each comes with his own mission: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is trying to capitalize on his newfound momentum. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is fighting to preserve his top-tier status. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence want to remind Washington's political elite that they ought to be part of the 2016 conversation.
The weekend is packed with private events featuring "a lot of significant donors who are worth courting for anyone who has presidential aspirations," said Fred Malek, a high-profile GOP fundraiser himself.
And beyond donors, the gathering offers presidential hopefuls and their allies the opportunity to court political strategists, congressional leaders and even other governors who could play a crucial role in the election of the next president.
A 1st lady 1st? Former Virginia governor's wife faces sentencing on corruption convictions
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — If prosecutors get their way, former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell could become the first modern-day governor's spouse sent to prison for felonies she was convicted of committing while she held the mostly ceremonial position.
McDonnell will be sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court on eight public corruption counts. Federal prosecutors have recommended an 18-month prison term — six months less than former Gov. Bob McDonnell got when he was convicted on 11 counts last month. Maureen McDonnell's attorneys are asking for probation and 4,000 hours of community service.
According to scholars and research conducted by The Associated Press, first spouses of other states have had lesser brushes with the law — such as a former West Virginia first lady who was acquitted more than a century ago on charges of forging her first husband's signature. None, however, has confronted the prospect of a prison term for a felony conviction.
More recently, former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, faced questions over whether she was personally enriched by the relationship. Neither has been charged.
The McDonnells were convicted in September of doing favors for the CEO of a nutritional supplements company in exchange for $165,000 in gifts and loans.
Student in grave condition among 7 infected with 'superbug' at Los Angeles hospital
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Among the seven people infected by a "superbug" outbreak tied to medical instruments at a Los Angeles hospital is an 18-year-old student who has spent nearly three months in the hospital and is in grave condition, his attorney said.
The young man was struggling not to become the third of those infected at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to die, Attorney Kevin Boyle said Thursday.
He had entered the hospital for a procedure that involved using an endoscope to examine his pancreas.
"They were scoping it out, trying to see what was the matter," Boyle said. "He had no life-threatening condition before like he does now."
At least seven people — two of whom died — have been infected with a potentially lethal, antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, after undergoing similar endoscopic procedures. More than 170 other patients may also have been exposed, hospital officials said.
US trial over deadly attacks could hurt Palestinian effort to charge Israel with war crimes
JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian officials are nervously watching a landmark terrorism trial in the United States, brought by victims of Palestinian suicide bombings and shootings aimed at civilians.
They fear a negative verdict could hurt their international image at a time when they are preparing to press war crimes charges against Israel.
The $1 billion lawsuit was filed over a series of deadly attacks in or near Jerusalem that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, a decade ago. The plaintiffs have turned to the U.S. court because some of the victims were American citizens.
Although the cases are not directly linked, a ruling against the Palestinian Authority in New York federal court threatens to undermine Palestinian efforts to rally international support for a brewing battle at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. With American plaintiffs seeking billions of dollars in damages, it could also deliver a tough financial blow to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority refused to comment on the lawsuit. But several senior Palestinian officials said the case is being closely watched in Ramallah and acknowledged they are worried about the outcome. The officials spoke anonymously on the advice of their lawyers.
At issue are several Palestinian attacks between 2001 and 2004 targeting civilians, including a bombing at a packed cafeteria at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, as well as suicide bombings and shootings on busy streets.
Winter's frosty grip to tighten even more across portions of Southeast, Mid-Atlantic
The bitter cold that has gripped the Eastern U.S. is showing no sign of letting up before the weekend.
The National Weather Service says the newest band of Arctic air could plunge parts of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic into deep freezes that haven't been felt since the mid-1990s.
Temperatures and wind chills on Thursday dipped near zero or below in the Midwest, Northeast and even the South — where people are unaccustomed to the weather-related road hazards, school cancellations, and runs on supplies.
The cold snap followed snow and ice storms earlier in the week. The low temperatures caused much freezing and refreezing of snow, ice and roads. Weather forecasters warn that more sleet and freezing rain will be possible in the coming days.
Antarctica: Earth's wildest, most desolate continent holds clues to mankind's past and future
DECEPTION ISLAND, Antarctica (AP) — Earth's past, present and future come together here on the northern peninsula of Antarctica, the wildest, most desolate and mysterious of its continents.
Clues to answering humanity's most basic questions are locked in this continental freezer the size of the United States and half of Canada: Where did we come from? Are we alone in the universe? What's the fate of our warming planet?
The first explorers set foot in Antarctica 194 years ago hunting 19th century riches of whale and seal oil and fur, turning tides red with blood. Since then, the fist-shaped continent has proven a treasure chest for scientists trying to determine everything from the creation of the cosmos to how high seas will rise with global warming.
"It's a window out to the universe and in time," said Kelly Falkner, polar program chief for the U.S. National Science Foundation.
For a dozen days in January, in the middle of the chilly Antarctic summer, The Associated Press followed scientists from different fields searching for alien-like creatures, hints of pollution trapped in pristine ancient ice, leftovers from the Big Bang, biological quirks that potentially could lead to better medical treatments, and perhaps most of all, signs of unstoppable melting. The journey on a Chilean navy ship along the South Shetland islands and vulnerable Antarctic Peninsula, which juts off the continent like a broken pinky finger, logged 833 miles (1,340 kilometers) and allowing the AP team a firsthand look at part of this vital continent.
From Apple to Avon, rising dollar takes toll on US corporate profits; more pain ahead
NEW YORK (AP) — The biggest obstacle for Coca-Cola and Pepsi these days isn't tied to taste tests, the declining popularity of sugary drinks or even their century-long rivalry. It's the surging U.S. dollar.
The two soda giants rely on overseas customers for roughly half of their revenue. When they turned in their quarterly results last week, both reported a drop in sales. The strong dollar made all the difference: strip it out and shrinking sales suddenly rise.
The dollar has been a source of constant complaint this earnings season. Global corporations from Avon Products to Yum Brands have said their quarterly results would have been much better if it hadn't been for the rising dollar. For some, the currency's strength has meant the difference between a profit and a loss.
"It has really hit earnings," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank.
Over the past year, the dollar has climbed 18 percent against major currencies. The surging dollar and plunging oil prices are the main reasons analysts keep cutting their forecasts for corporate profits even though economists expect the U.S. economy to pick up speed.
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Copyright AP - Associated Press