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Sep 5, 2013

Kerry portrait of Syria rebels at odds with intelligence reports

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State John Kerry’s public assertions that moderate Syrian opposition groups are growing in influence appear to be at odds with estimates by U.S. and European intelligence sources and nongovernmental experts, who say Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements.

At congressional hearings this week, while making the case for President Barack Obama’s plan for limited military action in Syria, Kerry asserted that the armed opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership, and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution.

Aug 30, 2013

In shadow of Iraq, U.S. has ‘high confidence’ Syria carried out chemical attack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. intelligence agencies publicly disclosed on Friday some of the information that led to a “high-confidence” assessment that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a chemical weapons attack on neighborhoods outside Damascus.

But the declassified intelligence report also showed what the U.S. government does not have: clear evidence that Assad personally ordered the attack, and physiological evidence confirming what caused the deaths of an estimated 1,429 Syrians on August 21.

Aug 30, 2013

UK asked N.Y. Times to destroy Snowden material

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The British government has asked the New York Times to destroy copies of documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden related to the operations of the U.S. spy agency and its British partner, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), people familiar with the matter said.

The British request, made to Times executive editor Jill Abramson by a senior official at the British Embassy in Washington D.C., was greeted by Abramson with silence, according to the sources. British officials indicated they intended to follow up on their request later with the Times, but never did, one of the sources said.

Aug 29, 2013

Amid doubts, Obama and Cameron make a case for Syria strike

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and his allies sought to convince cautious lawmakers and the public of the need to strike Syria although officials conceded on Thursday they lacked conclusive evidence that President Bashar al-Assad ordered his forces to use chemical weapons against civilians.

Obama told Americans on Wednesday evening that a military strike against Syria was in their interest following the gas attack and Britain said armed action would be legal, but intervention looked set to be delayed until U.N. investigators report back after leaving Syria on Saturday.

Aug 29, 2013

U.S. Officials say ‘no smoking gun’ implicating Assad in chemical attack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. and its allies have “no smoking gun” proving Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad personally ordered his forces to use chemical weapons to attack a rebel-held Damascus neighborhood, U.S. national security officials said on Thursday.

In secret intelligence assessments and a still-unreleased report summarizing U.S. intelligence on the alleged gas attack on August 21, U.S. agencies express high confidence that Syrian government forces carried out the attack, and that Assad’s government therefore bears responsibility, the officials said.

Aug 29, 2013

U.S. congressional leaders to receive Syria briefing on Thursday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Obama administration officials will brief congressional leaders on Thursday on the situation in Syria, congressional aides said, amid complaints by lawmakers they have not been properly consulted as the president deliberates about possible military action.

The briefing by senior White House and national security officials will be with leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives, and the chairmen and ranking members of national security committees, Democratic and Republican congressional aides said.

Aug 28, 2013

U.S. intelligence committees say they’re not properly consulted on Syria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. congressional intelligence committee leaders believe the Obama administration has not properly consulted them as the president engages in final deliberations for possible military action in Syria, according to congressional officials.

One of the officials said the administration’s discussions with critical lawmakers, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein and her House counterpart, Mike Rogers, had been limited to “very brief status updates.”

Aug 23, 2013

Initial Western intelligence finds Syrian forces used chemical weapons

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. and allied intelligence agencies’ have made a preliminary assessment that chemical weapons were used by Syrian forces in an attack near Damascus this week, likely with high-level approval from the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to American and European security sources.

The early intelligence finding could increase pressure for action by President Barack Obama, who has made clear that he plans to tread cautiously even as his aides air their differences in a debate over possible military responses to the Syrian government.

Aug 22, 2013

NSA collected 56,000 emails by Americans a year: documents

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The National Security Agency may have unintentionally collected as many as 56,000 emails of Americans per year between 2008 and 2011 in a program that a secret U.S. court subsequently said may have violated U.S. law and the Constitution, according to documents released on Wednesday.

The once-classified documents were released by U.S. intelligence agencies as part of an unprecedented White House effort to smooth the uproar following revelations by former contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of secret government surveillance programs.

Aug 20, 2013

Guardian says Britain forced it to destroy Snowden material

WASHINGTON/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – The Guardian, a major outlet for revelations based on leaks from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, says the British government threatened legal action against the newspaper unless it either destroyed the classified documents or handed them back to British authorities.

In an article posted on the British newspaper’s website on Monday, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said that a month ago, after the newspaper had published several stories based on Snowden’s material, a British official advised him: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.”