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Associated Press

Posted on January 30, 2014 at 11:02 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 31 at 8:00 AM

AP Exclusive: Doctors described gunman before shootings as 'clear and focused,' denied stress

WASHINGTON (AP) — The gunman who killed 12 people in last year's rampage at Washington's Navy Yard lied so convincingly to Veterans Affairs doctors before the shootings that they concluded he had no mental health issues despite serious problems and encounters with police during the same period, according to a review by The Associated Press of his confidential medical files.

Just weeks before the shootings, a doctor treating him for insomnia noted that the patient worked for the Defense Department but wrote hauntingly "no problem there."

The AP obtained more than 100 pages of treatment and disability claims evaluation records for Aaron Alexis, spanning more than two years. They show Alexis complaining of minor physical ailments, including foot and knee injuries, slight hearing loss and later insomnia, but resolutely denying any mental health issues. He directly denied having suicidal or homicidal thoughts when government doctors asked him about it just three weeks before the shootings.

In a bizarre incident in Newport, R.I., Alexis told police on Aug. 7 that disembodied voices were harassing him at his hotel using a microwave machine to prevent him from sleeping. After police reported the incident to the Navy, his employer, a defense contracting company, pulled his access to classified material for two days after his mental health problems became evident but restored it quickly and never told Navy officials it had done so.

Just 16 days later, after Alexis told a VA emergency room doctor in Providence that he couldn't sleep, the doctor wrote that his speech and thoughts seemed "clear and focused" and noted that he "denies flashbacks, denies recent stress."

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Police find Knox's ex-boyfriend in hotel near border with Slovenia, Austria; take passport

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Police have found Amanda Knox's ex-boyfriend near Italy's border with Slovenia and Austria after he and the American student were convicted for a second time in the death of British student Meredith Kercher.

Raffaele Sollecito's lawyer, Luca Maori, said his client voluntarily went to police on Friday and that he was in the area of Italy's northeastern border because that's where his current girlfriend lives.

However, the cabinet chief of the Udine police station, Giovanni Belmonte, said police showed up at about 1 a.m. Friday at the hotel in Venzone, about 40 kilometers from the border, where Sollecito and the girlfriend were staying.

They took him to the Udine police station, took his passport and put a stamp in his Italian identity papers showing that he cannot leave the country, as mandated by the appeals court in Florence.

Since the court didn't order Sollecito be detained, he will be freed as soon as the paperwork is completed, Belmonte said. He said Sollecito was calm and came willingly to the station, with his girlfriend driving behind.

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Emotion but no surprise for victims as US prosecutors seek execution of marathon bomb suspect

BOSTON (AP) — The announcement by federal prosecutors that they will seek the death penalty against the man accused in the Boston Marathon bombing came as no surprise to people who lost limbs or suffered other injuries in last year's attack.

But the victims and their families expressed a range of emotions about the decision Thursday to seek the execution of a 20-year-old man prosecutors accuse of committing one of the worst terror attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2011.

"It shows people that if you are going to terrorize our country, you are going to pay with your life," said Marc Fucarile, of Stoneham, who lost his right leg above the knee and suffered other severe injuries in the bombing.

But the grandmother of a 29-year-old woman killed in the attack said she isn't sure she supports the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, yet she fears that prison wouldn't be enough punishment for him.

"I don't know, because it's not going to bring her back," said Lillian Campbell, grandmother of Krystle Campbell. "I don't even like to discuss it because it makes me so upset. She was my granddaughter and I miss her so much.

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Syrian negotiators meet, wrapping up weeklong peace talks in Geneva

GENEVA (AP) — Syrian negotiators are wrapping up a week of peace talks in Geneva — the first round of what is expected to be prolonged negotiations stretching several weeks or even months.

The government and opposition delegations met Friday with U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

Negotiations have been strained over issues such as the opposition's demand for a transfer of power in Syria and have so far failed to achieve any concrete results, including the passage of humanitarian aid convoys to besieged parts of the central city of Homs.

Brahimi was expected to brief journalists following the meeting Friday.

A day earlier, Brahimi said the week produced "tense moments and rather promising moments." He said he hoped that all parties could be better organized in the next session.

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Missing Ukraine activist says he was kidnapped, tortured in latest attack on protesters

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — A Ukrainian opposition activist who went missing last week says he was kidnapped and tortured, the latest in a string of mysterious attacks on anti-government protesters in the two-month-long political crisis.

Dmytro Bulatov, 35, a member of Automaidan, a group of car owners that has taken part in the protests against President Viktor Yanukovych, went missing Jan. 22.

Bulatov was discovered outside Kiev on Thursday. He said his kidnappers beat him severely, nailed him to a cross, sliced off a piece of ear and cut his face. He was kept in the dark all the time and could not identify the kidnappers. After more than a week of beatings, they eventually dumped him in a forest.

"They crucified me, they nailed down my hands. They cut off my ear, they cut my face. There isn't a spot on my body that hasn't been beaten," Bulatov said on Channel 5 television. "Thank God, I am alive."

Bulatov's face and clothes were covered in clotted blood, his hands were swollen and bore the marks of nails.

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AP EXCLUSIVE: Inside Pakistani school that teaches troops to battle bombs

RISALPUR, Pakistan (AP) — Militants in Pakistan have found clever ways to hide homemade bombs. They've been strapped to children's bicycles, hidden inside water jugs and even hung in tree branches. But the most shocking place that Brig. Basim Saeed has heard of such a device being planted was inside a hollowed-out book made to look like a Quran, Islam's holy book.

A soldier who went to pick up the book from the floor was killed when it exploded.

"Normally if that book is lying somewhere on the floor, you tend to pick it up immediately just for respect," said Saeed, the chief instructor at a school training Pakistani forces how to detect the so-called improvised explosive devices, which have become increasingly popular in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the insurgency in Pakistan's northwest, near the Afghan border.

The Associated Press was the first foreign media outlet to be allowed access to the facility, according to the Pakistani military.

Saeed and other instructors at the military's Counter IED, Explosives and Munitions School say it is important to constantly come up with new ways to prevent such homemade bombs because that's exactly what the militants are doing.

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FACT CHECK: Is DNI Director Clapper right that NSA leaks are worst US intelligence breach?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. intelligence chief, James Clapper, said this week that the loss of state secrets as a result of leaks by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden was the worst in American history. Clapper backed up his assertion with dire forecasts about emboldened enemies abroad, but some historians and researchers said the U.S. has struggled with even more devastating intelligence breakdowns over the past century.

Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has said Snowden's disclosures and the resulting media coverage are giving away blueprints for surveillance programs. "Terrorists and other adversaries of this country are going to school on U.S. intelligence sources, methods and tradecraft," he told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

At the start of that hearing, Clapper staked a claim he had not previously made in public. Snowden's leaks, he said, were "the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history."

Historians and researchers said Clapper's remark ignores the most devastating intelligence loss of the 20th century — the theft of America's top-secret atomic bomb design by Soviet spies. Others say a trio of Americans who spied for Russia in the 1980s and 1990s — Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and John Walker — caused immense intelligence damage that led to the loss of vital secrets and the deaths of American informants.

The Russian spying operation to steal America's atomic bomb secrets near the end of World War II gave the Soviet government information that sped up their nuclear weapons research and kicked off an arms race that put the world at risk. The theft's political and cultural ripples deepened the Cold War, aggravated U.S.-Russian enmity and polarized American politics for more than a decade, said Richard Rhodes, author of a three-volume history on the development of the atomic bomb and its repercussions.

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Air Force officials say culture of fear led to cheating on tests by nuclear launch officers

WASHINGTON (AP) — A worrisome culture of fear that made launch officers believe they had to get perfect test scores to be promoted fueled a widening cheating scandal within the military's nuclear missile corps, according to Air Force officials.

Half of the 183 launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana have been implicated in the cheating investigation and suspended, signaling deeper morale and personnel problems in a force critical to America's nuclear security.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the scandal hasn't affected the safety or reliability of the military's nuclear mission. Speaking to Pentagon reporters Thursday, James and Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, who heads the Global Strike Command, said that so far it appears the cheating was confined to the Montana base, even while a climate of frustration, low morale and other failures permeates the nuclear force, which numbers about 550.

The cheating scandal is the latest in an array of troubles that now have the attention of senior defense officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The Associated Press began reporting on the issue nine months ago and revealed serious security lapses, low morale, burnout and other problems in the nuclear force. The Air Force recently announced the cheating scandal, which grew out of a drug investigation.

"These tests have taken on, in their eyes, such high importance, that they feel that anything less than 100 could well put their entire career in jeopardy" even though they only need a score of 90 to pass, said James, who recently took over as secretary. "They have come to believe that these tests are make-it-or-break-it."

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State employees to return to work as temperatures rise above freezing in Atlanta after storm

ATLANTA (AP) — Hundreds of drivers were reunited with their abandoned cars and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered state employees back to work Friday as the metro Atlanta region rebounded from a winter storm that coated the area with snow and ice.

Many school districts throughout the metro area — including Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton County — announced that they'd remain closed to students Friday, and Deal extended a state of emergency through to Sunday night.

The declaration was extended to allow the state to continue using certain resources to help local governments clear roads and deal with other storm-related issues, Deal said in a statement.

The governor and Director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Charley English, have taken responsibility for poor planning leading up to the storm.

"We did not make preparations early enough," Deal said at a news conference. "I'm not going to look for a scapegoat. I am the governor. The buck stops with me."

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Russia plants "ring of steel" around Winter Games host Sochi but still fears suicide bombers

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — While Sochi's Olympic venues are now among the most tightly guarded facilities in the world, the rest of this sprawling Black Sea resort looks more vulnerable.

With about 100,000 police, security agents and army troops flooding Sochi, Russia has pledged to ensure "the safest Olympics in history." But terror fears fueled by recent suicide bombings have left athletes, spectators and officials worldwide jittery about potential threats.

Security experts warn that Islamic militants in the Caucasus, who have threatened to derail the Winter Games that run from Feb. 7-23, could achieve their goal by choosing soft targets away from the Olympic sites or even outside Sochi. Some have raised the possibility that jihadists could have infiltrated Sochi long before security was tightened and have noted the vulnerability of the city's transport systems.

"The most daunting threat is suicide bombers," Grigory Shvedov, chief editor of the Caucasian Knot, an online news portal focusing on the Caucasus, told The Associated Press.

He said 124 suicide attackers have struck Russia over the past 13 years.

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