Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten covers issues of religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and social and cultural conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.

In 1986, Gjelten became one of NPR's pioneer foreign correspondents, posted first in Latin America and then in Central Europe. In the years that followed, he covered the wars in Central America, social and political strife in South America, the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Gjelten's latest book is A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, published in 2015. His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as "a chilling portrayal of a city's slow murder." He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).

After returning from his overseas assignments, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR's lead Pentagon reporter during the early war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a "Notable Nonfiction Book," and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their "Best Books of 2008." His new book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color.

Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work, including two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a regular panelist on the PBS program "Washington Week," and a member of the editorial board at World Affairs Journal. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

The controversy over the National Security Agency's surveillance programs has exposed a problem in the oversight of those programs: The development of the relevant technology has outpaced the laws and policies that govern its use.

Recent disclosures about NSA surveillance have affected U.S. relations with allies and tainted America's image around the world. Now the fallout seems to be creeping into the U.S. tech sector.

Cisco Systems, which manufactures network equipment, posted disappointing first-quarter numbers this week and warned that revenues for the current quarter could drop as much as 10 percent from a year ago — partly as a consequence of the NSA revelations.

NSA officials are bracing for more surveillance disclosures from the documents taken by former contractor Edward Snowden — and they want to get out in front of the story.

In a recent speech, NSA Director Keith Alexander said Snowden may have taken as many as 200,000 NSA documents with him when he left his post in Hawaii. If so, the vast majority of them have yet to be released.

Intelligence officials tell NPR they believe Snowden's secrets fall into four categories:

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Over at the NSA, officials say they welcome the president's policy review on surveillance. But they and other intelligence leaders bristle at the idea that they've overstepped their bounds in gathering information, both here and abroad. For months, the NSA has been on the defensive as a result of the Snowden disclosures.

NPR's Tom Gjelten says the agency is now trying to get out in front of the story.

The U.S. performance on the global stage has looked a little rocky in the past few weeks.

The Obama administration had to let Russia take a lead in managing the security challenge in Syria. The United States was also embarrassed when allies like Germany, France and Brazil reacted angrily to the news that the National Security Agency had monitored their leaders' communications.

Finally, the government shutdown and the congressional fight over the debt ceiling prompted critical comments about U.S. political dysfunction.

Four months have passed since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began spilling secrets about the NSA's surveillance programs, but many Americans still don't know what to think about the disclosures.

For good reason. The surveillance programs are highly technical, involving the bulk interception of huge volumes of communication data as they traverse multiple links and networks. The laws governing what the NSA can do are complex and open to conflicting interpretations.

Many governments around the world have expressed outrage over the National Security Agency's use of the Internet as a spying platform. But the possible response may have an unforeseen consequence: It may actually lead to more online surveillance, according to Internet experts.

Some governments, led most recently by Brazil, have reacted to recent disclosures about NSA surveillance by proposing a redesign of Internet architecture. The goal would be to give governments more control over how the Internet operates within their own borders.

Al-Shabab has been around for years as a militia group fighting for territory in Somalia.

When al-Shabab militants, dressed in casual clothes, turned up in a ritzy shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last weekend and gunned down men, women and children, the group shifted from an insurgent movement to a terrorist organization.

"A week ago, al-Shabab wasn't in the news," says Bruce Hoffman, a a terrorism expert at Georgetown University and the Rand Corporation. "Arguably, outside of Somalia, no one really cared about them."

An official assessment of the damage caused by news leaks about government surveillance programs suggests that terrorist groups are changing their communication methods in response to the disclosures, according to officials at the National Security Agency.

More than three months after Edward Snowden revealed details of NSA secret surveillance activities, intelligence officials are still assessing the fallout from the former contractor's disclosures. But they already know how the leaks happened.

"We have an extremely good idea of exactly what data he got access to and how exactly he got access to it," says the NSA's chief technology officer, Lonny Anderson.

In interviews with NPR, two government officials shared that part of the Snowden story in one of the most detailed discussions of the episode to date.

The prospect of a military strike against Syria in the next few days has private U.S. firms bracing for retaliation — in cyberspace.

Details of the top secret budget of U.S. intelligence agencies have been made public — revealing not only that the nation spends more than $50 billion a year on intelligence but also some detail about how that money is spent. The Washington Post published excerpts of a 2013 budget justification obtained from the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. In the past, the total amount spent on intelligence has been declassified by the U.S. government. The document reveals not only which agency spends the money but also what missions are top priority.

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A possible strike on Syria could move closer to reality today.

GREENE: British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the U.K. will put a resolution before the U.N. Security Council, quote, "authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians caught up in the civil war there."

The partial reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, which was the focus of a recent terror alert, suggests that the immediate threat of a terrorist attack has passed. Officials cannot be certain whether the alert disrupted planning for a possible attack, whether the threat was a bluff or whether the intelligence that led to the alert was flawed. The issuance of warnings is a specialty within the intelligence community, but the recent episode underscores how much uncertainty surrounds the field.

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Documents released to the Washington Post by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden show the agency overstepped privacy rules.

In the 10 years since sagging power lines in Ohio sparked a blackout across much of the Northeastern United States and Canada, utility engineers say they have implemented measures to prevent another such event in the country's electric grid.

But there is one disaster scenario for which the power companies are still unprepared: a massive attack on the computer networks that underlie the U.S. electric grid.

The disclosure of of previously secret NSA surveillance programs has been met by outrage in Europe. The European Parliament even threatened to delay trade talks with the United States.

The Russian lawyer for NSA leaker Edward Snowden predicts his client will soon get temporary asylum in Russia. Snowden and his allies say his laptops contain files that could be highly damaging to NSA operations. Security experts say it would be challenging but by no means impossible for Russian (or Chinese) cyber technicians to gain access to the files Snowden has with him, in spite of his promises to safeguard them.

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And moving on now to a mystery in Panama. A North Korean ship was stopped there as it was cruising through the Panama Canal carrying military supplies from Cuba. Missile and aircraft parts were hidden beneath bags of sugar in the cargo hold. North Korea is subject to a U.N. arms embargo and the North Korean crew is said to have violently resisted an effort to inspect the ship. NPR's Tom Gjelten has the latest.

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Edward Snowden, the man who leaked top-secret NSA documents, predicted a month ago that the U.S. government would accuse him of committing grave crimes. That comment came in a video released today by The Guardian newspaper. At the time he disclosed the secret information, Snowden was an employee of a private firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

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Washington is still trying to determine how much damage has been done as a result of Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA surveillance. Snowden allegedly encrypted the files he took with him, but some officials fear Chinese or Russian intelligence services gained access to Snowden's computers.

The disclosure of previously secret National Security Agency surveillance programs has left many Americans worried that the privacy of their personal data and communications is in jeopardy.

Since public revelations that the National Security Agency is collecting telephone records and reviewing Internet communications in the U.S. and abroad, officials have been making the case that the programs are vital. They argue that the tactics match the new ways terrorists are planning and communicating.

There was a time when America's enemies conspired face-to-face, or communicated through couriers, or by leaving messages for each other somewhere. But in the digital age, that has changed.

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Today, President Obama will be turning his attention to China. He's meeting China's new President, Xi Jinping, here in Southern California. There's plenty on the agenda: trade, currency, North Korea. This year, though, a new topic may dominate: China's habit of breaking into U.S. computer networks to steal trade and military secrets.

NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

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Sunnylands, not the White House. That's the private estate in the California desert where the U.S. and China will hold a summit tomorrow. The meeting between President Obama and China's new president, Xi Jinping, comes as China is buying its way ever deeper into the U.S. economy.

In his national security speech Thursday, President Obama discussed drone warfare and the Guantanamo detention camp. But a third controversial issue went largely unmentioned: the use of interrogation methods that are tantamount to torture.

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