By CNN Wire Staff
An al Qaeda video calling for "electronic jihad" illustrates the urgent need for cybersecurity standards for the most critical networks in the United States, a group of senators said.
"Internet piracy is an important field of jihad," the narrator of the video says, according to a translation. He advises followers with expertise to "target the websites and information systems of big companies and government agencies of the countries that attack Muslims."
The video calls for cyberattacks against networks such as the electric grid and compares vulnerabilities in the United States' critical cyber networks to the vulnerabilities in the country's aviation system before 9/11, according to a statement Tuesday from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
By Jamie Crawford
Capturing and bringing to justice the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a group terrorizing a large portion of central Africa, will be a challenge, officials from the Obama administration told a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African affairs, officials on Tuesday said the task of stopping Joseph Kony is complicated by the region's vast and inhospitable terrain, along with the difficulty of coordinating the efforts of four partner nations' armies and gathering and sharing intelligence.
"Ending the LRA threat is not an easy mission," said Donald Yamamoto, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "The LRA operates in very small groups across vast territories, roughly the size of California and very heavily forested."
Since being pushed out of its previous stronghold in Northern Uganda in 2006, Kony and his lieutenants have been accused of continuing their abduction of children to serve as LRA soldiers in a campaign of rape, torture and murder across central Africa.
By Jill Dougherty
Angered by Russia's refusal to stop selling arms to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. lawmakers are urging the Defense Department to halt U.S. purchases of Russian helicopters and parts for the Afghan air force.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, 17 senators said that "U.S. taxpayers should not be put in a position where they are indirectly subsidizing the mass murder of Syrian civilians." The letter, dated Monday, was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well.
But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Tuesday defended the Russian-Afghan deal, saying that although "we obviously share the intent" of the senators' demands to persuade Russia to end its arms supply to Syria, "cutting off U.S. purchases would hurt Afghanistan's ability to defend itself."
Last May, the Defense Department signed a $375 million contract with the Russian state-controlled arms export firm Rosoboronexport to purchase 21 Mi-17 aircraft. The helicopters, developed by the Soviet Union, are used extensively around the world and Afghan pilots traditionally have been trained on them.
By Chris Lawrence
The Pentagon tried to clarify remarks made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, when he told a Senate committtee on Wednesday that the U.S. military is seeking "permission" from a foreign organization to intervene in Syria.
"He was re-emphasizing the need for an international mandate. We are not ceding U.S. decision-making authority to some foreign body," a defense official told CNN.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Panetta had an exchange with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, who said Congress was circumvented when Obama decided to join the NATO coalition in Libya.
By Barbara Starr and Jamie Crawford
After weeks of collecting intelligence on Syria and watching the attacks by the forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. sees "no fracturing" of the Syrian regime and assesses al-Assad could remain in power for some time to come if the situation does not change, according to a senior U.S. official.
This the basic conclusion of top officials closely watching Syria, the official said. Unless something changes in the next several days, this will also be the message delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee next week by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The hearing, called for Wednesday, is the first public hearing in which both men will be publicly questioned by Congress on the Syrian crisis.
Sen. John McCain, the senior Republican on the committee, has already called for arming rebel forces, something the defense secretary expects to be asked about, according to the official. The issue of U.S. military planning for options in Syria is also expected to arise, but officials say the secretary and the general may not be able to offer many specifics in an open session before the public.
Instead, they are likely to talk more about the current situation in Syria and how the U.S. views the al-Assad regime.
By CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty
Overcoming initial opposition to his appointment, Robert Ford has won unanimous confirmation by the Senate as U.S. ambassador to Syria.
President Barack Obama named Ford to the post at the end of last year as an interim appointment over Republican protest. Some Republicans argued that sending an ambassador back to Syria after a five-year absence would send the message that the United States was conferring legitimacy on the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
At his post in Syria, however, Ford has been an active supporter of the Syrian opposition and a vocal critic of the regime's brutal crackdown on protests. He has traveled to cities in Syria where the opposition has been under attack. He himself has been pelted with tomatoes and followed by pro-government supporters.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate Armed Services Committee could be forgiven had Tuesday's confirmation hearing for Gen. Martin Dempsey gone very quickly. Dempsey is President Obama's nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he just went through a confirmation hearing four and a half months ago when he was nominated to be the Army Chief of Staff.
But this hearing provided an opportunity for Senators to discuss the issue that has dominated the hill for weeks; budget cuts.
"What concerns me most about our current debate is that the defense cuts being discussed have little or no strategic or military rationale to support them," Republican Senator John McCain said. "Our national defense planning and spending must be driven by considered strategy not arbitrary arithmetic."
Across the aisle, Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the committee said "the fiscal realities that confront the nation will put tremendous pressures on the Defense Department's budget. Those fiscal realities require us, when considering defense planning and programs, to take into consideration historic budgetary constraints."
Two leading voices in the Senate on foreign policy continued their criticism of President Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw roughly 30,000 American troops from Afghanistan over the next 14 months.
Republican Sen. John McCain, speaking from Kabul, Afghanistan, said Sunday the president’s plan creates an “unnecessary risk” in the region.
“What I have seen and heard here, both from Afghans as well as a number of Americans, is that it is an unnecessary risk, it’s not recommended by any of the military,” McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I hope that it will work out, but it certainly deprives us of the necessary troops that we need for the second fighting season.”