News Wrap: NSA director urges Snowden to return still-secret documents

Newswrap

GWEN IFILL: They called out helicopters and Humvees in Atlanta today to rescue people who’d been stuck in snow since yesterday. The storm also immobilized large swathes of the Deep South and left at least six people dead. We will get a full report right after the news summary.

Deep cold has descended on parts of Central and Eastern Europe as well. Temperatures in Moscow dipped to minus-eight degrees today, while furious snow storms pummeled Romania. Authorities there warned of gale-force winds and near-zero visibility.

President Obama signed an executive order today to create starter retirement accounts for low-wage workers. It was part of the strategy he laid out in last night’s State of the Union address to act on his own if he can’t get Congress to go along. We will have much more on the day-after reaction to the speech later in the program.

The director of national intelligence is urging Edward Snowden to return any still-secret documents he took from the National Security Agency. James Clapper told a Senate hearing today that Snowden’s leaks have already done profound damage and future leaks will only make it worse.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), national intelligence director: Snowden claims that he’s won, and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.

GWEN IFILL: Clapper said terror groups have changed how they communicate to avoid detection as a result of the leaks.

The Federal Reserve is dialing back a bit more on its economic stimulus efforts. In a statement today, the Central Bank said it will cut its bond-buying program another $10 billion to $65 billion a month. The move helped trigger a new sell-off on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 189 points to close at 15738. The Nasdaq fell 46 points to end at 4051.

Meanwhile, the European Union announced proposed reforms for the continent’s 30 biggest banks. The rules are similar to the Volcker rule imposed on U.S. banks. They’re designed to curb risk-taking and protect taxpayer money in the event of a bailout. The rules must first be approved by member governments and by the E.U. Parliament.

In Ukraine, the Parliament voted today to offer amnesty to protesters who’ve been arrested, but only if their comrades end the occupation of government buildings. Demonstrators have been using the buildings in Kiev as dormitories and support facilities in subzero weather. Opposition leaders have so far rejected the government’s amnesty proposals.

The Syrian peace talks in Geneva broke a little ground today, with the first discussion of a transitional government. The Assad regime and the Western-backed opposition met with a U.N. mediator, but, afterward, it was clear the two sides are still far apart.

LOUAY SAFI, Syrian National Coalition spokesman(through translator): The most important thing is, we started today to talk about a transitional governing body. Of course, this body is tasked with ending oppression and starting free life and ending the military fighting in Syria.

BOUTHAINA SHAABAN, adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: And they want to jump to the item that speaks about transitional government, and they are only interested in being in government, while what we are interested in is to stop this horrid war that is — for which, you know, our people are paying a very, very high price.

GWEN IFILL: The U.N. negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi conceded he doesn’t expect substantive progress by Friday. That’s when the talks wrap up.

A new five-year farm bill is one step closer to becoming law. The House of Representatives passed the measure today 251-166, and sent it to the Senate. The bill would cost nearly $100 billion a year, and preserve most crop subsidies. It also shaves 1 percent off the food stamp program, about $800 million a year.

Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed today the Justice Department is investigating the data breach at Target stores. Hackers stole about 40 million credit — debit and credit card numbers during the holiday shopping season. They also got personal information on about 70 million other people. At a Senate hearing, Holder said investigators will attempt to track down the hackers, as well as anyone else who exploits the stolen data.

Scientists in Boston and Japan have scored what looks like a breakthrough in creating stem cells. They used a relatively simple method: giving ordinary cells — giving ordinary cells found in mice a quick acid bath. The stress turned them into stem cells. The results were published in the journal “Nature.” If the method works in humans, it could become much easier to grow replacement tissue and organs.

West Virginians whose drinking water was tainted by a chemical spill may be breathing traces of formaldehyde when they shower. A state environmental official told lawmakers today he can guarantee it’s happening. He said the chemical spilled by Freedom Industries breaks down into formaldehyde, which can cause cancer. Federal health guidelines say it takes a lot of exposure for that to happen.

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