September 20th, 2012
07:22 PM ET

U.S. officials appear less certain of events ahead of Libya attack

By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

U.S. officials appear less certain about what happened in Benghazi, Libya, just before the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last week.

"We certainly acknowledge contradictory information about whether there was a protest prior to the attack," a U.S. official told CNN on Thursday. "We're continuing to collect information and evaluate exactly what the circumstances were prior to the attack."

U.S. officials have been saying they believe, based on the intelligence, that the attack grew out of a spontaneous protest over a trailer for an anti-Muslim film that was circulating on the Internet, and there is no indication it was a planned attack. It is a contention that critics like Republican Sen. John McCain have said is hard to believe true given the extensive attack and the amount of weaponry involved.


First on CNN: Scoop on inside discussions over proposed leak provisions
Top leadership of Senate and House intelligence committees discuss concerns over leaks
July 5th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

First on CNN: Scoop on inside discussions over proposed leak provisions

by Suzanne Kelly

Discussions are ongoing over just how stringent new provisions should be as the Senate targets leakers in its upcoming Intelligence Authorization bill, according to a government source.

Many of the options up for consideration put far stricter limits on communications between intelligence officials and reporters, according to the source, who told CNN that early proposals included requiring government employees who provide background briefings to reporters to notify members of Congress ahead of time.

Such background meetings are not widely seen as opportunities to discuss classified programs. Reporters routinely use background briefings to gather contextual information on stories they are covering.

According to the government source, there were also discussions about consolidating some of the press offices within the intelligence community, limiting the number of people who are available to answer common media inquiries.


Yemen plot exposes new world of U.S. spying
Yemeni militants, suspected of being members of al Qaeda, patrol on their pick ups in the restive southern city of Zinjibar
May 11th, 2012
04:11 PM ET

Yemen plot exposes new world of U.S. spying

By Pam Benson

As details of the foiled al Qaeda plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airline became public, the world learned not only about a daring operation to stop terrorists, but also about the new reality of how U.S. intelligence works.

American and foreign intelligence partners working hand in hand to rid the world of the scourge of terror. You didn't see much of that 10 years ago, but it's exactly what happened recently.

The Saudis infiltrate an al Qaeda terrorist group in Yemen with their own mole, and the CIA and others are brought into the mix to help run an operation that eventually foils a possible bomb attack against an airliner destined for America.

"I'm not at all surprised that the press accounts of this have liaison services, particularly the Saudis, playing such a prominent role," said former CIA Director Michael Hayden. "That's the way I would have expected it to go."


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Filed under: 9/11 • Afghanistan • Al Qaeda • AQAP • Arab Spring • CIA • Egypt • Intelligence • Military • Navy SEALs • NCTC • ODNI • Pakistan • Terrorism • Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab • Yemen
Counterterrorism center can keep data on Americans for longer
Operations Center at the National Counterterrorism Center
March 23rd, 2012
11:26 AM ET

Counterterrorism center can keep data on Americans for longer

By Pam Benson

The Obama administration has revised guidelines to allow the National Counterterrorism Center access to data about Americans that it can search and store for a longer period of time, even if that information is not related to terrorism.

The revision, announced Thursday night, will allow the center to obtain data from other government databases that include nonterrorism information on U.S. citizens and residents, and retain the material for up to five years.

Guidelines established in November 2008 only allowed the center to keep the information for up to 180 days before permanently removing it.


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Filed under: 9/11 • Clapper • Intelligence • NCTC • ODNI • Terrorism • Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab
AQAP still threat to U.S. despite death of al-Awlaki
This undated still image from video released in October 2010 from the SITE Intelligence Group shows Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni-American cleric in Yemen AFP/Getty Images
October 6th, 2011
04:15 PM ET

AQAP still threat to U.S. despite death of al-Awlaki

By CNN Senior Producer Carol Cratty

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is "a significant threat to the homeland" despite the death of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed last week in Yemen by a U.S. drone strike, FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Thursday.

Mueller said al-Awlaki was "behind the recruiting of personnel who could undertake attacks in the United States." Mueller said AQAP still has the ability to make improvised explosive devices, and it would be "somewhat more difficult" for the group to find operatives to bring them into the U.S. on airplanes. But the FBI chief said the possibility of finding such people still exists.

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Anwar al-Awlaki • AQAP • FBI • Homeland Security • Living With Terror • NCTC • Terrorism
The man who would keep you safe: the case file on Matthew Olsen
September 14th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

The man who would keep you safe: the case file on Matthew Olsen

By Senior National Security Producers Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

Editor's note: This is the first 'Case File,' a new Security Clearance series. CNN national security producers Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson profile the key members of the intelligence community.

His predecessor joked about being compared to "Jack Bauer," but while the new head of the National Counterterrorism Center may not be running and gunning like the fictional '24' character, Matthew Olsen is tasked with keeping the country safe from attack.

Just weeks into the job, the former Justice Department lawyer was faced with the serious 9/11 anniversary threat that emerged last Wednesday. In real life, the clock doesn't stop ticking after 24 hours.  Olsen's job may sound like a fictional hero's, but a big part of his day is spent managing, which is certainly less glamorous but its just as critical, according to Michael Leiter, the man who held the job for four years before retiring earlier this year.

Leiter had some words of advice for Olsen as he was about to take the helm of the agency tasked with making sure the mistakes of failed intelligence sharing - made evident in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 - never happen again.


September 9th, 2011
09:40 PM ET

Scramble to connect dots in new terror threat

By Sr. National Security Producer Pam Benson

Analysts are working 24/7 this week at the National Counterterrorism Center, sifting through databases for connections to a possible threat of an attack on New York or Washington around the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

"Some people have not gone home who are working on this," a counterterrorism official said Friday.

Experts are reviewing variations in names - names that might be fragments or aliases, but are enough to run through their computer systems in an effort to glean more information about the possible plot, which is believed to involve a vehicle-borne explosive device.

As analysts pore through travel records trying to find out if any suspected terrorists have entered the United States, they take the fragments of information they have - names, countries, dates - to narrow down nationality, country of departure, timeframe of travel and any contacts the suspects might have had en route.

The NCTC works with other members of the intelligence community to run down leads and information is exchanged.

"A fair amount of questions are being posed both from us and to us," the counterterrorism official said. FULL POST

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Filed under: 9/11 • Al Qaeda • Intelligence • Living With Terror • NCTC • Pakistan