By Pam Benson
The CIA joined on Friday the chorus of those challenging the accuracy of a new movie on the Osama bin Laden raid that suggests that harsh interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists helped the agency find the man considered behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
In an unusual move, the acting director of the CIA , Michael Morell, issued a statement to employees on Friday that emphasized that "Zero Dark Thirty" is not a historically accurate film.
Of particular concern are the harrowing scenes at the beginning of the movie that depict a suspected terrorist being interrogated at a secret CIA prison overseas with waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. The suggestion in the movie is that those coercive techniques aided in identifying the courier who eventually led to the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was living.
By Mike Mount
Calls of concern and support over President Obama's possible pick to be the next secretary of defense are piling up as former colleagues and special interest organizations take aim at and defend the independent-thinking former senator.
Chuck Hagel is believed to be the president's preferred candidate to run the Pentagon, but an announcement has yet to be made by the White House.
On Friday Hagel, in the awkward position of defending himself for a job nobody at the White House will publicly acknowledge he is a candidate for, tried to explain an anti-gay comment he made in 1998.
By Larry Shaughnessy
It should come as no surprise that U.S. Army soldiers can fight.
But Staff Sgt. Colton Smith can say he's the Army's ultimate fighter.
Smith, who is based at Fort Hood, won the season 16 finale of "The Ultimate Fighter" on national TV last weekend by beating Canadian Mike Ricci in three five-minute rounds of mixed martial arts (MMA).
"It's an amazing feeling of accomplishment," Smith said in a story posted on Fort Hood's website.
By Larry Shaughnessy
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent a memo this week to all the troops and civilians who work for him to address concerns about the mandatory spending cuts that would occur if the president and lawmakers do not reach a budget agreement by the end of the year.
In it, Panetta wrote that if the procedure, known as sequestration, were to occur, it "would not necessarily require immediate reductions in spending."
He also wrote that "under sequestration, we would still have funds available after Jan. 2, 2013, but our overall funding for the remainder of the year would be reduced."
It's a very different spin on the sequestration from Panetta, who in the past said it would be a "disaster." If this "meat ax" approach to budget cutting were used, he said, it would "hollow out the force."
The cuts are slated to be across the board, totaling roughly $500 billion over 10 years.
Panetta tried to reassure the troops that "the president indicated his intent to exercise his legal authority to exempt military personnel" from the mandatory cuts.
But he couldn't make the same promise to the Defense Department's million or so civilian employees.
Instead he said, "Should we have to operate under reduced funding levels for an extended period of time, we may have to consider furloughs or other actions in the future."
Asked about the change of tone, a senior defense official said, "The secretary continues to believe that sequestration would be devastating and is puzzled that Congress can't reach a deal."
The same official said the memo reflects the Office of Management and Budget's view of the issue, especially with respect to furloughs.
Panetta wrapped up the memo by writing, "I want to assure you that we will do our very best to provide clear information about the status of events as they unfold."
By Barbara Starr, Ivan Watson and Saad Abedine
In an escalation of its civil war, Syria is firing more Scud missiles in a desperate attempt to quash rebel gains, the NATO chief said Friday.
The government has launched more missiles in recent days, according to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary-general of the alliance.
"I can confirm that we have detected the launch of Scud-type missiles," he said. "I consider it an act of a desperate regime approaching collapse."
Though the missiles have not hit Turkey, he said, the development highlights the need for a protection plan for the neighboring nation.
President Barack Obama on Friday nominated Sen. John Kerry, the former presidential candidate who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to be the next secretary of state.
The senior senator from Massachusetts is noted for the experience, gravitas and relationship-building skills that could help him succeed Hillary Clinton, the outgoing top U.S. diplomat.
Kerry has traveled the globe on behalf of the Obama administration to mend frayed relationships. Most notably, he traveled to Pakistan after a series of incidents, including the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, that had set relations back.
He has support from Republicans as well as Democrats. The nomination will be sent to the Senate for confirmation.
By Mike Mount
Badly burned after his armored personnel carrier hit a land mine in Vietnam, Hagel sat in a medical evacuation helicopter thinking of the horrors he had experienced during his time in combat there.
Sitting on that helicopter with injuries that would take years to heal, Hagel thought to himself, "If I ever get out, if I ever can influence anything, I will do all I can to prevent war," Hagel would later tell his biographer, Charlyne Berens.
The moment became a seminal one for the young soldier who volunteered to join the Army and ended up serving a year-long tour in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, considered the most violent time of that war.
If former Senator Chuck Hagel gets nominated to be the next Secretary of Defense, it won't be a smooth ride to confirmation.
Getting to the Pentagon will mean overcoming an already vocal opposition from pro-Israel groups and others who object to his stance on Iran and Hamas. One group began running ads on Washington-area television stations on Thursday, even though the administration has not said he is the president's choice.
He faced new opposition late this week from gay rights groups, who were strong supporters of President Obama's election campaigns, for a comment Hagel made in 1998 in which Hagel questioned whether a nominee for ambassadorship was suitable because he was "openly aggressively gay."
Should he be selected to replace Leon Panetta though, he will bring to the Pentagon a distinct bias towards avoiding armed conflict.