National briefs: Air Force nuke scandal widens

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WASHINGTON -- The cheating scandal inside the Air Force's nuclear missile corps is expanding, with the number of service members implicated by investigators now roughly double the 34 reported just a week ago, officials said Tuesday.

A doubling of the number implicated means that approximately 14 percent of the entire Air Force cadre of nuclear missile launch control officers, which numbers about 500, has been removed at least temporarily from active missile duty. It was not clear Tuesday how that affects the mission, beyond requiring the remaining crew members to bear a bigger share of the work.

The Air Force announced on Jan. 15 that while it was investigating possible criminal drug use by some airmen, it discovered that one missile officer at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., had shared test questions with 16 other officers. It said another 17 admitted to knowing about this cheating but did not report it.

Customs drones grounded

SAN DIEGO -- Drones used to monitor U.S. borders and ports were grounded after an operator ditched one of the unmanned aircraft off the California coast due to a mechanical failure.

The Customs and Border Protection craft went into the Pacific Ocean at about 11:15 p.m. local time Monday around 20 miles southwest of San Diego. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is working on safety standards for unmanned aircraft.

American held by N. Korea

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry has met with relatives of an American held by North Korea and is calling for him to be pardoned.

U.S. officials say the detainee, Kenneth Bae, is in poor health. He was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified anti-government activity. Supporters say he did nothing wrong.

North Korea has given no sign it will free him.

China envoy pick testifies

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's choice to become U.S. ambassador to China embraced several criticisms of that country Tuesday, agreeing that China wants to dominate Asia and is a regular violator of human rights.

Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing, Sen. Max Baucus said he wants to help the U.S. build a more equitable economic relationship with China while encouraging the Asian giant to act responsibly as it emerges as a global power.

Senators were especially concerned that China declared an air defense zone over the East China Sea in November.

Anti-nuke protesters fined

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A federal judge has ordered a Catholic nun, a Vietnam veteran and a house painter from Duluth, Minn., Tuesday to pay full restitution of $53,000 for damaging one of the nation's most secure sites for nuclear weapons production.

Falling snow, however, caused U.S. District Court Judge Amul Thapar to suspend the hearing until Feb. 18..

He ordered Michael Walli, who has been based for years at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington, and fellow peace activists Sister Megan Rice and Gregory Boertje-Obed back to jail until the hearing can continue.

In the predawn hours of July 28, 2012, the trio cut through four fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex in nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn., where the fuel for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 was produced during the Manhattan Project.

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