October 12th, 2011
08:18 PM ET

The loose noose of Iran sanctions

By Jill Dougherty

Intent on punishing Iran for a brazen alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil, the Obama administration is in diplomatic overdrive, urging countries around the world to cut whatever ties they still have with Tehran and "isolate" it from the international community.

"We will work with our international partners to increase Iran's isolation and the pressure on its government. And we call upon other nations to join us in condemning this threat to international peace and security," a steely Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday.

Soon after American authorities detailed the allegations and tied the plot to elements of Iran's military, the Treasury Department invoked new economic sanctions against top members of the Quds Force, the part of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that allegedly directed the assassination plot. Treasury says a top member of the Quds approved up to $5 million to pay for the plot.

The department followed that move Wednesday with an announcement that it was designating an Iranian airline company that it says transports weapons and funds for the Quds Force.

October 12th, 2011
06:29 PM ET

U.S. puzzling over motivation for alleged assassination plot

By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

A day after the United States revealed an alleged Iranian-backed plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., senior members of the Obama administration's national security apparatus continue to debate what they believe the motivation was for Iranian operatives to engage in the plot according to several US official CNN spoke with at length.

But the search for motivation comes as others question whether such a plot is even in character with the Quds Force behavior.

Determining the motivation may be crucial to learning how high up in the regime the plotting occurred.

"There is a lot of internal discussion related to the 'why' on this," one official said.

Some theories for the alleged attack revolve around the notion that Iran and Saudi Arabia have essentially been engaged in what one official described as a "Middle East cold war" over their differences on everything from Bahrain to Syria.

But another theory gaining some currency is that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards-Quds Force, said to be behind the plot, was perhaps working at the behest of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who is close to the Quds Force.  Khamenei is well known to be in a power struggle with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and may have been using the Quds Force to embarrass and discredit the president in the region and on the world stage.

While that is a theory, administration officials Wednesday are  stopping short of saying the alleged conspiracy was specifically directed by either Iran’s president or the Supreme Leader.

“We are treating this as a very serious Iranian government sponsored plot,” says one senior administration official. “Our sense is there was institutional sponsorship of this plot."

In the past when the US has criticized Iran’s Quds force for shipping weapons into Afghanistan and Iraq, it has also stopped short of linking those operations directly to the President or the Supreme Leader.

One of the Iranian officials sanctioned by the Treasury Department Tuesday is Qasem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander who is said by US officials to be very involved in all operations and also close to Khamenei.

Several officials said while they were initially surprised to see the alleged perpetrators get involved with drug cartel personnel, they now believe it is simply the Quds Force willingness to adapt and shift techniques from previous operations.

"This is an example of using other methods" when traditional methods fail. They point out that previous Quds attacks in South America and the Middle East show the organization is willing to operate outside their expected parameters and deal with entities the US might not expect.

Officials also said in assessing the seriousness of the plot, they had confirming information from multiple sources, not just the naturalized American arrested by law enforcement.

Syrian-born American held for spying
Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against the Syrian government in front of the White House in Washington in July.
October 12th, 2011
06:18 PM ET

Syrian-born American held for spying

By CNN's Carol Cratty and Joe Sterling

A Syrian-born naturalized American was ordered held in custody Wednesday after he was charged for allegedly spying on Syrian protesters in the United States.

Judge Theresa Buchanan at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ordered Mohamad Anas Heitham Soueid, 47, held until Friday, when there will be a detention hearing.

Prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick told the judge that Soueid was a flight risk.

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Filed under: Assad • Security Brief • Spying • Syria
Sources: no wrongdoing in SEAL chopper crash
October 12th, 2011
04:17 PM ET

Sources: no wrongdoing in SEAL chopper crash

By CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

The military investigation into the cause of an August helicopter crash in Afghanistan that killed 30 troops is finished and families are being briefed on the findings, according to two US military officials.

At the time, the US said it believed the helicopter was shot down by a Taliban insurgent on the ground. The officials, though they have not seen the final report, tell CNN that scenario is still expected to be the finding of the investigation.

The officials also said it was their understanding investigators found no wrongdoing in deciding to send a team of Navy Seals to the site in eastern Afghanistan to reinforce troops already on the ground.

U.S. fails bioterrorism report card
The infectious disease, anthrax, in a laboratory environment.
October 12th, 2011
09:49 AM ET

U.S. fails bioterrorism report card

By CNN's Jim Barnett

The United States remains largely unprepared for a large-scale bioterrorism attack or deadly disease outbreak, according to the WMD Terrorism Research Center.

The finding are in a report card released Wednesday, which gave the country 15 failing grades in categories ranging from detection to medical countermeasures.

The report card gave 15 F's,15 D's and no A's in its assessment of current bio-defense capabilities in the United States.

The bipartisan center, headed by former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, and former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, did find improvements since the 9-11 2001 attacks, but its analysis suggests the nation's readiness to respond to various levels of biological disasters remains a work in progress.

In a news release accompanying the report card, the Center said, "In the past decade the United States government has spent more than $65 billion on bio-defense, and yet it has done so without an end-to-end, strategic assessment of the nation's bio-response capabilities." FULL POST

Clinton: U.S. needs to shift from danger to opportunity
October 12th, 2011
09:34 AM ET

Clinton: U.S. needs to shift from danger to opportunity

By CNN's Adam Levine

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make the case Wednesday that U.S. foreign policy needs to shift from confronting danger to finding opportunities.

In a speech to be given in Washington, Clinton will argue that while over the last decade America has focused "by necessity on the places where we faced the greatest danger," it cannot define foreign policy.

"In the decade ahead, we need to focus just as intensely on the places where we have the greatest opportunities. This too must be a hallmark of our leadership," Clinton will say, according to excerpts of her speech released by the State Department.

The speech to the Center for American Progress focuses on America's global leadership. Clinton will emphasize greater reliance on coalitions.
"The test of our leadership going forward will be our ability to mobilize disparate people and nations to work together," Clinton will say. "Building a coalition and sharing the mission are hallmarks of smart and effective leadership." FULL POST

October 12th, 2011
04:24 AM ET

From used car salesman to alleged assassination plotter

CNN's Nick Valencia and Tracy Sabo contributed to this report

To a friend of more than 20 years, Manssor Arbabsiar was a man who liked to be called "Jack" and didn't seem to have strong views on politics or religion.

To U.S. authorities, the 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen is a suspect in an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States.

"It was shocking because it didn't seem like he would be the type of person to do something like that," said Mitchel Hamauei, who said he met Arbabsiar through mutual Iranian friends.

"He was a happy go lucky guy, always joked around," Hamauei said. "He had a really happy demeanor."

Hamauei, who runs a gyro and kebab restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas, said the two were close enough that he attended the graduation of Arbabsiar's son.

"I know his wife and his son. They're very down to earth people," Hamauei said. FULL POST

Filed under: Iran • Terrorism
Judging the underwear bomber
Shown here is a photo from inside Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253, after 23-year-old Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab attempted to ignite an explosive device on board Christmas Day.
October 12th, 2011
04:00 AM ET

Judging the underwear bomber

The trial of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab started on Tuesday in Detroit.  Even on day one, much was learned about the havoc in the plane as the suspect, now widely referred as the 'underwear bomber,' tried to light the explosives hidden in his pants. ( CNN's Deobrah Feyerick wraps the first day of the case.)

Day one of the testimony was not without its slightly humorous elements.  The first witness described how AbdulMutallab's pants "resembled something I hadn't seen before."

"They were bulky, they reminded me of my son's Pull-Ups when he was little.  I assume they looked like adult Pampers.  I don't know what they were, but they were bulky and burning,"  said Michael Zantow, who was sitting a row behind AbdulMuttallab on the plane.

As for the question of what do you say when a fellow passenger's pants are ignited, the answer is a simple "hey dude, your pants are on fire." That's what passengers yelled out, according to Zantow.

CNN Senior Producer Laura Dolan is at the court and provided this breakdown of the jury hearing the case: FULL POST