---- — American missing in Iran was working for CIA on unapproved intelligence mission
WASHINGTON (AP) — An American who vanished nearly seven years ago in Iran was working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence-gathering mission that, when it came to light inside the government, produced one of the most serious scandals in the recent history of the CIA — but all in secret, an Associated Press investigation found.
The CIA paid Robert Levinson’s family $2.5 million to head off a revealing lawsuit. Three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined.
The U.S. publicly has described Levinson as a private citizen.
“Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran,” the White House said last month.
That was just a cover story. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world’s darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian regime for the U.S. government.
No. Korea executes leader’s uncle, calls him a traitor and ‘worse than a dog’
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday announced the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle, calling the leader’s former mentor a traitor who tried to overthrow the state.
The announcement came only days after Pyongyang announced through state media that Jang Song Thaek — long considered the country’s No. 2 power — had been removed from all his posts because of allegations of corruption, drug use, gambling, womanizing and leading a “dissolute and depraved life.”
The state news agency KCNA said a tribunal examined Jang’s crimes, including “attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.”
The report called him “a traitor to the nation” and “worse than a dog.”
Jang was seen as helping Kim Jong Un consolidate power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, two years ago. Jang was the latest and most significant in a series of personnel reshuffles that Kim has conducted in an apparent effort to bolster his power.
Boehner takes on right-flank groups that say he’s just not conservative enough
WASHINGTON (AP) — After years of bitter friction within Republican circles, House Speaker John Boehner is lashing out against hard-line conservative and tea party groups — the latest GOP establishment figure to join the increasingly public battle roiling the party.
For the second day in a row — but at greater length and with more passion — the Ohio Republican on Thursday lit into groups such as Heritage Action and Club for Growth. Though naming no names, he accused such groups and others of stirring up opposition on the right to a budget bill worked out with Democrats that would replace some across-the-board spending cuts now in place with longer-term savings.
“When groups come out and criticize an agreement that they’ve never seen, you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are,” he told reporters. That was just hours before the House was to vote on the bill, which also would raise government fees on airline tickets as well as pension insurance premiums on employers.
“Frankly, I just think they’ve lost all credibility,” he said of the foes.
Heritage Action was a key force behind the “defund Obamacare” effort that swept the right earlier this year and steamrolled stumbling House GOP leaders into October’s government shutdown fiasco. “They’re pushing our members into places where they don’t want to be,” Boehner complained Thursday.
Fake sign language interpreter at Mandela memorial says he ‘saw angels’
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial says he suffers from schizophrenia and hallucinated and saw angels while gesturing incoherently just 3 feet away from President Barack Obama and other world leaders, outraging deaf people worldwide who said his signs amounted to gibberish.
South African officials scrambled Thursday to explain how they came to hire the man and said they were investigating what vetting process, if any, he underwent for his security clearance.
“In the process, and in the speed of the event, a mistake happened,” deputy Cabinet minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said.
She apologized to deaf people around the world who were offended by the incomprehensible signing.
However, she declined to say whether a government department, the presidency or the ruling African National Congress party was responsible for hiring the sign interpreter, telling reporters it isn’t the time to “point fingers and vilify each other and start shouting.”
Mysterious ‘white widow’ spins tangled web, eludes capture
AYLESBURY, England (AP) — She is called the most wanted woman in the world, a suspected terrorist charged with plotting to blow up resort hotels in Kenya packed with Christmas tourists, a Westerner who wrote an ode praising Osama bin Laden, a jihadist who has eluded the law even as she has traveled through Africa with four young children in tow.
Samantha Lewthwaite’s saga is one of betrayal and revenge in a murky world where, somehow, a white woman born to a British soldier becomes a Muslim convert and then an international fugitive accused of conspiracy.
Her first husband blew himself up as part of Britain’s worst ever terrorist attack in 2005, an act she first condemned — and her second partner adhered to the same militant brand of Islam and also apparently met an early death. Her notebooks, seized in 2011, are filled with lavish praise for extremists who slaughter civilians and hopes that her children will do the same.
And yet, since she disappeared some months after the London bombing, no one can say how the “white widow” became radicalized, moving from mainstream Islam to a “holy war” against the West — or why she would embrace a movement that denies a woman’s right to education and other basic liberties.
“That is the mystery,” said Niknam Hussain, a community organizer and former Aylesbury mayor. There was never a hint that Lewthwaite had chosen jihad during her years in Aylesbury, the small English city 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of London where she grew up.
Yemeni officials say US drone strike hits convoy heading to wedding party
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Missiles fired by a U.S. drone slammed into a convoy of vehicles traveling to a wedding party in central Yemen on Thursday, killing at least 13 people, Yemeni security officials said.
The officials said the attack took place in the city of Radda, the capital of Bayda province, and left charred bodies and burnt out cars on the road. The city, a stronghold of al-Qaida militants, witnessed deadly clashes early last year between armed tribesmen backed by the military and al-Qaida gunmen in an attempt to drive them out of the city.
There were no immediate details on who was killed in the strike, and there were conflicting reports about whether there were militants traveling with the wedding convoy.
A military official said initial information indicated the drone mistook the wedding party for an al-Qaida convoy. He said tribesmen known to the villagers were among the dead.
One of the three security officials, however, said al-Qaida militants were suspected to have been traveling with the wedding convoy.
Some Americans are cutting back during the holiday season
NEW YORK (AP) — Many Americans are watching the annual holiday spending ritual from the sidelines this year.
Money is still tight for some. Others are fed up with commercialism of the holidays. Still others are waiting for bigger bargains.
And people like Lark-Marie Anton Menchini are more thoughtful about their purchases. The New York public relations executive says in the past she’d buy her children up to eight Christmas gifts each, but this year they’re getting three apiece. The leftover money is going toward their college savings.
“We told them Santa is ... being very conscious of how many gifts he puts on his sleigh,” Menchini, 36, says.
Despite an improving economy, most workers are not seeing meaningful wage increases. And some of those who can splurge say the brash commercialism around the holidays — many more stores are opening for business on Thanksgiving — is a turnoff.