By Paul Cruickshank
A potential al Qaeda plot targeting Belgium was thwarted in part by e-mail information provided by U.S. Internet providers, according to Belgian court documents and Western counterterrorism officials.
The case, which came to light in 2008, shows how U.S. intelligence capabilities can aid in disrupting plots.
On Tuesday, American counterterrorism officials revealed that more than 50 plots have been thwarted since September 11, 2001, using National Security Agency surveillance programs. Many of those plots were overseas.
The officials, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, revealed only four of those plots and promised to provide details on the others to Congress in a classified setting. The Belgium plot, though not confirmed to be one of the 50 that relied on the recently revealed secretive NSA program to monitor online messages, appears to fit the bill.
By Dana Bash and Tom Cohen
Bomb plots targeting the New York Stock Exchange and the city's subway were among more than 50 worldwide thwarted by top-secret surveillance programs since the 2011 al Qaeda attacks on the United States, authorities said on Tuesday.
Gen. Keith Alexander, National Security Agency director, FBI and other officials revealed startling details at a House Intelligence Committee hearing aimed at finding out more about the telephone and e-mail surveillance initiatives that came to light this month through leaks of classified information to newspapers.
It was the most comprehensive and specific defense of those methods that have come under ferocious criticism from civil liberties groups, some members of Congress and others concerned about the reach of government into the private lives of citizens in the interest of national security.
National security and law enforcement officials asserted that the leaks were egregious and carry huge consequences for national security.FULL STORY
By Barbara Starr
Al Qaeda's affiliate inside Syria is now the best-equipped arm of the terror group in existence today, according to informal assessments by U.S. and Middle East intelligence agencies, a private sector analyst directly familiar with the information told CNN.
Concern about the Syrian al Qaeda-affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the al-Nusra Front, is at an all-time high, according to the analyst, with as many as 10,000 fighters and supporters inside Syria. The United States has designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda in Iraq.
That assessment is shared by some Middle Eastern intelligence agencies that have long believed the United States is underestimating the Sunni-backed al Qaeda movement in the country, according to a Middle East source. It is also believed that Iran is running training camps inside Syria for Hezbollah and that other Iranian militia fighters are coming into the country to fight for the regime.
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 Ashley Killough and Paul Cruickshank
In its upcoming issue, the al Qaeda-backed magazine Inspire praises the alleged Boston Marathon bombers as heroes and encourages readers in the United States to follow their example.
According to an English copy of the magazine obtained by Flashpoint Partners, an American group tracking jihadist websites, the issue also has a section heralding the killing of a British soldier in London last week.
The authors of the magazine, published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen, argue April's deadly violence in Boston proves that lone-wolf attacks can be effective in the United States. The issue also warns Americans that they're not safe against such "unstoppable" operations.
CNN's Barbara Starr reports on a letter from employer to employee that offers remarkable insight into the inner workings of Al Qaeda's branch in North Africa. The letter was discovered by the Associated Press in North Africa.
By Jamie Crawford, CNN National Security Producer
From the targeted killing of Americans overseas to the future of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, President Barack Obama will lay out the framework and legal rationale for his administration's counterterrorism policy in a widely anticipated speech on Thursday.
Administration officials tell CNN that Obama will use the National Defense University speech to continue to call on engagement with Congress on aspects of national security, more transparency in the use of drones, and a review of threats facing the United States.
He will make the case that the al Qaeda terror network has been weakened, but that new dangers have emerged even as the U.S. winds down operations in Afghanistan after more than a decade of war triggered by the 9/11 attacks.
Threats that have emerged come from al Qaeda affiliates, localized extremist groups, and homegrown terrorists.
The address will also build on remarks Obama made in his annual State of the Union address earlier this year when he said his administration works "tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts."FULL STORY
By Carol Cratty and Joe Johns
Counterterrorism drone strikes have killed four Americans overseas since 2009, the U.S. government acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday, one day before President Barack Obama delivers a major speech on related policy.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Attorney General Eric Holder said the United States specifically targeted and killed one American citizen, al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, in 2011 in Yemen, alleging he was plotting attacks against the United States.
The letter provided new details about al-Awlaki's alleged involvement in bomb plots targeting U.S. aviation.
Holder also said the Obama administration was aware of three other Americans who had been killed in counterterrorism operations overseas.
Holder said Samir Kahn, Abdul Rahman Anwar al-Awlaki and Jude Kenan Mohammed were not targeted by the United States but he did not add more details about their deaths.
The letter represents the first U.S. admission that the four were killed in counterterror strikes even though their deaths had been reported in the media.
Read the full story here.
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."
By Pam Benson
The undercover officer temporarily running the CIA's spy division who had ties to the agency's controversial interrogation program will not get the job permanently.
CIA Director John Brennan said on Tuesday the first female to lead the National Clandestine Service will be replaced by a man, a nearly 30-year veteran who served covertly overseas, including a stint as station chief in Pakistan.
The identities of these undercover officials were not made public.
Whether the acting director would get to keep the job was in question due to opposition from a number of senior lawmakers concerned about her ties to the CIA's controversial interrogation and detention program.