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Morning Security Brief: NSA Intelligence-Gathering, Iranian Nuclear Talks in Geneva, and Dry-Ice Bombs at LAX

By Holly Gilbert

► The National Security Agency (NSA) has collected “hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal email and instant messaging accounts around the world,” the Washington Post reports. This revelation comes as a result of the top secret-document leak by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, as well as senior intelligence officials. According to the news report, “Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts.” Gathering this personal information and analyzing the data allowed the NSA to “search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.” The agency, which was collecting contact lists from live-chat services’ “buddy lists” as well as Web-based e-mail accounts, is estimated to have collected more than 250 million address lists per year, according to an internal PowerPoint presentation. According to the Washington Post, “Although the collection takes place overseas, two senior U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged that it sweeps in the contacts of many Americans. They declined to offer an estimate but did not dispute that the number is likely to be in the millions or tens of millions.”

► Today marks the first day of closed-door talks in Geneva among Iranian officials and the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany about Iran’s nuclear program. According to the BBC, “International negotiators want Tehran to take specific steps to prevent it from ever being able to make nuclear weapons.” Iran, however, is arguing that its nuclear program is peaceful. Since 2006 the United Nations has imposed sanctions against Iran for failing to comply with its demand that the country cease stockpiling its enriched uranium, the material with which nuclear weapons are made. Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is leading the talks for his country, expressed optimism about the meeting. "I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a roadmap to find a path towards resolution” he said in a Facebook post. Others are expressing less positive views. "No-one should expect a breakthrough overnight," one anonymous U.S. official told the BBC. 

Four dry-ice bombs have been found at a Los Angeles airport over the past few days, two of which exploded. According to the Los Angeles Times, an explosion Monday night occurred in an area accessible only to airport employees. Another one went off in a restroom in Terminal 2. The dry-ice bomb is a plastic bottle that contains dry-ice, which can cause a small explosion. While police say no one was injured, and terrorism is not suspected, the FBI is assisting LAPD in the investigation. 

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