By Jamie Crawford with reporting from Jill Dougherty, Elise Labott and Pam Benson
The United States is closely watching how rebel forces operate inside Syria, and what their end objectives might be as the Obama administration weighs whether or not to provide arms to the Syrian opposition.
"Will providing arms to the opposition convince the people who support [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad, in many cases because they are afraid of their own existence, or will it simply lead to more fighting - that is the question that we are considering," Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, said during a panel discussion in Washington on Thursday on the crisis in Syria.
"Arms are not a strategy, arms are a tactic," Ford said about the deliberation the administration is undertaking on the question, and that a "military solution" is not the best path forward for Syria.
"The president has never taken the provision of arms off the table," he said. "And so, as we think about our policy of sending arms or not, and today we do not, we want to make sure that tactic plays into and helps us achieve a strategy of enabling the Syrian people to reach a political solution."
By Pam Benson
Recent satellite photos show continued activity at a controversial Iranian military site that international weapons inspectors have repeatedly been denied access to, according to a Washington-based think tank.
The Institute for Science and International Study obtained imagery from DigitalGlobe taken on November 7 that the institute says shows changes in the roofs on two key buildings at the Parchin Military Complex. ISIS also pointed out there is a new addition on the building suspected of containing a high-explosives chamber and piles of dirt not seen in an image taken on September 19.
ISIS said the imagery indicates additional changes will be made to the site, making it more difficult for the international inspectors.
"The considerable amount of new materials, equipment, and rows of earth piles suggest that further construction will be taking place, thus increasing the level of alteration and further degrading the chance of obtaining reliable environmental samples if and when (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors gain access to the site," ISIS stated.
Since January, the IAEA has been seeking access to the site, where it suspects Iran may have conducted high-explosives tests related to the development of nuclear weapons. Iran denies that Parchin has any role in its nuclear program.
The latest IAEA report on Iran released earlier this month said the "extensive activities" at the Parchin site are certain to have "seriously undermined" the agency's verification process.
Those activities include "significant ground scraping and landscaping" with new dirt roads.
By Jennifer Rizzo
While new satellite images show preparations for what is believed to be a coming long-range missile launch by North Korea, a second attempt in 2012 would be unprecedented, a top satellite image analyst told Security Clearance.
There have been four launches of this scale since 1998, including a failed attempt in April of this year. A second launch in 2012 would be the first time North Korea has launched two systems of this class, their largest missile class, in less than three years.
"The fact that they are now apparently preparing for a second launch in 2012 indicated that the decision to do this was made at the highest level," said DigitalGlobe analyst Joe Bermudez.
The North Koreans are looking for "maximum political impact" domestically, regionally and internationally with a test launch such as this, according to Bermudez, calling it a "very politically motivated event."
The timing of a launch at the end of this year would coincide with many consequential events, said Bermudez.
South Korea will be launching a rocket into space by the end of this week. North Korea and Japan will be holding another set of bilateral talks early in December and the South Korean presidential election will take place in less than a month. North Korea watchers say new leader Kim Jung Un may be responding to internal political pressure from hard-liners to send a message.
From Ivan Watson
In a potential escalation of the Syrian conflict, Turkey asked NATO on Wednesday for Patriot missiles to bolster its air defenses against its southern neighbor.
A letter to NATO included the "formal request" that the alliance send "air defense elements," according to a Turkish government statement that cited "the threats and risks posed by the continuing crisis in Syria to our national security."
The statement added that the NATO Council would convene "shortly" to consider the matter.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a Twitter post that the request would be considered without delay.
In a statement on Wednesday, Rasmussen said the letter from Turkey requested Patriot missiles that would "contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along NATO's south-eastern border" and serve as "a concrete demonstration of alliance solidarity and resolve."
Rasmussen's statement said three NATO countries have available Patriot missiles - Germany, the Netherlands and the United States - and it would be up to them to decide if they can deploy them and for how long.
By Jennifer Rizzo
Future unmanned ships could be retrofitted with missile-firing systems following successful prototype tests, but how long before the technology can be deployed remains a question, U.S. Navy officials say.
Six long-range missiles were fired during three days of testing last month, marking the first time missiles have been fired from any unmanned ship.
The seafaring drone, called the NUWC-4, is a smaller craft developed to defend against a potential attack of ships swarming toward naval vessels, according to the Navy. Terrorists and pirates have been known to use these tactics.
The "project was developed in response to recent world events involving swarms of small attack craft, as well as threat assessments outlined in recent studies conducted by the Naval Warfare Development Command," said NAVSEA Special Warfare Program Manager Capt. Thomas D. Gajewski. "Technology demonstrated in this project can provide a capability to combat terrorists who use small low-cost vehicles as weapons platforms."
By Chris Lawrence
Syrian rebels are through waiting for substantial arms from western nations and Arab countries and are instead increasingly cutting their own deals to get weapons from extremists, including al Qaeda-like groups, a senior U.S. lawmaker told CNN.
"Even rebels we've identified as somebody we could work with have partnered with jihadists, because they have their own sources of money and weapons," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said in an interview.
The Obama administration has been cautiously aiding in the vetting of Syrian rebels, and sticking to its policy of only providing non-lethal aid like computers and satellite communication gear.
By the CNN Wire Staff
A U.S. soldier laid out an elaborate plot by a group of active and former military members to overthrow the government, telling a southeast Georgia court Monday that he was part of what prosecutors called an "an anarchist group and militia."
Dressed in his Army uniform, Pfc. Michael Burnett spoke in a Long County court about the group of Army soldiers and its role in the December deaths of a former soldier Michael Roark and his teenage girlfriend Tiffany York. Roark, he said, was killed because he allegedly took money from the group and planned to leave.FULL STORY
By Pam Benson
The United States government is seeking to reject lawsuits demanding information about drone strikes that target suspected terrorists overseas, saying releasing details on the program would have a major effect on counterterrorism efforts.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in New York after a Freedom of Information Act request they submitted to the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the CIA, was denied. The rights group is seeking the release of a copy of the memo outlining the Obama administration's program that targets suspected terrorists overseas. The New York Times filed a related lawsuit.
In its response, the government asked for a summary judgment dismissing the complaints and defended its decision not to release the requested information.
“Even to describe the number and details of most of these documents would reveal information that could damage the government’s counterterrorism efforts,” the government said, further maintaining that refusal to disclose the information is consistent with exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act that permit the withholding of records when doing so is in the public interest. FULL POST
By Pam Benson
Recent satellite imagery shows Iran continues to clean up areas of a controversial military site believed to be involved in its nuclear program, according to analysis of the images by a Washington-based think tank.
The Institute for Science and International Study obtained imagery from GeoEye taken on June 7 that shows heavy machinery tracks and earth displacement consistent with a cleanup effort at the Parchin Military Complex, according to the institute's analysis.
GeoEye is a commercial satellite imaging company.
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.