Washington Extra – In pursuit

May 12, 2011

Osama bin Laden is gone, but plenty of questions remain about how the al Qaeda leader evaded an intense decade-long manhunt that ended in a dramatic U.S. raid on a house in Pakistan.

The real breakthrough that led to bin Laden came from a mysterious CIA detainee, Hassan Ghul, according to a Reuters special report published today. It was Ghul who, after years of tantalizing hints from other detainees, finally provided the information that prompted the CIA to focus intensely on finding Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti, pseudonym for the courier who would lead them to bin Laden.

Fresh from the victory of finding the world’s most wanted man, President Barack Obama wants no let-up in the pursuit of terrorism suspects and surprised everyone by seeking a two-year extension of FBI Director Robert Mueller’s 10-year term.

At a time when Obama is shifting around his national security team, he’s also seeking areas of continuity.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Special Report: The bin Laden kill plan

The 13-year quest to find and eliminate Osama bin Laden was filled with missteps, course adjustments and radical new departures for security policy. Even with bin Laden buried at sea, the changes could linger for years, or decades. The mission to destroy bin Laden, and his network, sparked the creation of a chillingly bureaucratic process for deciding who would be on “kill lists,” authorized for death at the hands of the CIA. It revolutionized the use of pilotless drones to find and attack militants; drove the controversially brutal treatment of detainees in U.S. custody; and brought the United States and Pakistan closer together, then wrenched them apart.

For more of this special report by Caren Bohan, Mark Hosenball, Tabassum Zakaria and Missy Ryan, read here.

Obama makes surprise request that FBI chief stay

President Obama proposed extending the 10-year term for FBI Director Robert Mueller by two years, a surprise move that provides some continuity as Obama revamps the rest of his national security team. Mueller’s term ends on Sept. 4 and would have been another change within Obama’s inner circle. Obama nominated his CIA Director Leon Panetta to become defense secretary and commander David Petraeus to head the CIA.

For more of this story by Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini, read here.

Obama, Congress ratchet up deficit-reduction talks

The White House and Congress intensified negotiations for a deficit-reduction deal, as major corporations clamored for lower tax rates they said would increase their global competitiveness. President Obama and Vice President Biden hosted separate meetings with lawmakers in search of a compromise. White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee has said that cutting trillions from spending is “insane,” but Boehner hit back saying, “What we … are asking for isn’t radical.”

For more of this story by Richard Cowan, read here.

Debt limit talks embroiled in chaos

Rival plans to cut the deficit emerge almost daily: gangs, panels and commissions all trying to reach an elusive deal. There are splits between Republicans and Democrats, and mixed messages from all sides. One thing is clear: nobody yet knows how to get there, and a deal appears as far off as ever. “Nobody can get a handle on this because there is no handle,” said a veteran Republican strategist. “The overall picture really is as muddied and unclear as it looks. Anybody who says they know what’s going to happen here is lying. They don’t.”

For more of this analysis by Tim Reid, read here.

Ending US oil breaks won’t raise fuel cost-Democrats

Repealing billions of dollars in tax breaks for Big Oil won’t raise fuel prices, Senator Max Baucus said in an opening shot directed at top petroleum executives summoned to Capitol Hill to defend their surging profits. Oil prices are set on a world market and the U.S. share of crude production is less than 10 percent, Baucus said before the CEOs of some of the most powerful companies in the world. “That makes it difficult — if not impossible — to pass on the cost of losing these subsidies to consumers,” Baucus told the hearing.

For more of this story by Timothy Gardner and Tom Doggett, read here.

Consumers feel pinch of gasoline costs in April

The economy struggled to gain momentum early in the second quarter, with retail sales posting their smallest rise in nine months in April and wholesale prices increasing more than expected. “There are still headwinds for the economy stemming from the high gasoline and food prices for the consumer as well as input prices for producers,” said Omair Sharif, an economist at RBS. “Given the high input costs, it looks like firms are scaling back on their hiring plans.”

For more of this story by Lucia Mutikani, read here.

Regulators press on with Wall St crackdown

A broad crackdown on Wall Street is churning forward, even as regulators assured a Senate panel they would seek more input on how to pick which financial institutions need stricter policing. Members of a new inter-agency council on economic stability said they would extend their public comment period on how to choose important banks, insurers and hedge funds for heightened surveillance and tougher capital rules. The measures in the House were not expected to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

For more of this story by Kevin Drawbaugh, read here.

Clinton: U.S. looking to raise pressure on Syria

Washington and its allies will hold Syria to account for “brutal reprisals” against protesters, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, but stopped short of saying President Bashar al-Assad should go. “I think it’s fair to say that we’re going to hold the Syrian government accountable,” she said.

For more of this story by Andrew Quinn, read here.

From elsewhere…

Will Ferrell gets top U.S. award for humor

Will Ferrell, whose comic impersonations and movie roles have established him as one of the most well-known humorists, is to receive the Mark Twain prize for American Humor. Ferrell, 43, first established himself on Saturday Night Live. Besides starring in numerous movies from “Talladega Nights” to “Step Brothers” and “Blades of Glory,” Ferrell co-founded the comedy website Funny or Die in 2007 and made his Broadway debut in 2009 with a one-man satire impersonating George W. Bush.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama at Fort Campbell, May 6)

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