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Obama lets NSA keep some Internet security flaws secret

WASHINGTON — Stepping into a heated debate within the nation’s intelligence agencies, President Barack Obama has decided that when the National Security Agency discovers major flaws in Internet security, it should — in most circumstances — reveal them to assure that they will be fixed, rather than keep mum so that the flaws can be used in espionage or cyberattacks, senior administration officials said Saturday.

But Obama carved a broad exception for “a clear national security or law enforcement need,” the officials said, a loophole that is likely to allow the NSA to continue to exploit security flaws both to crack encryption on the Internet and to design cyberweapons.

The White House has never publicly detailed Obama’s decision, which he made in January as he began a three-month review of recommendations by a presidential advisory committee on what to do in response to recent disclosures about the National Security Agency.

But elements of the decision became evident Friday, when the White House denied that it had any prior knowledge of the Heartbleed bug, a newly known hole in Internet security. The White House statement said that when such flaws are discovered, there is now a “bias” in the government to share that knowledge with computer and software manufacturers so a remedy can be created and distributed to industry and consumers.

Until now, the White House has declined to say what action Obama had taken on the recommendations concerning encryption and cyber operations made by the president’s advisory committee, whose report set off a roaring debate inside the intelligence agencies.

Not surprisingly, officials at the NSA and at its military partner, the U.S. Cyber Command, warned that giving up the capability to exploit undisclosed vulnerabilities would amount to “unilateral disarmament.”

—David E. Sanger, The New York Times

Phelps plans return to competitive swimming

There is no Olympic design behind Michael Phelps’ comeback, if you can call it that. At this stage, Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, would prefer that people not read too much into his return to competition next week at the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Ariz.

“It really is an exploratory thing,” he said. “Unlike our past training, this time, there is no grand plan.”

Phelps, 28, is scheduled to race in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and the 100 butterfly. It will be his first competition since he won six medals, including four golds, at the 2012 Olympics in London en route to becoming the most decorated Olympian, with 22 medals.

In contrast to their lead-up to the past three Olympics, all star turns, Phelps and Bowman have not plotted a course to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, which would be Phelps’ fifth. Until last fall, Phelps was wading into chlorinated water only on occasion, and swimming no more than 3,000 meters when he did to keep his weight down.

After his record performance of eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Phelps was adamant that the 2012 Olympics were his swan song. He sounded content to be leaving swimming behind when he announced his official retirement after the London Games. Phelps, who took up golf after the 2008 Olympics, replaced one routine with another.

Phelps’ competition at the meet in Arizona, a tuneup for the USA Swimming summer championships in August, will include U.S. rival Ryan Lochte. Bowman said he had no idea what kind of times to expect from Phelps but added, with a laugh, “I don’t think he’s going to go and be terrible.”

Of one thing, Bowman seems certain. “I don’t think anything he does can tarnish his legacy,” he said.

—Karen Crouse, The New York Times