By Dan Merica
This weekend marks the conclusion of this year’s Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado, an event that brought together some of the key players in the world of defense and national security policy.
Here the five moments that the Security Clearance Blog’s team will be talking about on the flight back to Washington:
1. The United States is keeping close tabs on Syria’s weapons, al Qaeda’s influence
As war rages on in Syria, the United States intelligence community is closely monitoring the situation, National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen told CNN’s Intelligence Correspondent Suzanne Kelly.
By Pam Benson, reporting from Aspen, Colorado
The use of military Special Operations Forces has been a proven success in Iraq, Afghanistan and - with last year's raid on Osama bin Laden's compound - in Pakistan, but that success has some people concerned. Will the forces become the tool of choice for a president?
The former head of the U.S. Special Operations Command told the Aspen Security Forum Thursday he fears there could be a misuse of the highly trained specialists.
"It's a real danger," retired Adm. Eric Olson said. "They come to be thought of as a utility infielder, sometimes a utility infielder with guns, and they may be asked to solve problems that are not necessarily special operations problems."
By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, Colorado
National security experts often refer to the core of al Qaeda as a “spent force.” Its leaders are mostly wiped out even if al Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen continue their fight against the West. But if al Qaeda is a spent force will the U.S. military go back to the old paradigm of preparing for conflict with nation states?
That’s one of the underlying themes of the Aspen Security Forum. I spoke with author and academic Paula Broadwell, a veteran of 15 years in intelligence, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.
The U.S. must be prepared for “full spectrum warfare,” she says. That's everything from a full-on war to smaller conflicts.
“Nobody thinks these small wars or these insurgencies are going away,” Broadwell tells me. “The way we’ll fight them is changing, and instead of sending a large army to fight an insurgency I think we’ll see more precision strikes, more special forces response, more drone operations, and more cooperation with our allies."
Over one thousand special forces troops from the U.S. and more than a dozen countries trained for dangerous missions in Jordan, CNN's Barbara Starr reports.
By Mike Mount
A request by the U.S. military's Special Operations Command to get new authority to train and equip security forces in countries considered to be terrorist hot spots was denied by Congress and the State Department, although military officials say the proposal was not an effort to circumvent the regular authorization chain.
The request was to use Special Operations Command money to create, train and equip domestic special operations troops in countries of concern where commanders believed training was needed, as well as to build barracks and other construction projects related to training over three years.
By Mike Mount, Senior National Security Producer
In what is shaping up to be a classic congressional right vs. left fight over defense and war funding, both the House and Senate are gearing up to battle over some expected and not-so-expected items in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the bill, showing its hand to members of the House of Representatives on what it felt should be authorized for military spending.
The act authorizes spending limits and sets defense policy, but it does not actually appropriate the funds.
The committee version must still pass a full Senate vote. The House signed off on its bill this month. While a date has yet to be announced, both the final House and Senate versions will go through extensive negotiations to hammer out a final version of the legislation, expected in the fall.
Both bills have numerous amendments that will be debated and fought over in the coming months. Keep an eye on these five if you like political fireworks.
By Suzanne Kelly and Jamie Crawford
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered rare insight this week into a little-known unit within the Department of State that aims to counter terror groups like al Qaeda who are actively seeking new recruits online.
Speaking Wednesday at a special operations dinner in Tampa, the secretary laid out the challenge and the team's mission. She gave an example:
"A couple of weeks ago, al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen began an advertising campaign on key tribal Web sites bragging about killing Americans and trying to recruit new supporters," Clinton said. "Within 48 hours, our team plastered the same sites with altered versions of the ads that showed the toll al Qaeda attacks have taken on the Yemeni people. "
The online posting was carefully crafted in Arabic by the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which was brought together under a presidential directive issued last fall. The CSCC's message was described by a government official, who is not authorized to talk publicly about the program, as a parody of al Qaeda's earlier ad bragging about killing Americans. FULL POST
By Barbara Starr
The head of U.S .Special Operations Command recently held a closed-door secret meeting at his Florida headquarters to discuss the future of special operations forces in Afghanistan after the U.S. formally withdraws at the end of 2014.
The Tampa meeting was called by Adm. William McRaven, commander of SOCOM. It involved some of the most senior officers in the military, as well as officials from U.S. intelligence agencies, two U.S. military officials told CNN.
Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan; Gen. James Mattis, the commander of U.S. Central Command, as well as Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were just some of the participants, the officials said.
The officials declined to be identified because what was discussed at the meeting is considered highly private by the participants prior to key decisions being made about the future role of special operations forces.
By Jennifer Rizzo
The top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East singled out Iran as the only country actively trying to destabilize and spark violence in the region.
"Iran presents the most significant regional threat to stability and security," Gen. James Mattis, head of the U.S. Central Command, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday. "Its reckless behavior and bellicose rhetoric have created a high potential for miscalculation."
By Adam Levine
With today's budget for 2013 comes the latest sign of how the Obama administration wants to reshape the military going forward to deal both with the changing nature of threats to the U.S. and a scaled back military budget. The 2013 budget request will be the first truly detailed look at how the shaping of the military vision impacts the bottom line.
Of course, even adjusted for inflation, the reduction in defense budget growth will still add up a historically high budget and the biggest in the world.
War spending remains high, even though the U.S. military is out of Iraq. The military is expected to ask for $88.4 billion, down from $115 billion, for war spending. The reason, said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, that the "costs associated with that effort are pretty significant." FULL POST