By Kiran Khalid and Paul Cruickshank
New details about the final plans for the 2009 plot to take down an American jetliner on Christmas Day paint a vivid picture of the significant involvement of Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-Yemeni militant cleric killed in a drone strike last September.
The information came to light Friday with the release of a Justice Department sentencing memo issued ahead of next week's sentencing of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab.
By CNN National Security Producer Jennifer Rizzo
The military's top brass went into damage control mode Friday after a picture of an elite Marine unit posing with a flag symbol that is similar to a Nazi "SS" logo surfaced on the Internet a day earlier.
First, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked the Marine Corps to look into the matter and take appropriate action, according to Pentagon spokesman George Little.
"Racist and anti-Semitic symbols have absolutely no place alongside the men and women of America's armed forces," Little said in a statement.
Then the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. James Amos, weighed in, apologizing to "all offended by this regrettable incident."
"I want to be clear that the Marine Corps unequivocally does not condone the use of any such symbols to represent our units or Marines," Amos said.
By Jamie Crawford
Syria's government is becoming "more and more isolated," as the world watches the violence within its borders, the U.S. ambassador to Syria told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday.
There is a palpable sense of "fear and foreboding" across Syria as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad continues its assault on the country, Ambassador Robert Ford said.
Ford, who evacuated Syria earlier this week with the remainder of the American staff amid security concerns, spoke from Paris in an interview that aired on CNN's "Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."
"It's horrific, it's repulsive," Ford said of reports hundreds of people have been killed in Syria's third largest city, Homs, this past week.
By Barbara Starr
The U.S. intelligence community has found no evidence to suggest North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is dead, a senior U.S. official said Friday following posts on China's version of Twitter that claimed Kim had been assassinated while in Beijing.
U.S. intelligence officials have been looking into such rumors for more than a week, according to the official, who has direct knowledge of the latest U.S. analysis.
"With that society you can never be 100% sure, but we just don't see any evidence of it," the official told CNN. "It's a closed society, but at this point we do not believe it's true." FULL POST
Websites affiliated with the CIA, Mexico's mining ministry and the state of Alabama were down Friday, allegedly done in by hackers, government officials and a well-known hacking group reported.
A message Friday on a Twitter page and Tumblr feed affiliated with the hacking group known as Anonymous claimed credit for taking down the Central Intelligence Agency's website.
The posting read: "CIA TANGO DOWN: https://www.cia.gov/ #Anonymous."
Numerous outside reports indicated the CIA's website was down, and CNN's attempts from late Friday afternoon into the evening to get into the site failed. FULL POST
By Barbara Starr, Jill Dougherty and Elise Labott
The United States has recently stepped up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations over Syria, CNN has learned.
"This is for situational awareness," a senior U.S. official told CNN. "There are media reports but we also want to verify exactly what is happening."
The official said the United States believes all the media reports coming out of Syria, but for intelligence uses they want to gather even more information to understand precisely what is happening there.
The official would not address whether U.S. intelligence-gathering operations include eavesdropping on or jamming of Syrian government and military communications. Such actions were used in Libya. FULL POST
By Libby Lewis (Listen to an audio version of the story here
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hasn't revealed much so far about his department's budget proposal for the next fiscal year. But he has offered a peek at some numbers, like this one: $88.4 billion for war funding.
When he shared that figure last month, a reporter asked: "Given that, a year ago, we had sizable numbers of troops in Iraq, and the numbers are coming down in Afghanistan ... why is it still so high?"
Panetta responded that it's partly due to the high cost of the war in Afghanistan.
Government troops in tanks and armored vehicles stormed a neighborhood in the beseiged city of Homs, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group. The neighborhood has become a refuge for the opposition fleeing the fighting and shelling in the nearby neighborhood of Baba Amr, the group said.
On his show, John King took a closer look at how the barrage on Homs has taken its toll, using new satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe. Click play above to see how the city looks from above compared to August 2010.
Read more about today's fighting in Syria here.
By Kevin Flower
Israel declared a Friday test of its Arrow weapon system a "major milestone" in the development of a system to defend against medium range missiles that could be fired from countries like Iran.
In a statement the Israeli Defense Ministry said the test "provides confidence in operational Israeli capabilities to defeat the developing ballistic missile threat."
The successful test of the joint American and Israeli weapon system was held over the Mediterranean Sea Friday morning and sought to track a simulated incoming ballistic missile via radar and pass the information back to what is known as the battle management controller. FULL POST
The traditional U.S.-Egypt partnership is in danger of shredding, Ben Wedeman reports from Cairo. The cartoons in a state-run Cairo paper set the tone, a nasty looking Uncle Sam spying on Egypt but wielding the pistol of aid is confronted by an Egyptian cannon. The caption read 'dignity.'
In this land where national pride is a national obsession, the criminal charges brought against 43 staff members at US and European non-governmental organizations, including 19 Americans, threaten to shake the decades-old ties between Egypt and the United States.
Watch Ben's report above.