More details have emerged about last week’s suicide bombing at a CIA base in Afghanistan. The bomber was reportedly a Jordanian double agent who had been recruited by the Jordanian spy service to infiltrate al-Qaeda. He has been identified as a Jordanian doctor named Humam Khalil Mohammed. The double agent was allowed access to the CIA base after he told his Jordanian intelligence handler that he had information to give to the CIA related to the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri. The bomber was not closely searched when he arrived at the CIA base. The attack killed seven CIA officers and contractors.
The report of the double agent’s role in the bombing came as the top US military intelligence officer in Afghanistan issued a scathing assessment of the state of the intelligence effort there. Major General Michael Flynn said that US intelligence in Afghanistan had focused too much on gathering information on insurgent groups and was "unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which US and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade."
The United States has reopened its embassy in Yemen, but Obama administration officials are continuing to warn about the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula following the failed Christmas Day airline bombing. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the situation in Yemen was a threat to global stability.
Hillary Clinton: “This is in that region, the spillover effects from instability directly impact the neighbors. Obviously, we see global implications from the war in — in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al-Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region.”
While the US military is increasing its ties to Yemen, many analysts say economic aid is needed more than military aid in the poor country.
Yemeni political analyst Khaled Al-Haroji: “Assistance, I imagine, will help security. We need exact locations, logistics, as well as economic assistance. These are important to Yemen, because the economic problem faced by Yemen, and the high rate of unemployment and poverty, is a suitable breeding environment for al-Qaeda, considering that many young Yemenis are frustrated and will turn to this organization (al-Qaeda).”
As congressional Democrats attempt to reconcile the Senate and House healthcare bills, it appears increasingly likely they will forgo the formal conference committee process. Instead, Democratic leaders are considering opting for closed-door negotiations between leaders from the two chambers. Huffington Post reports the basis for negotiations will be the Senate bill, to which the House can add amendments. The Senate bill lacks a public option for insurance coverage and contains a tax on expensive healthcare plans. Republicans, as well as progressive Democrats, have criticized the plan. Congressman Raul Grijalva, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said, "I and other progressives saw a conference as a means to improve the bill and have a real debate, and now with this behind-the-scenes approach, we’re concerned even more."
In economic news, the Associated Press reports the number of Americans and businesses filing for bankruptcy jumped 32 percent last year. Over 1.4 million bankruptcy petitions were submitted, more than any year since Congress overhauled the bankruptcy laws in 2005. In Arizona, the number of bankruptcies jumped 77 percent. Bankruptcies also increased by over 50 percent in California, Wyoming and Nevada.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Monday he would launch lawsuits in the United States against Blackwater for the company’s role in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians. Last week a federal judge in Washington threw out all charges against the five Blackwater operatives. Maliki said Iraq won’t abandon its right to punish Blackwater.
Nouri al-Maliki: "There is an objection by the US Department of Justice about the court sentence. We also took the necessary measures to protect the souls of our citizens and bring those who committed the crime to justice. We have formed committees and filed a complaint against Blackwater. Whether in the United States or in Iraq, we will not give our rights up."
In other Blackwater news, the German government said Monday it knew nothing about a report that the CIA and Blackwater had planned a secret operation to assassinate a German-Syrian man in Hamburg linked to the September 11 attacks. According to the magazine Vanity Fair, in 2004 the CIA sent a team from Blackwater to Germany to kill Mamoun Darkazanli, who was investigated for years by German authorities on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda. The hit team reportedly tracked Darkazanli for weeks, but Washington authorities ended up calling off the assassination. Vanity Fair also reported that the CIA considered having Blackwater assassinate A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting Israel has begun laying the groundwork to build another highway in the West Bank that will be off limits to Palestinian drivers. The announcement comes just a week after Israel’s highest court ordered the state to lift its ban on Palestinian motorists from Route 443 in the West Bank. Many Palestinians describe the Israel-only highway as apartheid roads. Israeli law professor Barak Medina condemned the construction plans. He said, "Preventing local residents from using a highway simply because they are Palestinians is discrimination that is forbidden...Unfortunately, this case is not that far from apartheid."
In other news from Israel, senior officers from the Israeli military have canceled a planned visit to Britain over fears that they would be arrested for alleged war crimes upon landing. The delegation made its decision after being told that there was no guarantee warrants would not be waiting for them. In December, Tzipi Livni canceled a visit of her own upon learning that a British court had approved her arrest. The warrant cited Livni’s role in the US-backed Israeli attack on Gaza nearly a year ago that killed over 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians.
The Los Angeles Times reports President Obama’s plan to begin phasing out nuclear weapons has run up against powerful resistance from officials in the Pentagon and other parts of the national security establishment. In April, Obama laid out his vision of a nuclear-free world in a speech in Prague. But nine months later, the administration is locked in internal debate over a top-secret policy blueprint for shrinking the US nuclear arsenal and reducing the role of such weapons in America’s military strategy and foreign policy. The US currently maintains an estimated 9,400 nuclear weapons.
Here in New York, Governor David Paterson is coming under increasing pressure to reverse plans to allow hydraulic drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale watershed in upstate New York. In recent weeks both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and New York City’s environmental agency have come out against the drilling plan because of potential risks to the city and state’s water supply. On Monday, elected officials gathered at New York City Hall to publicly oppose the drilling plan. Attending the rally were three members of New York’s congressional delegation, including Jerrold Nadler.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler: "The prospect of using natural gas instead of foreign oil is a very enticing prospect and a very important one, but it must not be done at the cost of our water supply and at the cost of the environment for New York, for which it could upset for generations to come."
Martha Robertson of the Tompkins County Legislature also spoke.
Martha Robertson: "We’re told that natural gas is cleaner than coal, so we must sacrifice — so to save the planet, we must sacrifice our backyards and our water sources for the greater good. But is gas really the cleaner fuel? Not if you count all the emissions from extraction and not if you count all the gas leaks in the system. I will tell you that in the Barnett Shale in Texas, where the same techniques are already in use, emissions of carbon dioxide and methane are projected to be roughly equal every day to the greenhouse gas emissions from two coal-fired power plants. Does this make any sense? Drilling the Marcellus Shale may actually increase New York’s carbon footprint, not reduce it."
Eleven Greenpeace activists were sentenced Monday for participating in a protest at Mount Rushmore. The activists were arrested in July after hanging a banner from Mount Rushmore that showed a photo of President Obama with the words “America Honors Leaders, Not Politicians: Stop Global Warming." The banner was hung next to the carved mountain face of Abraham Lincoln. The eleven activists pleaded guilty to the charge of climbing Mount Rushmore. They were each fined $460 and ordered to perform between fifty and 100 hours of community service in the National Park system. One of the activists, Matt Leonard, was given a two-day jail sentence.
In labor news, workers went on strike at Chile’s largest copper mine on Monday following a dispute over pay. The mine is run by the state-owned Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer.
Annise Parker has been sworn in as the mayor of Houston. Houston becomes the largest US city to be led by an openly gay mayor. During her swearing-in ceremony on Monday, she stood next to her longtime partner, Kathy Hubbard.
Annise Parker: “I, Annise Parker, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of mayor of the city of Houston, of the state of Texas, so help me God.”
During her inaugural address, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said, "Today is simply one step toward a tomorrow of greater justice."
And in another milestone for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement, President Obama has named Amanda Simpson to be a Senior Technical Adviser to the Commerce Department. Simpson is said to be one of the first transgender presidential appointees to the federal government. Simpson is a member of the National Center for Transgender Equality’s board of directors.