If Israel strikes Iran, Dempsey says U.S. 'would meet' obligations
November 19th, 2013
12:01 AM ET

If Israel strikes Iran, Dempsey says U.S. 'would meet' obligations

By Dan Merica

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Monday that if Israel were to strike Iran in an effort to damage the country's nuclear program, the United States would meet "some defined obligations" it has to the Middle East nation.

"I feel like we have a deep obligation to Israel," the military leader said. "That is why we are in constant contact and collaboration with them."

This fall, diplomats from the United States and other interested countries have met to deal with Iran's nuclear program and ways in which advancements could be halted.

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Filed under: Dempsey • Hagel • Iran • Israel • Kerry • Military
July 19th, 2013
01:09 PM ET

Is terrorism still a threat to American families?

By Dan Merica, Elise Labott and Shirley Henry

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, a majority of Americans were worried about terrorism directly impacting their lives, according to a number of polls.

More than a decade later, is that still the case?

That was the primary question John Ashcroft, former attorney general under President George W. Bush, and Phillip Mudd, a former senior official at the CIA and FBI, debated at a Friday panel at the Aspen Security Forum.

“I think we are still at war,” Ashcroft said bluntly. “I don’t know if I will be able to be sure to say when we will be able to say we are not at war. But as long as they are continuing to hit us and allege that they are at war, I think we can.”

In response, Mudd directly challenged Ashcroft.

“I don't agree, by the way, that we are at war,” the author said.

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July 19th, 2013
12:00 AM ET

Upheaval and the redrawing of terrorist lines in the Arab world

By Elise Labott and Dan Merica

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.

The instability and changing governments in the Middle East have redrawn lines in the region and created instability that has provided a breeding ground for terrorism, the former head of the CIA said Thursday.

John McLaughlin, the former acting director of the CIA, also told the Aspen Security Forum that the terrorist threat facing the United States has undergone a sea change, posing challenges to U.S. agencies seeking to understand and dismantle them.

“The changes in terrorism and not whether there is an end point are so transformational as to compare plausibly with the changes of the Berlin Wall coming down,” McLaughlin said.

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July 18th, 2013
10:59 PM ET

NSA chief strongly defends govt. surveillance programs, but suggests he's open to changes

By Dan Merica and Elise Labott

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.

The director of the National Security Agency on Thursday offered a full-throated defense of a domestic monitoring program that has been at the center of government leaks, while also tacitly supporting an idea to dramatically change the controversial snooping.

In a public interview at the Aspen Security Forum, NSA Director Keith Alexander addressed the leaks carried out by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified documents to the media.

At the heart of the Snowden leaks is a program that collects information about all calls in the United States. The information collected, called metadata, includes duration, time of the call and the numbers that are party to the call, all of which are stored in a government database.

But what if private phone companies - instead of the government - ran the database?

"You could technically do that," Alexander said. "Now, it creates some operational problems that we would have to work our way through … But that may be the best solution."

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July 18th, 2013
07:24 PM ET

Terrorism chief worried about European reaction to Snowden leaks

By Dan Merica

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.

The United States' antiterrorism chief is worried about the leaks that former government contractor Edward Snowden has carried out - particularly, he said Thursday, because our European allies are watching and reacting.

In a panel at the Aspen Security Forum, Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that while "it remains to be seen" how Snowden's leaks have affected relationships with U.S. allies, he is growing concerned.

"I an worried about it when I see what I read, particularly with respect to Europe and our European allies," he said. "How they may be reacting to this. But I think it just remains to be seen on that."

Olsen, who heads the center that is responsible for analyzing all terror threats, was noticeably measured in his answer.

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Filed under: Aspen Security Forum • Edward Snowden • Europe • France • NSA • Terrorism
July 18th, 2013
06:02 PM ET

ACLU, government reps debate whether Snowden is public servant or traitor

By Dan Merica and Elise Labott

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.

Was Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor?

That is the question the media, the public and elected officials have debated ever since Snowden released classified information about the United States' efforts to monitor its own citizens.

But on Thursday, the debate got more interesting when representatives from the National Security Agency - the organization Snowden leaked information about - the Pentagon and the American Civil Liberties Union informally debated the issue in public.

"I think he did this country a service," Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU said regarding Snowden. "I have not said that publicly until this point. I think he did this country a service by starting a debate that was anemic, that was left to government officials where people did not understand fully what was happening."

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Deputy secretary of defense: 2 mistakes led to Snowden leaks
July 18th, 2013
02:37 PM ET

Deputy secretary of defense: 2 mistakes led to Snowden leaks

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.

A senior-level defense official said Thursday that keeping top-secret information on one shared server and giving an individual the ability to view and move that data were two mistakes that allowed NSA leaker Edward Snowden to disclose top-secret information.

Although Ashton Carter, the deputy secretary of defense, said he didn't want to directly comment on Snowden - "because that is a criminal investigation" - he spent a portion of a panel at the Aspen Security Forum laying out the "root causes of all of this."

"This is a failure to defend our own network," Carter said. "That failure originated from two practices that we need to reverse."

The first mistake: "In an effort for those in the intelligence community to be able to share information with one another, there was an enormous amount of information concentrated in one place. ... It creates too much information in one place."

The second: "You had an individual who was given very substantial authority to access that information and move that information. That ought not to be the case, either."

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Filed under: Aspen Security Forum • Cybersecurity • Edward Snowden • NSA • Pentagon
Four things to watch for at the Aspen Security Forum
July 17th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Four things to watch for at the Aspen Security Forum

By Dan Merica

How much damage has admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden caused U.S. intelligence? How far can domestic surveillance legally extend? What is the U.S. future in countries overturned by the Arab Spring?

These questions and more will be addressed at this week’s “Aspen Security Forum.” The event will feature wide-ranging panels on the future of a scaled-back Pentagon to counterterrorism and the rule of law.

A number of current Obama administration officials will weigh in: Ashton Carter, deputy secretary of defense; Gen. Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force; Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency.

Here are the top four things we will be looking for at the forum:

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Filed under: Aspen Security Forum
Religious leaders protest Obama drone policy
March 28th, 2013
12:39 PM ET

Religious leaders protest Obama drone policy

By Dan Merica

A group of rabbis, reverends and priests has a message for President Barack Obama: stop the drone war.

In a video produced by the Brave New Foundation, a group that uses video and social media to protest against drones, Jewish and Christian leaders describe the practice as "assassination by remote control," which violates religious principles.

“From a New Testament point of view, drones are completely appalling,” the Rev. Paul F. M. Zahl, the retired Episcopal rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland, told CNN. “The whole idea of killing a guy without giving the guy a chance to surrender is preemptive. That for me was completely contrary to the teachings of Christ.”

The video criticizes the Obama administration, stating that the use of war does not follow Just War Theory, which has Roman and Catholic influences. The theory includes criteria that legitimize war, including ensuring that war is a last resort and that it is being carried out with the right intentions.

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Filed under: drones
Five things you need to know about U.S. national security
Credit (l to r): Getty Images, Getty Images, SITE, Getty Images, CNN
July 29th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Five things you need to know about U.S. national security

By Dan Merica

This weekend marks the conclusion of  this year’s  Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado, an event that brought together some of the key players in the world of defense and national security policy.

Here the five moments that the Security Clearance Blog’s team will be talking about on the flight back to Washington:

1. The United States is keeping close tabs on Syria’s weapons, al Qaeda’s influence

As war rages on in Syria, the United States intelligence community is closely monitoring the situation, National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen told CNN’s Intelligence Correspondent Suzanne Kelly.

According to Olsen, there is an intense focus on Syria’s chemical weapons. FULL POST

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