July 26th, 2012
10:07 PM ET

Cyber Command chief flunks US in readiness to deal with cyber attacks

By Larry Shaughnessy

Since 2009, online attacks that could destroy key infrastructure in the U.S. have skyrocketed. And the man in charge of cyber defense gave the national a failing grade in being prepared.

Gen. Keith Alexander is director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command. He spoke Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado about cyber threats from around the world.

When asked by moderator Pete Williams of NBC how well-prepared, on a scale of 1-10, the U.S. is for a serious cyber attack on a critical part of our infrastructure, Alexander said, "From my perspective I'd say around a 3."
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July 26th, 2012
04:50 PM ET

Defense official: U.S. needs to 'accelerate' effort to help Mali

By Dan Merica

Mali, a country bloodied by a violent March coup, has become a greater focus of U.S. counterterrorism attention, a Department of Defense official said Thursday.

In his opening statements at an Aspen Security Forum panel, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflicts at the Department of Defense, expressed concern about the ungoverned territory of northern Mali - particularly because of a lack of control within Mali's coup-led government.

"Mali is a difficult situation because it starts with the government in Bamako," Sheehan said. "We have to find a way to move forward with the government first and I think we need to start to accelerate that effort."

Read all our coverage of the 2012 Aspen Security Forum

Mali's junta leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, usurped control of the African nation in March. Since then, his soldiers have been accused of looting offices and shops in the capital. The coup wrested control of the nation from former President Amadou Toumani Toure and gained the scorn of the international community - including the United States.

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Filed under: Africa • Al Qaeda • Aspen Security Forum • Mali
U.S. hasn’t won the trust of Syrian rebels
July 26th, 2012
04:30 PM ET

U.S. hasn’t won the trust of Syrian rebels

By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, Colorado

After the fighting, after the war, comes the "day after." In any conflict in which the United States is involved, the planning for the day after begins well before the guns stop firing. But a former ambassador who also served in a senior position at the CIA says the U.S. is failing in that mission.

Hank Crumpton, former Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department, tells me he thinks the Department should be doing more right now to prepare for a post-Assad future in Syria.

Read all our coverage of the 2012 Aspen Security Forum

Crumpton points to the Syrian opposition. "How do we understand them? How do we work with them?" he asks. "Because they are the future of Syria; because they represent the Syrian people. And that should be more of a diplomatic initiative than we've done to date."

This is, he agrees, first and foremost an intelligence issue: to find out who are these various non-state actors that make up the Syrian opposition. But Crumpton says that's just part of it. Building trust is key, he says, adding that "the best way to build trust is through shared risk."

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July 26th, 2012
02:48 PM ET

Intel official: U.S. concerned about security of Syria's chemical weapons

By Jamie Crawford, reporting from Aspen, Colorado

The question of whether some of Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons have fallen out of government control is a source of great concern for the U.S. government, according to one of the nation's top intelligence officials.

"The key for us is, are we able to identify where those weapons are? Are they safe and secure, are they falling into the wrong hands," Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center said Thursday at the Aspen Institute Security Forum.

But when asked by the moderator, David Sanger of the New York Times, whether there has been a clear accounting of those weapons, Olsen was non-commital.

Read all our coverage of the 2012 Aspen Security Forum

"No, not yet," he said. "This is a very sensitive time for this situation so it's an important question that we are following."

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Filed under: Aspen Security Forum • Iran • Iraq • Israel • Middle East • Pakistan • Syria
America's next war
July 26th, 2012
06:20 AM ET

America's next war

By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, Colorado

National security experts often refer to the core of al Qaeda as a “spent force.” Its leaders are mostly wiped out even if al Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen continue their fight against the West. But if al Qaeda is a spent force will the U.S. military go back to the old paradigm of preparing for conflict with nation states?

That’s one of the underlying themes of the Aspen Security Forum. I spoke with author and academic Paula Broadwell, a veteran of 15 years in intelligence, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.

RECOMMENDED: Our coverage of the 2012 Aspen Security Forum

The U.S. must be prepared for “full spectrum warfare,” she says. That's everything from a full-on war to smaller conflicts.

“Nobody thinks these small wars or these insurgencies are going away,” Broadwell tells me. “The way we’ll fight them is changing, and instead of sending a large army to fight an insurgency I think we’ll see more precision strikes, more special forces response, more drone operations, and more cooperation with our allies."

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Senate moves to crack down on national security leaks
July 26th, 2012
03:32 AM ET

Senate moves to crack down on national security leaks

By Suzanne Kelly

The Senate committee that oversees the country's spy agencies has approved 12 tough new measures aimed at stopping leaks of classified information.

Among the stiff new reporting requirements are crackdowns on communications between intelligence employees and members of the media, requiring a government official to notify Congress if the communication includes classified information or information that is declassified for the purposes of sharing.

The measures included in the Fiscal Year 2013 Intelligence Authorization Act come amid heightened criticism of the Obama administration for officials sharing classified information with journalists about key national security matters.

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Waving the "red flag" on arming Syria's opposition
July 26th, 2012
03:00 AM ET

Waving the "red flag" on arming Syria's opposition

By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, CO

Top national security officials – from the Obama administration, from governments around the world, from think tanks – are arriving at Aspen for the Aspen Security Forum. It’s a gold mine of the latest inside thinking on national security threats and how to deal with them.

Standing at the CNN live shot location I flag down Jane Harman, formerly the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, now Director, President and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC.

On Syria she’s waving a “red flag” on any idea of arming the opposition so I ask her how the administration should proceed?

“Cautiously,” she says. “I take seriously the fact that there are a huge number of casualties in the country now, but we have just had it reconfirmed that al Qaeda is increasing numbers in the opposition and just saying ‘Let’s arm the opposition, lets start an air or land war in Syria, I don’t think that necessarily leads to a better result.” FULL POST

July 26th, 2012
02:09 AM ET

McRaven on bin Laden raid: One of history's "great intelligence operations"

To watch more of Wolf Blitzer’s interview with Admiral William McRaven, tune to “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” on CNN Thursday 4-7pm ET and Saturday 6-7pm ET. 

By Jamie Crawford

While it was one of 11 missions carried out by U.S. special forces that night, the head of U.S. Special Operations command said the raid that killed Osama bin Laden will go down as one of the "great intelligence operations in history."

Admiral William McRaven spoke Wednesday before an audience at the Aspen Institute Security Conference on a panel discussion moderated by CNN's Wolf Blitzer. The talk was his first interview about the raid with a journalist.

McRaven also touched on some of the other pressing issues facing the U.S. military in the discussion that ranged from serious to light-hearted.

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