By Barbara Starr
The Syrian president's control is crumbling at an accelerating pace but the latest assessment by U.S. intelligence finds few indications Bashar al-Assad is willing to step down, according to U.S. officials.
While Obama administration officials have said during the nearly two-year conflict that it appears al-Assad is weakened, the descriptions provided to CNN by U.S. officials familiar with the latest intelligence suggest the Syrian leader's problems have accelerated internally as the opposition continues to capture more territory.
"It's at its lowest point yet," said one senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest assessments. U.S. intelligence believes the decline has accelerated in recent weeks. "The trend is moving more rapidly than it has in the past."
The officials agreed to talk on the condition their names not be used because they were not authorized to discuss the information with the media.
The description comes as a key Russian official suggested candidly that al-Assad could very well be defeated by the rising opposition fighters.
"The regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bodganov told a Russian government committee. "Unfortunately, we cannot rule out the victory of the Syrian opposition."
By Pam Benson
The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to approve an exhaustive study on the CIA's controversial detention and interrogation program that critics have charged was akin to torture.
By a 9-6 vote, the committee signed off Thursday on a 6,000-page classified report that has been in the works for nearly four years. The report is based on the study of six million, mostly CIA, documents and includes 35,000 footnotes and 20 findings and conclusions.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee chairwoman, said after the vote that the study was one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States.
By Larry Shaughnessy
Dakota Meyer, one of America's most-recent Medal of Honor recipients, was the victim in an altercation that left him with minor injuries, Kentucky authorities said Thursday.
Meyer was taken to Westlake Hospital early Sunday morning after a scuffle at the Red Barn Event Center near his home in Columbia, according to Trooper 1st Class Billy Gregory of Kentucky State Police.
Deaths and injuries from improvised explosive devices are falling a bit Afghanistan, but IEDs still account for more than 60% of U.S. casualties there, a Senate subcommittee heard Thursday.
"This year nearly 1,900 U.S. casualties have been caused by IEDs," Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero testified, and he was not optimistic about the future.
Pakistan is a major source of the problem, he said.
Evidence shows that most of the IEDs in Afghanistan are made with ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer used in the Oklahoma City bombing, Barbero said, and it is illegal to make or import ammonium nitrate into Afghanistan.
The United States has made several proposals to Pakistan to reduce the threat from fertilizer-based bombs, including putting die in all ammonium nitrate to make it easier for border patrol agents in Afghanistan to spot, or reformulating it so it could still feed crops but wouldn't be explosive.
So far this year, IED attacks in Afghanistan are down 12% to 18%, the general said, but that's compared with last year, the worst year on record. And there is reason to think the number could rise again.
Barbero, who is head of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, said that when the United States began pulling troops out of Iraq, IED attacks went up, and the same could happen over the next 24 months in Afghanistan.
"I'm concerned, like we saw in Iraq, as we draw down forces situational awareness drops. Frankly, your movements on the road become more predictable," he said.
Barbero concluded his testimony in the open portion of the hearing saying, "To sum up, I believe the IED will continue to be the weapon of choice against our forces and we must remain vigilant."
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration to become Secretary of State in a letter written to President Obama on Tuesday. Here is the full statement from Obama the White House released shortly after that:
"Today, I spoke to Ambassador Susan Rice, and accepted her decision to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State. For two decades, Susan has proven to be an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant. As my Ambassador to the United Nations, she plays an indispensable role in advancing America’s interests. Already, she has secured international support for sanctions against Iran and North Korea, worked to protect the people of Libya, helped achieve an independent South Sudan, stood up for Israel’s security and legitimacy, and served as an advocate for UN reform and the human rights of all people. I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues. I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend. While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country."
By Pam Benson
A suspected terrorist is held down by his CIA captives at a black site, one of the secret overseas prisons run by the CIA. Cloth covers his entire face as a bucket of water is poured over it.
It's the harrowing first scene from "Zero Dark Thirty," the soon-to-be-released movie about how the CIA found Osama bin Laden. The scene depicts waterboarding, the controversial harsh interrogation technique that simulates drowning, and it suggests that waterboarding and other coercive techniques aided in identifying the courier who eventually led to bin Laden.
While only a limited number of people have seen the movie so far at prerelease screenings, its first 45 minutes have reignited the debate over whether the U.S. government engaged in torture.
The scenes are bound to have a bigger effect on moviegoers than the less dramatic sleuthing depicted in the film, said Peter Bergen, a CNN national security analyst.
"These visceral scenes are, of course, far more dramatic than the scene where a CIA analyst says she has dug up some information in an old file that will prove to be a key to finding bin Laden," he wrote in an op-ed in CNN.com's Opinion section this week.
It's not just in a movie. By coincidence, the debate is also front and center as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to vote Thursday on whether to approve a report its nearly four-year investigation of the CIA's interrogation and detention program. Committee staff looked at more than 6 million pages of mostly CIA documents in compiling the 6,000-page report.
By Elise Labott
North Korea's success in launching a satellite into orbit has put the Obama administration on unfamiliar ground, no longer able to dismiss North Korea's efforts as failure but loath to acknowledge its success.
Moreover, beyond its typical response of statements of condemnation and efforts at strengthening sanctions, the U.S. does not seem to have a playbook for curbing North Korea's increasingly threatening behavior.
The U.S. government was braced before the launch, with Asia hands across the U.S. government tracking North Korea's preparations and warning against going through with it. Officials have voiced concern that such a feat would prompt an arms race in East Asia.
"We've been very concerned about their firing this missile, in violation of every international standard and rule," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNN's Erin Burnett. "It's clear that have one of the reasons we're rebalancing in the Pacific is to deal with the threat from North Korea, and we will. We're prepared to do that. We will respond if we have to."
By Pam Benson
Some of the nation's biggest banks are at risk of a massive cyber attack next year that could potentially siphon funds from unsuspecting customers, according to a leading digital security firm.
The fraud campaign, known as Project Blitzkrieg, is a credible threat, the Internet security firm McAfee Labs concluded in a new report.
The malware has been lying dormant in U.S. financial systems and is scheduled to go active by the spring of 2013, McAfee researchers concluded.
The project "appears to be moving forward as planned," the report states.
People familiar with the study said some 30 financial institutions are targets of the campaign.