By Jill Dougherty
Four State Department workers who were put on leave after last year's attack on a U.S. mission in Libya will be allowed to resume work, but in different positions, a senior State Department official told CNN on Tuesday.
News of the move irked U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the Republicans who've pressed the State Department to punish employees for what the lawmakers say were ignored security warnings in advance of the September attack on the Benghazi mission, which left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
"Instead of accountability, the State Department offered a charade that included false reports of firings and resignations and now ends in a game of musical chairs where no one misses a single day on the State Department payroll," Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Tuesday.
"The Oversight Committee will expand its investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack to include how a supposed 'Accountability Review Board' investigation resulted in a decision by Secretary Kerry not to pursue any accountability from anyone," Issa added.FULL STORY
There has been no significant new intelligence about potential terror threats against U.S. interests since startling developments tied to al Qaeda that prompted the closure of American embassies throughout the Middle East and Africa this week, multiple sources tell CNN's Barbara Starr and Elise Labott.
But with the terror alert and embassy closings now stretching into a fifth day, a crucial question is how will the United States know when the threat has passed and facilities can re-open?
One senior U.S. official said there is no new threat stream that gives authorities pause. But on the other hand, "we haven't seen anything that turns us off even more."
Officials added that the United States is trying to determine whether its public disclosure of the threat in general and follow up action has disrupted plots or just delayed them.
"We expected something by now. We would not expect them to throw their hands up, but at what point do you reconsider," one official said.
The State Department will close a number of U.S. embassies and consulates on Sunday due to "more than the usual chatter" about a potential terrorist threat.
A senior U.S. official said that although the threat does not have a great deal of specificity about time and location, it is being taken "very seriously."
U.S. "interests" including military installations could also see additional security and protection measures. The official, and a second official as well, noted that tensions are rising with the approach of both the holy days at the end of Ramadan and the first anniversary of the September 11 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Several hundred Marines in Spain, Italy and in the Red Sea could provide additional security for U.S. embassies in southern Europe, North Africa or the Middle East if requested by the State Department.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf revealed the closings but gave no details as to the locations of the affected embassies or the nature of the threat.
"The Department of State has instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4. The department has been apprised of information that out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installation, that indicates we should institute these precautionary steps. The department, when conditions warrant, takes steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety," Harf said.FULL STORY
By Jamie Crawford
A U.S. government watchdog found "serious deficiencies" in how the State Department awarded a contract job in Afghanistan, according to a letter from the organization to Secretary of State John Kerry released Thursday.
In the letter dated Monday, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, raised a number of concerns on the oversight practices of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) at the State Department and how they awarded a contract for the training of Afghan justice workers.
Sopko said the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), the nongovernmental organization awarded the contract, is "ill-prepared to manage and account for how U.S.-taxpayer funds will be spent," while also criticizing the State Department's role in awarding the contract.
By Elise Labott
While America's top military officials continue in-depth discussions with their counterparts in Egypt, the Obama administration is looking how to map America's relations with the crucial Middle East ally.
Top officials huddled at the White House again on Monday to discuss the issue.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel once again talked with Gen. Abdel Fattah al Sisi, Egypt's defense minister.
It's at least the fourth time Hagel has spoken to Sisi in the past week, both before and after his military deposed Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsy, and put him under house arrest.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the conversations "have been lengthy and very candid."
A defense official, who requested anonymity, says some of the calls "have lasted nearly two hours."
Meanwhile, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has also had two calls with the chief of staff of Egypt's armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sedki Sobhi.
The importance of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, which has been developing since the Carter-era Camp David Peace Accords, is evidenced by how carefully government officials are avoiding labeling the past week's developments a "military coup."
If Morsy's removal were to be called a coup, under U.S. law, more than $1 billion in military aid to Egypt would have to be slashed.
Israel is concerned that such a cut could jeopardize the peace treaty between the two countries
Israel and Egypt are the two biggest recipients of American military aid.
The determination of whether a coup took place is generally made by the State Department's Legal Advisor Office.
But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki described it as an interagency process on Monday.
Psaki also said that the fact tens of millions of Egyptians supported the move and did not consider this a coup would be factored into the deliberations.
Senior U.S. officials say the administration is examining three potential options – calling events in Egypt a coup and cutting off aid; calling it a coup and issuing a national security waiver; or not determining it a coup, recognizing that the military has taken steps to move the country toward a civilian transitional government and move toward elections.
White House spokesman Jay Carney suggested what happens next will be very important.
"Our relationship with Egypt is not limited to or defined solely by the assistance that we provide to Egypt. It is broader and deeper than that, and it is bound up in America's support for the aspirations of the Egyptian people for democracy, for a better economic and political future, and we support that," Carney said.
"So our decisions with regards to the events that have happened recently in Egypt will be - and how we label them and analyze them will be made with our policy objectives in mind, in accordance with the law and in accordance with any consultation with Congress," he said.
By CNN's Ashley Killough
The State Department has dramatically cut its funding for social media after an inspector general's report found the department spent excessive amounts on advertising for some of its Facebook pages.
"We take the valuable feedback of the (Office of Inspector General) seriously, and we're committed to addressing the recommendations and the concern outlined in this assessment," State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said Wednesday in the daily press briefing.FULL STORY
CNN's Elise Labott interviewed Secretary of State John Kerry Monday in India about U.S. efforts to find Edward Snowden after he fled Hong Kong. She asked him whether China's failure to stop him from fleeing was payback after Snowden leaked information about U.S. surveillance activities on China.
CNN's Jill Dougherty gets access to a training facility in West Virginia where new diplomats see first-hand the dangers they face in high-threat posts.
By CNN's Paul Courson
A country-by-country study of trends in terrorism finds unilateral and "lone wolf" threats rising alongside state-sponsored acts, according to findings released Thursday by the U.S. State Department.
The 200-page study, "Country Reports on Terrorism 2012," includes a strategic assessment, a survey of counter terrorism efforts and reviews of what researchers believe are state sponsors of terrorism, terrorist safe havens, and foreign terrorist organizations.
The Iranian government was cited for a "resurgence" of what the report calls "state sponsorship of terrorism" through Iran's military intelligence apparatus and support for terrorist operatives associated with Hezbollah, who carry out attacks outside Iran.
The report also concluded that independent terrorist activity exists without obvious support from organized governments. Counter-terrorism efforts are having an impact on al-Qaeda, it said, evidenced by splintered leadership. That has forced the group to operate in smaller, more local venues, the study found.
The report's Strategic Assessment said al-Qaeda's "ability to direct the activities and attacks of its affiliates has diminished, as its leaders focus increasingly on survival." The study cautioned that the group retains influence operating from its safe haven in western Pakistan.
By Paul Courson
Secretary of State John Kerry tried to reassure diplomatic workers on Monday that security improvements are underway at American missions around the world where they are likely to be deployed.
The measures include plans for a rapid evacuation contingency if conditions turn deadly, as they did last September during a terror attack on the U.S. post in Benghazi, Libya.
In opening remarks at a "Security Overseas Seminar" at the Foreign Service Institute, Kerry said there's a balance between making contact with the local populations the United States is trying to serve, and protecting Americans working in hostile regions.
"Diplomacy and security needs do not have to be trade-offs," he said, declaring that "if we are going to bring light to the world, we have to go where it is dark."