By Mike Mount
Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel wasted no time in starting formal preparations for what is expected to be a bruising Senate confirmation fight.
One day after his nomination by President Barack Obama, the former Nebraska senator spent Tuesday at the Pentagon meeting key officials and settling in. There were no official briefings, officials said.
Hagel had dinner with outgoing secretary Leon Panetta on Monday night. Officials would not discuss what they talked about, only saying that they were served a Midwestern menu of steak and corn chowder - a nod to Hagel's Nebraska roots.
Over the next few weeks, Hagel and the team assigned to prep him for the Armed Services Committee hearing will spend much of their time in an area resembling a generic cubical farm. Hagel gets his own office.
President Barack Obama said Monday he will nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to become Defense Secretary and tapped his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency. CNN's Barbara Starr reports on the message Obama is sending about foreign policy in his second term with these two top national security post nominations.
By CNN's Gloria Borger
The White House has told some senior members of Congress to expect President Obama to nominate Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, according to a knowledgeable source. Another source with knowledge of the nomination called it "locked down."
The timing is uncertain, but other sources have told CNN it could come early next week.
A Republican, Chuck Hagel represented the state of Nebraska in the US Senate from 1997 until January 3, 2009 when he retired.
The White House has previously said that the president has made no final decisions. One source told CNN Thursday that the president was "mulling" over appointments in Hawaii this week.
Two former caregivers at an army day care center at Ft. Myer, Virginia are charged with assaulting children at the facility just next door to the Pentagon.
And at least 30 other childcare workers have been taken off the job after background checks found criminal records including sexual assault and drug use.
Military families are shocked and telling CNN’s Barbara Starr that the military kept them in the dark about many of the problems at Ft. Myer.
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 Larry Shaughnessy
"You've got to be kidding me."
That's how Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Leon Panetta first responded when asked about David Petraeus's sudden and unceremonial departure from the CIA.
The question was asked during an event Tuesday at the National Press Club.
"As the former head of the CIA, please explain why Gen. Petraeus was forced to resign, rather than a lesser punishment," an unidentified audience member asked.
By Barbara Starr
The Syrian president's control is crumbling at an accelerating pace but the latest assessment by U.S. intelligence finds few indications Bashar al-Assad is willing to step down, according to U.S. officials.
While Obama administration officials have said during the nearly two-year conflict that it appears al-Assad is weakened, the descriptions provided to CNN by U.S. officials familiar with the latest intelligence suggest the Syrian leader's problems have accelerated internally as the opposition continues to capture more territory.
"It's at its lowest point yet," said one senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest assessments. U.S. intelligence believes the decline has accelerated in recent weeks. "The trend is moving more rapidly than it has in the past."
The officials agreed to talk on the condition their names not be used because they were not authorized to discuss the information with the media.
The description comes as a key Russian official suggested candidly that al-Assad could very well be defeated by the rising opposition fighters.
"The regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bodganov told a Russian government committee. "Unfortunately, we cannot rule out the victory of the Syrian opposition."
By Mike Mount
North Korea's latest missile launch moved the United States into new territory as the success of putting a satellite into orbit could also mean the reclusive country is one giant step closer to firing a missile across the Pacific.
The United States is examining information from Wednesday's launch to gather clues about the capabilities of North Korea's rocket technology that can be converted for use in long-range missiles.
Experts say the launch shows North Korea's rocket has the range to hit Hawaii and parts of the West Coast of the United States.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told CNN's Erin Burnett on Wednesday he is "confident" the United States could stop an incoming missile from North Korea.
Sources tell CNN’s Barbara Starr that the Pentagon and US intelligence services are consulting with Syria's neighbors Turkey, Israel and Jordan about what to do if it looks like Assad is about to launch a chemical attack on his own people.
A senior US official says all the allies are now considering how to keep Syria from putting chemical warheads on its artillery or missiles.
But an airstrike to stop it, could cause havoc if residual chemicals escape.
What if Assad leaves? US officials say they have long been planing for 'the day after Assad" – such as training Jordanian troops to provide security – but for now they just hope Syrians troops will keep those chemical weapons under lock and key.
By Tim Lister, CNN
It seems they are everywhere, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the vast tracts of the Sahara, searching the terrain and seas below like glinting birds of prey. Drones have become the emblem of war and intelligence-gathering in the 21st century.
In November, for the first time, Iran tried to bring down a U.S. drone as it flew off the Iranian coastline in the northern Persian Gulf. On Tuesday, a unit from Iran's navy says it has captured a U.S. drone flying over the Persian Gulf, but a Pentagon official says all U.S. drones in the area are accounted for.
U.S. drones operate over Yemen and Afghanistan with the host government’s agreement. They operate over Pakistan unimpeded but against the wishes of the Pakistani authorities. They fly above Somalia in the absence of any effective authority there.
But Iran sees them as an affront to its sovereignty. And if captured or shot down they can be a trove of valuable technology (though some of the crown jewels can be destroyed remotely) as well as a propaganda trophy. FULL POST