Tag Archive: Chuck Hagel


President speaks with Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai and says US is ‘moving forward with additional contingency planning’

Barack Obama, Afghanistan troop pullout
Obama would prefer to maintain a small military presence post-2014 but Hamid Karzai is unwilling to sign a BSA. Photograph: UPI/Landov/Barcroft Media

Barack Obama formally ordered the Pentagon on Tuesday to make plans for a full pullout of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, pointing to a way out of the conflict that is reminiscent of his end to the Iraq campaign.

While the Obama administration reiterated that it would prefer to maintain a residual military presence in Afghanistan, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has refused to sign an accord that would pave the way for some US forces to remain. That has forced the administration to begin a contingency plan for a full departure after Nato formally ends hostilities in November.

A similar rebuke from the Iraqi government prompted all almost all US troops to leave there in 2011.

Obama told Karzai during a Tuesday morning phone call that while he would prefer Karzai or his successor to sign the so-called bilateral security agreement reached with the Afghans in November, “the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning,” according to a White House description of the call.

But defense secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that it was prudent “to ensure adequate plans are in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014”.

Hagel said that over the next several months, the US military will prepare “various options” for US and Nato leaders, including a full withdrawal of the approximately 37,000 US troops in Afghanistan, as well as the post-2014 missions of counter-terrorism and training for the Afghan security forces it has long desired.

The White House confirmed that Obama’s phone call to Karzai had been triggered in part by an urgent need to give clarity to Nato allies about any future US presence in Afghanistan.

“One of the reasons for the call is because Secretary Hagel will be participating in the Nato defence ministerial later this week and planning for post 2014 forces will be on the agenda,” said spokesman Jay Carney.

However, White House officials played down calls from Congress to cut off aid to Afghanistan if US troops are not allowed to stay, a major fear of politicians in Kabul.

“We have made clear that our commitment to Afghanistan – separate from the troop presence – is in our national security interests,” said Carney when asked about aid.

The White House rejected criticism that Obama had allowed a dangerous lack of communication with Karzai to develop. Prior to today’s call, the two leaders had barely spoken in months.

“It is preposterous to suggest [that Karzai’s refusal to sign the BSA] is because we have not made clear that it is to be signed,” said Carney.

The White House also warned that even if the security agreement was signed imminently, the size of the US commitment may now be in doubt

 

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Obama threatens Karzai with total Afghanistan troop withdrawal over security deal delay

 

US president Barack Obama says he will withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, if the Afghan president continues to delay signing a post-war security deal.

The United States has about 33,600 troops in Afghanistan. It is withdrawing the force in line with Mr Obama’s vow to largely end a 12-year mission that began after the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001.

The original plan would see up to 8,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 for counter-terrorism operations.

Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has agreed to a deal but he refuses to sign a joint security agreement.

Now, Mr Obama has run out of patience, telling Mr Karzai that plans are being drawn up to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan.

If that occurs, US troops will not be there to train Afghan forces or lead operations against Al Qaeda.

However, the US also has the option to keep a small contingent in Afghanistan next year without Mr Karzai’s agreement.

Mr Karzai has already ignored the White House’s earlier demand that the deal be signed within weeks, not months.

Obama gives ultimatum to Karzai

Mr Obama told Mr Karzai in a phone call on Tuesday (US time) that he had ordered the Pentagon to plan an orderly exit of all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, the White House said.

The phone call was the first substantial discussion involving the two leaders since June.

“Specifically, President Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014,” the White House said in a statement.

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel will be taking the modified US position to a meeting of NATO defence ministers this week in Brussels.

 

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Related Story: Pentagon to slash US army to pre-WWII levels
Related Story: US slams release of Taliban suspects as ‘deeply regrettable’
Related Story: Aides of Afghan presidential candidate killed

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Military.com

Oct 17, 2013

Chuck Hagel

The government shutdown cost the Defense Department at least $600 million in lost productivity and left DoD at funding levels that could force layoffs next year for the furloughed civilian personnel who just returned to work, Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale said Thursday.

“We haven’t decided [on layoffs],” Hale said. “We’re going to have to get smaller – that will mean fewer civilians. We’re going to get smaller – I can’t tell you how much.”

Hale and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at Thursday’s Pentagon briefing their major concern was the impact on the morale of the uniformed military and the civilian workforce from the repeated political cliffhangers on fiscal matters and the Congressional gridlock over budgets.

“I’m a lot more worried about the morale effects,” Hale said. Many civilian personnel now have the attitude that “I’m not so sure I want to work for this government,” he said.

Hagel said the uncertainty was brought home to him in one of his recent private meetings with enlisted troops.

One of the troops told Hagel that his wife wanted to know if their family had a future in the military.

“Do we have a future? What is the future for me as an E-5,” Hagel was asked.

Hagel said he did not have a good answer for the soldier, partly because the last-minute agreement in Congress that ended the shutdown and lifted the debt ceiling “did not remove the shadow of uncertainty that has been cast over our department.”

Hagel referred to the continuing resolution passed by Congress that left the Defense Department at current funding levels through mid-January while also facing another $52 billion in cuts under the Budget Control Act’s sequestration process.

Veterans groups echoed the warnings issued by Hale and Hagel.

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AL.com

Think furloughs are done? Think again. Lasting shutdown could result in Pentagon sending workers back home

By Leada Gore | lgore@al.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on October 14, 2013 at 5:45 AM, updated October 14, 2013 at 7:33 AM

furlough notice for mr2

Think furloughs are over for most Department of Defense civilian workers? Think again.

Most of the DOD’s civilian workforce was furloughed starting Oct. 1 when Congress couldn’t reach a new appropriations deal before the start of the new fiscal year. Ninety-percent of those workers were recalled a week later after the Pentagon used a provision of the Pay Our Military Act to bring back employees whose positions directly supported military personnel.

However, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said an ongoing shutdown could tie the hands of those who are back on the job and make it impossible to do their work. If that happens, furloughs could begin again.

“The act provides appropriations for personnel; it does not provide appropriations for equipment, supplies, materiel, and all the other things that the department needs to keep operating efficiently,” Hagel wrote in his memo recalling civilian employees. “While the act permits the Department of Defense to bring many of its civilian employees back to work, and to pay them, if the lapse of appropriations continues, many of these workers will cease to be able to do their jobs.”

The cutbacks could be particularly severe for those working in acquisitions, contracts and logistics, as all but essential purchases are on hold.

 

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freespeechtv freespeechtv·

Published on Oct 3, 2013

Ahead of next week’s 12th anniversary of what has become the longest war in U.S. history, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the United States is seeking to sign an accord to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan for the indefinite future. The United States plans to pull out the bulk of its 57,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but the Pentagon wants to retain a smaller force of around 10,000 forces after 2014.

Military.com News

How Can Red Flags Be Missed Like Navy Shooter’s?

Sep 20, 2013

aaron alexis 428x285

WASHINGTON — The government’s sprawling system of background checks and security clearances is so unreliable it’s virtually impossible to adequately investigate the nearly 5 million Americans who have them and make sure they can be trusted with access to military and sensitive civilian buildings, an Associated Press review found.

Case after case has exposed problems for years, including recent instances when workers the government approved have been implicated in mass shootings, espionage and damaging disclosures of national secrets. In the latest violence, the Navy Yard gunman passed at least two background checks and kept his military security clearance despite serious red flags about violent incidents and psychological problems.

The AP’s review — based on interviews, documents and other data — found the government overwhelmed with the task of investigating the lives of so many prospective employees and federal contractors and then periodically re-examining them.

The system focuses on identifying applicants who could be blackmailed or persuaded to sell national secrets, not commit acts of violence. And it relies on incomplete databases and a network of private vetting companies that earn hundreds of millions of dollars to perform checks but whose investigators are sometimes criminally prosecuted themselves for lying about background interviews that never occurred.

“It’s too many people to keep track of with the resources that they have, and too many people have access to information,” said Mark Riley, a Maryland lawyer who represents people who have been denied clearances or had them revoked.

The Pentagon knows there are problems. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a sweeping review of all military security and employee screening programs. “Something went wrong,” he said.

Separately, Congress has asked the inspector general at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to investigate how a clearance was awarded to Aaron Alexis, the Navy IT contractor who killed 12 people Monday inside a Washington Navy Yard building before he was shot to death by authorities. Just weeks ago, the Navy had warned employees under its new “insider threat” program that all personnel were responsible for reporting suspicious activity that could lead to terrorism, espionage or “kinetic actions” — a military euphemism for violence.

“The clearance piece of this is one, I think, we very clearly have to take another look at,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Navy Yard itself reopened for normal operations on Thursday, but it was hardly business as usual. Returning employees said they felt unsettled. Workers who streamed by the red brick wall of the Navy Yard in the early morning sun said it was too soon to talk about the week’s violence.

FBI Director James Comey said investigators were still working through video evidence, but fresh details of the shootings were emerging.

Comey said Alexis entered the Navy Yard in a vehicle, parked in a deck across from Building 197, entered carrying a bag, went into a fourth-floor bathroom and came out carrying a Remington 870 shotgun. The shotgun was cut down at both ends — the stock sawed off and the barrel sawed off a bit — and ammunition was stowed in a cargo pocket on the outside of his pants.

Almost immediately Alexis started to shoot people on the fourth floor with no discernible pattern, Comey said. Alexis also went down to the lobby, shot a security guard and took the guard’s handgun, continuing his shooting until he was cornered later by a team of officers and killed after a sustained gunfire exchange.

Comey said there was no evidence that Alexis fired shots down into the atrium despite initial accounts from witnesses at the scene.

“It appears to me that he was wandering the halls and hunting for people to shoot,” he said.

Alexis had worked for a Florida-based IT consulting firm called The Experts. He had been refreshing Pentagon computer systems, holding a military security clearance that would have expired five years from now.

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kgw.com

U.S. ready to strike; Syria vows to repel attackers

by Associated Press

Posted on August 27, 2013 at 6:26 AM

Updated today at 12:26 PM

WASHINGTON D.C.(AP) – U.S. forces are now ready to act on any order by President Barack Obama to strike Syria, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday.

The U.S. Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea positioned within range of targets inside Syria, as well as U.S. warplanes in the region, Hagel said in an interview with BBC television during his visit to the southeast Asian nation of Brunei.

Obama asked the Pentagon to give him “all options for all contingencies,” Hagel said, and “we have done that.”

Syria’s foreign minister said Tuesday his country would defend itself using “all means available” in case of a U.S. strike, denying his government was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus and challenging Washington to present proof backing up its accusations.

The United Nations said that its team of chemical weapons experts in Syria delayed a second trip to investigate an alleged poison gas attack near Damascus by one day for security reasons.

Walid al-Moallem, speaking at a press conference in Damascus, likened U.S. allegations that President Bashar Assad’s regime was behind a purported poison gas attack to false American charges that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country.

“They have a history of lies – Iraq,” he said. Al-Moallem spoke a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was “undeniable” evidence of a large-scale chemical attack likely launched by Assad’s regime.

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France ‘ready to punish’ Syria over gas attack

]The Associated Press
]

— French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that his country is prepared to take action against those responsible for gassing people in Syria.

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U.S. puts jets in Jordan, fuels Russian fear of Syria no-fly zone

 

 

A Free Syrian Army fighter communicates using a walkie-talkie in the Mouazafeen neighbourhood in Deir al-Zor, June 14, 2013. Picture taken June 14, 2013. REUTERS-Khalil Ashawi

 

 

BEIRUT | Sat Jun 15, 2013 5:55pm EDT

(Reuters) – The United States said on Saturday it would keep F-16 fighters and Patriot missiles in Jordan at Amman’s request, and Russia bristled at the possibility they could be used to enforce a no-fly zone inside Syria.

Washington, which has long called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, pledged military support to Syrian rebels this week, citing what it said was the Syrian military’s use of chemical weapons – an allegation Damascus has denied.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved a Jordanian request for American F-16s and Patriot missiles to remain in the Western-backed kingdom after a joint military exercise there next week, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Western diplomats said on Friday Washington was considering a limited no-fly zone over parts of Syria, but the White House noted later that it would be far harder and costlier to set one up there than it was in Libya, saying the United States had no national interest in pursuing that option.

Russia, an ally of Damascus and fierce opponent of outside military intervention in Syria, said any attempt to impose a no-fly zone using F-16s and Patriots from Jordan would be illegal.

“You don’t have to be a great expert to understand that this will violate international law,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The idea of a no-fly zone was endorsed by Egypt, the biggest Arab nation. President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist more distant from Washington than his deposed military predecessor, made a keynote speech in Cairo throwing Egypt’s substantial weight more firmly than before against President Bashar al-Assad.

Despite their differences, the United States and Russia announced in May they would try to convene peace talks involving the Syrian government and its opponents, but have set no date.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said chemical attacks by Syrian forces and Hezbollah’s involvement on Assad’s side showed a lack of commitment to negotiations and threatened to “put a political settlement out of reach”.

Kerry had not previously expressed such pessimism about prospects for the conference, which has run into many obstacles.

These include disarray in the Syrian opposition and military gains by the Syrian army and its Lebanese Hezbollah allies against rebels who have few ways to counter Assad’s air power.

The involvement of Hezbollah fighters on the side of Assad, a fellow ally of the main Shi’ite power Iran, has galvanized Arab governments, including Egypt, behind the rebels, who mostly follow the Sunni version of Islam that dominates the Arab world.

That has hardened sectarian confrontation across the region, which some Arabs hope might be softened by the election of the moderate Hassan Rohani as Iran’s president – though few believe he can truly influence Tehran’s supreme leader.

Mursi, addressing thousands of cheering supporters at a stadium gathering organized by Egyptian Sunni clerics, demanded Hezbollah pull out of Syria and, after his Muslim Brotherhood joined calls for jihad against Assad and his Shi’ite allies, the president said Cairo had now cut diplomatic ties with Damascus.

Egypt’s powerful, U.S.-backed army seems unlikely to involve itself in Syria, but religious passions are running high and more Egyptian volunteers could travel to join the rebels.

 

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After a closed-door briefing of the House of Representatives, lawmakers call for a review of the Patriot Act

Xavier Becerra

Xavier Becerra, a senior Democrat, said there hadn’t been enough oversight of government surveillance programmes. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Anger was mounting in Congress on Tuesday night as politicians, briefed for the first time after revelations about the government’s surveillance dragnet, vowed to rein in a system that one said amounted to “spying on Americans”.

Intelligence chiefs and FBI officials had hoped that the closed-door briefing with a full meeting of the House of Representatives would help reassure members about the widespread collection of US phone records revealed by the Guardian.

But senior figures from both parties emerged from the meeting alarmed at the extent of a surveillance program that many claimed never to have heard of until whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked a series of top-secret documents.

The congressional fury came at the end of a day of fast-moving developments.

• In a lawsuit filed in New York, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the US government of a process that was “akin to snatching every American’s address book”.

• On Capitol Hill, a group of US senators introduced a bill aimed at forcing the US federal government to disclose the opinions of a secretive surveillance court that determines the scope of the eavesdropping on Americans’ phone records and internet communications.

• A leading member of the Senate intelligence committee, Ron Wyden, came close to saying that James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, misled him on the scope of government surveillance during a March hearing. Clapper admitted earlier this week that he gave the “least untruthful” answer possible to a question by Wyden.

• Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, said he ordered a wide-ranging review of the Defense Department’s reliance on private contractors. Snowden had top-security clearance for his work at Booz Allen Hamilton, an NSA contractor. Booz Allen issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Snowden had been fired for “violations of the firm’s code of ethics”.

• In Brussels, the European commission’s vice-president, Viviane Reding, sent a letter demanding answers to seven detailed questions to the US attorney general, Eric Holder, about Prism and other American data snooping efforts.

• Snowden was at an undisclosed location after he checked out of a Hong Kong hotel on Monday. The director of Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckaert, said Snowden should not consider himself safe in the Chinese province.

NSA files Edward Snowden Obama Newspapers in Hong Kong feature the NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

After the congressional briefing, Xavier Becerra, leader of the House minority caucus, said there had not been enough oversight of government surveillance programs. “We are now glimpsing the damage,” he said, referring to failures to repeal the Patriot Act sooner. “It was an extraordinary measure for an extraordinary time but it shouldn’t have been extended.”

Others said the White House and intelligence committee leaders had been misleading when they claimed all members of Congress were briefed about the mass swoop of telephone records.

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Congress briefed on US surveillance programs

NSA_FortMeade061113AP

This Sept. 19, 2007, photo shows the National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md. When the federal government went looking for phone numbers tied to terrorists, it grabbed the records of just about everyone in America.

WASHINGTON — Dogged by fear and confusion about sweeping spy programs, intelligence officials sought to convince House lawmakers in an unusual briefing Tuesday that the government’s years-long collection of phone records and Internet usage is necessary for protecting Americans – and does not trample on their privacy rights.

But the country’s main civil liberties organization wasn’t buying it, filing the most significant lawsuit against the massive phone record collection program so far. The American Civil Liberties Union and its New York chapter sued the federal government Tuesday in New York, asking a court to demand that the Obama administration end the program and purge the records it has collected.

The ACLU is claiming standing as a customer of Verizon, which was identified last week as the phone company the government had ordered to turn over daily records of calls made by all its customers.

The parade of FBI and intelligence officials who briefed the entire House on Tuesday was the latest attempt to soothe outrage over National Security Agency programs which collect billions of Americans’ phone and Internet records. Since they were revealed last week, the programs have spurred distrust in the Obama administration from across the globe.

Several key lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refocused the furor Tuesday on the elusive 29-year-old former intelligence contractor who is claiming responsibility for revealing the surveillance programs to two newspapers. Boehner joined others in calling Edward Snowden a “traitor.”

But attempts to defend the NSA systems by a leading Republican senator who supports them highlighted how confusingly intricate the programs are – even to the lawmakers who follow the issue closely.

Explaining the programs to reporters, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services and Judiciary committees, initially described how the NSA uses pattern analysis of millions of phone calls from the United States, even if those numbers have no known connection to terrorism. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has vigorously maintained that there are strict limits on the programs to prevent intruding on Americans’ privacy, and senior officials quickly denied Graham’s description.

Graham later said he misspoke and that Clapper was right: The phone records are only accessed if there is a known connection to terrorism.

House lawmakers had more questions and, in many cases, more concerns about the level of surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies Tuesday after FBI, Justice and other intelligence officials briefed them on the two NSA programs.

“Really it’s a debate between public safety, how far we go with public safety and protecting us from terrorist attacks versus how far we go on the other side,” said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “Congress needs to debate this issue.”

He said his panel and the Judiciary Committee would examine what has happened and see whether there are recommendations for the future.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., like many members, said he was unaware of the scope of the data collection.

“I did not know 1 billion records a day were coming under the control of the federal executive branch,” Sherman said.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said there was a lot of heated discussion and that, “Congress didn’t feel like they were informed.”

Cohen conceded many lawmakers had failed to attend classified briefings in previous years where they could have learned more. “I think Congress has really found itself a little bit asleep at the wheel,” he said.

One of the Senate’s staunchest critics of the surveillance programs put Clapper in the crosshairs, accusing him of not being truthful in March when he asked during a Senate hearing whether the NSA collects any data on millions of Americans. Clapper said it did not. Officials generally do not discuss classified information in public settings, reserving discussion on top-secret programs for closed sessions with lawmakers where they will not be revealed to adversaries.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he had been dissatisfied with the NSA’s answers to his questions and had given Clapper a day’s advance notice prior to the hearing to prepare an answer. Not fully believing Clapper’s public denial of the program, Wyden said he asked Clapper privately afterward whether he wanted to stick with a firm `no’ to the question.

 

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The Jack Blood Show

Liberal Lawers vs Liberal Govt? A.C.L.U. Files Lawsuit Seeking to Stop the Collection of Domestic Phone Logs

June 11, 2013 by

 

WASHINGTON (NYT) — The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Obama administration on Tuesday over its “dragnet” collection of logs of domestic phone calls, contending that the once-secret program — whose existence was exposed last week by a former National Security Agency contractor — is illegal and asking a judge to stop it and order the records purged.

Comparing Two Secret Surveillance Programs
The lawsuit could set up an eventual Supreme Court test. It could also focus attention on this disclosure amid the larger heap of top secret surveillance matters revealed by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who came forward Sunday to say he was their source.

The program “gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious and intimate associations,” the complaint says, adding that it “is likely to have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers and others who would otherwise contact” the A.C.L.U. for legal assistance.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the suit.

In other lawsuits against national security policies, the government has often persuaded courts to dismiss them without ruling on the merits by arguing that litigation would reveal state secrets or that the plaintiffs could not prove they were personally affected and so lacked standing in court.

This case may be different. The government has now declassified the existence of the program. And the A.C.L.U. is a customer of Verizon Business Network Services — the recipient of a leaked secret court order for all its domestic calling records — which it says gives it standing.

The call logging program keeps a record of “metadata” from domestic phone calls, including which numbers were dialed and received, from which location, and the time and duration.

The effort began as part of the Bush administration’s post-Sept. 11 programs of surveillance without court approval, which has continued since 2006 with the blessing of a national security court. The court has secretly ruled that bulk surveillance is authorized by a section of the Patriot Act that allows the F.B.I. to obtain “business records” relevant to a counterterrorism investigation.

Congress never openly voted to authorize the collection of logs of hundreds of millions of domestic calls, but some lawmakers were secretly briefed. Some members of Congress have backed the program as a useful counterterrorism tool; others have denounced it.

“The administration claims authority to sift through details of our private lives because the Patriot Act says that it can,” Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. “I disagree. I authored the Patriot Act, and this is an abuse of that law.”

Over the weekend, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said that officials may access the database only if they can meet a legal justification — “reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization.” Queries are audited under the oversight of the national security court.

Timothy Edgar, a former civil liberties official on intelligence matters in the Bush and Obama administrations who worked on building safeguards into the phone log program, said the notion underlying the limits was that people’s privacy is not invaded by having their records collected, but only when a human examines them.

“When you have important reasons why that collection needs to take place on a scale that is much larger than case-by-case or individual obtaining of records,” he said, “then one of the ways you try to deal with the privacy issue is you think carefully about having a set of safeguards that basically say, ‘O.K., yes, this has major privacy implications, but what can we do on the back end to address those?’ ”

Still, privacy advocates say the existence of the database will erode the sense of living in a free society: whenever Americans pick up a phone, they now face the consideration of whether they want the record of that call to go into the government’s files.

Moreover, while use of the database is now limited to terrorism, history has shown that new government powers granted for one purpose often end up applied to others. An expanded search warrant authority justified by the Sept. 11 attacks, for example, was used far more often in routine investigations like suspected drug, fraud and tax offenses.

Executive branch officials and lawmakers who support the program have hinted that some terrorist plots have been foiled by using the database. In private conversations, they have also explained that investigators start with a phone number linked to terrorism, and scrutinize the ring of people who have called that number — and other people who in turn called those — in an effort to identify co-conspirators.

Still, that analysis may generally be performed without a wholesale sweep of call records, since investigators can instead use subpoenas to obtain relevant logs from telephone companies. Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, two Democrats who have examined it in classified Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, have claimed that the evidence is thin that the program provided uniquely available intelligence.

But supporters privately say the database’s existence is about more than convenience and speed. They say it can also help in searching for networks of terrorists who are taking steps to shield their communications from detection by using different phones to call one another. If calls from a different number are being made from the same location as calls by the number that was already known to be suspicious, having the entire database may be helpful in a way that subpoenas for specific numbers cannot match.

 

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Barack Obama, Martin Dempsey
Jacquelyn Martin / AP

President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, left, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and the service secretaries, service chiefs, and senior enlisted advisers to discuss sexual assault in the military in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2013.

(WASHINGTON) — The Air Force’s top general said Friday that sexual assaults in his branch of the military typically involve alcohol use and can be traced to a lack of respect for women.

“We have a problem with respect for women that leads to many of the situations that result in sexual assault in our Air Force,” Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters in a lengthy interview in his Pentagon offices.

He spoke one day after he and other military leaders were summoned to the White House to discuss the sexual assault problem with President Barack Obama, who has expressed impatience with the Pentagon’s failure to solve it.

Welsh said combatting the problem, which he characterized as a crisis, is his No. 1 priority as the Air Force chief of staff. He said he reviews every reported case of sexual assault; last year there were 792 in the Air Force.

Welsh addressed criticism about his comment last week, in response to questions at a congressional hearing, that the problem can be explained in part by a “hook-up mentality” in the wider society. Some said his remark implied that the blame rests mainly with victims.

“If I had this to do over again, I would take more time to answer the question and not try to compress it,” he said, adding that his point was that every person who enters the Air Force needs to be instructed in “this idea of respect, inclusion, diversity and value of every individual.”

“Now, I didn’t say it that way in the hearing, and I wish I had because I think it gave, especially victims, the opportunity for someone to interpret what I said as blaming the victims,” he said, adding that as a result, “I am sorry about that because there is nothing that is farther from the truth.”

Obama said after Thursday’s meeting with the military leaders that he is determined to eliminate the “scourge” of sexual assault in the military, while cautioning that it will take a long and sustained effort by all military members.

“There is no silver bullet to solving this problem,” Obama said.

 

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Welsh: Open to all options to stop military sexual assault

By Jennifer Hlad

Stars and Stripes
Published: May 17, 2013
Welsh

Gen. Mark A. Welsh told reporters Friday morning that he is “open” to taking some of the UCMJ authority that exists now on sex crimes out of the chain of command.
Scott M. Ash/U.S. Air Force/File photo

WASHINGTON — As the president continues to press top military brass to stop sexual assaults and a third man in charge of sexual assault prevention is accused of misconduct, the Air Force chief of staff said he’s open to doing what advocates have been suggesting for years: Removing the authority to prosecute sex crimes from the chain of command.

Currently, commanders are responsible for initiating courts-martial against alleged attackers in their own chain of command, and for reviewing the results of courts-martial. Victims and advocates say that system discourages victims from reporting and can lead to problems when the accused has a better reputation within the unit than the victim does.

Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters Friday morning that he believes “all options should be on the table” for addressing sexual assault, and that he is “open” to taking some of the UCMJ authority that exists now on sex crimes out of the chain of command. He also said he believes it’s time to strip from commanders the ability to reverse courts-martial findings, though he said he believes commanders should retain the authority to reduce sentences.

The issue came into the spotlight earlier this year, when an Air Force lieutenant general decided to overturn the sexual assault conviction and sentence of a fighter pilot in Italy.

 

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US military ordered to recertify sexual assault prevention personnel

Defence secretary Chuck Hagel moves to quell outrage in order to each branch of military to address sexual assault issue

  • Associated Press in Washington
  • guardian.co.uk, Friday 17 May 2013 16.47 EDT
Hagel And Dempsey

Defence secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey at a briefing about sexual assault in the military. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Defence secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday ordered the military to recertify every person involved in programmes designed to prevent and respond to sexual assault, an acknowledgement that assaults have escalated beyond the Pentagon’s control.

He said this step is one among many that will be taken to fix the problem of sexual abuse and sexual harassment within every branch of the military.

At a news conference with General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Hagel said he believes alcohol use is “a very big factor” in many sexual assault and sexual harassment cases, but there are many pieces to the problem.

Hagel said it has become clear to him since taking office in February that holding people accountable for their actions is important, but simply firing people is not a solution.

“Who are you going to fire?” he asked.

 

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Israeli launch airstrikes into Syria, possibly targeting delivery systems for chemical weapons, US officials say

Speaking in Costa Rica, President Obama says that the entire world should be concerned about Syrian chemical weapons, especially if they fall into the hands of a group like Hezbollah.

 

MSNBC – TV

It’s believed the primary target was a shipment of weapons headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon, they said. A senior U.S. official said the airstrikes were believed to be related to delivery systems for chemical weapons.

An Israeli spokesman in Washington said that Israel would not comment specifically on the reports but said that “Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

 

White House officials referred all questions to the Israelis.

This would be the second time this year Israel conducted airstrikes inside Syria. In January, Israeli fighter jets attacked a convoy of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles believed on their way to Hezbollah.

 

 

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Sources: U.S. believes Israel has conducted an airstrike into Syria

 

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Fri May 3, 2013

 

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sources say a strike mostly likely occurred in the Thursday-Friday time frame
  • The U.S. does not believe Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace

(CNN) — The United States believes Israel has conducted an airstrike into Syria, two U.S. officials tell CNN.

 

U.S. and Western intelligence agencies are reviewing classified data showing Israel most likely conducted a strike in the Thursday-Friday time frame, according to both officials. This is the same time frame that the U.S. collected additional data showing Israel was flying a high number of warplanes over Lebanon.

 

One official said the United States had limited information so far and could not yet confirm those are the specific warplanes that conducted a strike. Based on initial indications, the U.S. does not believe Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace to conduct the strikes.

 

Both officials said there is no reason to believe Israel struck at a chemical weapons storage facilities. The Israelis have long said they would strike at any targets that prove to be the transfer of any kinds of weapons to Hezbollah or other terrorist groups, as well as at any effort to smuggle Syrian weapons into Lebanon that could threaten Israel.

 

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REPORT: Israel Bombed Weapons Targets In Syria

israel

AP

Following a week of increased Israeli Air Force activity over Lebanon, Israel reportedly struck Syrian targets with their air force either Thursday or Friday the 26th of April.

Initial reports said the target was a chemical weapons facility, which was under siege by rebels at the time and had sustained no reported damage. Instead, according to CNN reports, it looks like Israel may have struck another convoy containing possible transfer of weaponsjust like the last air strike.

“We will do whatever is necessary to stop the transfer of weapons from Syria to terrorist organizations. We have done it in the past and we will do it if necessary the future,” an unnamed source told CNN’s Sara Sidner.

And just as they did in the last strike, Netanyahu had told his staff to remain silent on the matter.

So it hadn’t been reported by U.S. sources, until now:

From CNN:

U.S. and Western intelligence agencies are reviewing classified data showing Israel most likely conducted a strike in the Thursday-Friday time frame, according to both officials. This is the same time frame that the U.S. collected additional data showing Israel was flying a high number of warplanes over Lebanon.

The strike had been called out by sources on the ground earlier this week, which the Jerusalem Post reported. Like the last strike, sources tell CNN Israel did it without ever breaking Syrian airspace — though Lebanon is less than happy about usage of their airspace.

Oddly enough, Free Syrian Army sources on the ground who initially reported the incident differ in their account of the Israeli strike. They said Israeli jets circled over Assad’s compound in Damascus, which is obviously in Syrian airspace.

The Lebanese Daily Star confirmed heavy FSA fighting occurred near the plant, the Scientific Studies and Research Center, but troops lacked the resources to breach the heavily fortified site.

 

 

 

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Syria Likely Used Chemical Weapons, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Says

 

By JULIE PACE and BRADLEY KLAPPER 04/25/13 06:14 PM ET EDT AP

 

Syria Chemical Weapons Chuck Hagel

 

WASHINGTON — The White House declared Thursday that U.S. intelligence indicates Syrian President Bashar Assad has twice used deadly chemical weapons in his country’s fierce civil war, a provocative action that would cross President Barack Obama’s “red line” for a significant military response. But the administration said the revelation won’t immediately change its stance on intervening.

 

The information, which has been known to the administration and some members of Congress for weeks, isn’t solid enough to warrant quick U.S. involvement in the 2-year-old conflict, the White House said. Officials said the assessments were made with “varying degrees of confidence” given the difficulty of information gathering in Syria, though there appeared to be little question within the intelligence community.

 

As recently as Tuesday, when an Israeli general added to the growing chorus that Assad had used chemical weapons, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration was continuing to monitor and investigate but had “not come to the conclusion that there has been that use.”

 

The Syrian civil war has persisted, with an estimated 70,000 dead. Obama has so far resisted pressure, both from Congress and from within his own administration, to arm the Syrian rebels or get involved militarily. He has, however, declared the use of chemical weapons a “game changer” that would have “enormous consequences.”

 

The White House disclosed the new intelligence Thursday in letters to two senators, but had Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announce it to reporters traveling with him in the United Arab Emirates. The letters were sent in response to questions from senators of both parties who are pressing for more U.S. involvement, and it marked the first time the administration has publicly disclosed evidence of chemical weapons use.

 

“Our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin,” the White House said in the letters, which were signed by Obama’s legislative director, Miguel Rodriguez. He went on to write that “given the stakes involved,” the U.S. was still seeking “credible and corroborated facts” before deciding how to proceed.

 

Two congressional officials said the administration has known for weeks – and has briefed Congress – that the CIA and other intelligence agencies have evidence of two incidents of sarin gas use.

 

A U.S. official said intelligence agencies have had indications of chemical weapons use since March and reached the conclusions made public Thursday about two weeks ago. The two incidents are believed to have occurred around March 19 in the Syrian city of Aleppo and suburbs of Damascus, the official said.

 

The officials commented only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly by name.

 

The White House described the attacks as “small scale,” but the full extent of the chemical weapons use and resulting casualties was not immediately known.

 

Even as Assad has ratcheted up the attacks on his own people, Obama has limited U.S. assistance to non-lethal aid, including military-style equipment such as body armor and night vision goggles. However, he has repeatedly said that the use of chemical weapons, or the transfer of the stockpiles to a terrorist organization, would change things.

 

“That’s a red line for us,” he said in August. “There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.”

 

A senior defense official said the White House letters were not an “automatic trigger” for policy decisions on the use of military force. The official alluded to past instances of policy decisions that were based on what turned out to be flawed intelligence, such as the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq after concluding that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.

 

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IDF commander: We fired more than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon

Phosphorous and cluster bombs heavily used; unexploded munitions litter wide area of Lebanon.

By Meron Rappaport Sep.12, 2006 | 12:00 AM

 

 

this story is by
Meron Rappaport

 

 

“What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs,” the head of an IDF rocket unit in Lebanon said regarding the use of cluster bombs and phosphorous shells during the war.

 

Quoting his battalion commander, the rocket unit head stated that the IDF fired around 1,800 cluster bombs, containing over 1.2 million cluster bomblets.

 

In addition, soldiers in IDF artillery units testified that the army used phosphorous shells during the war, widely forbidden by international law. According to their claims, the vast majority of said explosive ordinance was fired in the final 10 days of the war.

 

The rocket unit commander stated that Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) platforms were heavily used in spite of the fact that they were known to be highly inaccurate.

 

MLRS is a track or tire carried mobile rocket launching platform, capable of firing a very high volume of mostly unguided munitions. The basic rocket fired by the platform is unguided and imprecise, with a range of about 32 kilometers. The rockets are designed to burst into sub-munitions at a planned altitude in order to blanket enemy army and personnel on the ground with smaller explosive rounds.

 

The use of such weaponry is controversial mainly due to its inaccuracy and ability to wreak great havoc against indeterminate targets over large areas of territory, with a margin of error of as much as 1,200 meters from the intended target to the area hit.

 

The cluster rounds which don’t detonate on impact, believed by the United Nations to be around 40% of those fired by the IDF in Lebanon, remain on the ground as unexploded munitions, effectively littering the landscape with thousands of land mines which will continue to claim victims long after the war has ended.

 

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Israel Accused of Using Illegal Weapons

Human Rights Watch claims that Israel has dropped cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon, violating international law.
July 28, 2006  |

The Israeli military is using illegal weapons against civilians in southern Lebanon, according to several reports.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this week that Israel had used cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon, in clear violation of international law.

The group said cluster bombs killed a civilian and injured 12 others in Blida village in the south of Lebanon last week. Cluster bombs disperse hundreds of tiny shrapnel-filled ‘bomblets’ that are “unacceptably inaccurate and unreliable”, and should not be used in civilian areas, HRW said.

Lebanese doctors, aid workers and refugees are reporting that the Israeli military has used the incendiary weapon white phosphorous in civilian areas, also in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Dr. Bachir el-Sham at the Complex Hospital in Sidon in the south of Lebanon told IPS in a telephone interview that he has received civilian patients injured by incendiary weapons.

“We are seeing people that are all blackened, with charred flesh that is not burned by normal bombs and flames,” he said. “I am sure this is a special bomb. They are using incendiary weapons on civilians in the south. We are seeing these patients.”

The doctor also told IPS that the Israelis are again using suction bombs, which they used heavily during the Lebanese civil war.

“They are using suction bombs that implode our buildings,” he added, “With implosive bombs… instead of the glass blasted out, it is inside the building. These kill everyone inside the building. There are rarely survivors when they use these bombs.”

Bilal Masri, assistant director of the Beirut Government University Hospital (BGUH) had told IPS earlier that “many of the injured in the south are suffering from the impact of incendiary white phosphorous.”

 

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