White House widens covert war in North Africa, but task force too new to save US ambassador
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Small teams of special operations forces arrived at American embassies throughout North Africa in the months before militants launched the fiery attack that killed the U.S. ambassador in Libya. The soldiers' mission: Set up a network that could quickly strike a terrorist target or rescue a hostage.
But the teams had yet to do much counterterrorism work in Libya, though the White House signed off a year ago on the plan to build the new military task force in the region and the advance teams had been there for six months, according to three U.S. counterterror officials and a former intelligence official. All spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the strategy publicly.
The counterterror effort indicates that the administration has been worried for some time about a growing threat posed by al-Qaida and its offshoots in North Africa. But officials say the military organization was too new to respond to the attack in Benghazi, where the administration now believes armed al-Qaida-linked militants surrounded the lightly guarded U.S. compound, set it on fire and killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Republicans have questioned whether the Obama administration has been hiding key information or hasn't known what happened in the immediate aftermath of the attack. They are using those questions in the final weeks before the U.S. elections as an opportunity to assail President Barack Obama on foreign policy, an area where he has held clear leads in opinion polls since the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.
On Tuesday, leaders of a congressional committee said requests for added security at the consulate in Benghazi were repeatedly denied, despite a string of less deadly terror attacks on the consulate in recent months. Those included an explosion that blew a hole in the security perimeter and another incident in which an explosive device was tossed over the consulate fence. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Congress in a letter responding to the accusations that she has set up a group to investigate the Benghazi attack, and it is to begin work this week.
As post-9/11 program grew, info on Americans, not terrorists was collected; Price tag huge
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A multibillion-dollar information-sharing program created in the aftermath of 9/11 has improperly collected information about innocent Americans and produced little valuable intelligence on terrorism, a Senate report concludes. It portrays an effort that ballooned far beyond anyone's ability to control.
What began as an attempt to put local, state and federal officials in the same room analyzing the same intelligence has instead cost huge amounts of money for data-mining software, flat screen televisions and, in Arizona, two fully equipped Chevrolet Tahoes that are used for commuting, investigators found.
The lengthy, bipartisan report is a scathing evaluation of what the Department of Homeland Security has held up as a crown jewel of its security efforts. The report underscores a reality of post-9/11 Washington: National security programs tend to grow, never shrink, even when their money and manpower far surpass the actual subject of terrorism. Much of this money went for ordinary local crime-fighting.
Disagreeing with the critical conclusions of the report, Homeland Security says it is outdated, inaccurate and too focused on information produced by the program, ignoring benefits to local governments from their involvement with federal intelligence officials.
Because of a convoluted grants process set up by Congress, Homeland Security officials don't know how much they have spent in their decade-long effort to set up so-called fusion centers in every state. Government estimates range from less than $300 million to $1.4 billion in federal money, plus much more invested by state and local governments. Federal funding is pegged at about 20 percent to 30 percent.
10 Things to Know for Wednesday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:
1. HOW THE U.S. IS FIGHTING TERRORISM IN NORTH AFRICA
Special ops forces are at U.S. embassies throughout the region, officials reveal, but the strategy was too new to avert the killing of the ambassador in Libya.
Adam Greenberg gets 2nd chance in majors after being hit by pitch as a rookie, strikes out
MIAMI (AP) -- The roaring crowd rose as one when Adam Greenberg walked to the plate for the first time in seven years, and Marlins teammates leaning over the dugout railing joined the applause.
Three strikes later, they were cheering still. Greenberg's second chance in the major leagues went a lot better than the first one, even though he struck out.
"It was magical," he said. "The energy in the stadium was something I never experienced, and I don't know if I will ever experience it again. You could just feel the genuine support. It was awesome."
Beaned by the first pitch he saw in the majors in 2005, Greenberg made a comeback Tuesday night and fanned on three pitches as a pinch-hitter for Miami. The Marlins won 4-3 in 11 innings.
Greenberg signed a one-day contract before the game and led off the sixth inning against New York Mets 20-game winner R.A. Dickey, who threw him three consecutive knuckleballs. Greenberg took the first for a strike, then swung at the next two and missed.
Lebanese official: Hezbollah commander, fighters killed in Syria
BEIRUT (AP) -- A Hezbollah commander and several fighters have been killed inside Syria, a Lebanese security official said Tuesday, a development that could stoke already soaring tensions over the Lebanese militant group's role in the civil war next door.
Hezbollah's reputation has taken a beating over its support for the Syrian regime, but any sign that the group's fighters are taking part in the battle raises fears that the conflict could expand into a wider fight engulfing the region.
Hezbollah has stood by Syrian President Bashar Assad since the uprising began 18 months ago, even after the group supported revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain.
Assad's fall would be a dire scenario for Hezbollah. Any new regime led by Syria's majority Sunni Muslims would likely be far less friendly -- or even outright hostile -- to Shiite Muslim Hezbollah. Iran remains the group's most important patron, but Syria is a crucial supply route. Without it, Hezbollah will struggle to get money and weapons as easily.
The Syrian uprising has left Assad deeply isolated -- making his remaining allies such as Iran and Russia all the more important. At last week's gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, dozens of nations excoriated the Assad regime for its role in a conflict that activists estimate has killed at least 30,000 Syrians.
Transplants to Colorado turn the state politically competitive after long conservative history
DENVER (AP) -- Not too long ago Colorado was political flyover country, known for skiing and football -- and being a reliable vote for the Republican presidential candidate.
In the past three elections, it's become a focus of national politics. This year, Colorado is a hotly contested battleground in the race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, and it hosts the first debate between them Wednesday night in Denver, a city that is the third-busiest political ad market in the country.
In 2010, the U.S. Senate campaign in Colorado was the most expensive of that cycle. And in 2008, Obama put the state firmly on the political map by accepting his party's presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention here.
So what has changed over the years? People like Kelly Kuehl moved here.
Kuehl relocated to Denver for a job as a speech therapist after getting her master's degree in speech language pathology in Minnesota in 2005. She also came here to enjoy the mountains, skiing and outdoor activities that have lured an increasing number of college graduates over the past few decades. Once a supporter of President George W. Bush, she's become a solid Democratic vote.
In reversal, New Zealand bars Mike Tyson as Downunder tour plans threaten to fall apart
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- In a reversal, New Zealand authorities on Wednesday barred Mike Tyson from entering the country whose indigenous Maori people Tyson says inspired his facial tattoo.
And a Downunder speaking tour for the former heavyweight boxing champion was threatening to fall apart altogether as Australian immigration authorities said they've yet to decide whether to allow him into that country. Tickets for appearances in New Zealand and five major Australian cities in November are still being promoted by a Sydney agency.
Tyson's 1992 rape conviction would normally prevent his entry in New Zealand and could be grounds for denial in Australia as well. He had been granted an exemption for New Zealand before that visa was cancelled Wednesday, days after the prime minister spoke out against the visit.
Tyson was to speak at a November event in Auckland, the "Day of the Champions," which is being promoted by Sydney agency Markson Sparks!
New Zealand's Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson said she'd initially granted entry because a children's health charity would get some of the proceeds from Tyson's speech. She said in a statement her decision was "a finely balanced call" but that the charity that would have benefited, the Life Education Trust, withdrew its support Tuesday.
Ready for the big debate: Romney says he might cut tax deductions as part of economic plan
DENVER (AP) -- Offering tax reform ideas before his first debate with President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney says he might be willing to reduce income tax deductions used by millions of families for home mortgage interest and health care costs
Romney suggested the changes could be part of a plan that includes a 20 percent cut in tax rates across the board, continuation of upper income tax cuts that Obama wants to end and a comprehensive tax overhaul plan that the Republican presidential contender has so far declined to flesh out in detail. Romney says his overall plans would invigorate the slowly recovering U.S. economy.
Both Romney and Obama spent Tuesday mostly in private, preparing for the debate, the president in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas, Romney already in Denver where the faceoff will take place Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT. Neither held public campaign events, but Obama took a break from preparation to visit nearby Hoover Dam, and Romney picked up lunch at a Chipotle Mexican Grill near his hotel.
In an interview Monday night with Denver TV station KDVR, Romney said, "As an option you could say everybody's going to get up to a $17,000 deduction. And you could use your charitable deduction, your home mortgage deduction, or others -- your health care deduction, and you can fill that bucket, if you will, that $17,000 bucket that way. And higher income people might have a lower number."
A Romney adviser said changes in other areas -- a taxpayer's personal exemption and the deduction or credit for health care -- would also be taken into account if deductions were limited as Romney suggested. Combining changes to those two areas with the limit on deductions would maintain Romney's goal of keeping tax burdens the same for wealthy and middle income taxpayers, the adviser said. Under such a proposal, some taxpayers' deductions could remain unchanged.
Pa. judge blocks photo ID rule for Election Day voters in presidential battleground state
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Pennsylvania voters won't have to show photo identification to cast ballots on Election Day, a judge said Tuesday in a ruling on the state's controversial voter ID law that could help President Barack Obama in a presidential battleground state.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson delayed Pennsylvania's voter ID requirement from taking effect this election, saying he wasn't sure the state had made it possible for voters to easily get IDs before Nov. 6.
"I am still not convinced ... that there will be no voter disenfranchisement" if the law took effect immediately, Simpson wrote.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who had championed the law, said he was leaning against an appeal of the decision, which was widely viewed to favor Obama in Pennsylvania, one of the nation's biggest Electoral College prizes. Obama has been leading in recent polls over Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Pennsylvania's 6-month-old law, among the nation's toughest, has sparked a debate over voting rights ahead of the presidential election. About a dozen primarily Republican-controlled states have toughened voter ID laws since the 2008 presidential election. But states with the toughest rules going into effect -- including Kansas and Tennessee -- aren't battleground states, making their impact on the presidential election unclear.
AP Exclusive: US Embassy car was likely targeted in Mexico attack on CIA officers
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- A senior U.S. official says there is strong circumstantial evidence that Mexican federal police who fired on a U.S. Embassy vehicle, wounding two CIA officers, were working for organized crime in a targeted assassination attempt.
Meanwhile, a Mexican official with knowledge of the case confirmed on Tuesday that prosecutors are investigating whether the Beltran Leyva Cartel was behind the Aug. 24 ambush.
The Mexican official said that is among several lines of investigation into the shooting of an armored SUV that was clearly marked with diplomatic license plates on a rural road near Cuernavaca south of Mexico City. Federal police, at times battered by allegations of infiltration and corruption by drug cartels, have said the shooting was a case of mistaken identity as officers were looking into the kidnapping of a government employee in that area.
"That's not a 'We're trying to shake down a couple people for a traffic violation sort of operation. That's a 'We are specifically trying to kill the people in this vehicle'," a U.S. official familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press. "This is not a 'Whoops, we got the wrong people.' "
Photos of the gray Toyota SUV, a model known to be used by Drug Enforcement Administration agents and other U.S. Embassy employees working in Mexico, showed it riddled with heavy gunfire. The U.S. Embassy called the attack an "ambush."