Clinton praises ambassador to Libya, calls attackers 'savage group'

Clinton
WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday said officials were still trying to determine the motives and methods of the heavily armed men who stormed a U.S. consulate and killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in eastern Libya, calling the attackers a “small and savage group.”

She hailed the slain ambassador, Christopher Stevens, as a veteran diplomat who began his career as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in Morocco. He was named envoy to the Libyan rebels early in 2011 to support their uprising against longtime strongman Moammar Kadafi, and first entered their stronghold, Benghazi, on a cargo ship.

“He risked his life trying to stop a tyrant, then gave his life trying to build a better Libya,” Clinton said at the State Department. She said she had told Stevens' sister, Ann, that “he will be remembered as a hero by many nations.”

Clinton said that Sean Smith, a State Department information technology specialist who also was killed in the attack, was an Air Force veteran and father of two young children. Smith was in Benghazi on a brief assignment.

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About 50 Marines heading to Libya to increase security at embassy

 

WASHINGTON -- In the wake of the deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya, the Pentagon ordered a team of about 50 Marines to fly to Libyan capital to beef up security at the embassy there, according to two U.S. officials.

The Marines were dispatched to Tripoli from the U.S. naval base at Rota, Spain, and are expected to be on the ground shortly, one of the officials said.

The attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans occurred in the eastern Libya city of Benghazi, and ensuing fires largely gutted the consulate there. So the additional Marines will guard the embassy in Tripoli, as the U.S. braces for possible protests there, the officials said.

"There's not much left" of the consulate, but "more protests are expected this afternoon" in Tripoli, one official said.

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-- David S. Cloud

 

 


Ex-Navy SEAL pushes back on Pentagon warning over Bin Laden book

Book coverWASHINGTON -- The former Navy SEAL who wrote a first-person account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden launched another attack Friday as his lawyer disputed the Defense Department’s claim that he was required to obtain Pentagon approval before publishing the book.

The lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, said in a letter to the Pentagon that the Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement signed by the author, Matt Bissonnette, “invites, but by no means requires” him “to submit materials for pre-publication review” for potential leaks of classified information.

Another legal document that Bissonnette signed in 2007, the Sensitive Compartmented Information Nondisclosure Statement, “does require pre-publication security review under certain circumstances,” Luskin acknowledged. But, he argued, “that obligation is expressly limited to certain highly classified programs” that are not in the forthcoming book, “No Easy Day.”

In response, the Pentagon stood by the   letter it sent to Bissonnette on Thursday that says he violated his pledge to guard classified information. 

Luskin is “just wrong,” a Defense official said. “The Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement does indeed require him to submit [a manuscript] for review.” The official asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly respond to Luskin’s letter.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the department has not decided yet whether to take action against Bissonnette, who wrote under the pen name Mark Owen.

"I'm not aware that we have reached any final conclusions about, or conducted or finalized a security review of the book. ... We're reviewing all the options. ... I'm not ruling in or out any future action. That's not for me to determine today," he said.

Luskin said the requirement to submit a manuscript to the Pentagon applied only if it mentioned highly classified “Special Access Programs” that were “specifically identified” in the document Bissonnette signed in 2007. “Accordingly, it is difficult to understand how the matter that is the subject of the  book could conceivably be encompassed by the nondisclosure agreement that you have identified,” he said.

"No Easy Day" is the first account by a participant in the assault on Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.  It is being published by Dutton, part of Penguin Group, which is planning to release the book next week despite the legal dispute.

The account includes descriptions of tactics, planning and meetings that appear to involve sensitive information. But the Pentagon has not described what information, if any, in the book is classified.

On Thursday, after reviewing an advance copy of the book, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson asserted that Bissonnette was “in material breach and violation of the nondisclosure agreements” and threatened him with legal action. 

Neither the Defense Department nor Bissonnette’s lawyer have released copies of the nondisclosure agreements. 

Bissonnette, 36, who was awarded five bronze stars, left the Navy in April. He “takes seriously his obligations to the United States and his former colleagues,”  Luskin said. “He remains confident that he has faithfully fulfilled his duty.”

“He has earned the right to tell his story,” Luskin added.

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 --David S. Cloud

Photo: A book cover image released by Dutton shows "No Easy Day" by Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer.


Pentagon warns Navy SEAL author on Bin Laden book

Book coverWASHINGTON -- The Pentagon formally warned a former Navy SEAL who has written a first-person account of the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden that he has violated his signed agreement not to divulge classified information, and threatened him with legal action.

“In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you signed,” Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson said Thursday in a letter addressed to Mark Owen, the pen name of author Matt Bissonnette. 

The letter says the Pentagon is considering "all legal remedies available to us." Officials said they could include a lawsuit aimed at claiming profit from Bissonnette's book, "No Easy Day." Due to be released next week, it is already on bestseller lists.  

Bissonnette did not submit the book to the Pentagon to undergo a review for classified information, even though the requirement to do so was contained in a non-disclosure agreement he signed in 2007, Johnson said in the letter.

The account is the first by a member of SEAL Team Six, which carried out the stealthy nighttime assault on Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Johnson did not specify what information in the book constitutes improperly disclosed classified information. The book, a copy of which was provided to The Times by the publisher, offers a detailed account of the raid and of the killing of Bin Laden.

Many of the details have already been made public, including in accounts provided by senior White House officials.

In an author’s note in the book, Bissonnette said that “all of the material contained within this book is derived from unclassified publications and sources,” and a list of sources is printed at the end of the volume. 

He also says he hired a former Special Operations attorney to review the manuscript for classified information. But Bissonnette and his coauthor, Kevin Maurer, at times provide specific descriptions of tactics, planning and meetings that appear likely to involve classified information.

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Photo: A book cover image released by Dutton shows "No Easy Day" by Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer.


U.S. commander says Taliban carries out 25% of 'insider' attacks

Marine Gen. John Allen attributes a quarter of "insider" attacks to the Taliban
WASHINGTON -- A quarter of the "insider" attacks by Afghan army and police against the U.S. and its allies are carried out by Taliban who have infiltrated into the security forces, a higher number than the Pentagon previously estimated, the top U.S. commander said Thursday.

Marine Gen. John Allen, who commands the international forces in Afghanistan, said about 25% of the insider attacks were conducted by Taliban, contradicting a Pentagon claim that an internal review had shown only about 10% of the killings could be attributed to the insurgency.

When asked about the discrepancy, Allen said, “This still requires a lot of analysis.”

Ten soldiers, most of them Americans, have been killed by Afghan soldiers and police in the last two weeks, and the attacks have caused 40 coalition deaths so far this year. That has alarmed senior U.S. officials in Kabul and at the Pentagon, who worry that it will disrupt training of troops and heighten tensions with the Afghan government at a time when the U.S. is trying to hand off more responsibility to them for fighting the insurgency.

Afghan officials on Wednesday blamed the increasing number of insider attacks on infiltration into the army and police ranks by other spy agencies in the region. Asked about that claim, Allen said he was looking forward to seeing the evidence “so that we can understand how they've drawn that conclusion.”

In addition to Taliban infiltration, Allen said the attacks were caused by “disagreements, animosity which may have grown between the individual shooter and our forces in general, or a particular grievance,” as well as threats by the Taliban to harm the families of recruits unless they attack foreign troops.

He said the recent increase in attacks also may be related to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which many Afghans fast during the day.

"The daily pressures that are on some of these troops, compounded by the sacrifice associated with fasting, the nature of our operational tempo, remembering that Afghan troops have gone to the field and they have stayed in the field, and they've been in combat now for years, we believe that the combination of many of these particular factors may have come together during the last several weeks to generate the larger numbers," he said.

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-- David S. Cloud

Photo: Marine Gen. John Allen. Credit: D. Myles Cullen / Associated Press


U.S. moves to increase sanctions on Iran

 WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration and Congress each moved Tuesday to further pressure on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

Scrambling on an issue that has been gaining visibility in the election campaign, House and Senate leaders prepared for a final vote this week on legislation that adds penalties on Iran’s energy, shipping and financial sectors.

Separately, the administration announced an executive order that penalizes a Chinese bank and an Iraqi bank that have helped Iran evade international sanctions. The order also expands sanctions for the purchase of Iranian petrochemical products.

It targets alternative methods Iran is using to settle oil trades and the payment channels outside the normal world financial system that it is using to obtain hard currency.

"Today's action makes it clear that we will expose any financial institution, no matter where they are located, that allows the increasingly desperate Iranian regime to retain access to the international financial system," President Obama said in a statement.

The penalties are the latest in a series that have been imposed on Tehran in hope of persuading it to accept curbs on the nuclear program, which many countries believe is aimed at acquiring  bomb-making capability. The United States has been forced to regularly add penalties as Iran finds ways around them.

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement late Monday on the legislation, which would penalize any company that sells insurance to the state-run National Iranian Tanker Co.,  provides oil tankers to Tehran, or mines uranium with the country. Congressional leaders said they hoped for a House vote  Wednesday and Senate action by the end of the week.

The moves come in a week when Republican president candidate Mitt Romney has charged that Obama hasn’t been tough enough on Iran, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has complained that international sanctions and diplomacy have not set back the Iranian program “one iota.”

Mark Dubowitz, a sanctions advocate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, praised the administration’s steps.

He said  the White House faces a perception that it has been “dragged by Congress into adopting its most forceful sanctions.” The executive order “provides a flexible tool that allows the administration to go on the offensive against both the regime and its critics.”

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and lead sponsor of some elements of the bill, said that unless Iran agreed to end the nuclear program “we must continue to pursue even tougher measures.”

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General warns of dramatic increase in cyber-attacks on U.S. firms

Cyber forum
ASPEN, Colo.  -- Computer  intrusions by hackers, criminals and nations against U.S. infrastructure increased seventeenfold from 2009 to 2011, the nation’s chief cyber defender says, and it’s only a matter of time before such an attack causes physical damage.

Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads  the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command, revealed the statistics in a rare public interview Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum, a gathering of national security officials. He called for passage of legislation being debated by the Senate that would set up a voluntary system for companies to shore up their computer defenses.

The NSA eavesdrops on communications around the world, and it also monitors cyber-attacks. U.S. Cyber Command is responsible for offensive cyber operations.

Alexander did not say how many attacks happen each year against critical infrastructure, such as electrical, water, chemical and nuclear plants. Such intrusions are typically designed  to probe defenses and lay the groundwork for a destructive attack.  Many plants and factories are run by networked industrial control systems, so an attacker who seizes control of such a system could wreak havoc.

Echoing remarks he has made before, Alexander said the U.S. lacks sufficient defenses against cyber-attacks. On a scale of 1 to 10, he said, American preparedness for a large-scale cyber-attack is “around a 3.”

He said he was particularly worried about attacks that could shut down parts of the electrical grid or compromise public water systems.

“Destructive cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure are coming,” Alexander said.

Alexander said the military had yet to work out rules of engagement for responding to cyber-attacks, and he pointed out that neither of his agencies have the authority to defend against a cyber-attack on a private company, even if that company owns crucial infrastructure.  The pending bill would fix that, he said.

Some business groups oppose the bill as intrusive, and some civil liberties groups say it compromises privacy.

Alexander pointedly refused to comment on Stuxnet, a cyber-attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities that has been reported to have been the work of the U.S. and Israeli intelligence.  He also pushed back against the notion that the uptick in attacks on the U.S. is related to Stuxnet, which was first discovered in June 2010.

Alexander repeated his view that computer-based espionage against the industrialized world amounted to “the biggest transfer of wealth in history” because “adversaries have gone into our companies and taken intellectual property.”

He cited one estimate by the security firm McAfee that the losses from such spying add up to a trillion dollars. But, he said, "we don’t know. And which is more alarming:  that it’s really large, or we don’t even know how large it is? … What other countries are doing are stealing the next generation of [our] capabilities.”

Alexander didn’t name the countries, but China and Russia have  been cited by government officials as the biggest culprits, a charge they deny.

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Photo: NBC correspondent Pete Williams, left, interviews Gen. Keith Alexander  on  on cyber-security. Credit: Aspen Daily News 


Where is Bashar Assad? Silence after bombing fuels rumors

In the wake of a bombing attack that killed at least three senior Syrian officials, the silence of President Bashar Assad spurred furious speculation over his whereabouts and whether the embattled Syrian leader had himself been wounded in the bombing.

The Wednesday blast struck a meeting of Cabinet and security officials, killing top officials including the defense minister and his deputy, a brother-in-law of Assad.

That the rebels could target and kill such high-ranking officials is likely to have stunned Assad, as it did outside observers. In an interview with The Times, a senior Obama administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly said it was “extraordinary” that the Free Syrian Army had gotten to Assad’s brother-in-law, calling him “one of the most powerful hard-line officials in the country.”

“If I’m some senior regime official and I’m thinking about my future, this would weigh on me,” the Obama administration official said.

The fact that Assad made no public statement about such a devastating attack quickly fueled rumors that the president himself had been injured or killed. It was also unclear where his wife and children were after the bombing.

One Syrian opposition activist claimed in an interview with Al Arabiya television network that the presidential jet had left the Damascus airport Wednesday for Latakia, echoing a flurry of online claims by activists that Assad had been injured and sent to the Mediterranean port city.

However, Syrian state media reported that Assad had issued two decrees after the Wednesday attack, appointing Gen. Fahd Jassem Freij as defense minister and deputy commander-in-chief of the army.

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Killing of Al Qaeda cleric Awlaki unconstitutional, suit charges

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles, Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Ken Dilanian in Washington


Killing of Al Qaeda cleric Awlaki unconstitutional, suit charges

Awlaki
WASHINGTON -- A lawsuit filed Wednesday contends that the U.S. violated the constitutional rights of Al Qaeda cleric Anwar Awlaki  and two other U.S. citizens when it killed them with drone strikes in Yemen last year.

The lawsuit questions the legality of two drone strikes, one in September that killed Awlaki and Al Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan, and a second in October whose victims included Awlaki’s 16-year-old son.

All three were U.S. citizens, and the overarching theme of the lawsuit is that the attacks violated the Constitution’s guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law.

TIMELINE: Notable targeted killings under President Obama

Lawyers for two activist groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed the case on behalf of relatives of the dead. The defendants are CIA Director David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Special Operations Commander Adm. William McRaven, and Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads the Joint Special Operations Command, known as JSOC.

The CIA and JSOC are cooperating in carrying out drone strikes in Yemen, U.S. officials have said.

The suit does not name President Obama, who is reported to have made the decision to target Awlaki.

“The Constitution does not permit a bureaucratized program under which Americans far from any battlefield are summarily killed by their own government on the basis of shifting legal standards and allegations never tested in court,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. 

The CIA and Pentagon had no comment on the lawsuit.

Among the lawsuit’s arguments is that the U.S. had ample chance to attempt to capture Anwar Awlaki because he had been under surveillance for some time -– as long as three weeks, according to "Kill or Capture," a new book by Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman that is cited in the complaint.

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U.S. moving submersibles to Persian Gulf to oppose Iran

Navy moving into Persian Gulf
WASHINGTON — The Navy is rushing dozens of unmanned underwater craft to the Persian Gulf to help detect and destroy mines in a major military buildup aimed at preventing Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis, U.S. officials said.

The tiny SeaFox submersibles each carry an underwater television camera, homing sonar and an explosive charge. The Navy bought them in May after an urgent request by Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East.

Each submersible is about 4 feet long and weighs less than 100 pounds. The craft are intended to boost U.S. military capabilities as negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program appear to have stalled. Three rounds of talks since April between Iran and the five countries in the United Nations Security Council plus Germany have made little progress. 

Some U.S. officials are wary that Iran may respond to tightening sanctions on its banking and energy sectors, including a European Union oil embargo, by launching or sponsoring attacks on oil tankers or platforms in the Persian Gulf. Some officials in Tehran have threatened to close the narrow waterway, a  choke point for a fifth of the oil traded worldwide.

The first of the SeaFox submersibles arrived in the Gulf in recent weeks, officials said, along with four MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopters and four minesweeping ships, part of a larger buildup of U.S. naval, air and ground forces in the region aimed at Iran.

The U.S. already has sent two aircraft carriers and a squadron of F-22 fighters to the Persian Gulf, and is keeping two U.S. army brigades in Kuwait. Though much of the buildup has been publicly acknowledged by the Pentagon, the deployment of the submersibles has not been publicly disclosed, apparently to avoid alerting Iran.

The SeaFox is small enough to be deployed from helicopters and even small rubber boats, but it also can be dropped off the back of a minesweeper. It is controlled by a fiber optic cable and sends live video back to a camera operator. 

It can be used against floating or drifting mines, which Iran has used in the past. It operates up to 300 meters deep, and moves at speeds of up to six knots. But the $100,000 weapon is on a what amounts to a suicide mission. The “built-in, large caliber shaped charge” it carries destroys the mine but also the vehicle itself.

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--David S. Cloud 

Photo: The Ponce transits the Persian Gulf en route to Bahrain, according to the U.S. Navy. Credit: U.S. Navy

 


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