By Elise Labott
As NATO leaders discuss the winding down of its 10-year war in Afghanistan and pat themselves on the back for helping in the bloody ouster of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, there is one increasingly deadly conflict that is taboo for the alliance to even think about wading into: Syria.
Practically every NATO leader has publicly condemned the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and called for him to step down and make way for a democratic transition in Syria. Yet U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said Sunday that not one leader even raised the issue of Syria during the opening day of the summit.
Editor's Note: Barbara Starr is in Jordan covering the Eager Lion 2012 exercise. Read her reporting here. Watch her reports on Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (4pET-6pET).
By Barbara Starr
It couldn't come at a more delicate time in the Middle East. No one will say it publicly, but the Eager Lion 2012 exercise - and the 12,000 multinational forces gathering in Jordan - are sending a not-so-quiet message to others in the region: they are ready for whatever comes.
From now until the end of May, one of the largest multinational military exercises the region has seen is taking place in Jordan. There are more than 19 nations, including the United States and a number of Arab and European allies, gathering to practice their combat skills, just in case.
Several U.S. military officials say while it's not the primary intention, the exercise is meant to be noticed by Syria and Iran especially. The message: even with the United States out of Iraq, and winding up the war in Afghanistan, there is a formidable U.S. presence in the region, and other countries are capable of filling in the gaps.
The U.S. Navy already is keeping two aircraft carriers in the next-door Persian Gulf region, and stepping up the presence of minesweepers in those waters. The Air Force has sent half a dozen F-22 fighters to the United Arab Emirates. The Joint Special Operations Command has conducted several deadly drone strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen. FULL POST
From Nasir Habib, for CNN
Pakistan says it is liaising with the governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia before it decides when to deport several of Osama bin Laden's family members of back to their homelands.
The detention of the terrorist mastermind's three widows and two daughters ended Tuesday night. But as of late Wednesday, there were no signs that they had left the Islamabad house where they were held.
A judge had ordered earlier this month that the five women be deported back to their countries of citizenship after serving their sentence for living illegally in Pakistan. Two of the widows are Saudi while one is Yemeni.
By Ivan Watson reporting from Istanbul, Turkey
The bloody internal struggle over the future of Syria is increasingly taking on a wider, regional dimension that could be seen as a proxy war times two.
At one level, it is a showdown of the old Cold War dimension, pitting the United States and other Western countries against Russia and China. But there is a second proxy battle going on, as throughout the Middle East battle-lines are being drawn between governments that support and those that oppose the al-Assad, regime based mostly on allegiance to Shiite and Sunni heritage.
Turkey - Syria's most powerful neighbor - accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of massacring his own citizens. The Turkish prime minister threatened new pressure tactics in an address to Parliament.
"We will start a new initiative at this point with those countries that will be on the side of the Syrian people, and not with the Syrian regime," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Parliament. FULL POST
by Suzanne Kelly
If the devil is in the details, then Matthew M. Aid, author of “Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terrorism,” has written a devilish book indeed.
Widely praised for his previous look at the history of the National Security Agency, this time Aid is divulging details about the current intelligence efforts around the world.
"Someone showed me the principle national security objectives for 2012," he says over lunch in a Georgetown cafe. "It’s a list of all of the top targets for this year, and virtually every country in the world is on it."
It's an indicator of just how important intelligence relationships with other countries are if the United States is to be able to carry out its intelligence goals - all the more cause for concern as Aid carefully lays out the underlying reasons why many of those relationships are ineffective, or strained, at best.
He describes the troubled relationship with Afghanistan, saying that the Afghans, many in positions of power, have little, if any interest in advancing the U.S. intelligence effort there.
"When I was in Kabul, the former head of the Afghan Intelligence Service, told me that a new station chief had just come in," Aid recalls. "I said, 'How do I get in touch with the new CIA station chief?' And he reached into his rolodex and wrote down his home address, office address, phone number and said, ‘Tell him I said hello.’"
It takes a few moments for Aid to contain his laughter as he recounts the story. The identity and home address of a station chief in a foreign country is supposed to be a closely held secret. But then Aid sobers up when he talks about the prevalence of such attitudes in some of the world's most volatile regions. "It tells you that with the Afghan Intelligence organization, the perception is like 'we'll never be able to trust these people.'” FULL POST
By Barbara Starr reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. Pam Benson and Charley Keyes contributed from Washington
As General Martin Dempsey toured around the globe over the last eight days, one issue was prominent - Iran's nuclear intentions.
Dempsey, in an exclusive interview with CNN, warned that Iran is playing a dangerous game that could ensnare the Middle East, the United States and others into conflict and a renewed nuclear arms race. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff heard about growing concerns about Iran's ambitions.
"My biggest worry is they will miscalculate our resolve," Dempsey said in an interview conducted during a stop in Afghanistan. "Any miscalculation could mean that we are drawn into conflict, and that would be a tragedy for the region and the world."
The recent loss of the U.S. spy drone over Iran exposed part of America's espionage efforts against the country. CNN recently reported that the drone was sent into Iran to conduct surveillance of possible nuclear sites. In perhaps the most candid comments yet from an American official about the spying efforts, Dempsey said the loss of the drone is not the end of U.S. efforts to figure out what Iran is doing.
"If you are asking 'are we gathering intelligence against Iran in a variety of means?', the answer is of course," Dempsey said. "It would be rather imprudent of us not to try to understand what a nation who has declared itself to be an adversary of the United States is doing".
By Senior National Security Producer Suzanne Kelly
Editor's note: This is part of a Security Clearance series, Case File. CNN Senior National Security Producer Suzanne Kelly profiles key members of the security and intelligence community.
Being the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee comes with its own unique set of challenges. For starters, every day begins with a mountain of briefings on subjects that all seem pressing when it comes to keeping the country safe: ongoing operations against al Qaeda, cyber espionage being waged against American companies, Russians revamping their nuclear fleet, and Iran's nuclear intentions.
As chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Mike Rogers helps oversee America's 17 Intelligence agencies. He is one of only four members of the House or Senate who hold such a high clearance level. The intelligence information he receives is restricted to just the chairmen and the ranking members of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. It's a responsibility that can, and often does, keep him up at night.
"The intelligence committee is very different in the sense that its probably more engaged in activities than any other committee," says Rogers, R-Michigan. "We have a constant stream of information."
By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr
A day after the United States revealed an alleged Iranian-backed plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., senior members of the Obama administration's national security apparatus continue to debate what they believe the motivation was for Iranian operatives to engage in the plot according to several US official CNN spoke with at length.
But the search for motivation comes as others question whether such a plot is even in character with the Quds Force behavior.
Determining the motivation may be crucial to learning how high up in the regime the plotting occurred.
"There is a lot of internal discussion related to the 'why' on this," one official said.
Some theories for the alleged attack revolve around the notion that Iran and Saudi Arabia have essentially been engaged in what one official described as a "Middle East cold war" over their differences on everything from Bahrain to Syria.
But another theory gaining some currency is that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards-Quds Force, said to be behind the plot, was perhaps working at the behest of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who is close to the Quds Force. Khamenei is well known to be in a power struggle with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and may have been using the Quds Force to embarrass and discredit the president in the region and on the world stage.
While that is a theory, administration officials Wednesday are stopping short of saying the alleged conspiracy was specifically directed by either Iran’s president or the Supreme Leader.
“We are treating this as a very serious Iranian government sponsored plot,” says one senior administration official. “Our sense is there was institutional sponsorship of this plot."
In the past when the US has criticized Iran’s Quds force for shipping weapons into Afghanistan and Iraq, it has also stopped short of linking those operations directly to the President or the Supreme Leader.
One of the Iranian officials sanctioned by the Treasury Department Tuesday is Qasem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander who is said by US officials to be very involved in all operations and also close to Khamenei.
Several officials said while they were initially surprised to see the alleged perpetrators get involved with drug cartel personnel, they now believe it is simply the Quds Force willingness to adapt and shift techniques from previous operations.
"This is an example of using other methods" when traditional methods fail. They point out that previous Quds attacks in South America and the Middle East show the organization is willing to operate outside their expected parameters and deal with entities the US might not expect.
Officials also said in assessing the seriousness of the plot, they had confirming information from multiple sources, not just the naturalized American arrested by law enforcement.