By Jamie Crawford
High levels of sectarianism, carnage and the overall grinding nature of Syria's civil war continue to make that country a top destination for extremists, a top U.S. official said.
"Syria has become the pre-eminent location for al Qaeda-aligned groups to recruit, to train and to equip what is now a growing number of extremists, some of who seek to conduct external attacks," Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a congressional hearing on Thursday.
"From a terrorism perspective, the most disturbing element is that al Qaeda has declared Syria its most critical front," he said.
Olsen testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee alongside Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet about the crisis in Syria and the ongoing standoff with Russia over the situation in Ukraine.
By Laura Koran
Syria carried out "egregious human rights violations" last year, according to a State Department assessment released on Thursday that also singled out abuses in Russia and the Ukraine.
The 2013 Human Rights Report, based on assessments from America's embassies abroad, reserved its strongest language for the Syrian government, which allegedly gassed its own people last August in an atrocity linked to the ongoing civil war.
"Hundreds were murdered in the dead of night when a disaster occurred at the hands of a dictator, who decided to infect the air of Damascus with poisonous gas," Secretary of State John Kerry said in presenting the report.
"And many more have been, unfortunately, confined to die under a barrage of barrel bombs, scud missiles, artillery and other conventional weapons," he said.
By Barbara Starr
Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey has privately disciplined one of his top generals, who has been investigated by the Army for sending an inappropriate e-mail about a female member of Congress, CNN has learned.
Two senior U.S. military officials said Brig. Gen. Martin P. Schweitzer was ordered by Dempsey to no longer participate in weekly briefings to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the movement of troops around the world. FULL POST
By CNN's Greg Clary
Members of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees say they are extremely concerned about security surrounding next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wouldn’t go to the games himself – “and I don't think I would send my family,” he told CNN’s State of the Union.
By Jason Hanna and Evan Perez
The deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was "likely preventable" based on known security shortfalls and prior warnings that the security situation there was deteriorating, the majority of the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a report released on Wednesday.
Separately, the findings also noted what the FBI had told the panel - that 15 people cooperating with its investigation had been killed in Benghazi, undercutting the investigation. It was not clear if the killings were related to the probe.
Moreover, it said that people linked with various al Qaeda-related groups in North Africa and elsewhere participated in the September 11, 2012, attack, but investigators haven't been able to determine whether any one group was in command.FULL STORY
By Deirdre Walsh
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, blasted as "irresponsible" comments by Obama administration officials who have suggested that lawmakers pushing for tighter sanctions on Iran are increasing the risk of war.
Hoyer, of Maryland, didn't name names, but an aide said he was referring to several comments from various officials over the past month.
The New York Times quoted Obama's deputy national security adviser, Benjamin Rhodes, on the subject on Tuesday.
"It just stands to reason if you close the diplomatic option, you're left with a difficult choice of waiting to see if sanctions cause Iran to capitulate, which we don't think will happen, or considering military action," Rhodes said, according to the paper.
By Steve Almasy
U.S. officials reacted angrily to comments attributed to Israel's defense minister criticizing Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians.
The derisive remarks appeared in a popular daily Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronot, and reflect Moshe Yaalon's skepticism of the Kerry-led U.S. efforts "both in private conversations in Israel and in the U.S."
"American Secretary of State John Kerry, who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor, cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians," Yaalon said, according to the paper.
The U.S. State Department fired back Tuesday. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said it was shocking that a close ally would question Kerry's motives.FULL STORY
By Tom Cohen
The clock is ticking on an interim nuclear deal with Iran, as well as efforts in Congress to pass new sanctions for greater leverage in global negotiations on a comprehensive accord.
Sunday's announcement that a six-month interim agreement formally begins on January 20 means that Iran must dismantle or freeze some of its nuclear program and open it to more international inspections in return for limited relief from crippling international sanctions.
Assuming all goes as planned, further negotiations between Iran and the United States, France, Russia, China, Great Britain and Germany will seek a broader agreement intended to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Meanwhile, pro-Israel members of Congress are seeking additional sanctions against Iran that would take effect if the talks break down.FULL STORY
By Ashley Killough
President Barack Obama should send David Petraeus, a retired four-star general who ran the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, back to Iraq to help deal with the growing unrest in the country, Sen. John McCain said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The Arizona Republican also weighed in on a new book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, saying he would have waited a bit longer to release the book, which offers a blistering critique of the Obama administration.
On Iraq, McCain said the country is not a lost cause and argued the United States can still offer assistance to help quell the renewed violence that’s rocked the country in the last year.
The 2008 GOP presidential nominee said he opposed sending combat troops back to Iraq, but added the U.S. can provide other kinds of aid, such as logistics support and Apache helicopters.FULL STORY
By Ted Barrett, Senior Congressional Producer
The Senate broke another Republican filibuster on Monday in confirming former top Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson to head the Homeland Security Department.
The vote to approve Johnson, a key architect of President Barack Obama's anti-terrorism policies that have included stepped up drone use in terrorist hotspots, was 78-16.