By CNN's Rachel Streitfeld and Kevin Liptak
Sen. John McCain visited rebels in Syria on Monday, his communications director confirmed to CNN, making the Arizona Republican the highest ranking elected official from the United States to visit the war-torn country.
Brian Rogers confirmed a report that originally appeared on The Daily Beast, which indicated McCain entered Syria through Turkey, and remained in the country for several hours.
While in Syria, McCain met with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, according to the Daily Beast. He also met with other rebel leaders who traveled the country to meet him.
McCain is the leading voice in Congress for a greater U.S. role in ending Syria's civil war, which has been waged for more than two years. He has suggested establishing "safe zones" for Syria's rebels and taking out the regime's air assets, along with providing lethal weapons to Syria's opposition.
By Paul Courson
There has been little improvement in religious freedom worldwide but some positive changes were seen in Turkey and Vietnam, according to an annual State Department survey of nearly 200 countries.
Secretary of State John Kerry, a former U.S. senator who helped push the law mandating the original report 15 years ago, helped announce the findings on Monday in the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
"This report is a clear-eyed, objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world. And when necessary, yes, it does directly call out some of our close friends, as well as some countries with whom we seek stronger ties."
Government repression in China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia has kept all three countries on a list the report calls "Countries of Particular Concern."
By Pam Benson
The undercover officer temporarily running the CIA's spy division who had ties to the agency's controversial interrogation program will not get the job permanently.
CIA Director John Brennan said on Tuesday the first female to lead the National Clandestine Service will be replaced by a man, a nearly 30-year veteran who served covertly overseas, including a stint as station chief in Pakistan.
The identities of these undercover officials were not made public.
Whether the acting director would get to keep the job was in question due to opposition from a number of senior lawmakers concerned about her ties to the CIA's controversial interrogation and detention program.
By the CNN Political Unit
A senior Republican has released names of witnesses for a Wednesday congressional hearing on the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, including two characterized by Republicans as whistleblowers.
Rep. Darrel Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, praised the State Department officials agreeing to testify.
“They have critical information about what occurred before, during, and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that differs on key points” from what Obama administration officials have conveyed so far, Issa said in a statement on Saturday.
“Our committee has been contacted by numerous other individuals who have direct knowledge of the Benghazi terrorist attack, but are not yet prepared to testify. In many cases their principal reticence of appearing in public is their concern of retaliation at the hands of their respective employers,” Issa said.
By Elise Labott
BRUSSELS (CNN) - When Secretary of State John Kerry meets Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of NATO meetings, he will have a full agenda, starting with the crisis in Syria, disarmament talks with Iran and nuclear saber rattling by North Korea.
There also will be the issue of missile defense and ongoing negotiations between Moscow and Washington to make drastic cuts in their respective nuclear arsenals.
But the Chechen roots of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects will loom large.
While Russia could be helpful in tracing possible motivation of the alleged attackers, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as well as any possible connection to terrorist groups, the Obama administration wants to make sure it does not upset an already fragile relationship.
By Ashley Killough and Gregory Wallace
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect in federal custody for the Boston Marathon bombing, should be considered an enemy combatant only for interrogation purposes, not so he can be tried in a military tribunal, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday.
"He is not eligible for military commission trial," the Republican senator from South Carolina said on CNN's "State of the Union." Graham argued Tsarnaev should be tried in a civilian trial in federal courts.
By Larry Shaughnessy
The general at the center of a military and legal controversy is telling his side of the story for the first time since throwing out the sexual assault conviction of an Air Force officer.
Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson III was found guilty last year by a jury of Air Force officers of sexually assaulting a woman at his home outside Aviano Air Base in Italy.
He spent four months in a Navy brig before Lt. General Craig Franklin, the convening authority in the case, threw out the verdict.
Franklin was the officer who ordered Wilkerson's court martial at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. But military law allowed him to have the final say.
By Barbara Starr
Under pressure from Democrats and Republicans, the Joint Staff of the Pentagon and the U.S. Central Command have updated potential military options for intervention in Syria that could see American forces - if ordered - doing everything from bombing Syrian airfields to flying large amounts of humanitarian aid to the region, a senior U.S. military official said.
The first public discussion of the updated options could come soon as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, are scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee next week.
The military official emphasized the options are for planning and there is no indication President Barack Obama is about to order any military action.
A senior administration official confirmed that the national security staff of the White House has been briefed on the updated planning, but emphasized that it does not differ from what already has been looked at by the administration.
"We've been saying for quite some time now, we are constantly reviewing every possible option that could help end the violence and accelerate a political transition," the administration official told CNN.
The Army has decided not to award Purple Hearts to the dead and wounded in that incident. The victims of the mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas
That has families, and some lawmakers outraged.
CNN Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence looked in to this.
By: CNN's Gregory Wallace
Rep. Peter King, former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Sunday that the recent provocative, warmongering rhetoric out of North Korea is no "empty threat."
He qualified that by explaining he does not fear the North launching a successful attack on the U.S. mainland, but is concerned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "is trying to establish himself ... trying to be the tough guy," and may "box himself in" and need to display some level of military might.
"My concern would be that he may feel to save face he has to launch some sort of attack on South Korea, or some base in the Pacific," King, R-New York, said on ABC's "This Week."