Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Published:

Air Force: 34 missile launch officers implicated in cheating probe, whole ICBM force retested

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a stunning setback for a nuclear missile force already beset by missteps and leadership lapses, the Air Force disclosed on Wednesday that 34 officers entrusted with the world's deadliest weapons have been removed from launch duty for allegedly cheating -- or tolerating cheating by others -- on routine proficiency tests.

The cheating scandal is the latest in a series of Air Force nuclear stumbles documented in recent months by The Associated Press, including deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections, breakdowns in training, and evidence that the men and women who operate the missiles from underground command posts are suffering burnout. In October the commander of the nuclear missile force was fired for engaging in embarrassing behavior, including drunkenness, while leading a U.S. delegation to a nuclear exercise in Russia.

A "profoundly disappointed" Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service's top civilian official, told a hurriedly arranged Pentagon news conference that the alleged cheating at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., was discovered during a previously announced probe of drug possession by 11 officers at several Air Force bases, including two who also are in the nuclear force and suspected of participating in the cheating ring.

"This is absolutely unacceptable behavior," James said of the cheating, which Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said could be the biggest such scandal in the history of the missile force.

A spokesman for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon chief, who just last week visited a nuclear missile base and praised the force for its professionalism, was "deeply troubled" to learn of the cheating allegations. The spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Hagel insisted he be kept apprised of the investigation's progress.

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Deadly Benghazi attack in 2012 was preventable, Senate Intelligence Committee declares

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Both highly critical and bipartisan, a Senate report declared Wednesday that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented. The account spreads blame among the State Department, the military and U.S. intelligence for missing what now seem like obvious warning signs.

For the first time in the much-politicized aftermath, the report also points at Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack. It says that the State Department ended a deal with the military to have a special operations team provide extra security in Libya, and that Stevens twice refused an offer to reinstate the team in the weeks before the Sept. 11, 2012, attack.

The military also takes criticism in the report for failing to respond more quickly on the night of the assault.

On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in the U.S., armed militants stormed the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, setting the building on fire. Stevens, information technology specialist Sean Smith, and CIA security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both former Navy SEALs, were killed over the course of two battles that night.

Stevens died of smoke inhalation after he was taken to a "safe room" in the besieged compound. The Obama administration first described the assault as a spontaneous mob protest of an anti-Islamic, American-made video. Such a protest did occur at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo earlier that day. Republican critics say the administration was reluctant to deal publicly with a terror attack weeks before the presidential election.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:

1. MISSED WARNING SIGNS BEFORE BENGHAZI ATTACK

A bipartisan Senate panel report says the State Department ignored a deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and declined to extend a Defense Department team's mission.

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Video: Firefighters spotted girl before running her over in aftermath of SFC plane crash

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Video from the helmet camera of a firefighter responding to the crash landing of an Asiana Airlines flight in San Francisco shows at least one rescuer was aware someone was on the ground outside the aircraft and even warned a colleague. Yet two fire trucks subsequently ran over an injured passenger.

The video, first aired by CBS News on Tuesday, shows the girl, 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan, lying in the grass before she was struck, according to an attorney for her family. A coroner concluded she was alive at the time and died when she was later hit by a fire truck.

In the video, a firefighter with a helmet camera tells the driver of a fire truck that there's a person in front of him. A fire truck-mounted camera shows a firefighter directing the truck away from the person.

What's not clear from the video is why rescuers didn't try to move or clearly mark the presence of the person on the ground during the chaotic aftermath of the July 6 crash at San Francisco International Airport.

Shortly after the crash, rescue officials confirmed that one of the plane crash victims was run over by a fire truck. Firefighters told investigators they assumed the girl was dead and hurried on toward the damaged aircraft, according to documents released by the NTSB.

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Obama's NSA announcements just the starting point; few changes are likely to happen quickly

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's blueprint for overhauling the government's sweeping surveillance program is just the starting point. The reality is few changes could happen quickly without unlikely agreements from a divided Congress and federal judges.

The most contentious debate probably will be over the future of the National Security Agency's bulk collection of telephone records from millions of Americans. In his highly anticipated speech on Friday, Obama is expected to back the idea of changing the program. But he'll leave the specifics to Congress, according to U.S. officials briefed on the White House review.

That puts key decisions in the hands of lawmakers who are at odds over everything from whether the collections should continue to who should house the data.

Even a widely supported proposal to put an independent privacy advocate in the secretive court that approves spying on Americans is coming under intense scrutiny. Obama has indicated he'll back the proposal, which was one of 46 recommendations he received from a White House-appointed commission. But a senior U.S. district judge declared this week that the advocate role was unnecessary, and other opponents have constitutional concerns about whether the advocate would have standing to appear in court.

The uncertain road ahead raises questions about the practical impact of the surveillance decisions Obama will announce in his speech at the Justice Department. The intelligence community is pressing for the core of the spy programs to be left largely intact, while privacy advocates fear the president's changes may be largely cosmetic.

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Gay marriage rulings in Oklahoma, Utah offer momentum that could lift issue to Supreme Court

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- In less than a month, two federal judges have struck down state bans on gay marriage for the same reason, concluding that they violate the Constitution's promise of equal treatment under the law.

Although that idea has been the heart of the gay marriage debate for years, the decisions in deeply conservative Oklahoma and Utah offer new momentum for litigants pressing the same argument in dozens of other cases across the country. And experts say the rulings could represent an emerging legal consensus that will carry the issue back to the Supreme Court.

The judge who issued Tuesday's decision in Oklahoma "isn't stepping out on his own," said Douglas NeJaime, a professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. "He's doing what a colleague in another court did not long ago."

The more judges who issue such rulings, the more authority other judges feel to render similar decisions, said NeJaime, who expects decisions soon from federal courts in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

An attorney for the plaintiffs in the Oklahoma case said the most important question is whether the Supreme Court agrees to decide the legality of gay marriage bans now or whether the justices bide their time.

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In White House meeting, Obama implores Senate Democrats to hold off on new Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama implored Democratic senators Wednesday to put off new sanctions against Iran that he warned could derail delicate nuclear talks. Regrouping at the start of a busy election year, Obama also encouraged Democrats to coalesce behind a proposed minimum wage hike as a cornerstone of the party's economic message to voters.

An evening session in the East Room of the White House offered Obama an opportunity to deliver a message privately and in person that his administration has been making publicly for weeks: Give budding negotiations with Tehran time to play out before turning the screw further. A six-month deal between Iran and world powers takes effect next week, but prominent senators in both parties have balked at the deal and want even tougher sanctions.

"The president did speak passionately about how we have to seize this opportunity," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said. "If Iran isn't willing in the end to make the decisions that are necessary to make it work, he'll be ready to sign the bill to tighten those sanctions. But we've got to give this six months."

Two senators who attended the meeting said Democrats present seemed receptive to Obama's appeal -- even some hawkish Democrats who have vocally advocated for moving ahead with new sanctions. That sentiment reflected a growing sense on Capitol Hill that lawmakers will likely take a wait-and-see approach before putting new sanctions into effect.

Wednesday's meeting came as Obama is seeking to set a positive tone for 2014, in which Senate Democrats will be fighting to retain their fragile majority despite concerns that Obama's low approval ratings and his health care law may weigh them down. Obama apologized that the calamitous roll-out of the HealthCare.gov website has inflicted political damage on Democrats, but urged senators to focus on the millions of Americans who are gaining health care under the law, senators said.

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Family of NM school shooting suspect offers prayers, condolences over 'awful tragedy'

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) -- The 12-year-old boy who opened fire on a crowd of students in a New Mexico middle school gym had planned the attack and warned some classmates to stay away moments before the gunfire rang out, investigators said Wednesday.

State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said it appeared the victims in Tuesday's shooting at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell -- an 11-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl -- were chosen randomly.

The shotgun used by the boy came from his family's home, and he had three rounds of ammunition, Kassetas said at a news conference.

"All three rounds were expended during the incident," the police chief said. "There was no indication that he had any ammunition other than what was loaded in the gun."

He declined to speculate on a motive.

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Country singer Trace Adkins enters alcohol rehab, cancels remainder of cruise appearances

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Country singer Trace Adkins has entered alcohol rehab.

Adkins' publicist tells Country Weekly and confirms to The Associated Press on Wednesday that the singer entered rehab after consuming alcohol during the Country Cruising cruise.

The 52-year-old "Celebrity Apprentice" winner has canceled the remainder of his performances during the weeklong cruise that wraps up Sunday after stops in Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Mexico.

There were no other details available. An email to Norwegian Cruise Lines seeking information was not immediately returned.

Wynonna, Montgomery Gentry and Love and Theft were among the other acts performing aboard the NCL Pearl with Adkins.

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Australian Open organizers implement Extreme Heat Policy, matches suspended

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Some matches were suspended Thursday at the Australian Open, with organizers implementing the Extreme Heat Policy when the temperature reached 42 Celsius (108 Fahrenheit).

Matches on the outer courts were stopped at the end of sets that were in progress when the heat rules went into effect. Matches in progress on the show courts continued, with the retractable roofs on Rod Laver and Hisense arenas to be closed at the completion of ongoing sets.

Australian Open organizers invoked part of the special conditions before play began, allowing women's matches to have an extended break after the second set and players to wear ice vests during changeovers.

Temperatures were forecast to reach 44 Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) at Melbourne Park on Thursday.

No. 25 Alize Cornet of France sobbed on court after her draining 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Italian Camila Giorgi, which lasted 2 1/2 hours.