Entries in Terrorism (7)


Obama's Birthday Weekend: Golf, Terror Updates and Camp David

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama, who turns 52 on Sunday, spent Saturday playing golf with friends at Joint Base Andrews, but before he hit the links, he was briefed on the terrorist threat that will cause 21 U.S. embassies to close Sunday.

“Before departing this morning, the president was updated on the potential threat occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco. He will continue to be updated through the weekend,” a White House official told reporters.

The State Department has ordered all U.S. embassies to close Sunday. Most are closed anyway on Sundays, except those in Muslim countries, meaning the closures affect 21 embassies in the Muslim world. The State Department also issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans on Friday.

After the briefing, the president’s motorcade left the White House with golf clubs and at least one cooler in tow. Later, he planned to head to Camp David.

Three groups teed off at Andrews, according to a White House official, including a smattering of old friends and former colleagues. Among them were two Chicago friends, Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker. Whitaker attended graduate school with Obama at Harvard. High school friends Mike Ramos and Bobby Titcomb, who was arrested in 2011 in Honolulu on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute, were also there.  Obama has played golf with him at least twice since the arrest.

Former aide Reggie Love and Chicago chef Sam Kass, who has also served as a White House chef, senior policy adviser on nutrition, and executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, also played.

Obama was expected to depart for Camp David in the afternoon, returning Sunday.

The presidential golf outing got cool-for-August morning temperatures accompanied by some intermittent, light drizzling rain.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


President Obama’s Decisions on Counter-Terrorism in Spotlight

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Two stories Tuesday, from the New York Times’ Jo Becker and Scott Shane, and excerpts of Daniel Klaidman’s new book Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, published in The Daily Beast, focus some attention on decisions made by President Obama in the name of counter-terrorism.

On ABC’s This Week, Jake Tapper asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about one of these controversial areas – the rampant use of U.S. drones. Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence wrote in The New York Times, “As the drone campaign wears on, hatred of America is increasing in Pakistan. American officials may praise the precision of the drone attacks, but in Pakistan, news media accounts of heavy civilian casualties are widely believed. Our reliance on high-tech strikes that pose no risk for our soldiers is bitterly resented in a country that cannot duplicate such feats of warfare without cost to its own troops.” More recently The Times of London reported that the civilian casualties in Yemen as a result of drone strikes have, “emboldened Al Qaeda.”

Tapper asked Panetta: Is there not a serious risk that this approach to counterterrorism, because of its imprecision, because of its civilian casualties, is creating more enemy than it is killing?

“First and foremost, I think this is one of the most precise weapons that we have in our arsenal,” he said. “Number two, what is our responsibility here? Our responsibility is to defend and protect the United States of America. There are those who have no other intent but to attack this country. We saw three potential bombers that were trying to get on planes to come here and attack this country. We’ve seen past attacks taking place. We’ve seen those that continue to – to indicate that they’re planning every day to try to attack this country. We have got to defend the United States of America. That’s our first responsibility. And using the operations that we have, using the systems that we have, using the weapons that we have, is absolutely essential to our ability to defend Americans. That’s what counts, and that’s what we’re doing.”

This attitude is visible in Tuesday’s stories.

The Times story begins in January 2010, with the president going through a “Kill List,” which included mug shots and biographies of U.S. terrorist targets, some of whom were Americans, two of whom were teenagers. “How old are these people?” the president asked. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”

The Times noted that President Obama “embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it ‘guilt by association’ that has led to ‘deceptive’ estimates of civilian casualties.”

The article goes on to describe how President Obama brings his own judgment to decisions about the Kill List. Early requirements that officials have “near certainty” that no innocents would be killed have fallen by the wayside. In August 2009, the CIA had Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in its sights, and not only was that standard not met, there would almost certainly be innocents killed. The president gave the order; Mehsud his wife and likely other family members were all killed.

The Klaidman excerpt describes the president pushing back on a 2009 effort by generals to take the “war on terror” into Somalia, home to al Qaeda ally Al-Shabab. The president, after some debate, said, “If there is a person in the camp who is a clear threat to the United States we should go after him. But carpet bombing a country is a really bad precedent. I ask you to consider: where are we taking this activity? Because the logical next thing after carpet bombing is that we go there and open up a new front.”

Klaidman also takes a look at Harold Hongju Koh and Jeh C. Johnson, “the top lawyers at the State Department and the Pentagon, respectively, (who) exercised considerable influence over counterterrorism operations. But their ideological differences-Koh a liberal idealist who had served as the Clinton administration’s top human-rights official, and Johnson a pragmatic centrist and former prosecutor-colored their legal interpretations. Koh could be brusque and tactless with his colleagues, though he would just as easily break into boyish giggles when something amused him. Johnson, a former partner in a white-shoe Manhattan law firm, was restrained in manner, and a deft inside operator.

“For most of Obama’s first term, the two men fought a pitched battle over legal authorities in the war on al Qaeda. Like Johnson, Koh had no problem going after AQ’s most senior members. But things got murkier when the military wanted to kill or capture members of other jihadist groups. Johnson took a more hawkish position, arguing that the United States could pursue AQ members or ‘co-belligerents’ more expansively.”

The excerpt describes Johnson approving his first targeted killings, watching the live battlefield feed, and then hearing “reports from human-rights groups that dozens of women and children had been killed in the attacks, reports that a military source involved in the operation termed ‘persuasive.’ Johnson would confide to others, ‘If I were Catholic, I’d have to go to confession.’”


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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio



WH to Give Itself Maximum Flexibility on Terrorist Custody Law

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House announced Tuesday night that the Obama administration intends to interpret with rather wide latitude a controversial section of the National Defense Authorization Act that requires law enforcement to place into military custody any foreign al Qaeda suspects caught on U.S. soil.

Based on the list of reasons for which the administration can grant itself waivers, thus keeping the alleged terrorist in law enforcement -- and not Pentagon -- hands, the White House is choosing to give itself maximum flexibility in dealing with any future Christmas Day bombers.

The interpretation states that “until an individual is formally designated a covered person, federal law enforcement agencies should follow their standard practices. The procedures also make clear that, even after an individual is determined to be a covered person, a transfer to military custody may only occur once it is clear that it will not disrupt ongoing law enforcement and intelligence operations.”

The waivers can be granted for a broad array of reasons, including if placing the suspect in military custody will impede counterterrorism cooperation or could interfere with efforts to secure an individual’s cooperation or confession. A waiver can also be granted if putting the suspect in military custody could impact a foreign government being willing to extradite or transfer suspects to the U.S.; if the suspect is a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. arrested for conduct taking place in this country; or if the transfer to military custody would interfere with efforts to conduct joint trials with co-defendants about whom the decision has already been made to keep them in law enforcement custody or who are ineligible for military custody.

Moreover, a lot of people will have to sign off on putting a suspect in military custody -- the attorney general makes the final determination but the secretary of state, secretary of defense, secretary of Homeland Security, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and director of National Intelligence all have to sign off as well.  This action has no bearing on the controversial part of the NDAA that reaffirms the government’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens suspected of being involved in a terrorist plot, a power courts have ruled was given to the federal government under the Authorization for Use of Military Force against al Qaeda in 2001.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


White House Unveils New Strategy to Fight Homegrown Terrorism

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House Thursday unveiled a new strategy to battle homegrown terrorism by fostering coordination between local authorities and teaching officials to better recognize violent extremism.

“Protecting our nation’s communities from violent extremist recruitment and radicalization is a top national security priority. It is an effort that requires creativity, diligence and commitment to our fundamental rights and principles,” read a report entitled, “Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.”

The plan outlined enhanced coordination between local partners -- including schools and community groups -- and federal law enforcement, and sought to empower communities by teaching local officials to recognize violent extremism.

“Just as we engage and raise awareness to prevent gang violence, sexual offenses, school shootings and other acts of violence, so too must we ensure that our communities are empowered to recognize threats of violent extremism and understand the range of government and nongovernment resources that can help keep their families, friends and neighbors safe,” the report said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Palin, GOP Respond to Alleged Biden 'Terrorists' Comment

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sarah Palin is the latest to add her voice to the chorus of politicians and pundits criticizing Vice President Joe Biden for allegedly saying that tea party lawmakers "acted like terrorists" during the debt-ceiling negotiations.

At a meeting with House Democrats on Monday Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) reportedly told Biden that "the tea party acted like terrorists in threatening to blow up the economy." The phrase was allegedly used several times. Several sources told the website Politico that the Vice President responded "they have acted like terrorists."

Appearing on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News show Monday, Palin said, "I think we're getting kind of used to being called names -- racists, inciters of violence, being accused of things that we having nothing to do with." Palin added, "I suppose it's a bit more appalling to have been called acting like terrorists by he who is second in command of the most powerful office in the world. It's quite appalling. It proves how out of touch this White House is."

The former Alaska governor and tea party activist added: "To be called a terrorist because of our beliefs from the vice president, it's quite appalling, it's quite vile."

Whether Vice President Biden did in fact use the word terrorist is unclear.  He denied using it Monday while speaking to CBS News' Scott Pelley.

Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for the Vice President, said "the word was used by several members of Congress. The vice president does not believe it's an appropriate term in political discourse."

Along with Palin, several other members of the GOP have responded to the reported comments. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), on the Senate floor Monday evening called it "deeply disturbing" to hear the reports of the comments.

And Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted the Vice President: "Laughable to be called 'terrorist' by those holding economy hostage. Prefer to be thought of as freedom fighter. #teaparty."

Earlier this year, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told Bloomberg Television that "the people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really -- they're really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Provisions of Patriot Act Set to Expire at Midnight

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Congress has until midnight Thursday to renew several provisions of the Patriot Act, the country's counterterrorism law that was passed after 9/11.

If passed, the measure would extend powers for investigators in national security cases to conduct roving wiretaps, seek certain business records, and gather intelligence on "lone wolf" suspected terrorists who are not affiliated with a known terrorist group.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says intelligence officials need to catch so-called "lone wolf" terrorists and those using throw-away phones.

"The bill is essential to what we do to protect ourselves," Reid says.

He has been frustrated by delays in opposition from Republican freshman Rand Paul of Kentucky, who wants changes that he says are needed to better protect Americans constitutional rights.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Will Osama bin Laden's Death Quicken Afghan Drawdown?

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- In an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes, President Obama seemed to signal that the successful mission that killed Osama bin Laden could speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The White House has not yet conducted a major review of operations after the successful Operation Neptune Spear, but the president voiced optimism that the death of bin Laden will encourage extremist elements in Afghanistan to join the reconciliation process, and seemed to voice a new confidence that the mission proved that smaller, more highly-trained teams like the SEALs, Green Berets, and Nightstalker helicopter pilots could be effective even as the U.S. begins to withdraw combat troops this summer.

"What has happened on Sunday, I think, reconfirms that we can focus on al Qaeda, focus on the threats to our homeland, train Afghans in a way that allows them to stabilize their country," the president said, "but we don't need to have a perpetual footprint of the size that we have now."

As for extremist elements in Afghanistan, the president said the death of the terror mastermind "...sends a signal to those who might have been affiliated with terrorist organizations, that might have had a favorable view towards al Qaeda, that they're going to be on the losing side of this proposition.  And it may make some of those local power brokers, those local Taliban leaders have second thoughts and say, 'Maybe it makes more sense for us to figure out how to participate in a political process' as opposed to engaging in a war with folks who I think we've shown don't give up."

The president credited his strategy of refocusing attention and assets on Afghanistan and Pakistan as having set the stage for last Sunday's raid.

"We did increase our troops levels in Afghanistan so that we could blunt the momentum of the Taliban and create platforms that would allow us to go after al Qaeda directly," the president said. "We've denigrated al Qaeda significantly even before we got Bin Laden and -- I think it's important for everybody to understand that --  the work that’s been done in Afghanistan helped to prepare us for being able to take Bin Laden out."

The president noted that "our job's not yet finished" in Afghanistan, with the U.S. needing to ensure that "we leave an Afghanistan that can secure itself, that does not, again, become a safe haven for terrorist activity," Obama added. "But I think that that can be accomplished on the timeline that I've already set out."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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