August 16th, 2011
06:58 PM ET

Iran is the biggest threat to Iraq's security, says Pentagon official

By CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

The single largest threat to Iraq's security today comes from Iranian-backed militia groups and the thousands of fighters, cash and weapons under their control, according to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday, Buchanan said these groups now outpace al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which once controlled much of the insurgency that terrorized the country.

The United States suspects these groups were behind a number of deaths of U.S. troops in June, using weapons brought in from Iran. Some Iranian-made weapons have been found with manufacture dates as recent as last year, Buchanan said. Overall he said there is "a significant increase in support" from Iran's secretive Quds force, the elite unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Iran • Iraq • Military • Terrorism
August 16th, 2011
06:06 PM ET

Obama: Biggest terror fear is the lone wolf

Situation Room anchor Wolf Blitzer sat down with President Barack Obama in Iowa on Tuesday.   The Situation Room blog has more on the interview.

BLITZER: I've covered the Middle East for a long time.  I've covered terrorism for a long time.  And I have to tell you, I'm worried, that on the 10th anniversary, approaching the 10th

of 9/11, al Qaeda, or what's left of al Qaeda or their supporters, will try to do something to seek revenge for you killing bin Laden.

 How worried should we be about that?  How worried are you about that?

OBAMA:  Well, look, we are vigilant and constantly monitoring potential risks of terrorist attacks.  And I think that men and women in our intelligence agencies, as well as the FBI, have done a terrific job, and the Department of Homeland Security.

 But the risk is always there.  And obviously, on a seminal event like the 10th anniversary of 9/11, that makes us more concerned.  It means we've got heightened awareness.

 The biggest concern we have right now is not the launching of a major terrorist operation, although that risk is always there, the risk that we're especially concerned over right now is the lone wolf terrorist, somebody with a single weapon being able to carry out wide-scale massacres of the sort that we saw in Norway recently.  You know, when you've got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it's a lot harder to trace those lone wolf operators.

 So we're spending a lot of time monitoring and gathering information.  I think that we generally have to stay vigilant.  There may be a little extra vigilance during 9/11.

 On the other hand, keep in mind the extraordinary progress we've made over the last couple years in degrading al Qaeda's capabilities.  They are a much weaker organization with much less capability than they had just two or three years ago.

 BLITZER:  So what I hear you saying is we don't have to worry about a spectacular 9/11 kind of event, more like a lone wolf could do some damage, kill a lot of people, but not a nuclear, radiological or anything like that?

 OBAMA:  No.  Look, as president of the United States, I worry about all of it.  But I think the most likely scenario that we have to guard against right now ends up being more of a lone wolf operation than a large, well-coordinated terrorist attack.  We still have to stay on top of it, though, and we're never letting our guard down.  That's part of our job.

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Filed under: Living With Terror • Obama • Terrorism
August 16th, 2011
05:29 PM ET

Military unit behind hypersonic test flight probed

BY CNN's Adam Levine and Jennifer Rizzo

The military research wing that last week launched a hypersonic aircraft test is being investigated after questions were raised about potential conflicts of interest in awarding lucrative contracts.

The audit by the Department of Defense's inspector general will look at the "adequacy" of the handling by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, of "selection, award, and administration of contracts and grants" in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, according to a memo the inspector general sent to government watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.

The investigation is a "partial response" to the oversight group, which had written to the Pentagon about concerns regarding ties between DARPA personnel, both leaders and researchers, and a company that has received money from the research unit, according to a separate letter from the inspector general informing DARPA of the initiation of the audit.

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Program puts controllers near the pilot's seat
Hartsfield Jackson International Airport Photo by Rich Brooks/CNN
August 16th, 2011
04:45 PM ET

Program puts controllers near the pilot's seat

By Mike M. Ahlers

All day, almost every day, air traffic controller Chris Boughn talks to pilots.
But despite one pleasantry he frequently hears - "We'll see ya soon" - the high-altitude controller rarely sees a pilot or an aircraft.
It is, he says, like being a chef who has cooked for decades, but never sees his customers or tastes his own food.
All of that changed recently when Boughn boarded a United Airlines B-757 and sat in a jumpseat directly behind the captain and first officer. Any closer and he would have needed wings.
Boughn (pronounced "Bonn") is among the first air traffic controllers to participate in Flight Deck Training - an FAA program that puts controllers in the cockpit to teach them about life "on the other side of the frequency."
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August 16th, 2011
03:37 PM ET

A $17.6 million foray into espionage for former Blackwater contractor

by CNN's Executive Producer Suzanne Kelly

Under a new $17.6 million deal announced today, the contractor formerly known as Blackwater (and later re-branded USTC Holdings under its new owner consortium) is on a new mission. The company has been awarded a task order by the Department of Defense to provide "All-Source Intelligence Analyst support and material procurement for U.S. and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan." What does that mean? Basically, the company will provide contractors to the U.S. government who will collect and analyze information in Afghanistan in both "public and restricted domains." In other words, USTC is branching out into the spy business.

Think Military Intelligence meets CSI. Not only does this specific Department of Defense contract focus on combining intelligence skills with criminal investigative abilities, but it also allows the company to create products that can help detect narcoterrorist activities. For instance, need a new computer or specially-equipped vehicle to help you do the job? Gotcha covered.

In reality, $17.6 million isn't a huge contract, but it's a boost for a company working hard to come out of the shadow of its previous owner, Erik Prince. Under the name Blackwater, the company built and developed by the former Navy SEAL drew negative headlines in large part because of the behavior of some of its employees. A deadly shooting at an Iraqi traffic circle in 2007 prompted a crisis for the U.S. State Department, which couldn't operate effectively in the country without Blackwater's support. The company was the main provider of protective (and heavily armed) security personnel who protected diplomats and others associated with the reconstruction effort. But the killing of Iraqi civilians that day helped push the company to the brink and Prince, who once planned to turn the empire over to his sons, instead put the company up for sale. FULL POST

August 16th, 2011
11:14 AM ET

Bachmann and Perry playing politics with the military?

Two top candidates for the GOP nomination, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, raised some eyebrows among the military for comments this last weekends.  As Barbara Starr reported on Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, the candidates discussion of the US military struck an odd chord with some of the troops and military establishment

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A conversation with Clinton and Panetta
Clinton and Panetta listen to a question from the audience at National Defense University. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
August 16th, 2011
10:13 AM ET

A conversation with Clinton and Panetta

Libyan leader Moammer Gadhafi’s “days are numbered” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday at a joint appearance with Secretary of State Clinton, in Washington, D.C. In their first appearance together since Panetta succeeded Robert gates at the Pentagon, Clinton repeated her avoidance of explicitly calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, while insisting it was important to continue working with allies to further isolate Assad as the way to bring change to Syria. The event moderated by Frank Sesno of George Washington University was billed as a conversation with the two secretaries to discuss military-civilian cooperation going forward.

The two discussed everything from political reconciliation in Afghanistan, the recent violence in Iraq, famine in Somalia, to pension reform for the military. Security Clearance live-blogged the event
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Filed under: Clinton • Foreign Policy • Military • Panetta
Fear of indefinite Gitmo detention
Guantanamo Bay detention facility Photo By: AFP/Getty Images
August 16th, 2011
09:34 AM ET

Fear of indefinite Gitmo detention

By Jenifer Fenton, reporting for CNN from Abu Dhabi, UAE

In the summer of 2001, Fayiz Mohammed Ahmed Al Kandari, the eldest son of a large family, left Kuwait to travel to Afghanistan. His stated purpose was to do charitable work, assisting with the reconstruction of two wells and the repair of a mosque.

His trip was for the sake of his mother who had cancer so there would be "more blessings from God on her behalf," according to a member of the Al Kandari family. He had traveled to Afghanistan before on charitable work in 1997 - and to Bosnia in 1994.

But this visit would end up with a much longer and unintended journey - to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Nearly 10 years later, Al Kandari remains incarcerated at the U.S. detention facility. And his case illustrates the difficulties of establishing who may have had links with al Qaeda and similar groups in the chaotic aftermath of 9/11, the strength of evidence against them, and whether they might remain or become a threat today if freed from detention. FULL POST


Filed under: Al Qaeda • Gitmo
August 16th, 2011
08:20 AM ET

Glimpses of Libya through the government keyhole

By CNN's Ivan Watson

“Mia mia.” It is an extremely popular phrase widely used in Libya that translates roughly to “100 percent.”

Nine times out of ten, that is what Libyans said when I asked them how they were coping with nightly bombardments by NATO warplanes, electricity black-outs that lasted days, and rebel forces who were pressing forward on three fronts.

“Mia mia,” they said with a smile. In other words, everything’s great! No problem!

Was this the cheerful coping method of a society living amid olive groves and palm trees next to the Mediterranean Sea? Or was “mia mia” a survival tactic for people who had grown up within the authoritarian system of Moammar Gadhafi’s perpetual revolution?

The whispers of dissent my colleagues and I often heard in Tripoli suggested the latter.

One night, after we had filmed the largest poster ever of a head of state in Tripoli’s Green Square, a middle-aged man road past on a bicycle yelling “Don’t believe what you see, its all lies!” Then he disappeared into traffic, swallowed up amid posters of Gadhafi and regime loyalists, who shrouded themselves in the green color of the Libyan flag. FULL POST


Filed under: Security Brief
Army suicides at a record high last month
A soldier on patrol in Afghanistan. Photo by ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images
August 16th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Army suicides at a record high last month

By Larry Shaughnessy

The U.S. Army reported 32 suicides and potential suicides in the month of July, the highest total since the service began publicly releasing such statistics 2 ½ years ago. And the problem is even worse than the Pentagon's news releases would indicate.

Each month the Army sends out a press report saying how many soldiers have committed suicide.
According to those news releases, as of July 31 of this year 151 soldiers had apparently taken their own lives.
But a document obtained by CNN shows that the Army has actually counted 163 suicides this year.
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Filed under: Military