OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Hagel heading to the Mideast

The Obama administration is "looking for some ways to put [increased] pressure" on Assad to step down and end the bloody two-year war with rebel forces in the country, according to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

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Hagel's upcoming trip is likely part of that effort, which could end in a significant ramping up of U.S. military pressure in the country, according to Levin. 

"Something is happening, something is going on," he said regarding the White House's current approach to ending the violence in Syria.

Publicly, the White House remains committed to its strategy of economic and diplomatic sanctions to force a regime change in Syria. But on Wednesday, Hagel admitted the White House's strategy "hasn't achieved the objective" of removing Assad from power. 

On Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said a U.S.-backed a no-fly zone near Syria could be an option for the Pentagon and White House. 

That said, Clapper warned that the creation of a no-fly zone near Syria could pose a dangerous challenge to U.S. forces assigned to defend the zone from Assad's troops.

"Doing a no-fly zone, even a partial one, is not a trivial undertaking," said the intelligence chief. 

Navy facility evacuated over suspicious substance: A Navy facility in Arlington, Va., was the latest to be evacuated this week over a suspicious substance in a letter, following two letters that tested positive for ricin.

The Naval Support Facility in Arlington was evacuated at around 10:30 a.m. Saturday when the suspicious substance was found in the mailroom.

An Arlington County Hazmat team was brought in to investigate; tests for hazardous materials came back negative.

The facility was reopened a few hours after the evacuation, and the 800 personnel were allowed back inside.

The Navy incident was the latest suspicious package investigation in the Washington this week, coming on the heels of envelopes containing ricin being mailed to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and President Obama.

There were three suspicious packages investigated in Senate Office buildings on Wednesday, and the local offices of Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also reported suspicious substances. All turned out to be negative.

On Wednesday evening, the FBI arrested a man in connection with the ricin letters, Paul Kevin Curtis, who faces up to 15 years in prison under the federal charges if convicted.

As it turns out, Wicker knew Curtis from a party where Curtis performed as an Elvis impersonator. 

McCain wants fight for ‘soul’ of GOP foreign policy: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that he welcomed the fight for the “soul of our party” on national security and foreign policy.

“I believe this debate is entirely a good thing,” McCain said during a speech at the Center for a New American Security.

“This contest can and should be conducted respectfully and without name-calling — which is something that even an old ‘wacko-bird’ like me must remember from time to time,” McCain said in a reference to his dig earlier this year at libertarian members of his party like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

McCain didn’t mention Paul and others by name, but his speech was aimed at trying to win the larger fight that was sparked earlier this year after Paul’s 12-hour filibuster over drone policy.

McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) criticized Paul for the underlying policy behind his filibuster, sparking the ire of conservatives.

“Right now, the political momentum among Republicans is with those who want to do less — who want to slash foreign aid, cut defense spending, pull back from the world, and constrain the president,” McCain said.

In response, McCain said, he wanted to “fashion a new Republican internationalism.”

Sequester leaves US intel blind to next attack: Sequestration's full impact on the intelligence community and U.S. national security will not truly be felt by Americans until the next terrorist attack happens or the next bomb goes off. 

"Unlike more directly observable sequestration impacts like shorter hours at the parks or longer security lines at airports, the degradation to intelligence will be insidious," Clapper told Senate Armed Services Committee members.

"It will be gradual and almost invisible until, of course, we have an intelligence failure," he added during Thursday's committee hearing on emerging national security threats. 

As head of the U.S. intelligence community, Clapper shepherded nearly $4 billion in cuts to intelligence coffers in the past seven months to meet the community's share of the reductions under the White House's sequestration plan. 

Budget cuts under sequestration were triggered when talks between congressional Republicans and Democrats on a debt-reduction plan fizzled late last year. 

Clapper drew comparisons between the sequestration-driven spending cuts and the national security drawdown under the Clinton administration. 

That blind spot was quickly erased after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but Clapper noted the intelligence community could slip back into complacency under sequestration.

"I fear I've seen this movie before," he added.


In Case You Missed It: 

— Germany offers troops for postwar Afghanistan

— Clapper considers no-fly zone for Syria

— Kerry warns Congress on Iran sanctions

— North Korea sets high bar for US talks


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