National news briefs: NSA defends cell monitoring

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WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency on Friday said its tracking of cell phones overseas is legally authorized under a sweeping U.S. presidential order. The distinction means the extraordinary surveillance program is not overseen by a secretive U.S. intelligence court but is regulated by some U.S. lawmakers, Obama administration insiders and inspectors general.

Documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the NSA gathers as many as 5 billion records every day about the location data for hundreds of millions of cell phones worldwide by tapping into cables that carry international cell phone traffic. The Washington Post said the collection inadvertently scoops up an unknown amount of American data as well.

The NSA said Friday it was not tracking every foreign phone call and said it takes measures to limit how much U.S. data is collected.

Navy fires drone missile

LOS ANGELES -- The Navy launched a drone from a submerged submarine, a feat that could prove valuable in providing intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities for military special operations.

The small drone was fired from the Providence submarine's torpedo tube, where it flew a "several hour" mission demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to the sub, the Navy said.

The project, which took $15 million and about six years to accomplish, was carried out by the Naval Research Laboratory. It took place at the Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center in the Bahamas.

Metro-North looks at safety

NEW YORK -- Metro-North Railroad, five days after the worst crash in its 30 years, was ordered by U.S. safety regulators to use two train operators in certain areas.

The railroad, whose Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx killed four people, also must improve its signaling system to ensure speed limits are followed, the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration said Friday in an emergency order.

The train that derailed was traveling almost three times the speed limit before it crashed in a curve.

City's murals safe from auction

LANSING, Mich. -- Detroit's most emblematic paintings appear safe from sale to satisfy the bankrupt city's creditors.

The towering "Detroit Industry" murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera donated to the city weren't among the Detroit Institute of Arts works appraised by New York-based Christie's for possible liquidation.

The company assessed only pieces purchased with city money; those are worth between $452 million and $866 million.

Christie's suggested five alternatives to selling the city's art to pay debts, such as using it as collateral for loans or selling some to philanthropists with the condition that it remain on display in Detroit.

Texas tackles cold snap

DALLAS -- Freezing rain and stinging winds slammed the Southwest Friday and made a strangely blank landscape out of normally sun-drenched North Texas: mostly empty highways covered in a sometimes impassable frost, closed schools and businesses, and millions of residents hunkered down for icy conditions expected to last through the weekend.

Earlier this week, many in Texas were basking in spring-like temperatures that hit the 80s. But by Thursday, Texas was facing the same wintry blast that has slammed much of the U.S., bringing frigid temperatures, ice and snow.

A quarter of a million customers in North Texas were left without power, and many businesses told employees to stay home to avoid the slick roads.

Also in the nation ...

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the first drug treatment for Peyronie's disease, a condition that results in severe and sometimes painful curvature of the penis, officials said. ... Virginia Tech's governing board on Friday named Timothy Sands, the provost of Purdue University in Indiana, to become the next president of the public university in Blacksburg. On June 1, Mr. Sands will take over from the retiring Charles Steger, opening a new chapter for the state's third-largest public university.


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