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Associated Press

Posted on February 22, 2013 at 9:02 PM

Updated Saturday, Feb 23 at 2:00 AM

US-NIGER

US troops in Niger to set up drone base

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two U.S. defense officials say American troops deployed to Niger (nee-ZHEHR') will be setting up a base for unarmed surveillance drones.

Earlier Friday President Barack Obama announced in a letter to Congress that about 100 U.S. troops had been sent to the African nation.

He said the forces "will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region."

French troops have been fighting Islamic militants in Mali, which neighbors Niger.

One of the U.S. defense officials says the American troops would fly drones and other surveillance platforms from Niger military airstrips, tracking militant and refugee movement inside Mali and around the border.

The drones at the Niger base will be unarmed and used for surveillance, not airstrikes. Still, the development of a base in Niger raises the possibility that it could eventually be used for launching strikes.

Africa is increasingly a focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

LIBYA ATTACK-POLITICS

White House to give senators Benghazi documents

WASHINGTON (AP) — A congressional aide says the White House has agreed to give the Senate Intelligence Committee documents related to the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Republicans had demanded the documents as a condition of voting on the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director.

The congressional aide says the documents include emails between top national security officials showing the debate within the administration over how to describe the attack and other documents the committee had been asking for.

The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

MCCAIN-HAGEL

McCain: Hagel likely to be confirmed for Pentagon

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Sen. John McCain says he expects former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be confirmed as U.S. secretary of defense. McCain says he will support Hagel in the new role despite McCain's harsh criticism of his former colleague.

McCain told reporters during a trip to Mexico that Hagel had been hurt by a confirmation battle, but said that he and Senate colleagues could support Hagel in his work as defense secretary. Barring any surprises, Hagel is expected to be confirmed next week.

"I think he will have been weakened, but having said that, the job that he has is too important," McCain said. "I know that I and my other colleagues, if he's confirmed, and he very likely will be, will do everything we can to work with him."

FIGHTER JET GROUNDED

F-35 fleet grounded after engine crack found

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon says it has grounded its entire fleet of F-35 fighter jets after discovering a cracked engine blade.

The problem was discovered during what the Pentagon called a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., of an Air Force version of the F-35. Other versions of the F-35 are flown by the Navy and the Marine Corps. All versions were grounded Friday.

The F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program at a total estimated cost of nearly $400 billion.

The suspension of flight operations will remain in effect until an investigation of the problem's root cause is determined.

The Pentagon said the engine in which the problem was discovered is being shipped to a Pratt & Whitney facility in Connecticut for more thorough evaluation.

MICROSOFT OUTAGE

UPDATE: Microsoft lapse cause outages in Azure service

REDMOND, Wash. (AP) —Microsoft has unwittingly let an online security certificate expire, triggering a worldwide outage in an online service that stores data for a wide range of business customers.

The sloppy housekeeping represents an embarrassing lapse for Microsoft as the software maker tries to bring in more revenue from the storage service, which is called Azure.

The expired certificate is needed to properly run online services such as Azure which use an "https" protocol to block unauthorized users from accessing information.

Microsoft's failure to renew the security certificate apparently caused the Azure service to go down shortly before 4 p.m. EST Friday. The breakdown prevented Azure customers from accessing files kept in Microsoft's data centers.

The service still hadn't been fully restored, according to a post on Microsoft's website.

Azure's failure illuminates the pitfalls of storing important information in remote data centers. Online storage, often called "cloud computing," is growing in appeal because it allows workers to pull up data, wherever they are, to an Internet-connected device.

MICROSOFT-HACKED

Microsoft joins list of companies recently hacked

REDMOND, Wash. (AP) — Microsoft has joined the list of prominent technology companies confirming they have been hit by a recent computer hacking attack.

In a blog posting Friday, Microsoft said it had found no evidence that any customer data had been heisted.

Microsoft Corp. gave few other details about the break-in, except to say that was it similar to a hacking attack that online social networking leader Facebook Inc. disclosed last week. Facebook had said its investigation had discovered other companies had been hacked, but didn't identify the other victims.

Like Facebook, Microsoft says it is still investigating how malicious software was planted on what it said were a small number of its computers.

Online messaging service Twitter also recently disclosed that hackers may have stolen information about 250,000 of its users.

HANFORD LEAK

Oregon senator to ask for GAO probe of Hanford

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — A spokesman for Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden says the senator will ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate a monitoring and maintenance program for underground waste tanks at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site.

The request follows news Friday that six tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are leaking.

Wyden toured the site Tuesday after it was announced last week that one tank was leaking. His spokesman, Tom Towslee, said Friday that the senator would seek the investigation following the announcement of more leaking tanks.

Wyden is the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He has said he'll seek a commitment during confirmation hearings for the next energy secretary that all radioactive waste at Hanford will be cleaned up.

BUDGET-BATTLE IMPACT

Administration warns of impact of broad budget cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Widespread flight delays and shuttered airports, off-limit seashores and unprotected parks. Those are just part of the grim picture emerging from the White House ahead of automatic federal spending cuts due to begin March 1.

The Obama administration is painting a dire portrait of the many ways the public will feel the effects of the cuts as it counts down the days until the government is forced to trim $85 billion in domestic and defense spending with hardly any leeway to save some programs from the budget knife.

In detailing the costs of the cuts, President Barack Obama is seeking to raise the public's awareness while also applying pressure on congressional Republicans who oppose his blend of targeted savings and tax increases to tackle federal deficits.

SHELL-ARCTIC DRILLING

Coast Guard finds 16 violations on Shell ship

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Coast Guard has turned its investigation of violations on an Arctic drill ship over to the Department of Justice.

The Coast Guard found 16 violations on the ship Noble Discoverer after it completed drilling this summer in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northern coast. The vessel is operated by Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Among the violations were propulsion problems with the ship and fire hazards. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts detailed the violations Friday, which were first reported by the Anchorage Daily News.

A Shell spokesman says many of the issues have been addressed but the ship is being sent to Asia for further inspection.

Shell's other Arctic ship will also be sent to Asia after it grounded on New Year's Eve near Alaska's Kodiak Island.

CANADA-ARGO SLIGHT

Canada ambassador says he feels slighted by "Argo"

TORONTO (AP) — Canada's former ambassador in Iran, who protected Americans at great personal risk during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, says if "Argo" wins the Oscar for best picture on Sunday there would be something wrong with director Ben Affleck if he didn't mention Canada.

Ken Taylor said Friday he continues to feel slighted by a movie that he says makes Canada look like a meek observer to CIA heroics in the rescue of six U.S. citizens caught in the crisis. He says there would be no movie if the Canadian embassy didn't take in the Americans.

Taylor says if Affleck doesn't say something in his acceptance speech "then it's a further reflection" on him.

Affleck's CIA thriller "Argo" is widely expected to take home the best-picture trophy on Sunday.

AMERICANS ON EVEREST-ANNIVERSARY

Members of 1st U.S team to top Everest reunite

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Surviving members of the first American expedition to reach the top of Mt. Everest are in the San Francisco Bay area for a meeting honoring the 50th anniversary of their achievement.

The American Alpine Club is hosting events this weekend with four of the men whose historic trek in May 1963 was recognized by President John F. Kennedy and helped popularize mountaineering in the U.S.

Jim Whittaker was the first American to summit Everest. The 84-year-old Seattle man says his memories of facing the possibility of death there made him appreciate every day of his life since.

Joining Whittaker for the reunion are expedition organizer Norm Dyhrenfurth, climber Tom Hornbein, who forged a new route up Everest during the trip, and Dave Dingman, the expedition's doctor.

MICHELLE OBAMA

First lady jokes about hosting 'Tonight Show'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama says she's eyeing another job in 2016 and, contrary to speculation, it doesn't involve running for public office.

During her first appearance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," the host asked her Friday to consider a Michelle-Hillary ticket for president in 2016. The latter is former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who lost the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to Mrs. Obama's husband. Speculation is rampant that Clinton will run again in 2016.

The first lady replies that she's thinking about "putting my hat in the ring" for the "Tonight Show" when host Jay Leno retires.

Fallon says he has his hat in the ring, too. But when Mrs. Obama asks for his opinion, he suggests he won't challenge her. Says Fallon: "I'm done thinking about it."

Mrs. Obama danced with Fallon, who was dressed like a woman, as she promoted her fitness campaign.

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