Syrian president's statement on security forces 'ludicrous,' U.S. says
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
December 6th, 2011
05:49 PM ET

Syrian president's statement on security forces 'ludicrous,' U.S. says

By CNN's Charley Keyes

The State Department was quick Tuesday to challenge comments by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he did not have control of his country's security forces amid the bloody crackdown on his political opponents.

"I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some kind of shell game, but also some sort of claim that he doesn't exercise authority in his own country," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

"He has had opportunities in the past to end the violence," Toner said, listing initiatives presented by the Arab League, Turkey, other countries and the United Nations.

"He has rejected all of them, usually through a long, convoluted process where he plays for time" Toner said at his afternoon briefing at the State Department. "There is just no indication he is doing anything other than cracking down in the most brutal fashion on a peaceful opposition movement."

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U.S. opens online embassy for Iran
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman
December 6th, 2011
04:28 PM ET

U.S. opens online embassy for Iran

By CNN's Charley Keyes

The United States unveiled its first "virtual embassy" Tuesday, the latest attempt to reach over the Iranian regime and speak directly to the Iranian people.

The new website - at tehran.usembassy.gov - will provide visa applications, information on how Iranian students can study at American universities and a section speaking directly to the stressful relationship between the two countries.

And State Department officials say they are confident the website, which will be in both English and Farsi, can withstand efforts by the Iranian regime to knock it down.

"Unfortunately the leadership in Iran has a track record of opposing freedom of expression, both online and on the street," Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said. "The regime has tried to impose an electronic curtain by disrupting cell phones and Internet and social media. This is one more effort to try to get around that curtain and get information directly to the Iranian people."

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Clinton to Syrian opposition: ousting al-Assad is only first step in transition
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at OSCE conference in Lithuania
December 6th, 2011
01:33 PM ET

Clinton to Syrian opposition: ousting al-Assad is only first step in transition

By CNN's Elise Labott

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a rare meeting with leaders of a leading Syrian opposition group Tuesday, a sign of the Obama administration's deepening engagement with political dissidents seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad

Clinton invited activists belonging to the Syrian National Council to a meeting to hear their plans to establish a new democratic government in Syria and to reach out to Syria's minorities, many of whom remain loyal to the al-Assad regime.

"Obviously, a democratic transition is more than removing the Assad regime," she told them. "It means setting Syria on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens regardless of sect or ethnicity or gender"

The seven activists are all exiles living in Europe. Among them Burhan Ghalioun, a professor who lives in Paris, who serves as president of the SNC.

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Safeguarding the Strip: The case file on fusion center coordinator Tom Monahan
December 6th, 2011
10:22 AM ET

Safeguarding the Strip: The case file on fusion center coordinator Tom Monahan

Editor's note: This is part of a Security Clearance series, Case File by CNN Senior National Security Producer Suzanne Kelly profiling key members of the security and intelligence community.

by Suzanne Kelly

Lt. Tom Monahan was a metro Las Vegas police homicide commander with some 600 murder cases under his belt in 2006. He was looking into the case of a burning car found in the Nevada desert with the body of a woman inside when his bosses called him into the office and presented something very unexpected.

"They said we're starting up this new thing here," Monahan said.

The 'new thing' was the Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Center (SNCTC), one of 72 'fusion' centers that the Department of Homeland Security helped create across the country in response to 9/11. The purpose is to better coordinate threat-related information and intelligence between local, state, and federal partners and to be able to better coordinate response when there is a major event, such as a terrorist attack.

The SNCTC sits in a shiny new building that houses the Metropolitan Las Vegas Police Department, located just a few minutes' ride from the famous Strip, the stretch of flashy hotels and casinos where some 37 million tourists come calling every year.

Standing at the fusion center's watch desk, one sees a wall full of monitors lining the room as the sounds of crackling radio communications break up the silence. Some 18 local, state and federal agencies share cubby space here, representing local fire services, public health officials, law enforcement personnel, emergency medical responders, even the county school district. FULL POST

December 6th, 2011
08:31 AM ET

Downed drone was on CIA mission

By CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

A U.S. stealth drone that crashed in Iran last week was part of a CIA reconnaissance mission which involved both the intelligence community and military personnel stationed in Afghanistan, two U.S. officials confirmed to CNN Tuesday.

A senior U.S. official with direct access to the assessment about what happened to the drone said it was tasked to fly over western Afghanistan and look for insurgent activity, with no directive to either fly into Iran or spy on Iran from Afghan airspace.

A U.S. satellite quickly pinpointed the downed drone, which apparently sustained significant damage, the senior official said.
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