June 30th, 2011
05:17 PM ET

Gates farewell ceremony dotted with humor

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates left the Pentagon for good Thursday, but not without a few laughs.

Sendoffs by President Obama and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were sprinkled with humor and anecdotes, often about the many years Gates spent in public service.

In his opening remarks, Mullen praised his character, which he believes mirrors the grit of troops down range.

“I think that’s why so many of them are drawn to him,” Mullen said. “He tells it straight, no bull, no fancy words–not that he doesn’t have a fabulous vocabulary or even a colorful one at times”.

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Filed under: Gates • Military • Panetta • Secretary of Defense
June 30th, 2011
03:24 PM ET

Criminal probe ordered in deaths of two prisoners in CIA custody

A special prosecutor has recommended a criminal probe into the deaths of two prisoners in CIA custody but cleared U.S. interrogators of wrongdoing in 99 others, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

"I have accepted his recommendation to conduct a full criminal investigation regarding the death in custody of two individuals," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon. "Those investigations are ongoing. The department has determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted."

The special prosecutor, John Durham, examined the treatment of 101 prisoners in U.S. custody, not all of whom were held by the CIA. In a message to employees, outgoing CIA chief Leon Panetta said the agency will "cooperate fully" in the remaining cases.

June 30th, 2011
03:10 PM ET

Senator wants crackdown on Afghanistan projects

A U.S. Senator is suggesting a halt to billions of American taxpayer dollars of public going to projects in Afghanistan unless there is a complete overhaul of how and why the money is spent.

“Perhaps it’s time to shut down $17 billion worth of money going for reconstruction projects, when our track record really stinks,” Senator Claire McCaskill, (D) Missouri said.

And McCaskill, chairing a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, said it often was impossible to find any U.S. official or private company to explain how projects often busted budgets or exceeded what local authorities could finance or manage in the future.

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Filed under: Afghanistan
June 30th, 2011
02:59 PM ET

Panetta: Investigations into interrogation and detention programs nearly finished

Leon Panetta sent a letter to CIA employees on his last day as Director to announce the Department of Justice has cleared the agency in all but two cases where they had contact with terrorist detainees. Read a copy of his letter below.

Message from the Director: DoJ Investigations Moving Toward Closure

The Attorney General has informed me that, with limited exceptions, the Department of Justice inquiries concerning the Agency’s former rendition, detention, and interrogation program have been completed and are now closed. Specifically, I have been notified that Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham has finished the “preliminary review” of detainee treatment cases announced in August 2009. After extensive examination of more than 100 instances in which CIA had contact or was alleged to have had contact with terrorist detainees, he has determined that no further law enforcement action is appropriate in all but two discrete cases.

In those two cases—each involving a detainee fatality—the Department of Justice has determined that further investigation is warranted. No decision has been made to bring criminal charges. Both cases were previously reviewed by career federal prosecutors who subsequently declined prosecution. The Agency will, of course, continue to cooperate fully in the remaining investigations.

On this, my last day as Director, I welcome the news that the broader inquiries are behind us. We are now finally about to close this chapter of our Agency’s history. As Director, I have always believed that our primary responsibility is not to the past, but to the present and future threats to the nation. We will continue to fulfill our vital mission of protecting America.

Leon E. Panetta

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Filed under: Panetta • Terrorism
Blazing sun and noisy jets fail to spoil official farewell for Gates
Secretary Gates, President Obama and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mullen at the Pentagon Thursday, Photo: Jose Santos/CNN
June 30th, 2011
02:12 PM ET

Blazing sun and noisy jets fail to spoil official farewell for Gates

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a career civil servant who has advised eight presidents over four decades turned to his wife at the Pentagon's official farewell ceremony Thursday and said "Becky, we're really going home this time."

Gate's promise to his wife was a not so subtle reference to his track record of leaving Washington and then reluctantly coming back or staying longer than planned. Today he’s really leaving—for his retirement home across the country in Washington state.

Most recently, as the President George W. Bush's second term was ending, Gates made several comments about having a clock in his office counting down the days until he could leave Washington when Bush left office.

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Filed under: Gates • Military • Secretary of Defense
Gates receives high honor as he leaves post
President Obama presents Secretary Gates with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
June 30th, 2011
11:06 AM ET

Gates receives high honor as he leaves post

In his last full day on the job, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, on Thursday during a tribute in front of the Pentagon.

"I'm deeply honored and moved by your presentation of this award," Gates said after President Barack Obama announced the award.

"It was a big surprise. But we should have known. ... You're pretty good at this covert ops stuff," Gates joked.

Gates - whose four decades of public service spanned eight U.S. presidents - is succeeded by former CIA Director Leon Panetta.

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Filed under: Gates • Secretary of Defense
June 30th, 2011
09:04 AM ET

Security brief – June 30, 2011

Compiled by Tim Lister

Pakistan tells US to leave drone base

NATO : senior Haqqani leader killed

More details emerge of US-Taliban talks in Germany, Qatar

Afghanistan: the $3 billion computer that's not helping

Lebanon: new political crisis as Hariri Tribunal indictments target four Hezbollah officials

US blames Iranian backed militia for killing three soldiers in Iraq

France dropping weapons to Libyan rebels as Gadhafi calls up women

Yemen's acting President tells CNN: Government has lost five provinces

Yemen: Islamists win more ground in south

US drones now operating in six countries: add Somalia FULL POST

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Filed under: Security Brief
A Reporter's Notes on Handover at the Pentagon
Golden retriever Bravo is expected to join incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at his new post
June 30th, 2011
08:44 AM ET

A Reporter's Notes on Handover at the Pentagon

Thursday will be a “goodbye” day at the Pentagon for departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates even as behind the scenes senior officials are already getting ready to say “hello” Friday morning to incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Panetta is expected to head up the Pentagon’s massive outdoor stone staircase on Friday morning and get right to work. Pentagon officials tell CNN Panetta will have a morning meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the secure room known as “the tank” and a senior staff meeting to get his tenure off to a brisk start. Insiders say look for a Panetta’s traditional yellow pad of paper to be quickly covered with notes, ideas and plenty of questions.

Panetta stepped down as director of the CIA earlier this week. A lot of CIA-Pentagon “watchers” are waiting to see if the former CIA chief Panetta brings one very important personal “operative’ with him to his new post at the Pentagon – his golden retriever named Bravo. Bravo has been a semi regular at the agency, padding the hallways and sitting at Panetta’s feet during some of the most classified briefings inside the agency. Bravo is widely described by straightfaced CIA officials trying not to smile as the only dog in government with a ‘very top secret clearance.”

First of course Panetta will be sworn into office in a small private ceremony. Gates will have left the Pentagon Thursday afternoon, but does not officially leave office until Panetta takes the oath.

After the formal departure ceremony at the Pentagon Thursday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will come back into the Pentagon one last time for a reception and lunch and then head down the stairs from his third floor office, out the door, and into retirement at his home in Washington state. As he walks down those stairs, its expected he will walk through a wall of applause from his senior staff and dozens of other Pentagon workers, both military and civilian who plan to follow the tradition of lining the staircase when a secretary or senior commander departs for the final time.

June 29th, 2011
06:50 PM ET

Pakistan Minister says U.S. troops told to leave drone base

Pakistan’s defense minister says his government has told U.S. forces to leave a key military base in the south of the country, although an American official says the minister’s comments are “news to us.”

The state-run Associated Press of Pakistan Wednesday quoted minister Ahmed Mukhtar as telling reporters in his Rawalpindi office: “We have told them (the U.S. officials) to leave the air base.” According to APP, the minister was responding to a question about Shamsi air base in Baluchistan province, from where U.S. military drones are said to operate.

However, the U.S. official said American counter terrorism operations in Pakistan continue.

Separately– a source familiar with U.S. drone operations in Pakistan said Shamsi Airbase is "still open for business."

Mukhtar’s comment is Pakistan’s latest public statement of displeasure with the United States, following the secret U.S. raid on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden.

The drone issue had put a strain on U.S.-Pakistan relations, even before the raid. In April, days before that commando operation, a Pakistani official said U.S. personnel had left the base, a claim that American officials had then denied.

-CNN's National Security Producer Pam Benson contributed to this report

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Filed under: Military • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan
June 29th, 2011
03:54 PM ET

New U.S. strategy against al Qaeda to focus on 'homeland'

A new U.S. counterterrorism strategy will focus on the ability of al Qaeda and its network to inspire people in the United States to attack the homeland, said John Brennan, White House Counterterrorism Adviser.

Speaking at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies on Wednesday, Brennan said, “Indeed, this is the first counterterrorism strategy that designates the homeland as a primary area of emphasis in our counterterrorism efforts.”

He added, “We are doing everything in our power to prevent another terrorist attack on our soil….It’s not enough to simply be prepared for attacks, we have to be resilient and recover quickly should an attack occur.”

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Terrorism
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