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.
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.
Romney sparks new flashpoint with Obama on immigration before their first debate Wednesday
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican White House candidate Mitt Romney is offering new ideas on the controversial issues of taxes and immigration, sparking a fresh flashpoint with President Barack Obama before their inaugural debate Wednesday.
In interviews, the GOP nominee suggested an option of limiting deductions to pay for his across-the-board income tax cut and revealed that he would honor temporary permission the Obama administration granted to young illegal immigrants to allow them to stay in the country.
The candidates stepped off the campaign trail Tuesday for debate practice and left their running mates to rally voters in swing states. The Romney campaign pounced after Vice President Joe Biden told a North Carolina audience that the middle class has "been buried the last four years."
Romney posted on Twitter that he agrees with Biden. "The middle class has been buried the last 4 years, which is why we need a change in November." The campaign also scheduled a conference call with former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu to criticize Biden's comments.
Biden told about 1,000 people in Charlotte: "This is deadly earnest. How they can justify, how can they justify raising taxes on a middle class that has been buried the last four years? How in Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?"
Gangs of New York: NYPD monitoring Facebook to fight gang violence; threats and dares abound
NEW YORK (AP) — Police investigating two gangs called the Very Cripsy Gangsters and the Rockstarz didn't need to spend all their time pounding the pavement for leads. Instead, they fired up their computers and followed the trash talk on Facebook.
"Rockstarz up 3-0," one suspect boasted — a reference to the body count from a bloody turf war between the Brooklyn gangs that ultimately resulted in 49 arrests last month.
Authorities in New York say a new generation of gang members is increasingly using social media to boast of their exploits and issue taunts and challenges that result in violence. And police and prosecutors have responded over the past several years by closely monitoring Facebook and other sites for leads and evidence.
On Tuesday, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced plans to beef up the NYPD's cyber crackdown by expanding the use of aggressive online investigative tactics and doubling the size of the department's gang unit to 300 investigators.
The reinforcements will focus less on established gangs like the Bloods and Crips and more on loosely knit groups of teenagers who stake out a certain block or section of a housing project as their turf and exact vengeance on those who trespass or fail to show the proper respect.
Los Angeles City Council votes to repeal ban dealing with medical marijuana dispensaries
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles City Council reversed course Tuesday and repealed a ban on pot shops that it passed just two months ago to shutter hundreds of medical marijuana storefronts.
Council members voted 11-2 to negate its July decision to rid the nation's second-largest city of pot dispensaries. The repeal came after opponents gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot seeking to undo the ban.
Many cities have struggled with medical marijuana ordinances, but none has had a bigger problem than Los Angeles, where pot shops have proliferated.
Though dispensary owners can now remain open without fear of local authorities, they still run the risk of getting shut down by federal authorities who last week started targeting stores in Los Angeles they said were raking in huge sums of money and attracting crime. Pot remains illegal under federal law.
"What weighs heavy in my mind is that no matter what we do, the federal government will still come in and shut them down," said Councilman Ed Reyes, who voted for the ban in July. "It's a very confusing time for everyone. Those who chose to continue to open up for the right reasons are at risk and those who are doing it out of gamesmanship, out of opportunism, out of profit at the cost of our lives and the public safety in our communities will also be at risk."
AP Exclusive: US Embassy car was 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 on a targeted assassination attempt.
Meanwhile, a Mexican official with knowledge of the case on the Aug. 24 ambush confirmed on Tuesday that prosecutors are investigating whether the Beltran Leyva Cartel was behind the attack.
The Mexican official said that is among several lines of investigation into the shooting up 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."
Georgian president concedes his party lost, sets up confrontation with victorious opposition
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Defying expectations, President Mikhail Saakashvili conceded Tuesday that his party had lost Georgia's parliamentary election and his opponent had the right to become prime minister, setting the stage for political turmoil in the final year of his presidency.
The new Georgian government will be led by billionaire businessman and philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia and until recently was little known to the 4.5 million people in his homeland on the Black Sea.
In one notable accomplishment, it was the first time in Georgia's post-Soviet history that the government changed by the ballot box rather than through revolution. Saakashvili came to power through the peaceful Rose Revolution after a rigged parliamentary vote in 2003.
By conceding defeat even before the results of Monday's election were released, the 44-year-old Saakashvili defied the opposition's expectations that he would cling to power at all costs and preserved his legacy as a pro-Western leader who brought democracy to the former Soviet republic.
He also prevented potential violence on the emotionally charged streets of the capital, Tbilisi, where support for the opposition Georgian Dream coalition is strongest. Opposition supporters began celebrating as soon as the polls closed, and the mood could have turned ugly very quickly if they thought they were being deprived of a victory.
Border Patrol agent shot and killed while on patrol in Arizona, another agent wounded
NACO, Ariz. (AP) — A Border Patrol agent was shot to death Tuesday in Arizona near the U.S.-Mexico line, the first fatal shooting of an agent since a deadly 2010 firefight with Mexican bandits that spawned congressional probes of a botched government gun-smuggling investigation.
The agent, Nicholas Ivie, 30, and a colleague were on patrol in the desert near Naco, Ariz., about 100 miles from Tucson, when shooting broke out shortly before 2 a.m., the Border Patrol said. The second agent was shot in the ankle and buttocks, and was reported to be in stable condition Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities have not identified the agent who was wounded, nor did they say whether any weapons were seized at the site of the shooting.
At a news conference in Naco, an FBI official said the agency still was processing the crime scene and it might take several days to complete. The FBI and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, which is also investigating, declined to say whether investigators have recovered guns or bullet casings.
No arrests have been made, but authorities suspect that more than one person fired at the agents.
Pope's butler says he's innocent of theft, but guilty of betraying pope he loved like a father
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI's onetime butler declared Tuesday he was innocent of a charge of aggravated theft of the pope's private correspondence, but acknowledged he photocopied the papers and said he feels guilty that he betrayed the trust of the pontiff he loves like a father.
Paolo Gabriele took the stand Tuesday in a Vatican courtroom to defend himself against accusations of his role in one of the most damaging scandals of Benedict's pontificate. Prosecutors say Gabriele stole the pope's letters and documents alleging power struggles and corruption inside the Vatican and leaked them to a journalist in an unprecedented papal security breach.
Gabriele faces four years in prison if he is found guilty, although most Vatican watchers expect he will receive a papal pardon if he is convicted.
During Tuesday's hearing, Gabriele's attorney complained that her client spent his first 20 days in Vatican detention in a room so small he couldn't stretch his arms out and with lights kept on 24 hours a day. Vatican police swiftly defended their treatment of Gabriele, but the Vatican prosecutor opened an investigation regardless.
Prosecutors have said Gabriele, 46, has confessed to leaking copies of the documents to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, because he wanted to expose the "evil and corruption" in the church. They quoted him as saying in a June 5 interrogation that even though he knew taking the documents was wrong, he felt inspired by the Holy Spirit "to bring the church back on the right track."
Record number of gays seek seats in Congress, sexual orientation not big issue in their races
NEW YORK (AP) — Of the four openly gay members of Congress, the two longest-serving stalwarts are vacating their seats. Instead of fretting, their activist admirers are excited about a record number of gays vying to win seats in the next Congress — and to make history in the process.
When the oaths of office are taken in January, Congress could have its first openly gay Asian-American, Mark Takano of California; its first openly bisexual member, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona; and its first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
In all, eight openly gay candidates are running as major-party nominees for the House of Representatives, the most ever, including the two incumbents who are favored in their races — Democrats Jared Polis of Colorado and David Cicilline of Rhode Island. There's one gay Republican in the group, Richard Tisei, who is waging a competitive campaign for a House seat from Massachusetts.
A common denominator in all the races: Neither the gay candidates nor their rivals are stressing sexual orientation, and the oft-heard refrain is, "It's not an issue." If anti-gay innuendo does surface from lower echelons of a campaign, there are swift disavowals — even conservative candidates these days think twice about being depicted as biased against gays and lesbians.
"People know that bigotry is bad politics," said Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who is trying to oust one-term Republican Nan Hayworth from New York's 18th District in the Hudson Valley.