---- — 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, reluctant to deal publicly with a terror attack weeks before the presidential election, 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.
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.
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.
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.
House passes $1.1T election-year budget with scant tea party protests as Senate waits its turn
WASHINGTON (AP) — A $1.1 trillion spending bill for operating the government until just before next fall's election steamed through the battle-weary House on Wednesday over tepid protests from tea party conservatives, driven by a bipartisan desire to restore painful cuts in domestic and defense programs and show disaffected voters that Congress can do its job.
The bill swept through the House on a 359-67 vote and was on track for a big Senate vote by week's end. Republicans voted for the bill by a 2 1/2-1 margin, and just three Democrats were opposed.
The measure funds virtually every agency of government and contains compromises on almost every one of its 1,582 pages. It covers the one-third of government spending subject to annual decisions by Congress and the White House, programs that have absorbed the brunt of budget cuts racked up since Republicans reclaimed control of the House three years ago.
Excluded are the giant benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps that run on autopilot and are increasingly driving the government deeper into debt.
Tea party Republicans, chastened after sparking a 16-day partial shutdown of the government in October in a kamikaze attempt to derail President Barack Obama's health care law, appeared resigned to the bill.
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.
Egypt's Christian minority find new confidence, rally votes for constitution
AZIYAH, Egypt (AP) — Hymns echoing from the new church in this village in Egypt's southern heartland could be heard well after sundown Wednesday, a reminder of the jubilant mood as Aziyah's Christian residents vote on a new constitution.
Outside in the dusty streets, volunteers hurriedly arranged for buses to transport voters to polling stations before they closed. In past elections, Islamists used fear or intimidation to stop Christians from voting against them.
This time around, Aziyah's Christians faced no obstacles on their way to the ballot box.
"I cast my ballot as I pleased. I am not afraid of anybody," said Heba Girgis, a Christian resident of the nearby village of Sanabu, who said she was harassed and prevented from casting a vote against the 2012 Islamist-backed constitution. "Last time I wanted to say no. I waited in line for two hours before the judge closed the station."
"This time we said yes and our opinion matters," Girgis added as she walked home with a friend after casting her vote. "This is for our children, for all those who died and suffered. Our word now carries weight."
Not just winging it: Birds in V formation choreograph flapping to save energy, study suggests
NEW YORK (AP) — The next time you see birds flying in a V, consider this: A new study says they choreograph the flapping of their wings with exquisite precision to help them on their way.
That's what scientists concluded after tracking a group of large black birds — each equipped with a tiny GPS device — that had been trained to follow an ultralight aircraft. One expert in animal flight said just gathering the data, which included every wing flap, was a remarkable accomplishment.
Scientists have long theorized that many birds like these rare northern bald ibises adopt a V formation for aerodynamic reasons.
When a bird flies, it leaves a wake. The idea is that another bird can get a boost from an updraft of air in that wake by flying behind the first bird and off to the side. When a bunch of birds use this trick, they form a V.
It's been difficult to study this in the wild, but researchers from the University of London's Royal Veterinary College and elsewhere met that challenge by partnering with a conservation program that is trying to reintroduce the endangered wading bird in Europe.
Weighing more doesn't boost survival for diabetics; study refutes 'obesity paradox' idea
The "obesity paradox" — the controversial notion that being overweight might actually be healthier for some people with diabetes — seems to be a myth, researchers report. A major study finds there's no survival advantage to being large, and a disadvantage to being very large.
More than 24 million Americans have diabetes, mostly Type 2, the kind that is on the rise because of obesity. About two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, including one-third who are obese.
Weighing too much increases the chances of heart disease, cancer and premature death. But some small studies have suggested this might not be true for everyone, and that Type 2 diabetics might even benefit from a few extra pounds — a "metabolic reserve" to help get them through sickness.
The new research — which looked at deaths according to how much people weighed when they were diagnosed with diabetes — dispels that idea.
"We didn't see this protective effect at all," said one study leader, Diedre Tobias of the Harvard School of Public Health. "The lowest risk was seen in the normal-weight category."
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.