Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is going to Cuba to try to negotiate the release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross, CNN's Wolf Blitzer first reported Wednesday on 'The Situation Room'.
"We are aware of Gov. Richardson's trip to Cuba and have been in contact with him," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told CNN. "While Gov. Richardson is traveling as a private citizen, we certainly support his efforts to obtain Alan Gross' release."
"We welcome any and all dialogue that ultimately will result in Alan's release," the Gross family said in a written statement. "We are grateful to Governor Richardson for his continued efforts."
CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty recently sat down with Gross's wife who discussed how difficult her life is without him, and her fear of him never returning home. Watch Jill's report here.
–CNN Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report
By Sr. State Department Producer Elise Labott
The United States is looking to increase its presence in Libya to stem the looting and dissemination of Libyan weapons, senior U.S. officials said Wednesday.
But the effort could be too slow, as CNN reporter Ben Wedeman and producer Ingrid Formanek reported Wednesday about caches of shoulder-fired missiles that had been looted from a Tripoli area weapons depot.
Helping the Libyan Transitional National Council secure the weapons is a significant concern for the U.S., the White House counterterrorism adviser said Wednesday.
"Obviously, securing any type of material or weapons that could be used by terrorist groups; that would be weapons of mass destruction, or whether it be [shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles], or whether it be arsenals of weapons," John Brennan said at a Washington conference Wednesday. "Obviously, there are a lot of parts to that country that are ungoverned, a lot of concerns."
A senior State Department official said Libya has one of the largest stockpiles of weapons in the world, compared with other countries that do not manufacture weapons. FULL POST
Analysis by Sr. State Dept Producer Elise Labott and Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty
Support for Islamic extremism has seen a very significant decline since the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. By the time Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in May, he and his al Qaeda network had been largely discredited in the Arab and Muslim world.
But with a few exceptions, the Muslim world's image of the United States is still pretty awful.
How did we end up here - not much better than we were before 9/11? FULL POST
By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, CNN
Khalid Aldawsari lived in a nondescript apartment block in the university town of Lubbock, Texas. He was – ostensibly – a student, who had arrived in the United States in 2008 from Saudi Arabia. But he was also keeping a journal, which allegedly included this entry:
“After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives, and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for Jihad.”
His preparations allegedly included research online into bomb components, life-like dolls in which explosives could be placed, and a number of possible targets including the Dallas residence of former U.S. President George W. Bush. The FBI were only alerted to the alleged plot after a North Carolina-based chemical supply company reported their suspicions over an online purchase made by Aldawsari in late January. He was arrested a month later and subsequently pleaded not guilty to attempting to carry out a bomb attack on U.S. soil. His trial begins next January.
In the indictment against Aldawsari, there are no conspirators mentioned. In many ways, such cases are the worst nightmare of counter-terrorism officials: “lone wolf” individuals acting alone, untraceable through any contacts with other terror suspects, capable of teaching themselves how to launch a terror attack. FULL POST
CNN's Ben Wedeman and Ingrid Formanek reporting from Tripoli, Libya -
TRIPOLI, Libya (CNN) - A potent stash of Russian-made surface-to-air missiles is missing from a huge Tripoli weapons warehouse amid reports of weapons looting across war-torn Libya.
They are Grinch SA-24 shoulder-launched missiles, also known as Igla-S missiles, the equivalent of U.S.-made Stinger missiles.
A CNN team and Human Rights Watch found dozens of empty crates marked with packing lists and inventory numbers that identified the items as Igla-S surface-to-air missiles.
The list for one box, for example, written in English and Russian, said it had contained two missiles, with inventory number "Missile 9M342," and a power source, inventory number "Article 9B238."
Grinch SA-24s are designed to target front-line aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and drones. They can shoot down a plane flying as high as 11,000 feet and can travel 19,000 feet straight out.
Fighters aligned with the National Transitional Council and others swiped armaments from the storage facility, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The warehouse is located near a base of the Khamis Brigade, a special forces unit in Gadhafi's military, in the southeastern part of the capital.
The warehouse contains mortars and artillery rounds, but there are empty crates for those items as well. There are also empty boxes for another surface-to-air missile, the SA-7.
Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch emergencies director, told CNN he has seen the same pattern in armories looted elsewhere in Libya, noting that "in every city we arrive, the first thing to disappear are the surface-to-air missiles."
He said such missiles can fetch many thousands of dollars on the black market.
"We are talking about some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles in all of Libya, and I've seen cars packed with them." he said. "They could turn all of North Africa into a no-fly zone."
There was no immediate comment from NTC officials.
The lack of security at the weapons site raises concerns about stability in post-Gadhafi Libya and whether the new NTC leadership is doing enough to stop the weapons from getting into the wrong hands.
A NATO official, who asked to not be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said 575 surface-to-air missiles, radar systems and sites or storage facilities were hit by NATO airstrikes and either damaged or destroyed between March 31 and Saturday. He didn't elaborate on the specifics about the targets.
Gen. Carter Ham, chief of U.S. Africa Command, has said he's concerned about the proliferation of weapons, most notably the shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. He said there were about 20,000 in Libya when the international operation began earlier this year and many of them have not been accounted for.
"That's going to be a concern for some period of time," he said in April.
Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union counterterrorism coordinator, raised concerns Monday about the possibility that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, based in North Africa, could gain access to small arms, machine guns and surface-to-air missiles.
Western officials worry that weapons from the storage sites will end up in the hands of militants or adversaries like Iran.
The governments of neighboring Niger and Chad have both said that weapons from Libya are already being smuggled into their countries, and they are destined for al Qaeda. They include detonators and a plastic explosive called Semtex. Chad's president said they include SA-7 missiles.
An ethnic Tuareg leader in the northern Niger city of Agadez also said many weapons have come across the border. He said he and other Tuareg leaders are anxious about Gadhafi's Tuareg fighters returning home - with their weapons - and making common cause with al Qaeda cells in the region. Gadhafi's fighting forces have included mercenaries from other African nations.
The missing weapons also conjure fears of what happened in Iraq, where people grabbed scores of weapons when Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown.
Bouckaert said one or two of the missing artillery rounds are "enough to make a car bomb."
"We should remember what happened in Iraq," he said, when the "country was turned upside down" by insurgents using such weaponry.
There have been similar concerns in Afghanistan, where the United States provided thousands of Stinger missiles to the Afghan mujahedeen when they were fighting the Soviets in the 1980s. The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to buy them back, fearful that they would fall into the hands of terrorists.
CNN's Emily Smith, Tim Lister, Joe Sterling and Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report