By Doina Chiacu and Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Secret Service cannot hire new agents for the next presidential election or make improvements at the agency until Congress settles a dispute over funding, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Thursday. Johnson said in a speech in Washington that uncertainty over the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, which secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters and protects the president, had put security initiatives on hold. These included recommendations made in December by a review panel on the Secret Service, which has been plagued with a series of security lapses including a White House intruder and a drone that landed on the mansion's lawn early Monday. Secret Service protection extends to major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses within four months of a presidential election.
By Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Thursday formed a political organization to explore a potential run for his party's presidential nomination, the latest high-profile politician to test the 2016 waters. Graham would attempt to use his South Carolina home base to his advantage for any potential run, since the Southern state is typically the third to hold a nominating contest in presidential election years, after Iowa and New Hampshire. "What I'm looking at is, is there a pathway forward on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire for a guy like me?
(Reuters) - Former U.S. Army major Nidal Hasan will appear in a military court on Thursday for a procedural hearing related to his capital punishment conviction for the 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood in Texas that killed 13 people and wounded 32 others. Military Judge Colonel Tara Osborn "plans to review routine matters such as Hasan's post-trial rights and elections, discuss the Record of Trial and Hasan's post-trial representation by counsel," U.S. Army officials said in a statement. The hearing will take place at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where Hasan was sent after being sentenced to death for the killings. His death sentence is subject to an automatic appeal.
By Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - The number of new confirmed Ebola cases totaled 99 in the week to Jan. 25, the lowest tally since June 2014, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, signaling the tide might have turned against the epidemic. "The response to the EVD (Ebola virus disease) epidemic has now moved to a second phase, as the focus shifts from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic," the WHO said. "To achieve this goal as quickly as possible, efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials, and community engagement is used as effectively as possible." The outbreak has killed 8,810 people out of 22,092 known cases, almost all of them in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Cases and deaths have fallen rapidly in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the past few weeks, with just 20 deaths recorded in Liberia in the 21 days to Jan. 25.
New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits plunged to the lowest level in nearly 15 years last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Initial jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, dropped to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 in the week ending January 24, a hefty decline of 43,000 from the prior week's slightly upwardly revised level of 308,000. It was the lowest level for initial claims since mid-April 2000. The Labor Department said there was no particular factor influencing the week's claims data, which is often volatile.
By Julie Steenhuysen ATLANTA (Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has introduced camera monitoring of workers in its highest-level biosafety laboratories as it seeks to restore public faith in its procedures after a series of mishaps, agency officials tell Reuters. The mishaps have raised major questions over safety practices at more than 1,000 laboratory and support facilities that make up the CDC, whose role is to monitor and prevent outbreaks of disease. The move to monitor workers will allow lab directors and senior scientists to ensure they have followed safety protocols exactly, Leslie Dauphin, interim director of laboratory safety, told Reuters in an interview. "That is what the camera system helps with." The agency is expected to release details within a week of its own investigation into the Ebola mishap.
By Scott Malone and Daniel Lovering FALL RIVER, Mass. (Reuters) - Opening statements are set for Thursday in the first murder trial facing former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez this year, when Massachusetts prosecutors will seek to prove he fatally shot a semi-professional football player in 2013. Hernandez, 25, was a rising star in the National Football League with a $41 million contract when he was arrested in June 2013 and charged with the execution-style killing of acquaintance Odin Lloyd near his North Attleborough, Massachusetts, home in June 2013. The Patriots, who face the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday, cut Hernandez hours after his arrest. Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty to all three killings, will be tried at Fall River Superior Court in Fall River, Massachusetts, in a trial expected to last six to 10 weeks.
Malaysia declared on Thursday the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 an accident, clearing the way for the airline to pay compensation to victims' relatives while the search for the plane goes on. "We officially declare Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 an accident ... and that all 239 of the passengers and crew onboard MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives," Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said in a statement. The announcement is in accordance with standards of annexes 12 and 13 in the International Civil Aviation, said Azharuddin. It will allow families of the passengers to obtain assistance through compensation, he said.
The co-pilot of an AirAsia flight that crashed into the Java Sea last month was at the controls when it went down, killing all 162 people on board, investigators said on Thursday. The announcement came as fishermen found two more bodies from the crash in waters off Sulawesi island in central Indonesia, around 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from where the plane crashed, a search and rescue official said. AirAsia Flight QZ8501 went down in stormy weather on December 28 during what was supposed to be a short trip from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. Indonesian investigators have been analysing data from the plane's black boxes -- the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder -- and this week submitted a preliminary report to the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization.