Obama claims 'full responsibility' for health care website fixes as security concerns surface
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama claimed "full responsibility" Wednesday for fixing his administration's much-maligned health insurance website as a new concern surfaced: a government memo pointing to security worries, laid out just days before the launch.
On Capitol Hill, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized to frustrated people trying to sign up, declaring that she is accountable for the failures but also defending the historic health care overhaul. The website sign-up problems will be fixed by Nov. 30, she said, and the gaining of health insurance will make a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans.
Obama underscored the administration's unhappiness with the problems so far: "There's no excuse for it," he said during a Boston speech to promote his signature domestic policy achievement. "And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP."
The website HealthCare.gov was still experiencing outages as Sebelius faced a new range of questions at the House Energy and Commerce Committee about a security memo from her department. It revealed that the troubled website was granted a temporary security certificate on Sept. 27, just four days before it went live on Oct. 1.
The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, said incomplete testing created uncertainties that posed a potentially high security risk for the website. It called for a six-month "mitigation" program, including ongoing monitoring and testing.
US is wizard at collecting data unseen and yet an amateur when it comes to health care website
WASHINGTON (AP) -- When it comes to computers, the Obama administration appears simultaneously to be a bungling amateur and a stealthy wizard. The same government that reportedly intercepted the communications of America's leading consumer technology firms, Google and Yahoo, without leaving a trace is scorned because it can't build a working federal website for health insurance.
In a single day in the nation's capital, extremes of the impressive successes and stunning failures of the Internet age were on full display.
Computer professionals said the government can be both adept and inept at the same time because the tasks are so different and for reasons involving who is doing it, for how much money, how long it takes and how publicly it is done.
Under a classified project called MUSCULAR, the National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Google and Yahoo data centers around the world, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing documents obtained from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden. In the past 30 days, the NSA swept up and processed more than 180 million new records, including metadata indicating who sent and received emails and when it happened, the Post reported.
Across town, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was apologizing to Congress over the bungled healthcare.gov website. New documents obtained by The Associated Press showed that officials had worried that a lack of website testing posed a potentially high security risk. In yet another conflict-riddled Capitol Hill hearing, a congressman told Sebelius that she had put Americans' personal financial information at risk.
2 years after US military departure, Iraq asking for new help to battle al-Qaida
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly two years after pushing out the U.S. military, Iraq is asking for more American weapons, training and manpower to help fight a bloody resurgence of al-Qaida that has unleashed a level of violence comparable to the darkest days of the nation's civil war.
The request will be discussed during a White House meeting Friday between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Barack Obama in what Baghdad hopes will be a fresh start in a complicated relationship that has been marked by victories and frustrations for each side.
"We know we have major challenges of our own capabilities being up to the standard. They currently are not," Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We need to gear up, to deal with that threat more seriously. We need support and we need help."
He added: "We have said to the Americans we'd be more than happy to discuss all the options short of boots on the ground."
"Boots on the ground" means military forces. The U.S. withdrew all but a few hundred of its troops from Iraq in December 2011 after Baghdad refused to renew a security agreement to extend legal immunity for Americans forces that would have let more stay.
For Obama, risks and rewards for knowing too much when things go wrong on his watch
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Confronted with missteps in his own administration, President Barack Obama has frequently pleaded ignorance -- suggesting he could not be at fault about things he did not know.
It's an argument with clear benefits but also inherent risks for the White House. Used too often, the tactic emboldens critics who claim the president is incompetent, detached and not fully in control.
Eager to protect Obama's time and concentration, his aides deliberate intensively about what to tell the president, current and former White House officials said. His advisers act as a triage team for an endless flood of information coming into the White House, continually making decisions about which snippets of data Obama might need.
What makes the cut: Information that's likely to require a presidential decision, come up during a public appearance or inform Obama's longer-term thinking, as well as major developments relating to national security or Obama's domestic priorities.
Everything else, including most of the myriad details of how policies and laws are carried out, remains with staff and agencies. If and when things go wrong, as they invariably do in the sprawling federal government, the White House can seek to sidestep uncomfortable questions by saying the issue never rose to the presidential level.
WORLD SERIES WATCH: Fenway electric as Sox try to win title at home for 1st time in 95 years
BOSTON (AP) -- A look at Game 6 of the World Series at Fenway Park on Wednesday night as the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Boston Red Sox:
EARLY ESCAPES: Both starters pitch out of trouble in the second inning.
St. Louis put two on with none out but failed to score. John Lackey threw a two-out wild pitch that pushed the runners to second and third, then struck out Jon Jay.
That left the Cardinals 6 for 36 with runners in scoring position during the Series after setting a franchise record with a .330 mark in those situations during the regular season.
After Palestinian prisoners freed, Israel announces plans for more than 1,500 settlement homes
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel announced plans Wednesday to build more than 1,500 homes in Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, dealing a setback to newly relaunched peace efforts hours after it had freed a group of long-serving Palestinian prisoners.
The construction plans drew angry condemnations from Palestinian officials, who accused Israel of undermining the U.S.-led talks by expanding settlements on the lands where they hope to establish an independent state. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also condemned the Israeli decision, and Washington said it would not create a "positive environment" for the negotiations.
Israel had freed the 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a U.S.-brokered agreement to restart the talks. The construction was meant to blunt anger over the release of the prisoners, all of whom had been convicted of murder in the deaths of Israelis.
Israel's Interior Ministry said 1,500 apartments would be built in Ramat Shlomo, a large settlement in east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city claimed by the Palestinians as their capital. It also announced plans for archaeology and tourism projects near the Old City, home to Jerusalem's most sensitive holy sites.
Israel first announced the Ramat Shlomo plan in 2010 during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, sparking a diplomatic rift with Washington that took months to mend. Wednesday's decision is the final approval needed, and construction can begin immediately, officials said.
Report: NSA secretly broke into Yahoo, Google data center links around world
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
A secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, indicates that NSA sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency's Fort Meade, Md., headquarters. In the last 30 days, field collectors had processed and sent back more than 180 million new records -- ranging from "metadata," which would indicate who sent or received emails and when, to content such as text, audio and video, the Post reported Wednesday on its website.
The latest revelations were met with outrage from Google, and triggered legal questions, including whether the NSA may be violating federal wiretap laws.
"Although there's a diminished standard of legal protection for interception that occurs overseas, the fact that it was directed apparently to Google's cloud and Yahoo's cloud, and that there was no legal order as best we can tell to permit the interception, there is a good argument to make that the NSA has engaged in unlawful surveillance," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center. The reference to 'clouds' refers to sites where the companies collect data.
The new details about the NSA's access to Yahoo and Google data centers around the world come at a time when Congress is reconsidering the government's collection practices and authority, and as European governments are responding angrily to revelations that the NSA collected data on millions of communications in their countries. Details about the government's programs have been trickling out since Snowden shared documents with the Post and Guardian newspaper in June.
2nd mistress testifies at murder trial of former Utah doctor accused of killing his wife
PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Another mistress of a former Utah doctor accused of killing his wife testified Wednesday that he had once described how he could induce a heart attack in someone that would appear natural.
Anna Walthall took the witness stand and said she began a six-month affair with defendant Martin MacNeill in 2005 when he was a consulting doctor at a laser hair removal clinic that she operated.
MacNeill described the heart attack method during "pillow talk," she said.
Walthall quoted MacNeill as saying, "'There's something you can give someone that's natural that's a heart attack that's not detectable after they have a heart attack.'"
No cause of death has been determined for Michele MacNeill.
Buffalo public transit bus driver prevents distraught woman from jumping off highway overpass
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- A bus driver is being hailed as a hero for preventing a woman from jumping off a Buffalo highway overpass.
About 20 McKinley High School students had just stepped aboard Darnell Barton's Metro bus Oct. 18 when he spotted a woman who had climbed over a guardrail and stood leaning over the afternoon traffic zipping along the Scajaquada Expressway below.
With cars and an occasional pedestrian continuing to pass by her, Barton wasn't sure at first that the woman was in distress.
He stopped his bus, opened the door and asked if she needed help, at that moment conflicted between the rules of his job, which required him to call his dispatcher, and his training as a former volunteer firefighter and member of the Buffalo Special Police, which told him that if he made contact, he shouldn't break it.
"It was an interesting situation, knowing what you know and knowing what you have to do," he said by phone Wednesday. "Dispatch picked up. I remember giving my location and saying, 'Send the authorities, this young lady needs help' and then dashing the phone down."
Physics experiment deep in abandoned gold mine fails to find any sign of elusive dark matter
LEAD, S.D. (AP) -- Nearly a mile underground in an abandoned gold mine, one of the most important quests in physics has so far come up empty in the search for the elusive substance known as dark matter, scientists announced Wednesday.
But physicists on the project were upbeat, saying they had developed a new, more sensitive method of searching for the mysterious material that has mass but cannot be seen. They planned to keep looking.
"This is just the opening salvo," said Richard Gaitskell of Brown University, a scientist working on the Large Underground Xenon experiment, or LUX, the most advanced Earth-based search for dark matter. A detector attached to the International Space Station has so far failed to find any dark matter either.
The researchers released their initial findings Wednesday after the experiment's first few months at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, which was built in the former Homestake gold mine in South Dakota's Black Hills.
With more than 4,800 feet of earth helping screen out background radiation, scientists tried to trap dark matter, which they hoped would be revealed in the form of weakly interacting massive particles, nicknamed WIMPS. The search, using the most sensitive equipment in the world, is looking for the light fingerprint of a WIMP bouncing off an atomic nucleus of xenon cooled to minus 150 degrees.