Contract to Spy: Is the U.S. Government using contractors the way you think they are?
Armed Drone on tarmac at Kandahar, Afghanistan military airport Photo By: AFP/Getty Images
September 20th, 2011
09:12 PM ET

Contract to Spy: Is the U.S. Government using contractors the way you think they are?

By CNN Sr. National Security Producer Suzanne Kelly

Let's say there is an American overseas, loading Hellfire missiles onto drones that are targeting and killing terrorists. Would it matter to you whether that person is a private contractor and not a U.S. service member?

That's one of the questions lawmakers are still struggling with some 10 years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, which, because of massive shortages in the government sector saw a boom in the private contracting industry.

The temporary hiring practice that began as a stopgap measure has ballooned into a multibillion-dollar industry where the line is often blurred between functions customarily handled by government employees and those carried out by hired contractors on behalf of the United States.

Contractors working for the military have made the news in recent years, but contractors are also gathering and analyzing intelligence information. Two of the victims of a suicide bomber who infiltrated a secret CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009 were contractors.


Filed under: Afghanistan • CIA • Congress • drones • Intelligence
Amputations and other serius injuries on rise from IED explosions
Specialist Brandon Rethmel Photo by: Sylvia Rethmel
September 20th, 2011
08:39 PM ET

Amputations and other serius injuries on rise from IED explosions

By CNN Sr. National Security Producer Charley Keyes

The Defense Department confirmed Tuesday that the number of serious battlefield injuries, including multiple amputations and genital wounds, continues to rise.

The Army said that the number of multiple amputations so far this year is higher than all of 2010, blaming the increase on walking patrols - a key element in U.S. counterinsurgency strategy - and the continuing threat of roadside bombs buried by insurgents such as those in Afghanistan.

And the report, titled "Dismounted Complex Blast Injury," says that some military personnel may be so concerned about potential injuries, such as multiple amputations, that they may not want to survive serious wounds.

"The increased rate of double and triple amputees, coupled with pelvic and genital injuries, represented a new level of injury to overcome," the 87-page reports says. "To some, the resultant burden on their family and loved ones seemed too much to accept, and, anecdotally, some actually developed 'do not resuscitate' pacts with their battle buddies in the event of this type of injury."

Military leaders say they are working both to save the wounded and to persuade those with multiple injuries that they can go on to lead fulfilling lives.

"These are life-defining injuries for the warriors and their families, but it is not desperate," Brig. Gen. Joseph Caravalho told journalists at the Pentagon. He chaired the task force that found that the severity of combat injuries was increasing.

"All of us in uniform understand it is not just about saving lives - it's about doing everything military medicine can do to help them lead full and productive lives."

Caravalho said that the military is saving more of its wounded than ever before, with new protective equipment and combat vehicles as well as new procedures on the battlefield, shorter helicopter evacuations and surgical advances.

Army doctors said at the Pentagon Tuesday that the number of major-limb amputations had increased from 86 in 2009 to 187 in 2010 and that so far this year there has been 147. But increases in the numbers of multiple amputations - three or more limbs - are even more dramatic, from 23 in 2009 to 72 in 2010 and already 77 in the first nine months of this year.

And injuries that result in multiple amputations also are likely to cause urinary and genital injuries.

"The ATO's (Afghanistan Theater of Operations) most dramatic changes in 2010 were the increased numbers of bilateral thigh amputations, triple and quadruple amputations, and associated genital injuries," the report says.

But Army officials said they were unable to give details of how many military personnel received genital injuries, saying based on the available data it could not be determined whether an injury was a laceration or full loss of genitalia.


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Filed under: Afghanistan • Military
Fun with military acronyms
Defense Secy Leon Panetta and Jt. Chiefs Chmn. Gen Mike Mullen share a laugh Photo By: Getty Images
September 20th, 2011
06:18 PM ET

Fun with military acronyms

ByCNN Sr National Security Producer Charley Keyes

It probably was their last time sitting shoulder to shoulder at a Pentagon news conference and the top civilian and the top military officer paused for a few laughs.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is set to retire this fall and he praised Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as "a pretty quick study" in mastering the military culture – a culture that of course has its own acronym-heavy jargon.

"It didn't take you very long to figure out that BOG can actually be a good thing, that MITTS aren't something we use to take brownies out of the oven and that MANPADS aren't hideouts we find to eat snacks and watch football," Mullen said while Panetta chuckled beside him.

Mullen didn't translate, but for those unfamiliar with Pentagon-speak, BOG means boots on the ground, as in the United States plans no boots on the ground in post-Ghadafi Libya. MITTS stands for Mobile Training Teams, the kind of instruction that the U.S. military provides allies around the world. And MANPADS– Man Portable Air Defense Systems–are the shoulder-fired missiles the U.S. hopes won't go astray from Libyan weapons depots.

Panetta was full of praise for Mullen, thanking him for his friendship and saying his strong leadership had contributed to a stronger and more secure country. And he singled out Mullen's role when Panetta was CIA director and both men cooperated on the successful Osama bin Laden raid.

"It will be his last conference at least along side the secretary of defense," Panetta said.

"We hope," said Mullen. And Panetta gave a big laugh.

"Don't' take that personally," added Mullen

"I've heard that before,"  said Panetta.

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Filed under: Military • Panetta • Panetta • Pentagon • Secretary of Defense
September 20th, 2011
04:42 PM ET

EXCLUSIVE: Behind-the-scenes with State Department's U.N. operations

By Jamie Crawford and Elise Labott reporting from the UN General Assembly

She may be out of Washington and on the road for the week, but the heavy machinery of office has followed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to New York as she attends the annual United Nations General Assembly meetings.

To be sure, the secretary always has a traveling staff with her wherever she may be in the world. But UNGA, with its hundreds of diplomats, ministers and heads of state converging on New York every September, is a much different animal from a trip to a world capitol.  Basically, Foggy Bottom moves up to the Big Apple and sets up a mini-State Department on the 24th floor of the Waldorf Astoria.

CNN was granted rare and exclusive access to this massive operation, one that involves hundreds of employees, planeloads full of equipment and a ton of coffee.

As we exited the elevator on the 24th floor, it became clear this was indeed a secure work space, with numerous Diplomatic Security guards and several signs reminding staff not to discuss classified information in the hallways.

It seemed as if U.S. foreign policy hadn't skipped a beat despite being a few hundred miles removed from home base. With the beds in each room removed (though the head boards where still bolted to the wall), the rooms have been transformed into working offices with secure telephone lines, computers, fax machines and all of the equipment needed to do the job of executing the nation's diplomacy.

As we were escorted down one of the halls, Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall, the department's chief of protocol, was working with her staff to prepare for what was already shaping up to be an marathon of a week. Marshall's office is responsible for advising on matters of international diplomatic protocol, making sure the right atmosphere is created for conducting diplomacy. FULL POST

Analysis: Afghan assassination means Taliban 'want war, not peace'
September 20th, 2011
04:31 PM ET

Analysis: Afghan assassination means Taliban 'want war, not peace'

By Tim Lister and Jennifer Rizzo, CNN

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul – apparently by the very group he was trying to negotiate with – suggests a political solution in Afghanistan remains a distant prospect – and is another reminder of how fragile security is in the Afghan capital, according to analysts and diplomats.

Rabbani was also one of the most prominent Tajiks in Afghanistan, and his killing is likely to aggravate their fears of renewed ethnic conflict with the largely Pashtun Taliban. FULL POST

Filed under: Afghanistan
Rabbani's killing raises many uncomfortable questions about the war
September 20th, 2011
04:20 PM ET

Rabbani's killing raises many uncomfortable questions about the war

By CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Islamabad, Pakistan

Whatever peace process there was in Afghanistan, there is probably little left today.

The assassination Tuesday of Professor Burhanudin Rabbani in his home by at least one suicide bomber who hid a device in his turban hasn't just again reminded residents of Kabul that even the safest areas are vulnerable to insurgent attacks. It's surely made insurgents who have even the slightest whimsy to negotiate think again.

The war in Afghanistan is, by NATO's own admission, one of perception. And things aren't being perceived particularly well right now.  Just over a week ago, NATO's headquarters and the U.S. Embassy came under a sustained attack that some residents said seemed to need 20y hours to totally suppress.

And just back in July, the half-brother of President Hamid Karzai - Ahmed Wali Karzai - was killed, also in his home, by another man who was thought to be friend, not foe.  There are fewer reasons every day for Afghans to throw their weight behind the Americans, who are busy throwing their weight behind a timetable for departure.

"I think what you're seeing here is a deliberate attack by elements in the Taliban to make Kabul look unsafe, that the capital of Afghanistan is not a safe place, that no one is secure there, including the head of the peace council and a former president," said Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. FULL POST

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Haqqani • Kabul • Karzai • Pakistan • Taliban • Terrorism
Unlikely alliance in Turkey and Saudi Arabia a mixed blessing for US
September 20th, 2011
12:53 PM ET

Unlikely alliance in Turkey and Saudi Arabia a mixed blessing for US

Editor's note: Jon B. Alterman is director and senior fellow of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Prior to joining CSIS, he served as a member of the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State and as a special assistant to the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. This article was originally published in the CSIS publication "Middle East Notes and Comment" and is republished with permission.

From Jon B. Alterman, CSIS

Saudi Arabia has a problem. Its decades-long alliances with Iraq and Egypt have been sundered, and its faith in U.S. leadership is at its lowest point in memory.  Its regional threats have grown, not only from Iranians directly across the Gulf, but from the actions of Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East that endanger Saudi allies.

There is no single answer to Saudi Arabia’s challenges, but the solution set increasingly includes building greater cooperation with Turkey.

Turkey is an unlikely Saudi ally.  A historically secular republic would seem anathema to an avowedly religious monarchy, and Saudis often point with pride to the fact that they never fell under the corrupting thumb of the Ottoman Empire that left its imprint on most of the Middle East.  The Turkish economy is a bottom-up industrial juggernaut; the Saudi economy trickles down oil wealth to its citizens.  Turkey abandoned the fez in the 1920s as part of an aggressive effort to modernize; Saudi Arabia has continued to insist on traditional dress for nationals, albeit with a fondness for fashioning them out of fine European cloths.

Perhaps most problematic is the fact that Turkey has adopted a policy of “zero problems with neighbors” when those neighbors are precisely the countries with which Saudi Arabia has its deepest problems. Iran is chief among them, but so are Syria and Iraq, where Saudis believe events have spun decidedly against their interests. FULL POST

Filed under: Arab Spring • Diplomacy • Egypt • Israel • Saudi Arabia • Turkey
September 20th, 2011
12:25 PM ET

Ahmadinejad, the Twelfth Imam and trouble in Tehran

By CNN's Tim Lister

Now that Moammar Gadhafi is gone, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is likely to be the most controversial visitor to New York this week. He seems to relish the global spotlight of the UN General Assembly. This year he may also be relieved to get away from troubles at home.

An internal power struggle has left Ahmadinejad with his wings clipped and the (more) conservative clerics in the ascendant. The Iranian economy is in poor shape (not least because of international sanctions). And Iran’s main ally in the Arab world – President Bashar al Assad in Syria – is struggling to hold onto his job.

The tussle over the two American hikers in Iran is the latest episode in a battle between Ahmadinejad and the clerical establishment. The president, apparently keen to get the issue out of the way before wheels-up for New York, told NBC last week that the hikers should be freed within a couple of days. Cue the judicial authorities, who are very much in the camp of conservative clerics. They responded curtly that they would decide the issue. Ahmadinejad shot back – suggesting he might make a "unilateral pardon on behalf of the Iranian nation."

Vali Nasr, a frequent adviser to the U.S. government on the Middle East and Professor of International Politics at Tufts University, says Ahmadinejad “wanted to take credit for the hikers’ release and make himself look relevant and capable” – a serious interlocutor. But his attempt to circumvent normal channels angered conservatives.

Nasr says Ahmadinejad is the proverbial lame duck president, with two years left of his second and final term. Nasr, who has advised U.S. administrations on Iran policy, says Ahmadinejad has been confronted by “resistance within the bureaucracy, parliament and judiciary and is unable to get his way on policy issues.” FULL POST

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Diplomacy • Iran • Terrorism • United Nations
Trying to head off a vote on Palestinian statehood
September 20th, 2011
10:09 AM ET

Trying to head off a vote on Palestinian statehood

By Sr. State Department Producer Elise Labott reporting from the UN General Assembly

The international community is working on a package of initiatives to avoid a diplomatic showdown over Palestinian statehood at the U.N. Security Council this week.

While there are a number of ideas in play, senior U.S., European, Israeli and Palestinian officials have told CNN they center around Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivering a letter to the Security Council seeking full Palestinian statehood, but not forcing a Council vote.

The Security Council letter would be paired with a statement by the Mideast Quartet laying out the terms of reference to re-launch peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, the officials said. The quartet is made up of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Monday night in an effort to get Russian to buy into the plan.

Quartet envoys will meet for a third day Tuesday afternoon to work on the text. The core elements include a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with agreed upon swaps, recognition of two states for two peoples - the Palestinians and the Jewish people - and a time line for a peace deal, diplomats said.

The officials said a package deal could enable Abbas to claim victory by going to the Security Council, but would not force a confrontation with the United States, which has promised to veto any statehood resolution which comes before the Council. FULL POST

Lacking transparency about push for transparency
September 20th, 2011
09:38 AM ET

Lacking transparency about push for transparency

From CNN Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott

The Obama administration sent two anonymous officials to brief reporters on their initiative to promote openness and transparency around the world.

President Obama will co-sponsor the Open Government Partnership, a club of 46 governments committed to promoting "transparency, increase civic participation, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to make government more open, effective, and accountable." according to the group's website.

The United States, along with Brazil, chairs the eight-nation steering committee.

The Obama administration is billing the initiative as a means to further its goals of  strengthening democracy and human rights, fighting corruption, and promoting good governance.

But despite reporters' protests, officials conducting the briefing on the administration's work plan would only speak "on background."

Reporters questioned whether  the conditions imposed on the  briefing met the partnership's standards of transparency but were told the officials wanted to avoid upstaging the president (a common Washington maneuver for leaking news without going on the record) who was scheduled to speak at the inaugural meeting at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday .