OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Putin op-ed riles Congress

Amid the blowback over the Putin op-ed, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva Thursday to discuss the diplomatic proposal in Syria to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.

The meeting was arranged after Russia proposed the plan for Syria to give up its chemical weapons — a plan put forward after Kerry had floated it hours earlier.

“We are serious about engaging in substantive, meaningful negotiations even as our military maintains its current posture to keep up the pressure on the Assad regime,” Kerry said at a press conference after the meeting. “Only the credible threat of force — and the intervention of President Putin and Russia based on that — has brought the Assad regime to acknowledge for the first time that it even has chemical weapons.”

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The diplomatic pursuit has put plans for a vote in Congress to authorize military force on hold, at least for the time being.

At a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, President Obama said he was “hopeful” that the diplomacy would yield a “concrete result.”

“I am hopeful that the discussions that Secretary Kerry has with Foreign Minister Lavrov, as well as some of the other players in this, can yield a concrete result, and I know that he is going to be working very hard over the next several days over the possibilities there,” Obama said. 

Syria, Snowden and sequestration: The standoff with Syria, continued leaks of classified information by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and the shadow of sequestration remain the top three challenges facing the U.S. intelligence community. 

As a result, U.S. intel is facing one of its most difficult periods in the post-9/11 era, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Thursday. 

American intelligence agencies are "in a much better position" to track potential national security threats now than they were before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said during a speech at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance's conference in Washington. 

But the perfect storm of the Snowden leaks, possible action in Syria and deep budget cuts under sequestration has made things significantly harder for the intelligence community, according to Clapper. 

"The impacts of [sequestration] may not be known for some time" within the CIA, National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence organizations, he said. 

Those additional risks come as leaks of classified information from Snowden continue to compromise current and future intelligence operations. 

"Unfortunately there is more to come," Clapper said Thursday. 

There have been "huge improvements" in intelligence collection and analysis since the CIA and other agencies made the case for war in Iraq, he said. 

Those improvements, he added, have added an increased level of certainty within the intelligence community on Syria's use of chemical weapons. 

Pentagon names East Coast site finalists: The Pentagon named five possible locations for an East Coast missile site, teeing up the congressional debate at the end of the year over building a new missile defense site.

The Pentagon named locations in five states — New York, Vermont, Maine, Ohio and Michigan — that could become the third U.S. missile defense site should Congress move forward with funding.

That debate remains unsettled. The House Armed Services Committee has tried for two years to include funding, while the Senate panel has resisted.

Senate Republicans have vowed to fight for an East Coast site on the Senate floor when the Defense authorization bill comes up later this year.

Democrats have been opposed to constructing a new site, although Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it should be in New York if one is built.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), however, made clear he does not want the site in his state.

“I’ve always felt that the multiple billions spent on missile defense are a monumental waste of money, on technologically challenged systems, and I am emphatically against putting one of these sites in Vermont,” Leahy wrote to the Missile Defense Agency on Thursday.

US warships stay put near Syria: U.S. military leaders have extended the deployments of two American warships in the coastal waters near Syria, as the Pentagon awaits word from the White House to begin military strikes in the country. 

The USS Barry, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer armed with long-range Tomahawk missiles, will remain in the Mediterranean for two additional weeks, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Thursday. 

Along with the USS Barry, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier will also remain on station in the Red Sea should administration officials give the green light to begin targeted strikes against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

The extensions, according to Little, are part of the Defense Department's efforts to "maintain a strong military posture" in the region. 

American naval forces in the Mediterranean and Red Sea "stand ready for any military action" ordered by the White House on Syria. 

Lawmakers were preparing to vote on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution to begin the strikes, but that vote was delayed after an eleventh-hour proposal by Russia to end the U.S. standoff in Syria. 

Administration officials are vetting the Russian plan, which would force Assad to give up control of his chemical weapons stocks to the United Nations. 


In Case You Missed It:

— White House: Syrian rebels getting aid

— Boehner ‘insulted’ by Putin op-ed

— Opposition to Syria boosts congressional approval

— Survey: Troops oppose Syria strikes

— CIA begins arming Syria rebels


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