John Kerry's praise for Bashar al-Assad on chemical weapons destruction raises eyebrows
October 7th, 2013
06:35 PM ET

John Kerry's praise for Bashar al-Assad on chemical weapons destruction raises eyebrows

By Elise Labott

It was unusually positive language for a top U.S. official speaking about the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but there was Secretary of State John Kerry giving the Syrian leader a pat on the back.

Speaking to reporters in Bali on Monday, Kerry hailed the quick pace at which inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have been able to get on the ground in Syria and begin their work to destroy its vast chemical weapons arsenal, as called for in a recent U.N. Security Council resolution.

U.S. target in Somalia: An inside story on an Al-Shabaab commander
A soldier belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia stands guard on a street during an operation aimed at improving security in Mogadishu, Somalia.
October 7th, 2013
12:10 PM ET

U.S. target in Somalia: An inside story on an Al-Shabaab commander

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

Editor's note: Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister are writing a book about Morten Storm and his life as a former informant on terrorist groups.

Kenyan intelligence knows him simply as Ikrima. But his full name is Mohamed Abdikadir Mohamed, and he is regarded as one of the most dangerous commanders in the Somali terror group Al-Shabaab.

U.S. officials say Ikrima was the target of a raid Saturday by U.S. Navy SEALs on an Al-Shabaab compound near the town of Baraawe in Somalia. It's believed that he escaped after the U.S. troops came under heavy fire.

Ikrima is wanted by both the Kenyan government and its Western allies and was a close associate of one of al Qaeda's most important operatives in East Africa. A recent Kenyan intelligence report that was leaked just after the Westgate mall attack in Nairobi outlined several plots in which he was allegedly involved. All of them involved targets in Kenya, and all the attacks would have involved Kenyan citizens trained by Al-Shabaab.

Alleged al Qaeda member extradited to U.S.
A file photo taken on September 30, 2004 shows Alleged Al-Qaeda militant Tunisia's Nizar Trabelsi arriving at the Brussels Palace of Justice to introduce a summary procedure against the Belgian State to protest his sentence.
October 3rd, 2013
08:38 PM ET

Alleged al Qaeda member extradited to U.S.

By Evan Perez and Paul Cruickshank

A Tunisian man who U.S. authorities allege is an al Qaeda member was extradited Thursday from Belgium to the United States to face charges stemming from a plot to bomb a NATO base there.

Nizar Trabelsi, who was convicted in 2003 for that plot, spent 12 years in Belgian custody and was nearing the end of his sentence. The extradition could help resolve a major concern for U.S. and European terrorism officials who feared that because of shorter sentences in Belgium, Trabelsi could be freed. The same charges in the United States could carry a life sentence, if he is convicted.

Trabelsi was arrested on September 13, 2001, in Belgium - two days after the 9/11 attacks - and charged with plotting to carry out a suicide bomb attack.

Trabelsi was indicted in 2006 by a grand jury in Washington. The indictment was unsealed Thursday.

Soldier sets record for mile run, with a twist!
September 24th, 2013
11:13 PM ET

Soldier sets record for mile run, with a twist!

Ask yourself how fast can you run a mile? Be truthful, no one is checking. Can you beat 11 minutes and 6 seconds?

Maybe you could beat 11 minutes, if you had good sneakers, comfortable shorts a light weight t-shirt.

Now, imagine wearing 75 pounds of explosive resistant protective gear from the top of your head to your toes. Now could you run a mile in 11:06?

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Filed under: Security Brief
September 24th, 2013
03:25 PM ET

No pilot! No problem: Pentagon uses mothballed jets for UAV training

The Pentagon is spending billions on unmanned aerial vehicles or “drones” so it’s understandable if military pilots feel like an endangered species.

And now there’s a new reason for pilots to worry.

Instead of designing UAVs from the ground up, Boeing is taking old mothballed jets and tweaking them so they can fly without a pilot.

U.S., Iranian presidents share U.N. spotlight
September 24th, 2013
12:56 AM ET

U.S., Iranian presidents share U.N. spotlight

United Nations (CNN) - For years it was a United Nations General Assembly annual ritual: Iran's president would denounce the United States, and the American president would fire back. But this year the talks in New York are brimming with the possibility of diplomacy.

A meeting has not been scheduled between U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, both of whom will speak Tuesday before the General Assembly. Both sides, however, remain open to possibilities.

Police union, Navy at odds over security staffing when D.C. Navy Yard attacked
FBI van outside scene of deadly Navy Yard shooting.
September 23rd, 2013
05:55 PM ET

Police union, Navy at odds over security staffing when D.C. Navy Yard attacked

One week after the attack at the Washington Navy Yard, the labor union that represents security forces at the installation and the U.S. Navy have widely differing views on whether the yard was fully staffed by the required number of security forces.

Both sides agree on one thing, though - that the staffing situation would not have prevented Aaron Alexis from entering the facility because he had a legal badge to get through the gate.

Authors of Benghazi report grilled in Congress
The U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya following an attack on September 11, 2012
September 19th, 2013
08:46 PM ET

Authors of Benghazi report grilled in Congress

By Jamie Crawford

The leader of a review board that investigated the deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, lacked sufficient independence to reach an objective finding of fault, a congressional committee chairman said on Thursday.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa told retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering that he failed to see how the Accountability Review Board could have come to an objective conclusion about the September 2012 attack based on Pickering's long career as a State Department official.

"You talked about 42 years in the organization you were overseeing," Issa said to Pickering, who drew on his diplomatic experience to help him lead the panel.

"If we looked at the bank failures of 2007 and brought Jamie Dimon in to head the board, some might say that there was an inherent conflict because of his experience in life," Issa said of the JPMorgan Chase chairman.

"Mr. chairman, with greatest respect, this was not, quote, a 'gotcha' investigative panel," Pickering replied.

He asked why a group looking for answers would be empaneled without understanding the specific minutiae of how diplomacy is carried out.

"I appreciate that," Issa shot back. "Obviously, this was not a 'gotcha' panel, because nobody was 'gotcha-ed.'"

The exchange between Issa and Pickering illustrated the sharp political emotion that has defined many exchanges over the Benghazi attack by armed militants, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Issa's investigation has been a partisan flashpoint as he has pushed the Obama administration hard to get a better understanding of pre-attack security at the diplomatic outpost and why no one at the State Department lost their jobs after Pickering's investigation noted shortcomings.

Earlier this week, the Republican majority staff of the committee released a report that also raised new questions. It noted the relatively short time it took the review board to investigate the attack and issue its findings, and pointed out that those interviewed by the panel were not made available to members of Congress.

The Democratic minority staff, led by its ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, released its own report just as Thursday's hearing got underway. It questioned the findings of the Republican staff report.

"Based on all of the evidence obtained by this committee, this Benghazi review was one of the most comprehensive ARB reviews ever conducted," Cummings said. "I have seen no evidence, none whatsoever, to support these reckless Republican accusations. To the contrary, witness after witness told the committee that the ARB's work was 'penetrating,' 'specific,' 'critical,' 'very tough,' and the 'opposite of a whitewash.'"

But the fireworks were just getting started as a session that ran more than four hours got underway. It examined numerous areas around how and why certain facets of the review board investigation were undertaken.

Former Joint Chiefs Chairman retired Adm. Michael Mullen, who served as Pickering's co-chair, was effusive in his assertions that there were no orders for any military detachments to "stand down" that had already put in motion to try and arrest the assault on the diplomatic building and a nearby CIA annex.

"This is not something you can just wish to happen instantly. There's a lot of planning, preparation, as rapidly - to do it as rapidly as one can do it," Mullen said in reference to questions of how no U.S. military assets made it to Benghazi that night.

"We are not big enough in the military to be everywhere around the world to respond to where every embassy is that might be high-risk. We have to take risks and figure that out," he said.

Questions emerged from multiple members of the committee as to why the review board did not assign any culpability for management and other shortcomings to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as head of the department.

"We had very clear evidence, full and complete to our information, that the authority - responsibility, the accountability rested with the people we identified," Pickering said in explaining why failures in the State Department structure were centered at the assistant secretary level.

"If the secretary (Clinton) wasn't involved, I must be on another planet," Rep. John Mica said in response.

In interviews with media outlets prior to her stepping down earlier this year, Clinton said she took responsibility for the security of diplomats and diplomatic outposts around the world in her role as secretary.

There have been 18 such review boards since 1986 that have investigated attacks on U.S. facilities overseas.

Many members of the panel questioned Pickering and Mullen as to why certain recommendations from the report that looked into the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa were not carried forward.

"Secretary (Madeleine) Albright as a result of that recommendation, met daily with the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security first thing in the morning. And that established a nexus, a chain, which neither her - I think none of her three successors kept. I think that may have been an error," Pickering said.

"I think that in some ways her interest - and put it this way - in no more Nairobis and no more Dar es Salaams was an important instinct. I think that that was a rather good process, and in some ways I'm sorry it wasn't repeated," he said.

The review board led by Pickering and Mullen made 29 recommendations, one of which was to establish another independent review to identify "best practices" in the public and private sectors in security intelligence, risk management and accountability - all areas where problems were identified at the State Department.

That panel, led by former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, warned that the State Department did not pay enough attention to the bureau overseeing security for 275 diplomatic posts and called for it to be elevated in its importance to deal with a growing threat.

As a result of the Benghazi attack, the State Department created a new position of deputy assistant secretary of state for high threat posts and has begun to beef up security and improve training.

But Issa contended Thursday that it was the purview of his committee and that of Congress to interview many of the same witnesses who were on the ground in Benghazi that spoke to the review board in order to get an understanding of where accountability for the attack lay.

"I am in the process of issuing subpoenas because the State Department has not made those people available, has played hide and go seek, and is now hiding behind a thinly veiled statement that there's a criminal investigation," he said of the FBI probe.

And in the next sentence, Mr. Issa laid out the roadmap for his committee in the Benghazi investigation.

"That's part of the reason that this investigation cannot end until the State Department gives us at least the same access that they gave your board," he said.

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Benghazi • Congress • Hillary Clinton • Issa • Libya • Security Brief • State Department
Vetting military contractors: How did Navy Yard gunman get in?
September 17th, 2013
11:27 PM ET

Vetting military contractors: How did Navy Yard gunman get in?

Navy officers knew that Aaron Alexis had been arrested in 2004 for shooting out the tires of a car - in a blackout fueled by anger - and yet they admitted him into the Navy and granted him security clearance anyway, a senior Naval officer told CNN.

"It appears as if investigators were aware of the incident, interviewed him and were satisfied that it did not preclude granting the clearance," the officer said.

Alexis, who killed 12 people Monday at the Washington Navy Yard, was a military contractor who used a valid identification to gain access to the secured facility, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Obama to nominate Carlin as DOJ’s chief national security lawyer
September 10th, 2013
07:00 PM ET

Obama to nominate Carlin as DOJ’s chief national security lawyer

By Evan Perez

President Barack Obama nominated John Carlin as the Justice Department’s chief national security lawyer.

Carlin has held the post of acting assistant attorney general for national security since March when Lisa Monaco left to become the president’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.

The nomination requires Senate approval.

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