In brief | Nation & world 092413


House GOP offers smaller budget cuts on debt increase measure than in 2011 battle

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are far less ambitious this week in their demands for spending cuts to erase new debt issued to pay the government’s bills than they were during a budget battle two years ago.

The list of cuts under consideration now tallies up to a fraction of the almost $1 trillion in additional borrowing that would be permitted under a GOP proposal for enabling the government to pay its bills through December of next year.

Two years ago, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insisted on spending cuts totaling $2.1 trillion over a decade as the price to meet President Barack Obama’s demand for a like-sized increase in the government’s borrowing cap, also known as the debt ceiling.

Those cuts involved tighter “caps” on agency operating budgets as well as the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration triggered by the failure of a deficit “supercommittee” to reach a deal.

Navy officials look to close gaps in security process in wake of Navy Yard shooting

WASHINGTON — A week after an IT contractor gunned down 12 workers at the Washington Navy Yard, Navy officials began moving to close gaps in the security clearance process, recommending that all police reports involving an individual must be included when a background check is done.

The Navy, in a report released Monday, revealed that the shooter, Aaron Alexis, did not disclose a 2004 arrest or some financial problems when he filled out his application for a security clearance when he joined the Navy as a reservist several years later. And officials said the background report given to the Navy at the time, also failed to reveal that he had shot out the tires of another person’s car during a 2004 dispute in Seattle.

Instead, the report from the Office of Personnel Management, said Aaron Alexis “deflated” the tires, and did not mention the use of a gun.

Defense officials have acknowledged that a lot of red flags were missed in Alexis’ background, allowing him to maintain a secret security clearance and have access to a secure Navy facility despite a string of behavioral problems and brushes with the law. Over the past week, they have been struggling to determine what might have been missed, and what changes could be made in order to try and prevent similar violence in the future.

US experts: N. Korean scientists mastering domestic production of key nuke components

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean scientists are able to build crucial equipment for uranium-based nuclear bombs on their own, cutting the need for imports that had been one of the few ways outsiders could monitor the country’s secretive atomic work, according to evidence gathered by two American experts.

The experts say material published in North Korean scientific publications and news media shows that Pyongyang is mastering domestic production of essential components for the gas centrifuges needed to make such bombs. The development further complicates long-stalled efforts to stop a nuclear bomb program that Pyongyang has vowed to expand, despite international condemnation.

If Pyongyang can make crucial centrifuge parts at home, outsiders can’t track sensitive imports. That could spell the end of policies based on export controls, sanctions and interdiction that have been the centerpiece of international efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear program over the last decade, Joshua Pollack, a Washington-based expert on nuclear proliferation, said in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday at a Seoul symposium and provided in advance to The Associated Press.

By wire sources

“If they’re not importing these goods in the first place, then we can’t catch them in the act,” said Pollack, who gathered the evidence with Scott Kemp, an expert on centrifuge technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We won’t necessarily see anything more than what the North Koreans want us to see.”

The state of North Korea’s nuclear program is of vital concern to Washington because Pyongyang wants to build an arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles that can reach American shores. The North has conducted three nuclear tests of apparently increasing power since 2006, most recently in February, and it is believed to have a handful of crude plutonium-based bombs. Many experts estimate, however, that Pyongyang has not yet mastered the miniaturization technology needed to mount a warhead on a long-range missile.