An Army sergeant who served as a staff adviser for cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point has been accused of secretly videotaping female students as they showered, the latest in a string of sexual-assault or harassment cases plaguing the Department of Defense.
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division is contacting about a dozen women who may have been filmed while in the bathroom or shower, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The soldier, identified as Sgt. First Class Michael McClendon, faces multiple charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including indecent acts, dereliction in the performance of duty, cruelty, and maltreatment, according to Army spokesman George Wright.
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Sgt. McClendon, a veteran of two tours of Iraq, was transferred to Ft. Drum, N.Y., before charges were filed on May 14. According to The New York Times, he served as a tactical commissioned officer at West Point since 2009, where school personnel documents described his position as “responsible for the health, welfare, and discipline” for a company of roughly 125 cadets.
Time reports that McClendon, of Blakely, Ga., earned more than two-dozen awards, including a Bronze Star, and was a seven-time recipient of the Army’s Good Conduct Medal.
There are roughly 4,500 students at West Point. Women have been accepted to the prestigious military academy since 1976 and make up about 15 percent of the student body.
Army officials responded quickly after The Times reported the allegations Wednesday. “The Army is committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of our cadets at the Military Academy at West Point — as well as all soldiers throughout our Army,” Gen. John F. Campbell, the Army vice chief of staff, said Wednesday. “Once notified of the violation, a full investigation was launched, followed by swift action to correct the problem.”
The Department of Defense has been reeling from a string of sexual misconduct cases. On May 7 Jeffrey Krusinkski, head of the US Air Force sexual assault prevention unit, was charged with sexual battery. A US Army sergeant in Fort Hood, Texas, was accused of abusive sexual contact a few days later.
A Pentagon report released in early May found that the number of sexual assaults reported at military academies soared in recent years, from 25 in the 2008-09 academic year to 65 in 2010-11 and 80 in 2011-12. Reports of unwanted sexual advances also have risen throughout the military, from about 19,000 in 2011 to an estimated 26,000 in 2012, an increase of 37 percent, Reuters reports.
President Obama and members of Congress have spoken out publicly against the sexual-assault cases in recent days. Last week, Mr. Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss the sexual assault cases and Department of Defense report.
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D) of New York told NBC’s “Today” program that repeated sexual assaults without accountability, “allows the culture to continue.” Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Armed Services Committee, says sexual assault should be reported outside the chain of command, directly to a military prosecutor.
Hours before the West Point case was reported, Army Secretary John McHugh and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, assured a Senate panel that addressing sexual-assault is their top priority.
"These crimes violate virtually everything the Army stands for,” McHugh said. “They will not be tolerated."
Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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The US government has acknowledged the killing of four American citizens as part of its drone attack program – one person intentionally and three others not specifically targeted but killed in strikes aimed at terrorist suspects.
The information comes in a letter to congressional leaders from Attorney General Eric Holder, reported Wednesday by several news organizations, first by The New York Times.
The news comes on the eve of a major speech President Obama is scheduled to give on national security issues at the National Defense University on Thursday, and it focuses on what could be the most controversial subject Obama intends to cover.
The one US citizen targeted was radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in Yemen in 2011. Also killed in strikes aimed at other individuals were Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Samir Khan (both killed in Yemen), and Jude Mohammed, who was killed in a strike in Pakistan.
Mr. Kahn was the publisher of Inspire magazine, which Mr. al-Awlaki edited, ABC News reports. Mr. Mohammed was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List and was believed to be plotting a car bombing on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
“These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States,” Mr. Holder acknowledges without citing further information on those three US citizens killed in drone attacks.
The bulk of Holder’s letter reiterates the legal justification for killing Americans abroad laid out in a speech the attorney general made in March at Northwestern University Law School, as well as the specific justification for killing al-Awlaki.
"Based on generations-old legal principles and Supreme Court decisions handed down from WWII, as well as during the current conflict, it is clear and logical the United States Citizenship alone does not make such citizens immune from being targeted," Holder wrote in his letter this week.
The decision to deliberately kill al-Awlaki underwent "exceptionally rigorous" review, Holder wrote, and was approved only because he was "a senior operational leader" within Al Qaeda. "The decision to target Anwar al-Awlaki was lawful, it was considered, and it was just.”
Holder described al-Awlaki as “a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most dangerous regional affiliate of Al Qaeda and a group that has committed numerous terrorist attacks overseas and attempted multiple times to conduct terrorist attacks against the US homeland…. He was the group’s chief of external operations, intimately involved in detailed planning and putting in place plots against US persons.”
“In this role,” Holder continued, “al-Awlaki repeatedly made clear his intent to attack US persons and his hope that these attacks would take American lives.”
Specifically, US intelligence directly connected al-Awlaki to the “underwear bomber’s” attempt to blow up an airliner en route to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 and to the attempt to detonate explosive devices on two US-bound cargo planes in October 2010.
"Information that remains classified to protect sensitive sources and methods evidences Awlaki’s involvement in the planning of numerous other plots against U.S. and Western interests and makes clear he was continuing to plot attacks when he was killed,” Holder wrote.
The drone program under Obama has vastly increased since it began in the Bush administration, and it has come under fire across the political spectrum for its secretiveness as well as for what critics say is a large number of civilian casualties, including children.
The administration was forced to respond last month when US Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky filibustered for 13 hours in protest of a policy which allows for the drone targeting of US citizens affiliated with terrorist groups.
Critics were not assuaged by Holder’s letter, The New York Times reports. “The Obama administration continues to claim authority to kill virtually anyone anywhere in the world under the ‘global battlefield’ legal theory and a radical redefinition of the concept of imminence,” said Zeke Johnson, an official with Amnesty International. “President Obama should reject these concepts in his speech tomorrow and commit to upholding human rights, not just in word but in deed.”
In his speech Thursday, Obama is expected to address another controversial subject: the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
When he first ran for the White House in 2008, Obama pledged to close Guantánamo Bay, but congressional opponents have been able to block that ever since.
"It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment for extremists. It needs to be closed," the president said recently.
As of Sunday, The Guardian newspaper reports, 103 of the 166 inmates at Guantánamo Bay are on a hunger strike that began about three months ago, and 30 of those inmates are being force-fed.
An FBI agent acted in self-defense after the suspect initiated a violent confrontation while being interviewed at his home, FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said.
"The agent, along with other law enforcement personnel, were interviewing an individual in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing investigation when a violent confrontation was initiated by the subject," FBI Agent Dave Couvertier said in a statement to media outlets. "During the confrontation, the individual was killed and the agent sustained nonlife-threatening injuries. As this incident is under review, we have no further details at this time."
Officials identified the suspect as Ibragim Todashev, a Chechen man who knew the elder Tsarnaev brother because both had been mixed martial arts fighters, according to local media reports.
The FBI has been investigating known associates of Tsarnaev, who was killed after a confrontation with authorities three days after the bombing, and his brother, Dzhokhar, who faces criminal charges related to the bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 260. During the investigation, the FBI was led to Mr. Todashev, who has been living in the US as a legal resident since 2008, a law enforcement official told CNN.
Todashev met Tamerlan Tsarnaev in Boston more than two years ago, and they were only casual acquaintances, Khusn Taramiv, the suspect’s friend, told WESH-TV in Orlando. Todashev and Tsarnaev spoke on the phone a month before the Boston attacks, but only to say hello, Mr. Taramiv said. Todashev had no knowledge of Tsarnaev’s plans, he added.
The FBI had interviewed Taramiv and Todashev several times, and the questioning that began Tuesday lasted several hours, Taramiv said.
"They were talking to us, both of us, right? And they said they need him for a little more, for a couple more hours, and I left, and they told me they’re going to bring him back. They never brought him back," Taramiv said.
Todashev allegedly quarreled with a man over a parking spot at the Orlando Premium Outlet mall. He told authorities that, upon his arrest, that he "was only fighting to protect his knee because he had surgery in March," according to the arrest report. Todashev left the scene in a vehicle, and the other man was unconscious on the ground surrounded by “a considerable amount of blood,” the report said.
"Also by his own admission Todashev was recently a former mixed martial arts fighter," the arresting deputy noted in the report. "This skill puts his fighting ability way above that of a normal person."
Throughout the Boston bombing investigation, the FBI has sought to determine how the Tsarnaev brothers, both Muslims, came to be radicalized, exploring Tamerlan’s ties to extremists from Chechnya. FBI sources also told WESH that Todashev has friends overseas who are Islamist extremists.
Advocates in the US Chechen community have said that Russian intelligence officials may be pushing the FBI to investigate Chechens who speak out against Russia but who have no ties to terrorism, The New York Times reported.
FBI agents have repeatedly questioned Musa Khadzhimuratov, a former rebel fighter who now lives in Manchester, N.H., according to The New York Times. Tsarnaev had brief social visits with Mr. Khadzhimuratov, the latest a few weeks before the Boston attacks. Khadzhimuratov denies having any knowledge of the Tsarnaev brothers’ plans.
– Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Barbara Garcia stands in the rubble of her home, a bleak skyline behind her. KWTV News 9 reporter Anna Werner asks her what happened when the F4 tornado came barreling down on her home Monday afternoon. Ms. Garcia says that she was sitting in her bathroom with her dog in her lap when the twister hit. She never lost consciousness but moments later she was laying in the debris of her shattered home, with minor scrapes and bruises. But the dog was gone.
"[The house] was there, and it was gone.... I had some stuff on top of me and I started wigglin'"
"I hollered for my little dog, and, he didn't answer. He didn't come," says Garcia. Then, she adds with a tinge of fatal resignation, pointing to the flattened house, "So, I know he's in here somewhere."
Dead? Apparently not.
The reporter suddenly spots the dog's head sticking out of the debris. "The dog! The dog! The dog! Hi, puppy!" says Werner stooping down to pet the head of the missing Scottish Terrier.
Garcia and the reporter lift some crumpled metal debris off the dog, and he squirms free. Garcia caresses the matted fur of her "Bowsie."
"Well, I thought that God had just answered one prayer, to let me be OK," she says with tears welling up. "But he answered both of them."
Washington is responding to the devastating tornado that hit Moore, Okla., on Monday with speedy aid, statements of support, and political maneuvering.
President Obama, who signed a disaster declaration for the area Monday night, promised Tuesday morning that federal disaster representatives already in place in Oklahoma will remain on the ground "beside them as long as it takes."
"Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today," Mr. Obama said, speaking to the nation from the State Dining Room in the White House. He told state residents, “You will not travel that path [to recovery] alone. Your country will travel it with you, fueled by our faith in the Almighty and our faith in one another.”
After President George W. Bush was excoriated in 2005 for the federal government’s slow response to hurricane Katrina, the premium in Washington has been on speedy response to natural disasters. Thus, well before the tornado struck the suburbs south of Oklahoma City, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had on Sunday dispatched a liaison officer to Oklahoma’s emergency operations center, given the forecasts of severe weather.
Monday afternoon, FEMA activated a national center that coordinates the federal response to natural disasters, dispatched a team to Oklahoma’s emergency operations center, and deployed urban search and rescue teams. Early Tuesday, the president sent FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to Oklahoma to coordinate federal help.
Obama also said he had spoken with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) and Glenn Lewis, mayor of Moore, the town hardest-hit by the severe weather system that appears to have staked out a position in the region, refusing to move on. The president's response drew appreciation early Tuesday from US Rep. Tom Cole (R), who grew up in and now represents Moore. Congressman Cole told National Public Radio that Obama had phoned him to convey his support and to outline the US government’s response to the disaster. Cole’s wife, Ellen, and son, Mason, were in town when the tornado struck, and Cole reported that they are safe and well.
Although the disaster is only hours old, federal aid for Oklahoma is already a political controversy, notes NBC’s First Read newsletter. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma is calling for budget cuts elsewhere to offset the cost of disaster relief in his home state.
“He’ll ask his colleagues to help Oklahoma by setting priorities and sacrificing less vital areas of the budget,” Coburn spokesman John Hart told Politico.
Senator Coburn was one of 36 Republican senators who in January voted against federal disaster relief funding for superstorm Sandy, which hit New York and New Jersey in September, reminds Emily Pierce of CQ Roll Call. Oklahoma’s other senator, James Inhofe, and three of the state's five congressmen also voted no on federal Sandy relief.
Cole, for is part, voted yes. “Keep an eye on Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) in this. He has been a bridge between the establishment and conservatives on issues like Sandy relief and the fiscal cliff. He’s got a lot of credibility with a bipartisan swath of members, and he may end up having to do a lot of political legwork to de-politicize this issue,” says NBC’s political team.
How to pay for disaster aid is an issue that exposes divisions within the GOP. Rep. Harold Rogers (R) of Kentucky, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday morning that he does not favor identifying spending cuts to offset the cost of relief for Oklahoma. According to Politico, Representative Rogers told a small group of reporters, “I really don’t think disasters of this type should be offset.” He added: “We have an obligation to help those people. We’ll worry about our budgetary items back here, but the aid has to be there."
In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner said, “Our hearts and our prayers go out to those in Oklahoma who have been victimized by this storm, especially our colleague Tom Cole. Moore, Oklahoma is his hometown, so obviously he’s there, and so I’ve ordered the flags this morning to be lowered to half-staff in honor of those who’ve suffered through this terrible storm.” Mr. Boehner’s statement did not address whether he favored offsetting budget cuts to pay for assistance.
A number of relief organizations are responding to the disaster in Moore, Okla., where a devastating tornado destroyed hundreds of homes Monday, hit at least two elementary schools hard, and killed at least 24 people. The general public can help with recovery efforts through these organizations, which already are helping families and supporting the first responders.
The American Red Cross has opened shelters in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, and it has deployed emergency response vehicles to provide hot meals for displaced people and emergency workers. To support the relief efforts, the Red Cross is accepting online donations. People can send the text message “REDCROSS” to 90999 to immediately donate $10, or they can call 800-REDCROSS.
The Salvation Army has also sent disaster response teams to Moore, including mobile feeding units. It is working in several counties in Oklahoma affected by tornadoes both Sunday and Monday. It is accepting online donations, and it also has a text-message donation option: text “STORM” to 80888. Donate via phone by calling 800-SALARMY.
The United Way of Central Oklahoma has set up a fund for people to directly support the tornado recovery efforts of its partner agencies working in Moore and Shawnee, Okla. The organization prefers online donations.
Save the Children says it's sending help to affected families in Moore, providing kits for shelters to create safe play zones for children, as well as hygiene materials for infants and toddlers. Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles says experience shows that children are most vulnerable during emergencies. Donate online or call 800-728-3843.
Operation USA is a Los Angeles-based relief agency that provides emergency aid to community-based health organizations. It is also collecting corporate donations of bulk quantities of disaster-appropriate supplies to distribute in Oklahoma. Donate online, send the text message “AID” to 50555, or call 800-678-7255.
The Southern Baptist Convention has deployed more than 80 volunteers to support disaster relief efforts. It provides various services including cleanup, tree removal, laundry services, and food for victims. The Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief ministry accepts online donations, or people can call (405) 942-3800.
Beyond the official relief organizations and first responders, Oklahoma officials are asking people to keep the damaged areas clear.
“I want to encourage all Oklahomans that can to stay away. We have lots of law enforcement, emergency personnel that are working on the sites,” Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said Monday.
Governor Fallin deployed the Oklahoma National Guard to the disaster areas and has called for out-of-state search-and-rescue teams to assist in the recovery efforts. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) sent an elite search-and-rescue team including hazardous material specialists, structural engineers, and 70 first responders who are trained in victim extraction and medical treatment. The same team responded to the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, last month.
President Obama declared Oklahoma a major disaster area and ordered federal aid be sent to help local and state responders. “As a nation, our full focus right now is on the urgent work of rescue, and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead,” he said at a press conference Tuesday morning.
Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis, who was also mayor during a similar devastating tornado in 1999, said the city was quickly beginning work on the recovery.
"We've already started printing the street signs," he said. "It took 61 days to clean up after the 1999 tornado. We had a lot of help then. We've got a lot of help now.”
• Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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North Texas residents who were reported missing after an outbreak of severe tornadoes Wednesday have all been found alive.
Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds said Friday that all missing people are accounted for, and the death toll is unlikely to rise above six adults.
Surveying the extensive destruction in Granbury, Texas, residents and volunteers say they are surprised that more people were not killed or seriously injured.
“Most of the homes had people in them when the tornado hit, and most of the people said they couldn’t believe what happened. The American Legion Hall at the bottom of the hill looked like a triage scene from 'M*A*S*H.' ”
An EF-4 category tornado hit Granbury, carrying winds of 166 to 200 m.p.h. and creating a path of destruction spanning 100 yards wide and a mile long. The highest tornado rating is an EF-5, which produces winds faster than 200 m.p.h.
Residents in the Rancho Brazos neighborhood – where more than 70 homes were damaged or destroyed – were evacuated, and authorities said it not clear when they will be able to survey the damage.
"I can't see them being able to get anyone in the area," said Hood County sheriff's spokesman Nathan Stringer. "That area is utterly devastated. I was in there for a couple of hours and I didn't see anything untouched. It was one big debris field."
Amanda Hernandez was at home with her husband and three children, but the warnings on TV didn’t really worry her. The sirens went off about 15 minutes before the tornado hit, so the family hid in a closet.
“It seemed like it lasted for an hour,” she told the Star-Telegram, describing the pounding hail and train-like sound of the twister. Her house lost half its roof, and she said her neighborhood is unrecognizable.
“You could see across where houses were supposed to be,” Ms. Hernandez said.
The Granbury tornado was one of at least 16 confirmed tornadoes that broke out across north Texas Wednesday, which is more than the 10 originally reported.
An EF-3 tornado (with winds ranging from 136 to 164 m.p.h.) hit the town of Cleburne, destroying numerous homes, but officials reported no major injuries or fatalities.
Meteorologist Harold Brooks, who works at National Severe Storms Labratory in Norman, Okla., said he expects 2013 to have one of the lowest levels of tornado-related deaths since the lab began tracking such fatalities in 1954. This is the furthest into tornado season that significant tornadoes have started, he told the Star-Telegram.
The forecast, however, includes a chance for additional storms in the area this weekend, the Weather Channel reports. There are several components in the mix that create tornado conditions: a dip in the jet stream as it moves east from the Rockies, intensifying low-pressure systems, and warm moisture moving inland from the Gulf of Mexico.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Mr. Tsarnaev wrote that the bombings were retribution for what the US did to Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that the Boston victims were collateral damage, like Muslims are in US wars, an anonymous official told CBS.
“When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims,” the note reportedly said.
The written confession is consistent with what the suspect told investigators about his motive during his interrogation, said John Miller, a CBS correspondent and former assistant FBI director, on “CBS This Morning.”
Since Tsarnaev talked to investigators before he was read his Miranda rights, his statement would not be admissible in court. But “these writings, in his handwriting, in the place where he was alone during that time are certainly statements that are admissible,” Mr. Miller said.
Federal prosecutors charged Tsarnaev April 22 with using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property for the marathon attacks, which killed three people and wounded more than 260. He was arrested in Watertown, Mass., April 19 after the FBI identified him and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as the main suspects in the bombings. Tamerlan died after a shootout with police the day his brother was arrested.
Dzhokhar said in the note that he did not mourn his brother because he was a martyr. Also wounded in the shootout, Dzhokhar said he would soon join his brother in paradise.
Authorities reportedly found the note written in pen along the wall of the boat, which was riddled with bullet holes. Miller of CBS said that the note was a way for Dzhokar to claim responsibility for the attack – claims that terrorist organizations usually make in the wake of such attacks.
Investigators, meanwhile, are looking into who else might have had knowledge of the brothers’ plans, focusing on Tamerlan’s widow, Katherine Russell, who may have seen something in the weeks leading up to the bombing or in the days after it.
Ms. Russell lived with Tamerlan and their 2-year-old daughter in a Cambridge, Mass., apartment where police say they found materials used to make the improvised explosive devices used in the attack – two pressure cookers filled with explosives and shrapnel.
She hired a new criminal defense attorney last week: Joshua Dratel, a New York lawyer who has previously represented terrorism suspects, joins two civil lawyers already representing Russell.
Mr. Dratel said Tuesday that his client has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing and she has been fully cooperating with the FBI investigators.
"I don't see that changing in the foreseeable future," he said. "There's no inconsistency between that and her interests at this point."
Russell has been staying with her parents in North Kingstown, R.I., since her husband's death. Her lawyers said last month that she was shocked to learn of her husband’s involvement and that she had no knowledge of his activities.
Dratel would not provide details about Russell’s contact with the federal investigators beyond saying that she talked to them.
"It would be counterproductive for the investigation and for Katherine's interests for us to be more forthcoming at this time with any of the details," he said. "We wouldn't want to impair the investigation in any way."
"It's a fluid situation," Dratel added. "We're not at the end of it."
• Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Several tornadoes ripped through rural communities in north Texas late Wednesday, leaving at least six people dead, 14 missing, and more than 100 injured, officials said.
A cluster of thunderstorms produced as many as 10 tornadoes in the area, creating winds up to 100 m.p.h. and dropping grapefruit-size hail. Residents in Granbury, Texas, the hardest-hit area, reported that the violent storm flattened homes, threw cars and trailers, and stripped branches off trees.
Elizabeth Tovar hid with her family in their bathroom when fist-size hail balls warned of an imminent tornado.
"We were all, like, hugging in the bathtub and that's when it started happening,” Ms. Tovar said. “I heard glass shattering and I knew my house was going. We looked up and ... the whole ceiling was gone."
After the storm hit Granbury, officials evacuated the town’s Rancho Brazos subdivision, built mostly by Habitat for Humanity, where more than 100 homes were badly hit.
“Most of the neighborhood is heavily damaged to destroyed,” Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Very little is untouched.”
Sheriff Deeds said a tornado warning for the town was issued at 8:10 p.m., so some residents received advance warning. A tornado warning for all of north Texas was issued at 6 p.m. as storm cells developed between Wichita Falls and Fort Worth, weather service meteorologist Mark Fox told the Star-Telegram.
Tornadoes are normal for this season, but this outbreak is the deadliest so far this year.
“Prior to Wednesday, we had only three tornado fatalities this year," meteorologist Chris Dolce told the Weather Channel. "If all the Texas deaths are confirmed to be from a tornado, it would triple the deaths in 2013."
The Red Cross set up two shelters in Hood County for people displaced from their homes where they could also seek medical care. MedStar Mobile Healthcare sent three ambulances and other supplies from Fort Worth, said spokesman Matt Zavadsky.
"With these types of tornadoes, they touch down; they lift up; they touch down. They tend to hopscotch," he said. "The darkness doesn't help, but the crews on scene are doing a really good job to try and reach out to the folks who might be trapped or unable to get to a shelter or the triage area."
A mile-wide tornado hit the town of Cleburne, Texas, residents told the National Weather Service. No one was seriously injured and only a few dozen homes were damaged, said Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain early Thursday. He declared a local disaster in the town of 30,000 residents.
• Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.
The White House Wednesday released 100 pages of e-mails related to its handling of the terrorist attack on a US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, last year that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The main thrust of what’s become a political scandal for President Obama is that the administration – specifically, State Department officials – changed talking points about the attack in order to play down the role of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists while asserting that the violence was “spontaneous” (perhaps related to a video insulting of Islam, which was roiling much of the Muslim world) rather than coordinated and preplanned.
Instead, the e-mails released Wednesday indicate what the administration hopes will be perceived as something less nefarious in the first few days after the attack, revealing “intensive jostling between the C.I.A. and the State Department,” as The New York Times puts it.
According to a senior administration official quoted by Politico, CIA deputy director Mike Morell first decided to scrub references to an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group operating in eastern Libya as well as to prior terrorist attacks in order “to protect agency and State Department officials still in Libya and to avoid compromising a nascent FBI probe into the Sept. 11, 2012 attack.”
This was before State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland requested scrubbing the documents of similar references to avoid spurring criticism from conservatives, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters Wednesday.
“Information was flowing in and being analyzed in real time,” he wrote in an e-mail to reporters, quoted in The Washington Post. “Some things we learned came from human intelligence sources or intercepted communications, and the intelligence community needed to make sure that what we said publicly didn’t tip off the bad guys or disclose sources and methods. There was also an ongoing investigation and concern about public statements complicating that effort to bring whoever did this to justice.”
Several news sources point out that it was the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee that asked for unclassified talking points in order to help members speak publicly about the attack.
The final version of the talking points might have satisfied members of Congress – at least for the time being – except for UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearance on five television news shows shortly after the attack when she emphasized the “spontaneous” nature of the attack.
Will the release of what the White House says is the full set of e-mails regarding Benghazi satisfy administration critics? That’s unlikely.
As The Wall Street Journal points out, the release “paints a fuller picture of an administration struggling with how much to disclose about an attack that eight months later remains a focus of partisan division.”
Recent House hearings featured senior career diplomats – termed “whistleblowers” by Republicans – critical of the Obama administration’s actions before, during, and after the assault on the temporary US mission.
In a statement Wednesday, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said the released e-mails confirm a House interim report finding that “senior State Department officials requested the talking points be changed to avoid criticism for ignoring the threat environment in Benghazi” and that those changes were ultimately made.
“The seemingly political nature of the State Department's concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes and who at the State Department was seeking them,” Mr. Buck said in his statement. “This release is long overdue and there are relevant documents the Administration has still refused to produce. We hope, however, that this limited release of documents is a sign of more cooperation to come."