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Mueller Family(NEW YORK) — Even after a failed U.S. Special Forces hostage rescue mission in Syria, the launch of hundreds of coalition airstrikes and the subsequent video beheadings of three hostages, ISIS offered hope to Carl and Marsha Mueller that made them believe paying a ransom could still bring their captive daughter Kayla home, emails from the family’s negotiations show.

But a former senior FBI agent told ABC News that U.S. government negotiators missed the likely final opportunity to free the last American in captivity for ransom almost two years ago, which ISIS said was “still a possibility” in its last email to her parents before her death.

“I think the Muellers have a right to be upset,” said retired FBI chief hostage negotiator Chris Voss, who reviewed 27 emails exchanged between ISIS and Kayla Mueller’s parents for ABC News’ “20/20.”

Numerous Obama administration officials were perceived by some families, including the Muellers, as threatening them with prosecution for “material support to terrorism” if they paid ISIS a ransom, so none attempted to. All of the other American hostages were eventually killed by ISIS. The U.S. confirmed Mueller’s death in ISIS hands in 2015. ISIS claimed that she died in a Jordanian airstrike, but the exact cause remains a mystery.

“I think they put a lot of faith in the United States government helping them, and there were some people from the government that tried very hard to help them and did their absolute best. And there were some that just didn’t know any better, didn’t know what they were doing, and so instead of moving the ball forward, they threatened them,” Voss said in an interview.

On Sept. 19, 2014, ISIS sent the Muellers an email which reassured them their daughter had not been executed on her 26th birthday, Aug. 14, as the hostage-takers had threatened would happen after a 30-day countdown to pay.

“Kayla’s safe release Is [sic] still a possibility considering our demands are met!” ISIS told the Muellers. “These demands are very straight forward and could have easily been achievable a long time ago had it not been for the stubbornness of your government!”

But U.S. airstrikes against ISIS targets, which had begun Aug. 8, 2014, in northern Iraq, expanded dramatically on Sept. 22 in a blitz across Syria. The hostage-takers never replied to the Muellers’ emailed pleas again until she was publicly reported dead by her captors the following year.

Asked last week why the U.S. expanded airstrikes in 2014 with almost a dozen western hostages still in the hands of ISIS, a senior administration official told ABC News, “The U.S. didn’t have any great choices here. No matter what we did, there would be a price to pay.”

The final message from ISIS to the hostage’s family was among the nine emails the Muellers received from the terrorists — more than any other hostage’s family — and which they provided to ABC News. The Muellers’ 18 emails were primarily written by FBI hostage negotiators. A selection of the emails is posted here.

The Muellers told ABC News that their FBI hostage negotiation team promised to help them make a genuine ransom offer for their daughter’s life with messages sent from the family email account used to communicate with the hostage-takers, in Carl Mueller’s name. But the emails sent to ISIS obtained by ABC News contain no offer in exchange for her release.

“Carl would say we need to make an offer, and then the [FBI-authored] email would not have anything about an offer in it,” Marsha Mueller told ABC News.

“We were like sheep. We were following what the government told us to do. We had no idea,” Kayla’s father Carl Mueller said in the couple’s interview for ABC News’ “20/20” segment, “The Girl Left Behind.”

Some counterterrorism officials have told ABC News that the FBI has quietly helped American families negotiate and facilitate the payment of ransom to other terrorist groups since 9/11 in order to recover loved ones held hostage.

Not making a ransom offer to ISIS — which would have been, in fact, legally allowable under a Bush-era presidential directive — was the biggest missed opportunity to free Kayla, said Voss, the retired FBI agent.

“There is an exception. And it’s when you have the possibility, a reasonable outcome of retrieving the ransom. And of bringing the terrorists to justice. And it’s been done in the past,” Voss said. “As far as I know they [Kayla’s parents] were never allowed to… They were told if they made any sort of an offer they’d be prosecuted, which is unconscionable.”

Citing classification and privacy concerns, FBI and Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell officials declined to comment about the Kayla Mueller hostage negotiation or about the White House order containing the legal exception which allowed payments as part of a lure with a reasonable chance of denying the hostage-takers the benefits of ransom, National Security Presidential Directive-12.

But a former senior White House official involved in the hostage crisis in 2014 told ABC News there was no way to justify paying ransom to a group like ISIS operating in lawless Syria, where money could not easily be traced.

“The National Security Council and FBI, Department of Justice and Department of Defense carefully considered options to capture the hostage-takers in conjunction with an exchange but none of the options were judged viable,” retired Army Col. Mark Mitchell told ABC News last week.

A Green Beret who earned the nation’s second-highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, in Afghanistan, Mitchell has acknowledged publicly that as counterterrorism director in the Obama NSC, hostages’ family members such as journalist James Foley’s parents have accused him of threatening that anyone who paid ransom would land in a federal prison.

Mitchell denied doing anything more than stating U.S. law to the families but his past comments in those White House meetings have been privately disavowed as inappropriate by some senior administration officials since 2014. The Muellers say Mitchell was one of many Obama administration officials who warned that their donors could be prosecuted and they do not fault him for their inability to raise a ransom fund.

It was almost a year after Kayla was kidnapped on Aug. 4, 2013 before Carl and Marsha Mueller were even able to learn the identity of the hostage-takers as ISIS, much less start negotiating with them.

Though a 10-second proof-of-life video of Kayla by then-unknown hostage-takers was received by her family a few weeks after her abduction in Aleppo, Syria, after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in a marked vehicle from the medical aid group, her parents weren’t able to begin negotiations for their daughter’s release until May 23, 2014. That was the date Doctors Without Borders turned over to Carl and Marsha Mueller an ISIS email address brought out of Syria seven weeks earlier by three of their aid workers who had been held hostage with the young American. ISIS had ordered the women to memorize the email address and to use it to negotiate for Kayla.

But ISIS reached out to the Muellers first — only hours after the family received the contact information from Doctors Without Borders.

“This message is to inform you that we have the American citizen, Kayla Jean Mueller PRISONER. We don’t want to harm her. She’s like a guest with us at the moment,” the email read. The Muellers were told they could ask three questions only their daughter could answer, to prove she was still alive and in their custody, which ISIS quickly provided:

How did you get the stitches in your eyebrow as a child? Answer: Her older brother Eric was pulling her in a wagon and it tipped over and she fell on her head onto a small rock.

What did you teach your niece to say? Music is______? Answer: Music is Everywhere

What is your friend Moe’s real name? Answer: Her name is Monica and she is a kinder garden friend.

Kayla was still alive, her elated parents concluded.

The kidnappers demanded the release of convicted terrorist operative Aafia Siddiqui or 5 million euros. They said there should be “NO MEDIA EXPOSURE WHAT SO EVER!” Anything less and they’d put a bullet in Kayla’s head, they wrote.

But Voss says the FBI negotiators missed an important opportunity to make Kayla safer from the start, by failing to exploit the cultural importance of guests in Muslim countries.

“This is something huge that they missed, because they should have responded with, ‘No, she’s not like a guest. She is a guest and she is your responsibility as a guest’,” he said.

The kidnappers also sent an audio of her voice.

”Mom and Dad, I still am remaining healthy. You should have already received the three answers to the proof life questions you provided,” Kayla said, still sounding strong.

The negotiation drama for Kayla played out over the next four months, from May to September 2014, amid an astounding chain of events with potential impact on all the western captives, who included nine journalists and aid workers.

Mosul fell in June and ISIS declared an Islamic caliphate, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was freed in a Qatar-arranged swap for five Taliban detainees, a Special Forces operation in July to free the western hostages came up empty near Raqqa, Syria, the U.S. began bombing ISIS across Syria and Iraq, and beginning Aug. 19 James Foley, Steven Sotloff and a British hostage were beheaded on video by an English-speaking executioner in retaliation for ISIS being bombed by coalition warplanes.

Throughout this turmoil, however, the Muellers received nine emails from ISIS and in reply they sent 18 email pleas for their daughter’s life composed mostly by a team of FBI hostage negotiators with access to the family’s email account. No other American hostage’s family is known to have received so many emails from ISIS.

But the FBI repeatedly failed to leverage the discussion in a way to get Kayla home, said Voss, who is respected by many government insiders for his success as a senior agent formerly in charge of operations such as hostage recovery for the FBI in Iraq.

“I know that there are some very talented hostage negotiators in the FBI that knew what they were doing. I see no evidence of their voices in these emails,” he said.

The communications quickly deteriorated as the FBI wrote lengthy email after email begging for time to raise a ransom and with the father complaining about money troubles that only seemed to increasingly anger the hostage-takers, who Voss said had little time for page-long family pleas to spare Kayla.

“Kayla may not know that I retired this January,” an FBI-composed email from Carl Mueller explained on June 2, adding that after selling their auto repair shop the family had “limited resources.” ISIS told him to go back to work to earn money for the ransom demand.

“From this point on you will only speak about the objectives, SO NO MORE SENTIMENTAL SOB STORIES!” the hostage-takers responded.

The correct use of an American phrase suggested it was a western jihadi writing the messages, Voss said.

“‘Sentimental sob stories’ is a phrase that will only come from certain cultures,” he said. “You begin to develop a cultural profile of who you’re dealing with, because ultimately you want to track these guys down.”

The FBI kept sending messages from the Muellers pleading for time. Carl Mueller began to suspect that the FBI was merely stalling with no intention of actually negotiating Kayla’s release, and thereby angering ISIS.

In apparent frustration, ISIS sent an email that told her parents they wanted to know if the Muellers had “reached a SIGNIFICANT BENCHMARK with regards to the amount of CASH you have raised from the demanded sum.”

The FBI made no cash offer and instead had Mueller simply plead for more time and complain that the U.S. government wasn’t helping.

“At one point I even said to the [FBI] team, I said if I got this email back I would be really mad,” Mueller told ABC News.

There were reasons for initially stalling including an unprecedented Joint Special Operations Command raid being planned for almost two months, held up for weeks before approval by the administration and by U.S. Central Command, current and former officials told ABC News. It culminated in an entire squadron from the Army’s special mission unit Delta Force raiding a “desert pipeline prison” south of Raqqa over the weekend of July 4th.

But it was a “dry hole,” a source said at the time — the hostages had been relocated a few days earlier without overhead surveillance spotting the move.

“Yes, there was a period of deliberation I remember,” a senior administration official told ABC News last week. “The intel wasn’t rock solid. It was compelling.”

Assets had to be moved into the region, hundreds of operators were involved. A diversionary attack was launched nearby to draw fighters away from the prison site. It was also close to Damascus and the Assad forces had air defenses, the official recalled.

“We were working very hard to find the hostages. But after the July 4th raid, the trail ran cold,” the senior official said.

On July 12, 2014, a week after the still-secret U.S. raid failed to rescue Kayla and the others, the hostage-takers’ tone grew suddenly more hostile in an email giving the Muellers 30 days to pay up.

“If you fail to meet this deadline we will send you a picture of Kayla’s dead body!” ISIS wrote. “This will be our FIRST act of revenge taken for the MISERABLY FAILED and unsuccessful attempt by your arrogant government to free their prisoners!”

Carl and Marsha Mueller were baffled.

“It was Kayla’s birthday, that was the deadline for them to kill her,” Carl Mueller said. “So we immediately call our ‘arrogant government’ and say, ‘What are they talking about?’ And the response was, ‘I don’t know.’ They had conducted a raid, a military operation. ISIS told us they were going to kill our daughter because they did that and their response was, ‘No, we don’t know anything about a raid.'”

The Delta Force raid was not publicly disclosed by the White House until six weeks later, after James Foley was beheaded in a shocking video by ISIS executioner Jihadi John.

Between July 12 and Sept. 19, 2014, the FBI composed and sent a dozen emails to the hostage-takers. In what would be the final email from ISIS to the Muellers while Kayla was still alive, and before she was taken by “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to be raped, they added a third demand.

“That is the immediate halt of ALL military activities by your government within and around the lands of the Islamic State,” the email said, in the group’s first reference they had made to the ISIS caliphate. “Kayla will not be released until these conditions are met.”

Three days later, on Sept. 22, the U.S. commenced Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria, with more than 15,000 airstrikes since then.

Kayla Mueller was moved in August or September to the Shaddadi, Syria, house of a senior ISIS leader, Abu Sayyaf, and kept there for Baghdadi. ISIS tweeted on Feb. 6, 2015, that she had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike, which U.S. officials have denied. A building ISIS showed in a photo had been bombed much earlier as a barracks for fighters and arms depot, a counterrterrorism official has told ABC News. The White House confirmed Mueller’s death a few days later without stating a suspected cause.

Retired FBI agent Voss said the final evidence that Kayla probably could have been ransomed was an email sent in February 2015, after her reported death, to Marsha Mueller containing three photos of Kayla’s face after she was killed, dusty and sprinkled with tiny pieces of rubble, and one photo after her face was cleaned for burial, per Muslim custom. An accompanying note was respectful in tone.

“They respected her parents enough to send those photos. And they wouldn’t have done that if her parents hadn’t struck a chord with them. And if you can strike a chord, then you can create communication that’s productive,” Voss said.

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Olivier Douliery/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon is calling on Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies to stop fighting America’s Syrian Kurdish allies in northern Syrian because it is taking attention away from the fight against ISIS.

The United States has called on Turkey to “stay focused on the fight against ISIL and not to engage Syrian defense forces,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at a Pentagon news conference Monday, using an alternate name for ISIS.

He said there had been various senior-level contacts in recent days with Turkey to make that point and that he would do the same in a meeting with his Turkish counterpart next week.

Last week’s Turkish offensive that captured the ISIS-held border town of Jarabulus has resulted in a chaotic situation where various Syrian and Kurdish rebel groups supported and trained by the United States have clashed in battle because of pre-existing animosities.

The Turkish force that retook Jarabulus also includes a Syrian rebel force previously trained by the Pentagon to fight ISIS. They have pushed south of Jarabulus to take on Kurdish fighters aligned with the Syrian Democratic Forces who have pushed north from the recently captured city of Manbij.

“We call on both sides to not fight with one another to continue to focus the fight on ISIL that’s the basis of our cooperation with both of them,” Carter said.

The push south of Jarabulus by Turkey and its rebel allies seems intended to prevent Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces from pushing northward and creating a Kurdish buffer zone along the border with Turkey.

In its fight against ISIS, the United States has had to walk the fine line of training, advising and assisting the Syrian Democratic Forces, which has become its strongest partner in the fight against ISIS in eastern and northern Syria, while giving strong concern to Turkish concerns about the group.

A large number of the Syrian Democratic Forces come from what is known as the YPG, an acronym for Self Protection Units in Kurdish, a group that Turkey says is aligned with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) that conducts terrorist attacks inside Turkey.

An earlier statement Monday from Peter Cook, Pentagon press secretary, called the fighting south of Jarabulus “unacceptable” and labeled them “a source of deep concern.”

“This is an already crowded battle space,” Cook said. “Accordingly, we are calling on all armed actors to stand down immediately and take appropriate measures to de-conflict.”

Carter said one of the things the United States is talking to Turkey about is clarifying where different elements of the SDF are in the area, particularly those belonging to the YPG.

“We do understand that they have historical differences with one another, but American interests are quite clear we, like they, want to combat ISIL,” Carter said. “We’re calling on all involved, let’s keep our priorities clear in helping them to de-conflict, so to speak on the battlefield.”

Carter called on the Turks to keep prior commitments that they would not engage the Syrian Democratic Forces and remain only north and west of Jarabulus. He called on the Syrian Kurds to keep their commitment that they would move east back across the Euphrates once the Manbij operation is fully over.

The Kurds are moving across the Euphrates, according to Carter.

“They are doing that, yes,” he said. “But that’s the understanding we have with them and we want to make sure that they continue that commitment.”

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Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Fox News has responded to a lawsuit filed by one of its former female staff members alleging sexual harassment, saying that Andrea Tantaros “is not a victim; she is an opportunist” and that her “unverified” lawsuit “bears all the hallmarks of the ‘wannabe’.”

Earlier this month, Tantaros became the latest female Fox News staff member to claim sexual harassment at work when she alleged that the popular cable news network “operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny,” and that she was subject to alleged sexual harassment by former Fox News boss Roger Ailes as well as by former Sen. Scott Brown. Both have denied the allegations.

The misconduct, she claimed, was condoned by top brass at Fox News, some of whom were promoted in the wake of Ailes’ widely publicized departure in July.

Seeking to move the dispute to arbitration, Fox News said that Tantaros never complained of harassment by Ailes “in the course of an investigation months ago,” according to court documents obtained by ABC News.

Judd Burstein, a lawyer for Tantaros, hit back on Monday in an email to ABC News. “If Mr. Shine and his minions are innocent, why do they want this dispute to be resolved in the shadows?” Burstein said, referring to arbitration, the proceedings of which would presumably remain confidential. “An innocent person would be so outraged that he or she would want public vindication.”

The documents claim that another lawyer for Tantaros did not return a call from a law firm conducting an internal investigation into allegations made by several women against Ailes.

Burstein said that the charge of the unreturned phone call was “absolutely false.”

He added: “Even if it were true, why is it that Paul Weiss never reached out to me after this lawsuit was filed?”

In separate filings, Ailes’ lawyers also called for the case to be moved to arbitration, calling the allegations “false” and saying her lawsuit was “full of lies and halftruths.”

“From the first page of her Complaint, Ms. Tantaros reverts to tabloid fodder, smearing Mr. Ailes based on no findings of any court or body of competent jurisdiction, and certainly not on her own experience, since she was never harassed by Mr. Ailes,” the lawyers said. “As the Fox News Defendants’ brief makes clear, not once did Ms. Tantaros ever complain that Mr. Ailes had sexually harassed her, much less that she had been retaliated against as a result.”

Burstein also responded to Ailes’ lawyers’ separate filing, saying, “Fox News has all but acknowledged that Roger Ailes did sexually harass Andrea Tantaros because its lawyers are representing every defendant in the suit other than Roger Ailes.”

“They have dropped him like the proverbial hot potato in the hope that his former cabal members can continue in place,” he added.

Ailes left the network in July.

The Fox News documents provided to ABC News by the media company only briefly mention the allegations made against Brown, saying: “His interactions with Tantaros were professional and cordial, and in full view of other personnel and talent.”

In her filing earlier this month, Tantaros said that Brown “made a number of sexually inappropriate comments to Tantaros on set” during an appearance on “Outnumbered,” a program she hosted. She also alleged that the former senator said she “would be fun to go to a nightclub with,” and “snuck up behind” her while she was buying lunch and “put his hands on her lower waist.”

Brown, who represented Massachusetts in the Senate from 2010 until 2013, has called the accusations “false,” according to the Boston Globe.

In an email to the newspaper after news of the suit first broke, Brown said: “Her statement about our limited on air, green room interactions are false.”

“There were never any circumstances of any kind whatsoever in which I had any interaction with her or any other employee at Fox, outside the studio,” he told the newspaper. He said that all interactions were “always in full view of all staff, personnel and talent.”

He added that any other encounters were “professional and cordial,” according to the paper.

Tantaros is not the first person to allege sexual misconduct at Fox News.

Former morning and daytime host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit earlier this summer after 11 years at the company, claiming that Ailes had “sabotaged” her career after she “refused his sexual advances,” and that her job was terminated in retaliation for rebuffing him and complaining to him about sexual harassment.

Fox News and Ailes have denied Carlson’s allegations in the past, calling it a “retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract” because of “disappointingly low ratings.”

Shortly before Ailes’ resignation, New York magazine published a story citing unnamed sources who claimed that another Fox News host, Megyn Kelly, had “told investigators that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances towards her about [10] years ago.”

After that story’s publication, Susan Estrich, Ailes’ lawyer, told ABC News that her client “never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — A month ahead of schedule, the Obama administration has announced that it has met a goal set a year ago to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees.

“The 10,000th Syrian refugee will arrive this afternoon (Monday),” National Security Advisor Susan Rice announced in a statement.

“On behalf of the President and his Administration, I extend the warmest of welcomes to each and every one of our Syrian arrivals, as well as the many other refugees resettled this year from all over the world,” Rice wrote in the statement.

The U.S. government’s goal was to welcome 10,000 refugees within this fiscal year, which ends September 30th.

In total, nearly five million people have fled Syria since 2011, according to the U.N., the vast majority of which are living now in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

A policy director at Church World Service, who has worked closely with the U.S. government and nonprofits to resettle Syrian refugees, described the 10,000-benchmark as sort of bitter-sweet. “It was sort of a meager goal to begin with,” Jen Smyers told ABC News.

“This demonstrates that where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Smyers continued. “But if we had been processing Syrian refugee applications for the last four years then many more people could be rebuilding their lives in safety, rather than risking their lives to take the very dangerous trip across the Atlantic.”

“We would like to see the U.S. demonstrate more leadership on this,” Smyers added, referencing the fact that the U.S. took in hundreds of thousand of Vietnamese refugees during and after their civil war.

Secretary of State John Kerry has said the U.S. plans to take in 85,000 refugees from around the world this year in total. “We recognize that more needs to be done to help those who are besieged inside Syria; more has to be done to assist refugees; more has to be done to support Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey; and more has to be done to resolve this brutal conflict that has cost far too many lives and forced far too many people from their homes.”

During a briefing Monday, State Department spokesperson John Kirby said he believed the U.S. would likely take in additional refugees from Syria this year.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — After losses Friday, Wall Street rebounded as investors appeared to relax over Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s comments on a possible interest rate hike.

The Dow jumped 107.59 (+0.58 percent) to finish at 18,502.99.

The Nasdaq gained 13.41 (+0.26 percent) to close at 5,232.33, while the S&P 500 finished at 2,180.38, up 11.34 (+0.52 percent) from its open.

Crude oil slid over 1 percent with prices hitting about $47 a barrel.

Federal Reserve: Yellen told a conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, last week that the U.S. economy might be strong enough for an interest rate hike. Though she did not cite when a rate hike might come, she said she believed “the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months.”

Mylan:
EpiPen maker Mylan announced it will begin to sell a cheaper generic version after the company came under fire for raising prices. Mylan hiked the price of the EpiPen from approximately $100 in 2009 to more than $600 in 2016. The generic version will sell for about half the price of the original EpiPen, according to Mylan.

J.Crew: J.Crew will sell a collection at select Nordstrom stores in an effort to boost sales for the company. Madewell, a J.Crew brand, has already been selling some clothing items at the fashion retailer since last year.

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ABC News(MIAMI) — A tropical depression has taken aim at Florida and is expected to become a tropical storm by Monday night, bringing heavy rain to the Sunshine State over the next few days.

Tropical Depression 9 has brought torrential rains over West Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center. The tropical depression is currently about 170 miles west-southwest of Key West, Florida, and 125 miles west-northwest of Havana, Cuba. Its maximum sustained winds are 35 miles per hour.

The depression is currently moving west at around 7 miles per hour, although it is forecast to turn in a west-northwest direction today and then head north on Tuesday night.

The depression is forecast to strengthen over the next 48 hours and is likely to become a tropical storm by tonight, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical Depression 9’s max sustained winds~ 35 mph.
Likely becomes tropical storm tonight, affecting FL by Thurs: pic.twitter.com/kLhzVZu4aA

— Ginger Zee (@Ginger_Zee) August 29, 2016

The depression is also expected to bring rain to the Southern Florida peninsula and the Florida Keys over the next few days. The rainfall may cause localized flooding, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Meanwhile, a tropical storm watch is in effect for the coast of North Carolina from Cape Lookout to Oregon Inlet, according to the National Hurricane Center, as Tropical Depression 8 moves to the northwest. Tropical Depression 8 is bringing with it heavy rain over far Eastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks. It has sustained winds of 35 miles per hour and is forecast to strengthen slightly

Tropical depression 8 will brush by the Outer Banks tomorrow. 1-3″ of rain, up to 5″ max. pic.twitter.com/VBJM1yd8zA

— Ginger Zee (@Ginger_Zee) August 29, 2016

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Sean Gallup/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — After facing accusations that Facebook’s staff were being biased in their selection of stories for prominent placement on users’ newsfeeds, the company has announced that it is streamlining its “Trending” module so that the selection of topics is more automated.

The social media giant said that the selection of stories would be “more algorithmically driven,” and would no longer features a description written by human beings — just a topic.

For more information, users will have to hover over a topic with their mouse, at which point they will see a snippet from “an automatically selected original news story.”

Humans will continue to oversee the software selection to ensure that topics selected are indeed newsworthy and not about everyday — some might say banal — topics like “#lunch,” according to a blog post on the company’s website.

Human influence over the section, which has the ability to bring lots of eyeballs to news topics, has been the topic of heated controversy in recent months after a Gizmodo report in May in which an unnamed former journalist who worked on the project said that staff “routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers.”

In wake of the report, Facebook was forced to release more information about how the module — which sits prominently just to the left of users’ newsfeeds — worked.

The company has said that it “looked into these claims and found no evidence of systematic bias,” but that making the changes, “allows our team to make fewer individual decisions about topics.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment. But in the blog post announcing the change, the company said that it was a “platform for all ideas, and we’re committed to maintaining Trending as a way for people to access a breadth of ideas and commentary about a variety of topics.”

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Changes announced by WhatsApp have drawn the ire of privacy advocates, who say that the messaging service’s plan to share user data with parent company Facebook is against the law and should be blocked.

The changes will allow the popular app — which says it has more than one billion users — to “coordinate more with Facebook” by sharing the user data, they said. The move prompted The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy to announce they would be filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

WhatsApp says will allow the companies to better fight spam, track basic usage statistics and display more relevant advertisements and friend suggestions to users.

In other words, Facebook would be able to use phonebook data from WhatsApp to help users find friends who they chat with on WhatsApp, but who they have not “friended” on Facebook, a WhatsApp spokesperson told ABC News.

The messaging service insists that the contents of users’ messages, “stay private and no one else can read them. Not WhatsApp, not Facebook, nor anyone else,” when they’re encrypted, and maintains that banner advertisements will continue to be barred within its app.

Users can decide to opt-out of the changes, though some time restrictions apply.

“WhatsApp complies with applicable laws. As always, we consider our obligations when designing updates like this,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said. “We’ve made our terms and privacy policy easily accessible, provided an overview of the key updates, and empowered people to make decisions that are right for them, including offering a control for existing users over how their data can be used.”

However, even the basic sharing of user data has generated controversy.

Facebook acquired the messaging service in 2014 for $22 billion, according to Bloomberg.

At the time the acquisition was announced, a blog post on the WhatsApp website told users, “Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing,” and said “WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently.”

The blog post — from February, 2014 — does not explicitly rule out data sharing with the parent company.

In a complaint
filed with the FTC a few weeks after the acquisition was announced, EPIC said, “WhatsApp built a user base based on its commitment not to collect user data for advertising revenue,” and noting that “Facebook routinely makes use of user information for advertising purposes,” claimed that it intended to use WhatsApp user data for this purpose.

Facebook, like many free online services, uses user data to target advertising at users that is relevant to their interests.

Therefore, EPIC claimed, that the acquisition would “violate WhatsApp users’ understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice,” which it claimed would be in violation of FTC rules.

A few weeks later, in April 2014, the FTC sent a letter to the companies saying that they had made privacy guarantees to users, and that “regardless of the acquisition, WhatsApp must continue to honor these promises to consumers,” and “if the acquisition is completed and WhatsApp fails to honor these promises, both companies could be in violation” of the law and an earlier agreement between the FTC and Facebook.

The letter, according to a press release from the FTC, stated that Facebook must “get consumers’ affirmative consent before making changes that override their privacy settings, among other requirements.”

The WhatsApp spokesperson said that the changes are in agreement with this letter, because “people are required to agree to the new terms and privacy policy.” The spokesperson said that by allowing people to opt-out of this change, that the company was “offering industry-leading choice to existing users about how their data is used.”

The FTC did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment. Facebook did not comment separately from WhatsApp.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A report in a French newspaper last month that French President Francois Hollande’s personal hairdresser is paid $10,000 per month left us scratching our heads and wondering how much most people spend on their trims. We also wondered, what do you really get with a haircut that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars?

To find out, Good Morning America enlisted the help of best friends Mara and Marissa, college sophomores from Long Beach, California, who both wanted to shorten and shape their long, brunette tresses.

We arranged for the friends to have their hair cut at two salons with wildly different price points: Supercuts, a national chain, and The Benjamin Salon, a Los Angeles salon. We ask the friends to pick one photo that embodies the cut they want. They choose a photo of model Chrissy Teigen with beachy curls and layers. The girls then took the photo to their respective stylists.

The Hair Experiment

We started on the budget side. Mara visited a Supercuts in Los Angeles, a one-room salon that’s spacious and clean.

Friendly staff shuttle kids, women, and men through their trims quickly for the straightforward hair maintenance we expect from the chain. The total cost for Mara’s cut at Supercuts was $55, which included a $20 haircut, $5 shampoo and $35 blowout.

After about 50 minutes, including talking with the stylist and showing her the photo of Teigen, Mara was styled, blown dry and looking cute with her new ‘do! Her reaction was, “I love it!”

Marissa got her hair cut at The Benjamin Salon, where cuts start at $135 but an introductory cut with the salon’s owner, Benjamin Mohapi, costs $500.

As Marissa began her journey through the “experience,” and it was an experience, I started to understand why. The salon smelled like freshly mowed grass. The decor at Benjamin was luxurious and very, very hip. Marissa described having her hair shampooed as “The best massage of my life” and was then escorted back to Benjamin’s cutting area.

Mohapi was funny and easygoing and clearly intent on hearing what Marissa wanted so he could give her the exact look she desired. They spoke for a while, then Benjamin and his assistant begin a set of choreographed maneuvers that resembled those of a doctor and his surgical nurse. The wet cut took about 35 minutes, then Benjamin stepped away and the assistant dried Marissa’s hair.

Soon after, a lunch cart rolled through offering vegan sandwiches and gluten-free salads gratis.

Once Marissa’s hair was dried, Benjamin finished cutting, applied a few mystery products to her hair and then commenced styling. After about two hours of pampering, Marissa looks adorable and has the same reaction as her friend, saying, “I love it.”

We took Marissa and Mara to The Grove, a shopping area in Los Angeles, where shoppers willingly inspected the haircuts.

In the end, about 60 percent of those asked in our very unscientific poll correctly guessed that Marissa has the more expensive haircut.

Observations and Tips

Having witnessed both experiences and seen the results of both cuts, I have a few observations.

1. When you pay a lot for a cut, you’re paying for the known reputation and taste of an established stylist. Benjamin said that he spends a multitude of time cultivating his aesthetic for new haircuts and styles. The Supercuts stylist also goes in for continued training and she is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about her work.

2. You’re also paying for popularity. In Los Angeles, it’s about which stars go to a certain salon or stylist. After the two haircuts, we figured out that one of Benjamin’s stylists actually cuts Chrissy Teigen’s hair.

3. You are paying for a luxury experience. Can an expensive and a budget stylist both get you a great haircut? Yes. But in a salon like Benjamin’s, it is the difference between flying first class and coach; the overall experience was very different.

We asked Benjamin for his tips on avoiding a haircut that isn’t great, regardless of the cost.

1. If it looks good in the salon but you can’t make it look right two days later on your own, that’s a red flag.

2. If it looks like it needs to be cut again four weeks later, it’s not a good cut.

3. If the stylist didn’t help you choose the right style for your face shape, lifestyle and aesthetic, it’s probably not the right fit.

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Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A lightning storm killed more than 300 reindeer in Norway over the weekend, according to the Norwegian Environment Agency, which released photos of reindeer carcasses lining the Hardangervidda mountain plateau.

The Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (also known by its Norwegian acronym SNO) said that 323 animals died, of which 70 were calves. Of the 323 dead, five reindeer had to be euthanized by the SNO.

The SNO and representatives from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research visited the area on Sunday and extracted samples from the animals, the SNO said in a statement.

Hardangervidda is home to about 10,000 to 11,000 reindeer, the largest population of wild reindeer in Norway, according to the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre.

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