BillGuard launches for iPhone to combat the ‘$14bn’ lost by credit card users to hidden-fees and errors
Launched in the US back in April 2010, BillGuard sells itself as the world’s first ‘people-powered antivirus system for bills’.
In a nutshell, BillGuard’s predictive algorithms alert users of unexpected charges such as hidden fees, billing errors, scams and fraud on credit card bills. It also issues alerts when a similar dubious charge has been flagged by other users, or receives a complaint elsewhere on the Web. As such, the ‘BillGuard brain’ becomes more accurate over time.
However, BillGuard has thus far been a Web-based entity – until today, that is.
The iPhone app was actually soft-launched back in March as a beta test to garner feedback, but was subsequently pulled from the App Store a few weeks ago when the beta-phase came to a close. From today though, the BillGuard app is live for anyone in the US.
How it works
When you first launch the app you’ll be prompted to log-in, or set up an account if you don’t already have one. You’ll also need to include a 4-digit passcode.
Next, you’ll need to choose which cards and accounts you want to integrate if you’re setting things up for the first time.
Bear in mind this is a US-only service, and works with the likes of Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and so on. Though you can also add your American Express, PayPal and Amazon cards too. It supports 5,000 different accounts in total.
You can see a basic at-a-glance overview of all your connected cards, including balances and total amount spent.
Push notifications tell you whenever a transaction is made on one of your accounts, and you can dig deeper to see exactly what it was and, indeed, whether it’s kosher.
The ‘smart inbox’ lets you swipe through charges in an email-style interface, while you can also contact merchants directly through the app to resolve disputes.
BillGuard says it’s looking to combat the billions of dollars lost by American cardholders each year to so-called grey charges – basically deceptive or otherwise unexpected charges.
Indeed, to coincide with today’s launch, BillGuard is also releasing an industry report on grey charges, claiming that American cardholders were hit with $14.3 billion in deceptive or unexpected charges in 2012. The most prominent type of grey charge is “free-to-paid”, for example when a consumer takes receipt of goods for a free trial period, but then is automatically charged a fee if they don’t return it within a specified timeframe.
BillGuard is a pretty ingenious idea for sure, insofar as users essentially help each other by flagging rogue charges, which help others recognize anything awry with their own accounts. When a charge is repeatedly disputed across the board, it is prioritized for all cardholders who can review it themselves.
“We have built the largest crowdsourced transaction monitoring community in the world,” says BillGuard co-founder and CTO Raphael Ouzan.
“As consumers ourselves, we realized early on that bill checking for most people is a long arduous task that most would prefer to avoid,” he continues. “So we set out to develop a tool that would make bill checking fast, fun and exceptionally effective, with a little help from some very sophisticated algorithms and millions of fellow cardholders.”
We’re told that BillGuard has eked out more than $50m in grey charges so far and, as you’d expect, they’re keen to get everyone on board. “Our data shows that if every American cardholder used the BillGuard iPhone app, the total annual savings in grey charges could top $7 billion,” adds Ouzan.
BillGuard actually added support for Apple’s Passbook application last year, before it even had an iOS app. So this has been a long-time coming.
While BillGuard does have a free tier, the premium price for the full service costs $45/year, or $4.99/month, which gives access to more than two cards. Though, as part of the launch campaign, they’re offering premium access for a one-time fee of $9.99 until the end of August.
BillGuard for iOS is available to download now. And we’re told an Android version is currently in the works, with an expected launch some time in Q4.
BillGuard | App Store
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Last Friday, my friend Shak pathed, “Productivity at tech companies must be low today. Half the folks are headed to Utah while the other half are looking for an ice cream truck.”
Told to pack for a camping trip but not much else, 850 like-minded individuals showed up in Eden, Utah last Friday for the first Summit Outside event, hosted by the Summit Series team famous for its weekend retreats like Basecamp and Summit-at-Sea. For Outside, attendees were encouraged to disconnect, with the promise of “finding a better connection.”
Without WiFi or outlets, a group of the world’s most Internet-addicted human beings found immense freedom letting go of the digital world and reconnecting with nature.
It was the first major event held in Eden, Utah since the 45-person team purchased Powder Mountain for $40 million earlier this year. Weekend tickets started at $2,000 and went up to $12,000 depending on housing options like a 10-person dome, quad tent or air-conditioned RV.
Summit donated a portion of ticket sales to local nonprofits and attendees made optional donations at registration. In total, Summit Outside raised nearly $100,000 for Ogden Valley and Weber County nonprofits, including the Weber School Foundation, Ogden Valley Land Trust, Weber Pathways, Weber County Fire Officers Association and The Nature Conservancy.
When the mountain purchase was announced, there were several complaints from local townspeople who were dubious of the team’s ability to preserve the mountain’s old-fashioned charm. Change is still a thing you should believe in, as the event drove more than $2 million dollars into the local economy and resulted in over 300 local jobs.
Upon arrival, attendees geared up for the weekend with free Nike Fuelbands, headlights, tin cups and camouflage backpacks for carrying around their new Tom’s sunglasses. After chucking bags into tents and strapping on hiking boots, attendees were delighted by surprises at every turn like a sonic meditation deck, a late-night noodle truck, a flash sale of coconuts and LeWeb founder Loic LeMeur giving office hours in the middle of a forest.
Attendees stopped by the activity tent to sign up for paint ball, hiking, horse-back riding and mountain bike riding – or a knot tying workshop with Philippe Petit, the man featured tightrope-walking between the World Trade Center towers in the documentary Man on Wire.
Somewhat retired, Petit decided to climb the stage at the event’s closing plenary instead.
Each morning on Powder Mountain, we practiced yoga on The Lotus Deck, overlooking Ogden valley. Teachers included Sasha Bahador, Founder of ShaktiLife and Kenneth Von Roenn III, Creator of Skanda Yoga.
Just a 5-minute walk down the hill, Taylor Kuffner’s robotic orchestra, known as “The Gamelatron” was tied to trees in a forest of hammocks, providing an oasis of relaxation for weary Summiteers.
One of the more popular surprises was the Duck Pond, a hedonistic escape from the killer content and outdoor adventure experiences. Aerated and perfectly clean for swimming in, the Duck Pond served as an ideal cool down during the 90 degree days. Summit’s Chief Reconnaissance Officer Thayer Walker says the Duck Pond will be a permanent structure for the years to come.
As entrepreneurs do, the Summit team members are building a permanent community that didn’t exist before, a home they’re proud to live in, and one they can call their own. “Our goal is to create a center of gravity for the innovators, entrepreneurs, and thought-leaders of the world,” says Summit co-founder Jeremy Schwartz, pictured below with fellow co-founder Brett Leve. “We hope Summit Eden will become a community built around a shared ethos that emphasizes collaboration as tool to drive positive, multidisciplinary output.”
Many will compare Summit Series to TED, Davos or even Burning Man, but lining up such energetic entities side-by-side is boring. While there were quite a few speakers at Summit Outside who have also spoken in Long Beach, and people important enough to fly to Switzerland each year, and a lot of dust and dancing in The Electric Forest, what’s more interesting is why events like this exist, and how The Summit Series team has brought such magical experiences to life that are shaping a generation of change-makers.
The Summit Team offered content and activities ranging from a 3-hour mountain biking tour to a discussion of the female hormonal system to an hour-long talk about the recent Trayvon Martin trial. When asked to reflect on a high point from the weekend, Shervin Pishevar, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Sherpa Ventures, answered:
“The Trayvon talk. Cheeraz [Gorman]‘s tears opened a flood gate of love and truth. It changed hearts and minds and planted the seeds of a new social justice movement. Our nation still needs a process of reconciliation. There’s too much locked within our hearts. We need to get in that circle we formed in the forest and widen to all so we can all feel what we did that day.”
Humans weren’t the only ones leaving Powder Mountain with new flight patterns. Summit partnered with Earthwings, a raptor nonprofit, to release two rehabilitated birds of prey into the wild at the event.
Summit also partnered with Pack and Pounce, a local animal shelter to create a puppy pen where attendees could adopt puppies destined to be put down. 9 puppies were adopted and saved.
The event could’ve been called the “Summit of Love” – not because of the plethora of mountain-top sessions – but because love was on everyone’s lips, particularly speaker and therapist Esther Perel, who wins the award for giving the most talks in a 48-hour period.
As entrepreneurs, we are used to giving all of ourselves to our companies and careers, then we come home at night with just leftover scraps of our energies for our loved ones. How will we ever have as successful relationships as we do careers if we keep carrying on like this? Esther didn’t have all of the answers, but she made us realize that if its a fulfilling love life we want, we need to explore the possibilities of adjusting our current priorities.
The Summit team’s production talents are extraordinary. On Saturday night, attendees were invited to have dinner around a quarter-mile long picnic table in a field. The walk to dinner was led by jazz musician Jonathan Batiste.
For many photo-takers, this visual feat and delightful feast was a highlight of the weekend.
The Summit team knows how to throw a party too. After dinner, the electronica ensemble Thievery Corporation played a 2-hour set before 50 fans jumped on stage for a late-night dance party. There were all dozens of artists and DJs, like Big Boi, RAC, Sean Glass and DJ Equal, who played until the wee hours of the morning for sparkly-pantsed dancers. To listen to all of the artists who performed this weekend, SoundCloud’s David Noel made a playlist for you.
While Summit is often knocked for being exclusive, its curated community creates an environment for some of the world’s most ambitious people to open up professionally, emotionally and physically. “It’s going to be a place on Earth that becomes a sacred space for growth and development,” says Nicole Patrice De Member, the Founder of Toi and the woman responsible for introducing Summit to Greg Mauro, the entrepreneur and Eden, UT resident who brought the Powder Mountain opportunity to the team. “The people who need love will end up here. We want the world to be a part of this. It’s not a secret journey, but you still have to go on that journey to get here.”
Summit designed the event with serendipity built-in so that porch-front dinner conversations, afternoon walks down dusty Main Street, or late night discussions in the tea hut became places where we shared journeys of success, failure and personal hardship. “No matter where I went or what I did, I stumbled upon some of the most amazing, interesting people I’ve ever met. It’s a magical experience unlike any other,” says Summit first-timer Ryan Matzner, Fueled’s Director of Strategy.
The first night of Summit Outside I stood next to a stranger as we waited for our camp mates. I said “Hi” and gave him a warm hug the way you might a friend. He said, “Thank you, I really needed that.” He then told me his father had just passed away that morning. And instead of canceling plans to be with his immediate family, he decided that his first step towards healing was to be with his Summit family. In a place so loving, empowering and supportive, I understood.
Summit Outside was the team’s first big event on Powder Mountain – and for most in attendance, those 72-hours were a transformational experience. The Summit Team’s passion shines through everything it touches, and they’ve fortunately chosen to build their home in one of the most beautiful settings on Earth. In Eden, once again, we feel like we’re just at the beginning of it all…
LearnVest wants to fix your poor spending habits, nabs $16.5M to scale its financial planning service
Financial planning startup LearnVest has its heart set on fixing your poor spending habits – and minting money because of them. Now, after polishing its product and launching on the iPhone, LearnVest is gearing up for expansion with a new round of funding: $16.5 million in funding, to be exact, with investments from Accel Partners, American Express Ventures, Claritas Capital and others.
Sitting nicely alongside this news, LearnVest, which offers both a money management app and advising services, is also announcing its first West Coast office. The space, located in Phoenix, will serve as the company’s hub for housing and training financial planners. We’re told LearnVest’s new space will hold about 25 people, and that the company plans to “scale up to a few dozen.”
LearnVest as a company has seen success with its product – according to CEO Alexa von Tobel “the product works; now we’re scaling [it].” Gearing up for this expansion, LearnVest tells us it has new distribution plans in the works, including partnerships with undisclosed companies that offer LearnVest services to their employees.
A “major commercial partnership” is also apparently coming, which could involve American Express, given its fresh stake in LearnVest. We’ll be sure to update you on that deal as news surfaces. Until then, you can check out LearnVest here.
Image credit: Thinkstock
Starbucks is quickly becoming the ultimate chain of Internet caf s due to its solid Wi-Fi connectivity, free app vouchers, access to The New York Times website and now, reliable wireless charging.
Following a successful roll-out across Boston, Duracell announced today that it will be fitting the Duracell Powermat in a number of Starbucks stores across the Silicon Valley area. These wireless charging spots are fitted directly to the tables, giving consumers the ability to recharge their various electronic devices while sipping a cup of hot joe.
The caveat, it would seem, is that these charging spots require the user to own a Powers Matters Alliance (PMA) certified device or smartphone case. Duracell sells these independently for the iPhone 4, 4S, 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III, but that seems like an awfully restrictive range of devices – we’ve reached out to the company to see if it’ll support more handsets in the future.
For reference, AT&T announced in April this year that it would be integrating wireless charging within a select number of smartphones by 2014. Blackberry, HTC, LG and Samsung, among others, are also signed up with the PMA.
The selective roll-out in Silicon Valley, combined with the need for a specialist device or case, restricts the scope of the program and how useful it will be to the majority of global Starbucks coffee lovers.
What it does show, however, is a glimpse at how the company wants to expand the in-store Starbucks experience and make it increasingly tempting for people to come in on a regular basis. A fast, stable Wi-Fi connection is now a given for almost any Starbucks store – it’s easy to see how wireless charging could quickly become just as prevalent.
“We know that our customers use our caf s in a number of ways beyond buying coffee. For some, it’s their home office, for others it’s their place to get away and have some time to themselves. More and more customers are using Starbucks as their home base and they are looking to recharge in a number of ways,” said Adam Brotman, chief digital officer, Starbucks Coffee Company.
A similar effect has been achieved inadvertantly in Apple stores – consumers walk in all the time to charge their iPhone or iPad – so Starbucks would be wise to expand the number of stores offering Duracell Powermats as quickly as possible. People increasingly need to charge their smartphones in the middle of the day – we use them more and more with power-hungry apps – so more places to charge will never be unwelcome.
Image Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
T-Mobile made a great deal of fuss over its flexible ‘uncarrier’ contracts back in March – clearly separating the cost of the call plan and the handset – but now it’s taking the idea one step further by dropping the upfront cost of the handset altogether.
In what it describes as an “unparalleled” promotion, T-Mobile subscribers will be able to pick up a flagship device such as the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5 for free. The network operator is then adding most, if not all of the difference to the regular monthly instalments that consumers need to pay to actually own the handset.
There’s some savings to be made here, but it’s essentially just another payment plan. Accept the upfront cost and the user benefits from lower device payments. Forgo the down payment entirely, however, and subscribers have to accept that most of the savings will be added on to their final monthly bill.
As The Verge reports, to put the price difference in perspective the Samsung Galaxy S4 costs $149.99 up-front alongside a $20 monthly fee for two years. Or, a total of $629.99. Under the new $25 tier, with no up-front cost, that comes to $600 exactly. Other handsets, such as the iPhone 5, offer even more negligible discounts.
The promotion is also compatible with T-Mobile’s JUMP! program, enabling consumers to upgrade after six months to a new handset. The catch, however, is that T-Mobile takes subscribers’ existing handsets back, nullifying the payments made up until that point.
“The number of reasons not to switch to T-Mobile this summer is ZERO,” John Legere, president and chief executive officer of T-Mobile US said. “Adding Zero Down in addition to JUMP!, and Simple Choice with no contract is all about making wireless work for consumers and shaking up this industry.”
The scheme is described as a promotion, so it’s fair to assume that it will only run for a short period of time. All of the new monthly payment amounts are listed below – if you’re strapped for cash but looking to switch to a new carrier in the US, this could be a viable option.
- Samsung Galaxy S4 – $25
- Samsung Galaxy Note II – $27
- Samsung Galaxy S III – $22
- Xperia Z from Sony – $25
- iPhone 5 – $27
- Nokia Lumia 925 – $20
- Nokia Lumia 521 – $5
- BlackBerry Q10 – $25
- HTC One – $25
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 – $20
Image Credit: John Moore/Getty Images
We may now know why Apple quietly set up shop in Boston earlier this year, if a report from Xconomy is to be believed. According to the site, Apple is developing a team of top speech technologists in Boston to eventually eliminate its dependence on Nuance for Siri.
The likelihood of this is actually extremely high – we’ve illustrated why below.
As a reminder, Nuance is the Boston-based multinational software maker which powers Apple’s voice recognition feature in Siri. Nuance has recently seen at least two of its speech scientists leave the company and join Apple. In other words, Apple is pulling talent from Nuance and putting them to work in its own backyard.
Currently, as Xconomy details, Apple’s Boston team publicly includes former Nuance employee Gunnar Evermann, who has a history of developing speech recognition technology; Larry Gillick, whose title is “Chief Speech Scientist, Siri at Apple;” and Don McAllaster, another ex-Nuance employee whose title at Apple is simply “Senior Research Scientist.” There are also a handful of other former Nuance employees currently at Apple, but not based in Boston, including Caroline Labrecque and Rongqing Huang.
Given how clear these titles are (again: “Chief Speech Scientist, Siri”), Apple is certainly developing some sort of speech technology in Boston. The only thing that’s currently unconfirmed is if Apple is strategically distancing itself from Nuance. Apple has a history of eliminating third-party ties to become self-reliant, and Nuance just might be next on Apple’s list.
Federal grand jury indictment alleges that SAC maintained elite group that has traded on insider information since 1999
A federal grand jury has indicted SAC Capital, the embattled hedge fund that has been pursued by financial authorities for years, for insider trading after regulators failed to charge its powerful founder, Steven A Cohen.
The US attorney who brought the charges, Preet Bharara, also hit the firm with civil money-laundering charges that would require the firm to forfeit potentially billions of dollars in assets.
A 41-page indictment alleges that SAC, founded in 1992, maintained an elite group that has traded on insider information since 1999.
SAC is also alleged to have hired portfolio managers specifically for their insider contact in the industries in which they traded, and failed to raise red flags when insider information was suggested as the basis for a trade.
The indictment marks the culmination of a six-year investigation by Bharara. The government pursued an investigation against Cohen but apparently dropped its attempt to bring charges last month.
“SAC became, over time, a veritable magnet for market cheaters,” Bharara said at a news conference in Manhattan. “That’s why the institution, and not individuals, stand accused of insider trading.” He said that the charges were “a predictable product of pervasive institutional failure”, and added: “A company reaps what it sows. SAC seeded itself with corrupt traders.”
Cohen was not mentioned by name in the indictment but referred to obliquely as “the SAC owner” and an “individual residing in Greenwich, Connecticut.”
“The SAC owner failed to question candidates who implied that their ‘edge’ was based on sources of inside information,” the indictment says. Later, it notes: “The SAC owner fostered a culture that focused on not discussing inside information too openly, rather than not seeking or trading on such information in the first place.”
The government’s case centers on SAC’s culture. It alleges that employees at SAC “engaged in a pattern of obtaining inside information from dozens of publicly-traded companies across multiple industry sectors. Employees …traded on inside information themselves and, at times, recommended trades to the SAC owner based on inside information.”
Under US securities laws, fund managers may only trade on company information that has been publicly disclosed.
The indictment mentions several other SAC employees as well as employees of affiliate investment firms. One portfolio manager for Cohen-controlled Sigma Capital, Wes Wang, is cited in connection with insider trading in eight technology stocks including Taiwan Semiconductor, Cisco, and eBay. In 2012, Wang pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit securities fraud.
Other alleged insider trading by SAC Capital mentioned in the indictment includes some of the biggest North American companies, such as Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, BlackBerry maker RIM, and Yahoo.
SAC denied the allegations. It said in a statement: “SAC has never encouraged, promoted or tolerated insider trading and takes its compliance and management obligations seriously. The handful of men who admit they broke the law does not reflect the honesty, integrity and character of the thousands of men and women who have worked at SAC over the past 21 years. SAC will continue to operate as we work through these matters.”
The chief target of the US attorney’s legal strategy, according to experts, is to foil Cohen himself by attacking his deputies and the trading culture of the firm he created. Cohen controls 60% of the money in SAC Capital and has a net worth of roughly $9bn, according to Bloomberg.
The indictment holds that SAC’s trading culture was heavily centralized, with dozens of portfolio managers answering directly to Cohen without knowledge of what their peers in the firm were doing.
Cohen, until his legal troubles, was a towering figure on Wall Street, a billionaire unknown to much of the public but famous in the finance community for his enviable investment profits and casual style. While maintaining an intense work regimen – working at over seven computer screens in his office – he was habitually seen around the firm’s Connecticut trading floor in a blue fleece vest that became almost iconic.
He was known for quirks such as his disdain of ringing phones, which created a silent trading floor, and maintaining the firm’s temperature at a breezy 69F so traders would not be too comfortable.
For investors, he held a notable mystique: SAC was so sought-after by clients that they paid the firm a fee of 3% of the money under management and allowed the firm to take up to 50% of their investment profits, according to the indictment.
SAC seemed to have a green thumb for stocks, watching them gain up to 10% in value in a single day after buying shares, and up to 15% in a month, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis in March.
The swirl of legal issues around insider trading have already temporarily claimed the careers of two of Cohen’s top lieutenants, Michael Steinberg and Mathew Martoma, both of whom were arrested at their homes and subsequently indicted. The government’s case against Martoma accuses him of making a profit of $276m by trading on nonpublic information related to healthcare companies Wyeth and Elan.
Martoma has maintained his innocence. His trial is set for November.
The indictment is the latest in a series of investigations of SAC by regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as federal prosecutors.
Most recently, last week the SEC filed civil administrative charges against Cohen, arguing that he “failed reasonably to supervise” Steinberg and Martoma.
In response to the SEC’s charges, Cohen’s lawyers argued, in 46-page white paper to staff, that he was too busy to read his email, and estimated he opened only 11% of his messages. As a result, they held, he could not have acted on insider tips contained in those emails.
Previously, SAC and its affiliates paid a $617.5m fine to settle SEC charges on insider trading, even though a judge grew irritated that the firm would be able to pay money to absolve itself of charges without admitting or denying wrongdoing.
Democrat congressman Alan Grayson says hearing will help to stop ‘constant misleading information’ from intelligence chiefs
Congress will hear testimony from critics of the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices for the first time since the whistleblower Edward Snowden’s explosive leaks were made public.
Democrat congressman Alan Grayson, who is leading a bipartisan group of congressman organising the hearing, told the Guardian it would serve to counter the “constant misleading information” from the intelligence community.
The hearing, which will take place on Wednesday, comes amid evidence of a growing congressional rebellion NSA data collection methods.
On Wednesday, a vote in the House of Representatives that would have tried to curb the NSA’s practice of mass collection of phone records of millions of Americans was narrowly defeated.
However, it exposed broader-than-expected concern among members of Congress over US surveillance tactics. A majority of Democrat members voted in support of the amendment.
Grayson, who was instrumental in fostering support among Democrats for the the amendment, said Wednesday’s hearing would mark the first time critics of NSA surveillance methods have testified before Congress since Snowden’s leaks were published by the Guardian and Washington Post.
“I have been concerned about the fact that we have heard incessantly in recent weeks from General Keith Alexander [director of the NSA] and Mr James Clapper [director of National Intelligence] about their side of the story,” he said. “We have barely heard anything in Congress from critics of the program.
“We have put together an ad hoc, bipartisan hearing on domestic surveillance in on the Capitol. We plan to have critics of the program come in and give their view – from the left and the right.”
Grayson said the hearing had bipartisan support, and was backed by the Republican congressman Justin Amash, whose draft the amendment that was narrowly defeated.
“Mr Amash has declared an interest in the hearing. There are several others who have a libertarian bent – largely the same people who represented the minority of Republicans who decided to vote in favour of the Amash amendment.”
The hearing will take place at the same time as a Senate hearing into the NSA’s activities. That will feature Gen Alexander and possibly his deputy, Chris Inglis, as well as senior officials from the Department of Justice and FBI.
The simultaneous timing of the hearings will lead to a notable juxtaposition between opponents and defenders of the government’s surveillance activities.
“Both Congress and the American people deserve to hear both sides of the story,” Grayson said. “There has been constant misleading information – and worse than that, the occasional outright lie – from the so-called intelligence community in their extreme, almost hysterical efforts, to defend these programmes.”
Although not a formal committee hearing, Grayson’s event will take place on Capitol Hill, and composed of a panel of around a dozen members of Congress from both parties.
Grayson said those testifying would include the American Civil Liberties Union as well as representatives from the right-leaning Cato Institute.
“They are both going to come in and make it clear that this programme is not authorised by existing law – and if it were authorised by existing law, that law would be unconstitutional,” Grayson said.
The congressman added that Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first revealed details of the surveillance programmes leaked by Snowden, had also been invited to testify via video-link from his base in Rio.
“Even today, most people in America are unaware of the fact the government is receiving a record of every call that they make, even to the local pizzeria,” Grayson said.
“I think that most people simply don’t understand that, despite the news coverage, which my view has been extremely unfocused. There has been far too much discussion of the leaker, and not enough discussion of the leak.”
Manning’s attorney David Coombs told supporters on Thursday ‘tomorrow, you’re going to hear what the truth sounds like’
The defense was summing up its case on Friday in the court martial of Bradley Manning, the US army private who sent hundreds of thousands of US government documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Manning’s civilian defense attorney David Coombs was giving his closing argument in the eighth week of the trial at the Fort Meade army base outside Baltimore. The case will then go to the judge for deliberations, who has said she could rule anytime in the next several days.
“Tomorrow, you’re going to hear what truth sounds like,” Coombs told supporters Thursday night after a lengthy and bruising final argument by the prosecution.
Speaking for more than five hours Thursday, with several breaks through the day for people to use the bathrooms and eat lunch, Major Ashden Fein told the court Manning was a traitor with one mission as an intelligence analyst deployed in Iraq in 2009 and 2010: to find and reveal government secrets to a group of anarchists, then bask in the glory as a whistleblower.
“The government has its job, but there is nobody who could believe what they said – much less them,” Coombs told a group of 40 supporters after Thursday’s session.
“If it takes six, seven hours to go on a diatribe and try to piece together some convoluted story … if it takes you that long to get your point across, you know it isn’t true,” Coombs told supporters in the courtyard of the court building as they were leaving for the day.
He said his closing arguments would likely last about two hours Friday and that he is “going to speak from the heart – it won’t be hard for me to rebut.”
Coombs has said the soldier was troubled by what he saw in the war – and at the same time was struggling as a gay man in the era of “don’t ask don’t tell”. Those struggles made him want to do something to make a difference and he hoped revealing what was going on in the war zone and US diplomacy would inspire debate and reform in American foreign and military policy, Coombs has said.
Fein said Manning betrayed his country’s trust and spilled classified information, knowing the material would be seen by the terrorist group al-Qaida.
“WikiLeaks was merely the platform which Pfc Manning used to ensure all the information was available for the world, including enemies of the United States,” Fein said.
Manning, 25, is charged with 21 offenses, but the most serious is aiding the enemy, which carries a possible sentence of up to life in prison. A native of Crescent, Okla., Manning has acknowledged giving WikiLeaks 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and videos. But he says he didn’t believe the information would harm troops in Afghanistan and Iraq or threaten national security.
A military judge, not a jury, is hearing the case at Manning’s request. Army colonel Denise Lind will deliberate after closing arguments.
The verdict and any sentence will be reviewed, and could be reduced, by the commander of the Military District of Washington, currently Major General Jeffery S Buchanan.
Ohio man – charged with 997 counts including kidnap and rape – agrees deal with prosecuctors that will spare him death penalty
A man accused of abducting three woman and holding them captive at his Ohio home for a decade pleaded guilty to multiple charges on Friday, as part of a plea deal that spared him from a death sentence.
Ariel Castro – charged with 977 counts over the kidnap, rape and brutal treatment of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight – agreed a deal with prosecutors under which he will serve life without parole, plus 1,000 years.
Asked in court in Cleveland, Ohio on Friday if he understood that he would spend the rest of his days behind bars, he replied: “I do understand that, your honour”. He added: “I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me.”
Castro, 53, had been due to stand trial over an indictment sheet that included two counts of aggravated murder over allegations that he punched and starved one of his captives until she miscarried.
The three victims – all of whom disappeared between 2002 and 2004 – escaped on 6 May, when one of them kicked out part of a door while being aided by a neighbour alerted to her screams for help.
The women were 14, 16, and 20 when they were abducted by Castro, a former school bus driver. Relief over their escape earlier this year quickly turned to horror as details emerged of their ordeal at his home in Cleveland.
For about a decade, Castro repeatedly abused them and kept them hidden from the world, often chaining them to a bedroom heater or a pole in his basement, prosecutors said.
Berry gave birth to a child, now six years old. On the day the daughter was born, Castro raped one of the other women, who had helped deliver the baby.
Other pregnancies never went to full term. Knight told prosecutors that she became pregnant five times but was starved and beaten up by Castro so she would miscarry.
Earlier this month, the three victims posted a video on YouTube, to thank the public for the support they had received since escaping from Castro’s house. “I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and my head held high,” Knight said.
She added: “I will not let the situation define who I am, I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred.”
Castro, who was picked up by police soon after Berry escaped the home, had initially intended to plead not guilty. If the case had gone to trial, the victims would probably have had to testify in court about their ordeal.
Prosecutors had the option of pursuing the death penalty in the case. But under the plea agreement announced on Friday, that option was ruled out.