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MUSCAT, OMAN (BNO NEWS) — A U.S. Navy helicopter carrying five crew members crashed during routine operations in northern Oman on Thursday, injuring three crew members and leaving two others missing, military officials said on Friday. The cause was not immediately known.

The MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter crashed 58 miles (93 kilometers) southwest of Muscat, the capital of Oman, while conducting heavy lift support operations. The aircraft was assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasure Squadron (HM) 15 based at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said the aircraft was carrying five crew members, of whom three were recovered and being treated at a local hospital for unspecified injuries. The two other crew members remained missing on late Friday. Another MH-53E helicopter is assisting in the ongoing search-and-rescue operation.

Officials said the cause of the accident is under investigation, but ruled out hostile activity.

The Sultanate of Oman, with a population of more than 2.7 million people, is located in southwest Asia on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BNO NEWS) — A roadside bomb exploded in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, killing three coalition service members, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said. A previously unreported death on Friday was also announced.

ISAF said three of its service members were killed as a result of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in eastern Afghanistan on Monday. But because the multinational force defers the release of specific details to national authorities, no other details about the incident were released, including the exact location.

The nationalities of the service members involved were also not immediately disclosed by ISAF, again per its policy. “It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities,” ISAF said in a brief statement, giving no specific details. The alliance does also not report injuries.

Also on Monday, the U.S. Department of Defense reported an American casualty in eastern Afghanistan which had not been previously reported by ISAF. It said 38-year-old Master Sgt. Gregory L. Childs, of Warren, Arkansas, was killed on Friday in Kabul province.

The U.S. Department of Defense gave no specific details about the cause of Childs’ death, and it was unclear if he died in action or whether he died as a result of an accident or of natural causes. Childs was assigned to the Defense Logistics Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, officials said.

The identity of a U.S. Marine who was shot and killed by a rogue Afghan soldier on Sunday was also released on Monday. The U.S. Department of Defense identified the victim as 25-year-old Sgt. John P. Huling of West Chester, Ohio. He was assigned to 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton in California.

“This incident is under investigation,” the department said in a statement, giving no other details. U.S. officials previously said a second American service member was also injured in the shooting attack, although his condition was not released. The rogue Afghan soldier was killed when coalition forces returned fire.

The deaths on Friday and Monday raise the number of coalition troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year to 151, according to official figures. A total of 566 ISAF troops were killed in Afghanistan in 2011, down from 711 in 2010. A majority of the fallen troops were American and were killed in the country’s south, which is plagued by IED attacks on troops and civilians.

There are currently more than 130,000 ISAF troops in Afghanistan, including some 90,000 U.S. troops and more than 9,500 British soldiers. U.S. President Barack Obama previously ordered a drawdown of 23,000 U.S. troops by the end of this summer, and foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (BNO NEWS) — NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery went on its final voyage on Tuesday, a piggy-back ride on top of a modified Boeing 747 carrier jet from Cape Canaveral in Florida to an airport near the nation’s capital.

Discovery, which flew a record 39 space missions during its 26-year-long career, took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) at around 7 a.m. EDT and landed at Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia at 11:05 a.m. EDT.

“It is an honor to deliver Discovery to the Smithsonian today to share this national treasure with the nation — telling not only the stories of the past, but ushering in the promise of the future,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver after Discovery landed at Dulles.

The shuttle’s last stop is the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, where it will be permanently relocated on Thursday morning. The museum will celebrate Discovery’s arrival with a four-day festival, which includes appearances by Discovery crew members, other NASA astronauts, and U.S. officials.

The aircraft which carried Discovery to Virginia on Tuesday, designated NASA 905, is the same one which first delivered the spacecraft to the Kennedy Space Center on November 9, 1983. The aircraft is one of two modified Boeing 747 jets which NASA has used to ferry orbiters during the Space Shuttle Program.

Discovery’s 26-year spaceflight career began on August 30, 1984, when it carried six astronauts into orbit on the STS-41D mission. Since then, it has flown 148 million miles (238 million kilometers) and carried 246 crew members into orbit. In total, it spent one year or 365 days in space with 5,830 orbits.

Among the many milestones during Discovery’s lengthy career, the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed from the space shuttle’s payload bay. The spacecraft also completed the first space shuttle rendezvous and the final shuttle docking with the Russian space station Mir.

The STS-133 mission to the ISS space station was Discovery’s final spaceflight. Led by Commander Steve Lindsey, the six-person shuttle crew delivered the Permanent Multipurpose Module, offering extra room for science tasks and storage, and Robonaut 2, a humanoid robotic helper. On March 9, 2011, Discovery’s main landing gear touched down for the last time on Kennedy’s Runway 15.

Discovery’s 60-foot-long (18.2 meters) payload bay doors were closed for the last time in December last year, and the crew module went dark as technicians permanently powered down the vehicle. An aerodynamic tail cone was fastened over the orbiter’s main engines shortly after, and the crew access hatch was closed and sealed.

“The space shuttles’ 30-year history literally changed the world. Their greatest accomplishment and purpose, now complete, was the launch and construction of the ISS — our science laboratory in space and our foothold to the rest of the solar system,” Garver said on Tuesday. “Like all great accomplishments, these achievements came at a cost. When we lost the Challenger and Columbia flights and their brave crews, we re-dedicated ourselves to an even more meaningful and exciting future.”

The space shuttle program ended last year to allow NASA to begin working on a new generation of spaceships which can carry astronauts further into space. “It will allow us to more fully utilize the ISS and explore farther than ever before — to an asteroid and on to Mars,” Garver said. “Vehicles with names like Orion, Dragon and Dreamchaser are being built all across the country today. They will continue and expand on the space shuttle’s many accomplishments.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — U.S. prosecutors on Monday charged a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer with repeatedly disclosing classified information about fellow officers to journalists. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

John Kiriakou, 47, of Arlington, Va., is accused of releasing secrets about two CIA employees and their involvement in classified operations to two journalists between 2007 and 2009. Among the information he released was the name and contact information of a CIA agent who remains covert.

The investigation was launched in January 2009 when a classified defense filing was found to contain classified information the defense had not been giving through official government channels. Several months later, photographs of government employees and contractors were found in the materials of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

According to prosecutors, Kiriakou had shared the classified information to a journalist who, in turn, disclosed that information to a defense team investigator. “This information was reflected in the classified defense filing and enabled the defense team to take or obtain surveillance photographs of government personnel,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

One of the CIA agents whose names were allegedly released by Kiriakou was an agent who took part in an operation in 2002 to capture and question top al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. Kiriakou first came to public attention in December 2007 when he described Zubaydah’s waterboarding, which is a form of simulated drowning, during an interview with ABC News.

“Safeguarding classified information, including the identities of CIA officers involved in sensitive operations, is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “Today’s charges reinforce the Justice Department’s commitment to hold accountable anyone who would violate the solemn duty not to disclose such sensitive information.”

Kiriakou, who worked as a CIA intelligence officer between 1990 and 2004, has been charged with one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act for allegedly disclosing the identity of a covert officer and two counts of violating the Espionage Act for allegedly disclosing national defense information to individuals not authorized to receive it.

In addition to those charges, Kiriakou has also been charged with one count of making false statements for allegedly lying to the Publications Review Board (PRB) of the CIA in an unsuccessful attempt to trick the CIA into allowing him to include classified information in a book he was seeking to publish.

According to prosecutors, prior to the publication of his book, “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror”, Kiriakou in July 2008 submitted a letter and draft manuscript to the PRB. He claimed a classified investigative technique, which he described as the “magic box”, was fictional although he had previously told his coauthor that the technique was used in the operation to capture Zubaydah.

“There is a reference early in this chapter to a device called a ‘magic box’,” Kiriakou said in the letter to the PRB. “I read about this so-called device in a New York Times article. The information in that article was clearly fabricated, as we used no such device. I am unaware of any [such] device … As it is fictionalized, I believe it is unclassified.”

However, in an e-mail to his coauthor, Kiriakou admitted that he had lied to the PRB. “I laid it on thick. And I said some things were fictionalized when in fact they weren’t. There’s no way they’re going to go through years of cable traffic to see if it’s fictionalized, so we might get some things through,” the e-mail said.

Several months later, the PRB informed Kiriakou that it had reviewed the draft manuscript and found information regarding the technique was classified and that he could therefore not include the information in the book. The CIA has recently declassified the information to allow the prosecution to go forward and revealed the magic box is a device which can locate any switched-on cell phone.

Responding to the news of the arrest and charges, CIA Director David Petraeus said he was unable to comment on the specifics of the case. “When we joined this organization, we swore to safeguard classified information; those oaths stay with us for life,” he said. “Unauthorized disclosures of any sort – including information concerning the identities of other Agency officers – betray the public trust, our country, and our colleagues. Given the sensitive nature of many of our Agency’s operations and the risks we ask our employees to take, the illegal passage of secrets is an abuse of trust that may put lives in jeopardy.”

If convicted on all charges, Kiriakou faces up to 30 years in prison.

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NORFOLK, VIRGINIA (BNO NEWS) — A U.S. federal court sentenced two more Somalis to life in prison on Thursday for their roles in a pirate attack on an American yacht earlier this year which resulted in the deaths of four U.S. citizens, prosecutors said.

The defendants, 32-year-old Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali and 20-year-old Jilani Abdiali, both of Somalia, were among 19 Somalis who, after several days of sailing the sea in search of a vessel to pirate and hold for ransom, attacked the 58-foot (17.6-meters) American yacht S/V Quest in February and held hostage its four passengers south of Oman.

The U.S military initially offered the pirates to take the vessel as long as they released the hostages unharmed, but the leaders of the group refused the deal because they believed they would get little money just for the boat. A rocket propelled grenade (RPG) was then fired at a U.S. military warship and the hostages were shot at in an attempt to get the U.S. boats to retreat.

When U.S. military personnel boarded the Quest, they took fifteen Somalis into custody, including a juvenile who has not been charged in this case. Four pirates were shot dead by the U.S. military, and the four American hostages were found deceased.

On Thursday, Ali and Abdiali were sentenced to life in prison at a federal court in Norfolk, Virginia. Ali, who was previously a police officer in Somalia, pled guilty on May 23 to piracy under the law of nations and hostage taking resulting in death. Abdiali, an electrician, pled guilty on May 20 to piracy under the law of nations.

“As Somali pirates expand their territory, they place more individuals’ lives at risk,” said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “These men willingly joined this group of pirates out of greed, knowing full well that their actions could – and did – lead to the death of their hostages. They will spend their lives in prison for what they willingly chose to do and the lifetime of suffering and pain they thrust on the victims’ loved ones.”

Ali and Abdiali are among eleven men who have previously pled guilty for their involvement in the Quest hijacking and murders. Seven others were previously also sentenced to life in prison, and two other co-conspirators are to be sentenced on Friday.

The two owners of the vessel the Quest were on an “around-the-world” trip that began in mid-December 2004. “This is planned to be an eight or ten year voyage,” the website of the couple, Scott Underwood Adam and Jean Savage Adam, said in February. Their friends Phyllis Patricia Macay and Robert Campbell Riggle were the other victims.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt on Tuesday announced his resignation, a day after he took a leave of absence over his drunk driving arrest last weekend.

Babbitt was arrested in Fairfax, Virginia on late Saturday evening after a police officer observed a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road and initiated a traffic stop. He was transported to the Adult Detention Center after it was determined he was under the influence of alcohol.

“Today I submitted my resignation to Secretary Ray LaHood and it has been accepted,” Babbitt said in a statement released on late Tuesday afternoon. “Serving as FAA Administrator has been an absolute honor and the highlight of my professional career. But I am unwilling to let anything cast a shadow on the outstanding work done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by my colleagues at the FAA.”

Babbitt praised his colleagues, saying they run the ‘finest and safest’ aviation system in the world. “I am grateful that I had the opportunity to work alongside them,” he said. “I am confident in their ability to successfully carry out all of the critical safety initiatives underway and the improvements that the FAA has planned. I also want to thank Secretary LaHood for his leadership and dedication to the safety of the traveling public.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, reacting to the resignation, called Babbitt a dedicated public servant and outstanding leader. “I’m proud to say that we have the safest aviation system in the world, and thanks to Randy’s stewardship, it became safer and stronger,” he said. “He worked tirelessly to improve relations with the labor community and bolstered employee engagement among his 49,000 colleagues at the FAA.”

LaHood added: “[Babbitt] led the FAA’s efforts to improve pilot training and enhance safety for the traveling public, as well as those that work in aviation. On behalf of the American people, I thank him for his service and his leadership.”

Officials did not release the blood-alcohol level of Babbitt when he was arrested on Saturday, but state law defines DWI as a .08 blood alcohol concentration. However, officials were disappointed to learn of Babbitt’s arrest through a police news release and not from Babbitt himself.

White House spokesman Jay Carney previously said President Barack Obama and other White House officials were aware of Babbitt’s arrest, but made no comment. Carney also refused to comment on Tuesday after Babbitt had announced his resignation.

Babbitt has served as Administrator of the FAA, which regulates and oversees all aspects of civil aviation in the United States, since June 2009. He previously served at the FAA Management Advisory Council during the Clinton Administration.

Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta will serve as acting administrator.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt took a leave of absence on Monday afternoon after police revealed he was arrested for drunk driving over the weekend, officials said.

Babbitt was arrested in Fairfax, Virginia on late Saturday evening after a police officer observed a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road and initiated a traffic stop. “After it was determined that he was under the influence of alcohol, Babbitt was transported to the Adult Detention Center where a magistrate issued a warrant for driving while intoxicated,” said Sergeant Joe Johnson, a spokesperson for the City of Fairfax Police Department.

Johnson said Babbitt was the sole occupant of his vehicle and was not involved in any accident. “He cooperated fully with the arresting officer,” the spokesman said. Officials did not release the blood-alcohol level, but state law defines DWI as a .08 blood alcohol concentration.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it only learned of Babbitt’s arrest on Monday afternoon. “Administrator Babbitt has requested, effective immediately, to take a leave of absence from the FAA,” the statement said. “That request has been granted and Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta will serve as acting administrator.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama and other White House officials were also informed about the arrest on Monday afternoon. “[Obama] didn’t have a particular reaction,” Carney said. “It was just passing on this information.”

Carney did not respond to a question whether Obama would ask for Babbitt to resign, but the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said it is reviewing Babbitt’s position. “DOT officials are in discussions with legal counsel about Administrator Babbitt’s employment status,” the statement said.

Babbitt has served as Administrator of the FAA, which regulates and oversees all aspects of civil aviation in the United States, since June 2009. He previously served at the FAA Management Advisory Council during the Clinton Administration.

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MIAMI (BNO NEWS) — Hurricane Irene weakened slightly on early Friday morning as it marched toward North Carolina, forecasters said, while further hurricane warnings have been issued for the U.S. East Coast.

Irene formed east of the Leeward Islands last week and since then moved through the Caribbean as it strengthened into a category three storm. It is currently west of Florida and heading towards North Carolina, where hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated.

As of 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) on Friday, the center of Irene was located about 420 miles (675 kilometers) south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, a cape on the coast of North Carolina. It is moving toward the north at a speed near 14 miles (22 kilometers) per hour.

“Reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter Aircraft indicate that the intensity of Irene is not quite at major hurricane status,” said Jack Beven, a senior hurricane specialist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC). Maximum winds of Irene are now at 110 miles (175 kilometers) per hour, with higher gusts, making it a category two hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity.

“Water vapor imagery and analyses from [Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS)] at the University of Wisconsin suggest that Irene is encountering light to moderate southwesterly vertical wind shear,” Beven said. “This, along with the current cyclone structure and dry air advecting toward the hurricane in water vapor imagery, argue against significant strengthening, and indeed the intensity guidance shows little change in strength before landfall.”

However, Beven explained it is still possible that there will still be some strengthening. “The eyewall convection is currently strong, and the sea surface temperatures along the forecast track are 28 to 29 Celsius (82.4 to 84.2 degrees Fahrenheit),” he said. “This suggest some modest strengthening is possible.”

Irene is currently forecast to make landfall along the North Carolina Outer Banks on early Saturday morning as a strong category two or weak category three hurricane, after which it will slowly weaken. “After moving into New England, Irene should weaken quickly as it undergoes extratropical transition,” Beven added.

As Irene is closing in on North Carolina, hurricane warnings are now in effect for Little River Inlet in North Carolina northward to Sandy Hook in New Jersey, including the Pamlico, Albemarle, and Currituck Sounds, Delaware Bay, and Chesapeake Bay south of Smith Point. A hurricane warning also remains in effect for the Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas.

In addition, a hurricane watch is in effect for north of Sandy Hook to the mouth of the Merrimack River, including Long Island, Long Island Sound, Block Island, Marthas Vineyard, and Nantucket. A tropical storm warning is in effect for north of Edisto Beach in South Carolina to Little River Inlet, as well as Chesapeake Bay from Smith Point northward and the Tidal Potomac.

Irene is the ninth named storm and the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season. It was followed by Tropical Depression Ten which remains active in the far eastern Atlantic, but poses no threat to land.

According to figures released earlier this month, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is expecting an above-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic this year. The outlook calls for 14 to 19 named storms, with seven to ten becoming hurricanes and three to five expected to become a major hurricane (category 3 or higher).

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes and two becoming major hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, with peak activity in September.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — A Marine reservist was arrested at the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. on early Friday morning after he was seen there when the location is closed. Items he was carrying sparked a major security alert.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s Washington Field Office, 22-year-old Yonathan Melaku was detained for trespass at the military cemetery when he was spotted there on early Friday morning. Contact with Melaku found he was carrying items which caused initial concerns about the public’s safety, prompting the FBI and other agencies to respond to the scene and roads around the Pentagon to be shut down.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office Joint Terrorism Task Force (WFO JTTF), the United States Park Police, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, Ft. Myer Police, the Arlington County Police Department and the Arlington County Fire Department were all involved in the investigation, which initiated on the grounds adjacent and West of the Pentagon.

Ft. Myer Police was the agency which detained Melaku, and the United States Park Police questioned him and initial investigative efforts quickly identified two potential public safety concerns, items in Melaku’s possession as well as a red 2011 Nissan vehicle found parked in a wooded area nearby the Pentagon, directly off Route 27 and Route 110.

The Arlington County Fire Department and an initial FBI search of the vehicle found no immediate threat, and streets in the area were later released. The FBI removed the vehicle from the scene and further processing of the vehicle is expected to continue on Saturday.

Melaku was also in possession of a backpack that contained unknown materials which initially caused public safety concerns. Bomb experts at the scene, however, were able to determine that the items were non-explosive and inert. The materials in the backpack will undergo further testing at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.

As part of the investigation, Melaku’s residence in Alexandria, Virginia was searched by the FBI with the assistance of Fairfax County Police Department.

While it remains unclear why Melaku was at the cemetery, the FBI said it believes Melaku acted alone and that there were no other locations or activity involved. Officials would not confirm media reports that a note mentioning al-Qaeda and the Taliban were found.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it was monitoring the situation. “DHS is monitoring a suspicious vehicle incident causing road closures around the Pentagon,” said DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler. “This is a law enforcement matter at this time, with the U.S. Park Police and the Arlington County Police Department as leads and other federal agencies on the scene.”

According to the United States Marine Corps, Melaku joined the Marine Corps Reserve on September 4, 2007 and is currently listed as a Marine Corps reservist Lance Cpl and a motor vehicle operator with Combat Engineer Support Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve. He has previously been awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal. He has not deployed overseas.

Melaku remained in the custody of the United States Park Police as of early Saturday morning.

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FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA (BNO NEWS) — At least four people have been confirmed dead after a passenger bus on Tuesday morning overturned in Virginia, local authorities said.

The accident occurred at around 4:55 a.m. local time when a passenger bus carrying 57 people overturned on the 103 milemarker on Interstate 95 in Caroline County, Virginia, State Police Spokesperson Corinne Geller told Fredericksburg.com.

The bus ran off on the right side of the road, landing on its roof less than a mile from the Carmel Church exit, Geller said, confirming the number of fatal victims, and adding that many of the 57 passengers were injured and were being transported to local hospitals in Fredericksburg and Richmond, Virginia.

Northbound lanes on Interstate 95 had already been closed, as the Virginia State Police Accident Reconstruction Team and Motor Carrier Safety Team will be investigating the incident in the upcoming hours. Southbound traffic, however, was reportedly unaffected.

The identity of the victims has not been disclosed until family members are firstly notified, and the bus’ departure and destination locations were also undisclosed.

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