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Saturday, May 25, 2013


Former Marine, Fire Captain Describes Loss of Sons on 9/11

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

BROOKLYN, N.Y., May 21, 2013 - Former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant and retired New York City fire captain John Vigiano is all too familiar with what he calls bad days.

Speaking after the Armed Forces Wounded Warrior Mural Dedication Ceremony at the William McKinley Intermediate School here, the soft-spoken, silver-haired veterans' advocate discussed his experiences as military member, first responder and grieving father.

Having spent nearly four decades as a firefighter in Brooklyn, he seldom considered his life-saving responsibilities as work so much as a passion.

"Thirty-six years ... I think I went to work five days, maybe six," Vigiano said. "The rest of it was just great."

Other days, he remembered, were not so great.

"Those were days of pretty significant losses," Vigiano said. "When a fireman dies in your hands, you never forget that. It's not a good day. The first time you find someone burned to death, it's not a good day."

But nothing, he said, could ever prepare him for the events of Sept. 11, 2001 –- the morning that both of his sons, John Jr. and Joe, perished in the line of duty while saving lives as the World Trade Center collapsed.

"9/11 will take me to the grave; both my sons were killed that day," he said, his head lowered. "You go to bed saying, 'I hope I don't dream about it again, but you do.'"

John Jr. followed in his father's footsteps as a New York City firefighter, while his younger brother, Joe, served as a detective in the New York Police Department. That particular morning, Vigiano was home watching the tragedy unfold with the rest of the world.

"The police department took my wife and me down to headquarters that afternoon and I stayed there until they closed the site," Vigiano said. "Everyday from 6:30 in the morning to midnight, I'd walk the pile."

At his wife's request, he did not dig.

"She said, 'if anything happens to you, I have nobody,'" he recalled. "So I just stood in the back and when a body was recovered, I'd go down and say a prayer and go back."

His voice trembling, Vigiano said rescue teams found Joe's remains, but they never found John Jr.

The elder Vigiano said his young granddaughter grew to comprehend that the spirit of her father lives on.

"That's taken a lot to try and explain to her that his soul is still with us – that the body doesn't mean anything," Vigiano said.

Still, John and his wife of 50 years, Jan, pray for the day they find the bit of DNA that can finally bring them some closure.

"My wife and I bond together and we had 34 and 36 great years," Vigiano said of his sons' respective lives and, ironically, John Jr's badge number, 3436.

"The last words that I spoke to my sons: 'I love you' and they said 'I love you. It don't get better than that."

Weekly Address: Giving Thanks to Our Fallen Heroes this Memorial Day | The White House

Weekly Address: Giving Thanks to Our Fallen Heroes this Memorial Day | The White House


Biden: Coast Guard Has Growing Role in Nation's Security
By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2013 - Vice President Joe Biden told the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's graduating class today they are entering a world of new threats, some that didn't even exist when they were born, and that the service's changing mission means they are not joining "your father's Coast Guard."

"No graduating class gets to choose the time into which they graduate, and you're graduating into a world that is rapidly changing," Biden told the nearly 300 men and women about to be commissioned in New London, Conn., "from challenges and missions to changing climates."

Biden noted the Coast Guard has become fully integrated into the U.S. military, playing an increasingly complex role in national security, given the types of post-Cold War threats America now faces.

"New stateless actors have stepped into the breach with the desire to smuggle weapons of terror into American ports in the belly of cargo containers to do our people great harm," he said.

Human trafficking and piracy on the high seas are occurring at rates no one would have imagined 50 years ago, the vice president said, posing growing challenges to free trade and commerce.

"More than at any time in history, every nation's economic power and viability [are] tied to the global economy and dependent on the safe passage of goods on the seas," he added.

Another responsibility for the 2013 graduating class will be increasing operations in the Arctic. Biden said the melting of the polar ice caps triggered by global warming will likely open up new international shipping routes.

"You'll operate icebreakers that allow ships to navigate waters that would otherwise be impassable from the Great Lakes in the Northeast to new passages in the Arctic," he said.

BidenHe also highlighted Coast Guard achievements, especially the dangerous missions the service is routinely called on to carry out, from helping victims of Hurricane Sandy last year to humanitarian missions further from home.

"Your shipmates have saved 3,650 lives last year alone, risking their lives," he noted.

From natural disasters to rescues at sea, Biden said, "there are tens of thousands of grateful men and women and children from all parts of the world who will tell anyone who will listen that the most welcome sight they've ever seen are those racing stripes coming toward them or the sound of that orange Coast Guard helicopter above them, lowering a bucket with a man or woman inside to save their lives.

"In this changing world, we are going to be increasingly dependent on you," he said.



Dempsey Kicks off Memorial Day Weekend with TAPS Families
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2013 - The nation's highest-ranking military officer told his audience today at the Crystal City Marriott here that as "The Star-Spangled Banner" plays across the United States this Memorial Day weekend, it will be uniquely their song.

"You're the ones that sacrificed so we can play that national anthem," he said.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deedee Dempsey, spent time today with the estimated 2,200 participants gathered here this weekend for the annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp. TAPS is an organization for families of service members who died in combat, by suicide, in training or from sudden illness.

"It must be something extraordinary for you to listen to the national anthem, because no one has had the experience of being handed a folded flag," the chairman said. "You have. And those of us who haven't experienced that don't know, really, what that -- I can't even conceive of what it must be like."

Dempsey told the adult audience he addressed today -- he also spoke separately to the children -- that he and Deedee build their Memorial Day weekend calendar around the seminar "because I find you to be an incredibly inspirational group."

Hundreds of red-T-shirted men and women gathered in the hotel's ballroom to listen to the general. The red T-shirts are for TAPS members, but some also had "peer mentor" or "volunteer" written on the back. White T-shirts, for staff members, dotted the room. Outside, the TAPS children assembled for their own time with the chairman.

Each child was accompanied by a blue-T-shirted mentor. Mentors, according to TAPS guidelines, must be current service members or recent veterans and must have lost someone close to them.

The chairman said that while the sense of community in TAPS makes the seminar an event he and Deedee look forward to, it's also a sad occasion.

"You're here because you've suffered some incredible sadness and loss in your life," the chairman said. He added that unfortunately, the organization is likely to continue growing "for a while."

"Just before I came over here I signed nine letters of condolence to nine families who are recent members of your community," he said. "And I hope that at some point, when they're ready, they'll join you."

People who have lost a loved one need to be able to talk to others who understand some of what they've been through, Dempsey said.

"And that's you," he said. "I appreciate the fact that you're willing to come here, not just to get something, but to give something. That's really what makes this such a powerful gathering of men and women -- and children, actually."

The five-day event began May 22 with training and preparation, and culminates this weekend with activities including camps for younger and older children and workshops on topics from art therapy to "turning hurt into hope," for adults. The seminar also includes a run/walk, balloon release, sunset parade, Pentagon tour, baseball game and other activities. TAPS staffers pair children one-on-one with a mentor -– 500 for this seminar -- who will stay with them throughout the events.

Amy Neiberger-Miller, who handles the organization's publicity, explained the organization often seeks to pair children with a service member or veteran who has completed the organization's mentor training and has a similar occupation to the child's lost parent.

"If a child's father was a helicopter pilot, then we can match them with a mentor who is also [one], who can tell them what it's like to fly," she said. "Many come back here year after year, from very far away, to be here and support these children."

Dempsey left the ballroom full of adults, and soon after he went next door to another ballroom, where children of all ages and their mentors sat on the carpeted floor waiting for him. Among those still entering the room before the general arrived, much piggybacking and tickling could be observed.

Army Sgt. James Cunningham, now in the individual ready reserve and about to leave service, sat next to a 7- or 8-year-old boy he introduced as "Ro-ro." The two whispered and laughed and looked at a smartphone screen together while waiting for the chairman.

When Ro-ro wasn't paying attention, Cunningham quietly confided that while in the active Army, he had lost a friend to suicide, and later another to a suicide bomber.

"It goes on and on, unfortunately," he said.

The chairman sang "The Unicorn Song" at the top of the program for the younger children, and a version of Train's "[Not a] Drive By" for the older ones. Dempsey's version of the chorus to "Drive By" included:

"Oh I swear to you
We'll be there for you
This is not a drive-by
Just between us, nothing comes between us ..."

Several of the children took part in a question-and-answer period. Many chose to tell the chairman about the parent they had lost, mostly in Afghanistan.

One boy said, "He was at war once in Afghanistan. He really liked to play games with me and my brother ... then he had to go back to Afghanistan, and he died. I don't know how he died."

Dempsey left the children laughing, ready to keep singing. Minutes earlier, before he left the adult session, he had a final message for everyone in a red T-shirt.

The chairman said, "I promise you that despite all the complexities of life in Washington these days, and all the uncertainty about the future of our budget, and all the things that make headlines and make for good 24/7 news, that we will remember what's most important about our nation. And that is the care for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, our veterans, and those who have lost their life in the service of our country and their families."

Defense Department Press Briefing on the State of the Air Force in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Defense Department Press Briefing on the State of the Air Force in the Pentagon Briefing Room


USO President Sloan D. Gibson, left, discusses the contents of a care package with U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Florida and Sesame Street's Cookie Monster during a biannual USO care package service project event on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 22, 2013. DOD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
Congressional Leaders Help USO Build Care Packages for Troops
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2013 - Congressional leaders pitched in on Capitol Hill yesterday to load care packages for service members abroad.

At the USO's biannual care package service project event -- a joint effort with Sesame Workshop -- volunteers placed phone cards, writing utensils, popcorn, tissue and other useful items into 2,000 individual packages for troops.

"Even though our presence may be winding down in Afghanistan, these packages are going to mean an awful lot to our troops who are serving in harm's way," said USO President Sloan D. Gibson. "We're sending a clear message to our troops that are serving our country overseas, [and] we appreciate everyone who has volunteered to be here today to help us."

Gibson expressed his gratitude to the Sesame Workshop, which has partnered with the USO since 2008 and has entertained 368,000 military family members in more than 630 shows at 143 bases in 33 states and 11 countries.

"And they've traveled over 125,000 miles during that period of time," he added. "We're really proud of that partnership."

Lynn Chwatsky, vice president for outreach initiatives and partners for the Sesame Workshop, also shared her appreciation for the opportunity to continue helping America's families.

"This partnership with the USO has truly allowed us to deliver on our mission of helping all children in need, [and] to help all children grow and achieve their highest potential," she said.

Whether it's helping children learn their alphabet and their numbers, showing them how to maintain a healthy lifestyle or helping them through some challenges in their lives, Sesame is there for them, Chwatsky noted.

"And we're committed to our military families -- we have been since 2006, with our Military Families Initiative," she said. "What this amazing partnership with the USO allows us to do is reach these families directly."

Chwatsky said the care packages would deliver some "love, joy and hope" to service members, and let them know "their friends in the USO and Sesame are there for them."

Gibson also welcomed the newest USO congressional caucus co-chairman, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, who retired as a command sergeant major in the Army National Guard and was one of many congressional leaders who stopped by to load care packages.

"Thank you to each of you, the volunteers that are here," Walz said. "I can't express my gratitude [enough,] on behalf of the people of southern Minnesota and across this country. Thanks for bringing a little bit of comfort to our warriors who are down range, and just as importantly, to their families. When you're on the receiving end of these packages like [our troops] have been, it really means a lot."

Congressional volunteers also included U.S. Reps. Buck McKeon of California, Bill Posey of Florida and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, as well as U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and many congressional staffers.


Press Availability in Tel Aviv, Israel
Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Gurion International Airport
Tel Aviv, Israel
May 24, 2013

Thanks very much, folks. Appreciate your patience. It’s really been terrific to be back here in Israel, and also to be able to pay a visit to the Palestinian territories. Enjoyed a shawarma and a small walk on the streets, which was fun.

I had very productive meetings with leaders in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority. As everyone knows, Israel remains our closest ally and a partner in the region, and we will continue to work together in order to enhance regional security and stability. And we will also continue to work with the Palestinian Authority in order to help them to be able to reach and meet their aspirations.

I believe that President Obama’s trip here earlier in the year opened up a window of opportunity, and it showed that there are strong constituencies for peace both in the West Bank, in the Palestinian territories, as well as in Israel. The polls overwhelmingly showed – perhaps 68, 72 percent of the people of Israel believed in a two-state solution. Peace is actually possible, notwithstanding the doubts that some people have because of past disappointments.

So the bulk of my discussions while I was here were therefore focused on how to move forward to try to achieve the negotiations that are necessary to bring about a just and lasting peace and security. I will continue my close engagement with both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders going forward as needed in an effort to try to bridge any divide or to try to find the framework by which negotiations could begin.

I am convinced that the people on both sides of this conflict want it to end, but there are obviously different views about how to get there or who takes the first step or what the successive measures are in order to be able to get there. And so that’s what we have to deal with here. Israelis have a clear priority, which we understand and support, with respect to the issue of security, and they need and deserve that security. Palestinians have a priority concern with respect to knowing that they can secure an independent, sovereign, and prosperous state with clear lines as defined previously by them and others along the 1967 lines with swaps and recognizing changes that have taken place on the ground, as President Obama stated in his vision in 2011.

There is one way to make any of these visions a reality, and that is through direct negotiations. Ultimately it is the Israeli and the Palestinian people who will both decide the outcome or even the possibility of getting to those negotiations, and it is ultimately the people of Israel and Palestinians who will achieve the greatest benefits from a peace, and it is they who must make their voices heard.

Leaving this conflict unresolved for decades has deprived generations of security, and it has deprived people of the recognition that they deserve. And it is clear that – despite the sense of status quo, which for many is acceptable, it is clear that, in the long run, that status quo is not really sustainable. We all know that the longer it takes to bring about a peaceful end to this conflict the more and more difficult it will become to do so.

So I made clear in my discussions that the parties should be focused on making progress towards the direct negotiation, and each side needs to work to build trust and each side needs to refrain from any provocative rhetoric or actions that take us backwards. Ultimately, ending this conflict will take leadership on both sides. And as we look to restart negotiations, we look forward to working with the Israeli Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his new government, as well as the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of President Abbas.

Achieving a lasting peace is also in the interests of all the communities in this region, all of the countries in the region. Just last month in Washington, the Arab League representatives stood up and reiterated their support for ending this conflict, and they moved voluntarily to adjust the initiative to reflect where we are today with the realities on the ground.

In addition, I will say that in every conversation I have had in the trips the President has asked me to make over the course of the last months – whether in China or Japan, or throughout Europe or throughout the Gulf, or visitors who have come to see me as recently as last week, the day before – the day I left to come here, the Foreign Minister of Brazil, Antonio Patriota, or the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Mr. McCully – all said – they almost began their conversations with discussion of the need for and the potential of peace within the Middle East. This is a global concern for a lot of different reasons.

I was very encouraged by the statement from the Arab League delegation that said that a future agreement ought to be based on a two-state solution along the ’67 lines with comparable and mutually agreed upon swaps. The United States remains deeply committed to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, and it is only through direct negotiations that the Israelis and the Palestinians can address the permanent status issues and achieve the peace that both deserve – a peace with two states for two peoples with a sovereign and viable, independent Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security with a Palestinian homeland and a homeland for the Jewish people. That remains our goal.

I know that in some corridors, I know there are those who are skeptical, and some even because of prolonged skepticism might even call themselves cynical. And there are legitimate reasons for that. There have been years of disappointments. It’s our hope that by being methodical, being careful, being patient, but detailed and tenacious, that we can find a path that will ultimately lead to peace. I emphasize it will not be because the United States makes it happen or some other country does – this is a peace that must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians and their elected leadership. That is what we’re working towards.

I thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his warm and generous welcome while here, his hospitality. I thank him for his efforts and I thank President Abbas for his warm hospitality and for his efforts. And I call on both of them in the next days to demonstrate the leadership that I believe the people in the Palestinian territories and in Israel hope for.

Thank you. I’d be happy to answer any questions.

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary – sorry.

SECRETARY KERRY: Or any questions. I guess I’m --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. The Secretary will take five questions this afternoon. The first will be from Arshad Mohammed of Reuters.

SECRETARY KERRY: Arshad, you’re on.

QUESTION: In Rome two weeks ago, you’ve said you believe both the Israelis and the Palestinians, both sides, were serious about the possibility of resuming peace negotiations. Last week, Israeli court documents showed that the government plans to retroactively legalize their previously illegal outposts.


QUESTION: Is that the act of a government that is serious about peace talks? Have you asked the Israeli Government for a full public settlement freeze to head into talks? And can you point to actions on either side that demonstrate – that show seriousness?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to comment on what was asked for, not asked for, what was – any of the sort of private conversations I’ve had with the leaders except to say this: That issue was raised appropriately, and we did discuss the status of settlements overall and the need for both sides to take steps that indicate a willingness to try to move forward.

Now, the United States position with respect to settlements is clear, and it has not changed. We believe they should stop. That is a position that has been consistent not just by the United States but by the international community. And it is also clear that when actions are taken – whether by court or otherwise – it is our view that those actions can be deemed by some to be provocative, and they are not necessarily constructive with respect to the process. So it is our hope that there will be a minimal effort there.

Now, some of this is, frankly, beyond the control, and I understand that. There are some private and individual permits granted some time ago, and in terms of the legality, there is no capacity to move on them. But in other ways, certainly the government has an ability to be able to make a difference here in the next months. It’s my hope that they will, but I’m not going to go into any specific discussion of sort of what steps they may or may not take or where we are.

As I’ve said, we are trying to get to talks without pre-conditions. We do not want to get stuck in a place where we are arguing about a particular substantive issue that is actually part of a final settlement, and that argument takes you so long that you never get to the negotiations that bring about the final settlement. So the key here, in my judgment, is to show patience on both sides. There will be things that each side may choose to do that may create problems for the other side or change the politics. That’s pretty normal out here in this part of the world. Our hope is that everybody will stay focused on the prize, focused on the goal, and that is to negotiate in full faith on the broad basis that ends the anxiety and the tension over some of these other issues, because you’ve actually solved them by reaching a settlement on the broader components of the conflict itself.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will come from Christine Renawi.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m from Palestine TV and (inaudible) news agency. Yeah, about Israel declared recently that it’s in the process of legitimatizing the four settlement outposts in the Palestinian territories. What’s your position towards that? And finally, what are the prospects of the peace process on the light of your meetings with Netanyahu and Mr. President Abbas?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as I just said, our position on settlements and outposts and on the legalization is that we are opposed to it. We believe that that is not appropriate, and, in fact, is not constructive in the context of our efforts to move forward. But it should not be something, as I just said, that prevents us from being able to get to negotiations, because if you can negotiate borders, and if you negotiate security and get to a final settlement, you have resolved the issue of settlements themselves. That’s the way you resolve the issue, is by deciding what is in the Palestinian state and what are the rules there and what is Israel and what are the rules there. And the sooner we get to that, the sooner the question of settlements is resolved.

With respect to where we are in the process, I’m not going to comment, except to say that we have reached – I’ve been here now a number of times. Both sides know what the choices are. Both sides know what is needed in order to try to move forward. And it’s really time for the governments to make their decisions. Are they prepared? This is not something, as I said, that we can decide. This is something that the leaders of Israel and the leaders of the Palestinian Authority have to decide. And we’re getting towards a time now where hard decisions need to be made.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will come from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Palestinian officials have said that June 7th is the date by which they hope to see discernible progress in the peace process. They say that you’ve asked them to suspend their efforts to join international organizations or take steps that would reinforce their claim to statehood prior to that. What do you hope to accomplish in June? Is that month a target date for you? And if there is no progress in that month, what restraint will you ask for of each side?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get into specific dates, Michael. I don’t think setting one date or another unilaterally and arbitrarily necessarily advances things. But I will say this: President Obama, when he was here, made it very clear to all of the folks that he talked with – he made it clear to the Palestinians, he made it clear to the Israeli leadership – that he was going to give this a certain period of time, a few months is the term that he phrased it in, and then he was going to take stock of where we are to try to determine whether or not the parties are serious about coming back to the table and negotiating. He was here March 23rd. We are now May 23rd; that’s two months. And we’re moving into June.

So we are obviously moving in to a point where, as I just said, we are reaching the time where leaders need to make hard decisions. And I think that speaks for itself.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will come from Mala Barty from Israeli Channel 10.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is there any readiness from the Israeli side to go for confidence-building measures such as settlement freeze in the territories prior to the resumption of negotiation? If not, is there a readiness from the Palestinian side to go back to the table without getting these steps from the Israelis prior to the resumption? And in a more important sense, we know there are gaps. But you were here a month ago, and you’re saying the time is running out. And we understand that you will plan to come back here next Monday, but you somehow not (inaudible) regarding what happened in the last day.


QUESTION: But what’s necessary to – now to happen in order for you to come back for next round of talk? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin by saying that time is running is out is sort of the wrong phraseology, if you don’t mind my saying so. It – the question is whether or not people are going to make the hard choices with respect to getting back to negotiations, and the timeframe within which the President said he wanted to have a sense of that is obviously coming due. But no, I think that it’s important for us to not create some sort of artificial standard. If it’s a week, two weeks, something like that, I think we need to allow folks to make their decisions within a reasonable framework in the next days ahead.

I don’t know what this thing about Monday is. I think we had a day where I might have been able to come back if I needed to, but I don’t think I do need to. And so I’m going to be speaking at the World Economic Forum; I’ll have a little more to say there about this process. But then I’m going to go on to other meetings and other business that I have as Secretary of State, while others obviously consider the choices that they know now are clear and the ways that we have offered to think about how we might proceed forward. So in that regard, those are the hard choices that need to be made.

MS. PSAKI: The final question will be from Jo Biddle of AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I actually want to turn to Iran. This week, the Guardian Council authored a list of 80 candidates who are permitted to stand in the June 14th presidential elections. After initially barring all 30 women candidates, they’ve also ruled out several moderates, including former-President Rafsanjani and only allowed a hand-picked that served so loyal to the Supreme Leader to stand. While it isn’t – obviously not up to the U.S. to choose who should stand in the Iranian elections, does this hand-picked slate of candidates represent a fair and free choice for all the people of Iran across a broad spectrum of Iranian society? And how concerned are you that the leadership which emerges from the vote will actually toughen Iran’s stand on its nuclear program? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I can’t think of anybody in the world looking at Iran’s election who wouldn’t be amazed by a process by which an unelected Guardian Council, which is unaccountable to the Iranian people, has actually disqualified hundreds of candidates, potential candidates, according to very vague criteria, which the Iranian people are not privileged to know or judge by. The council narrowed a list of almost 700 potential candidates down to the sort of officials of their choice based solely on who represents the regime’s interests, obviously, rather than who might represent some different point of view among the Iranian people. That is hardly an election by standards which most people in most countries judge free, fair, open, accessible, accountable elections. The lack of transparency obviously makes it highly unlikely that that slate of candidates is either going to represent the broad will of the Iranian people or represent a change of any legitimate kind.

So in addition to that, there are some troubling signs that Iranian Government is now taking steps to slow down or even cut off internet access, which is the process by which people can take part in the sharing of information and the exchange of ideas in an election. So ultimately, the Iranian people will be prevented not only from choosing someone who might have reflected their point of view, but also taking part in a way that is essential to any kind of legitimate democracy.

So we’ll have to see what develops, but it’s our hope still that the Supreme Leader and the Iranian leadership will come to the table in a serious way with a serious offer in order to prove that their nuclear program, which they profess is peaceful, is indeed peaceful. And I would reiterate – and I’ve said this before, and now it is almost a month or so even later – the clock is clearly ticking. And even today there are reports from the IAEA of its dissatisfaction with its access, and we know of the continued efforts of Iranian development of its program.

So this is an issue which is very, very much on our radar screen. We think about it and look at it every single day, take stock of it on a regular basis, and our hope is, for the sake of the region, the world, the Iranian people, ourselves, that we can have a peaceful resolution. But it is going to have to be demonstrated much more affirmatively than it has been to date that Iran is interested in that kind of a solution and that they are, indeed, prepared to prove that their program is peaceful.

I will repeat what I’ve said previously: Notwithstanding my criticism that I just made of the election process, the President of the United States has from day one said that he is open to trying to work towards a relationship with Iran that sees them rejoin the community of nations, lift sanctions, move to participation in international organizations, and assume a role like other nations that is responsible and accountable to the rule of law that we live by in the international community. That is the preferred hope of the American people and I think people in the world.

The Iranian leadership needs to make its decisions whether or not it wants to go down that road or the alternative. And the alternative is obviously one that none of us are looking for or want to contemplate. But the President has made it clear it is not one that he shies away from, if that is the only option that is left to him.

Thank you all very much. Appreciate it. Thank you.



U.S. Army Spcs. Andrew Landish and Tyrel Fishe prepare to launch a mortar in the Hesarak village of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, May 14, 2013. Landish and Fishe are assigned to 101st Airborne Division's Company A, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment. They communicate by radio with ground forces to coordinate precision attacks on emery forces. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Vang Seng Thao
Combined Force Arrests Taliban Facilitator in Kandahar
From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 24, 2013 - An Afghan and coalition security force arrested a Taliban facilitator and two other insurgents during an operation in the Dand district of Afghanistan's Kandahar province today, military officials reported.

The facilitator is a vital member of improvised explosive device networks in Kandahar City. He procures and distributes IED-making materials, weapons and other military equipment for use in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

In other Afghanistan news today:

-- Combined forces confirmed yesterday's arrest of a Taliban facilitator in the Baghlan-e Jadid district of Baghlan province. The facilitator exercises command and control over a group of fighters responsible for attacks on Afghan and coalition forces. He also uses his residence as a storage facility for military equipment and coordinates the acquisition of weapons for use in insurgent activities.

-- Combined forces confirmed the death of two senior Haqqani leaders, Qari Azzam and Mukhlis, during a May 21 operation in the Zurmat district of Paktiya province. Azzam, also known as Maulawi Sahib, served as an intelligence operative responsible for providing information to senior Haqqani leadership about attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He was also involved in coordinating mine and IED emplacement in the local area, providing military equipment to insurgents and organizing kidnappings in order to extort money. Mukhlis, also known as Wazir, planned and participated in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also interfaced directly with senior Haqqani leadership to relay strategic guidance to insurgent fighters.

And yesterday, Provincial Response Company Logar, enabled by coalition forces, seized a large cache of explosives-making materials during a cordon-and-search mission in the Pul-e Alam district of Logar province. The cache consisted of one IED, 374 pounds of ammonium nitrate and 110 pounds of phosphorous fertilizer. All seized materials were destroyed on location.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Obama Delineates Counterterrorism Policy
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2013 - President Barack Obama spoke today on U.S. counterterrorism policy and looked at how the United States can defend itself from terrorism, yet remain true to core beliefs.

The president's speech at the National Defense University on Fort Lesley J. McNair here took a broad view of counterterrorism efforts. Obama reviewed what has taken place since September 11, 2001, and how the counterterrorism effort has changed.

In 2001, Al-Qaida was the threat. It was that organization, led by Osama bin Laden, that planned and executed the attacks that killed 3,000 people on 9/11. "Now the core of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat," the president said.

The United States has relentlessly pursued al-Qaida's senior leadership and the threat of a 9/11-scale attack is greatly reduced, he said.

At the same time the threat has morphed. Al-Qaida affiliates – notably those in North Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula – remain threats to the American homeland. Threats have grown following the unrest in the Arab world, although those are mostly local or regionally based.

Finally, there is a threat from homegrown extremists like those who are alleged to be responsible for the bombing in Boston.

Attacks like those from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, like those against our embassy in Benghazi and like those in Boston represent the future of the threats we face from terrorism, the president said.

"We must recognize, however, that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11," he said. "With a decade of experience to draw from, now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions – about the nature of today's threats, and how we should confront them."

Since 9/11, the United States has spent well over a trillion dollars on war. "Our service members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf," he said. "Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation – and world – that we leave to our children."

No one can promise the total defeat of terror. There will always be people misguided enough to resort to attacks on society, the president said. "What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend," Obama said. "To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom."

The threats do not arise in a vacuum, the president said. There is the belief in many parts of the world that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets is justified in pursuit of a larger cause. "Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam; and this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist acts," Obama said.

The ideology persists, however, and all parts of the U.S. government must work to counter it, he said.

The United States must continue to defeat al-Qaida and its associated forces, the president said. In Afghanistan, U.S. forces will follow the NATO plan and continue training Afghan security forces up to the end of NATO combat operations there at the end of next year, Obama said.

"Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror' – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America," he said. Most of these will be done in partnership with other nations, he said, specifically mentioning Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The United States will continue to cooperate with other nations and share counterterrorism intelligence with these nations, he emphasized, butwill not be afraid to work alone when the situation calls for it.

Al-Qaida looks for ungoverned areas to set up and plan, he noted. "In some of these places ... the state has only the most tenuous reach into the territory," Obama said. "In other cases, the state lacks the capacity or will to take action."

In cases when using American troops in these places isn't possible and lethal action is needed, he said, "The United States has taken lethal, targeted action against al-Qaida and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones."

The technology raises profound questions about targeting, civilian casualties and the risks of creating new enemies, he said, but Obama maintained the strikes strikes have been effective and are legal nationally and internationally. "Simply put, these strikes have saved lives," he said.

Beyond Afghanistan, the United States only targets al-Qaida and its associated forces, the president said.

"America does not make strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists - our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them," Obama said. "America cannot take strikes wherever we choose – our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty. America does not take strikes to punish individuals – we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set."

The president insists on strong oversight of all lethal action. "After I took office, my administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress," he said. "Let me repeat that – not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes."

The use of force must be part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, he said, adding that. force alone cannot make America safe.

"We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways," the president said.

West Wing Week: 05/24/13 or “Justice for Everybody” | The White House

West Wing Week: 05/24/13 or “Justice for Everybody” | The White House

Kids’ kidneys and smoke

Kids’ kidneys and smoke


Situation in Lebanon
Press Statement
Patrick Ventrell
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Washington, DC
May 24, 2013


The United States is deeply concerned about the situation in Lebanon. The latest clashes in the northern city of Tripoli, in which at least 23 people have been killed, constitute a stark reminder that the conflict in Syria poses an increasingly dangerous threat to Lebanon’s stability and security.

The United States fully supports Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty and welcomes efforts by Lebanon’s leaders to take all necessary steps to put an end to the violence in Tripoli. We strongly support the Lebanese Armed Forces’ and Internal Security Forces’ efforts to stop the fighting in Tripoli and fully restore calm across the country. We call on all parties to do their part to restore calm, act with restraint, and respect Lebanon’s stability and security.

The United States supports the principles of the 2012 Baabda Declaration and Lebanon’s dissociation policy with respect to the crisis in Syria. We call on all parties in the region to avoid any actions that would exacerbate that crisis, increase the propensity for spillover violence, and negatively affect civilian populations. Hizballah leaders’ decision to escalate the group’s role in the fighting in Syria violates and undermines Lebanon’s dissociation policy and risks dragging Lebanon into a foreign conflict, to the detriment of the interests of the Lebanese people.


Attorney General Eric Holder Meets with Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsey

May 22nd, 2013
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met today with Minister of Interior (MVD) of the Russian Federation Vladimir Alexandrovich Kolokoltsev. During the meeting, Attorney General Holder thanked Minister Kolokoltsev for the assistance by the Russian government relating to the investigation into the terror attack in Boston. They also discussed law enforcement cooperation between the two countries in areas including counterterrorism, transnational organized crime and child pornography. Both Holder and Kolokolstev agreed to continue to strengthen their law enforcement partnership against these shared challenges.


Obama Vows to Close Guantanamo Detention Facility
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2013 - President Barack Obama today vowed to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying the prison has become a symbol of an America that flouts the law.

Obama spoke at the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair here. His discussion on the Gitmo facility was part of a larger discussion on counterterrorism policy.

The original premise for opening the detention center at Guantanamo was that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention, he noted during his remarks, but added the Supreme Court found that unconstitutional five years ago.

"In the meantime, Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law," the president said. "Our allies won't cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at Gitmo. During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people –almost $1 million per prisoner. And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep Gitmo open at a time when we are cutting investments in education and research here at home."

Obama has tried to close the facility and transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress stopped the process, he noted. "These restrictions make no sense," he said.

Obama said he believes these detainees can be held in U.S. prisons and prosecuted in U.S. courts. "No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons in the United States," he said. "Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism-related offenses, including some who are more dangerous than most Gitmo detainees."

The president called on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from the facility.

"I have tasked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions," he said. "I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case-by-case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee."

There will still be detainees who have participated in attacks on Americans who cannot be prosecuted due to tainted evidence, Obama noted. "But once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law," he said.

The president was interrupted several times by a heckler who yelled that the president should close the facility now. He said her voice needed to be heard.

Obama asked if Guantanamo is the kind of legacy America wants or deserves. "Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?" he asked. "Our sense of justice is stronger than that."

President Obama Speaks on the U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy | The White House

President Obama Speaks on the U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy | The White House


U.S. Marines conduct a combat logistics patrol to Forward Operating Base Shukvani in Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 19, 2013. The Marines, assigned to Rolling Thunder 2, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, conducted the logistics patrol to deliver supplies in support of Regimental Combat Team 7 and base realignment and closure operations. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz
Afghan, Coalition Forces Arrest Insurgents in Baghlan Province
From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 23, 2013 - A combined Afghan and coalition security force in Baghlan province's Baghlan-e Jadid district arrested six insurgents today during a search for a Taliban facilitator, military officials reported.

The facilitator controls a group responsible for attacks on Afghan and coalition forces, stores insurgents' equipment in his home and coordinates the acquisition of weapons.

Also today, a combined force in Helmand province's Nahr-e Saraj district arrested an insurgent during a search for a Taliban leader who directs and executes attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also procures and distributes bomb-making materials to insurgents and serves as an intelligence operative for senior Taliban leadership.

In Afghanistan operations yesterday:

-- A combined force in Paktia province's Sayyid Karam district killed three insurgents during a search for a senior Haqqani network leader involved with improvised explosive device attacks. He also coordinates insurgent movements and attacks, provides information to senior Haqqani leaders and facilitates the movement of IEDs, weapons and money into the area.

-- Provincial Response Company Logar, enabled by coalition forces, seized and destroyed an IED and almost 500 pounds of ingredients for homemade explosives in Logar province's Pul-e Alam district.

In May 21 operations:

-- Afghan soldiers, along with uniformed and local police, destroyed 20 IEDs during a checkpoint emplacement operation in Helmand province's Nahr-e-Saraj district.

-- Two senior Haqqani network leaders were killed during an operation in Paktia province's Zurmat district. One, an intelligence operative, also was involved in coordinating mine and IED placements, providing equipment to insurgents and organizing kidnappings for ransom. The other deceased insurgent leader planned and participated in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, and relayed strategic guidance to insurgents from senior Haqqani leaders.

Weltraum dient als Inspiration für Elektromobilität

Weltraum dient als Inspiration für Elektromobilität


Statement from Secretary Kerry on President Obama's Speech
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 23, 2013


Today President Obama laid out a clear vision to help ensure that we are meeting the ever-evolving threats to our national security at home and abroad. The struggle against extremism has evolved enormously in the nearly 12 years since 9/11 and so too must our defenses, but the danger is not new.

We fly our flag high because we are a symbol of hope to people everywhere, but that too has been a target for those who know only hate. The memorial wall in the lobby of the State Department is a sober, solemn, and daily reminder of our duty to protect the people who have taken up the mantle of promoting peace in sometimes-dangerous lands. On my first day as Secretary, a suicide bomber attacked our embassy in Ankara killing a local guard, and of course, last September we lost Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other brave Americans who were forcing light in the darkness. But still, for our mission to succeed, we cannot retreat behind higher walls.

Diplomacy and security are not at cross purposes. Our flag must continue to fly because we show up in the places where others won’t go. We will not back down in the face of violent extremism – because perseverance is in our diplomatic DNA. Building people to people relationships is in our national interest because it means we can solve problems before they turn into ‘boots on the ground’ crises. As we build trust, it will be necessary to make clear our criteria for deploying drones overseas and to finish the work of closing the Guantanamo detention center. These are vital objectives in showing the world that we are who we say we are.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

African Trophy Hunter Indicted for Violating Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act

Charles Kokesh was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pensacola, Florida, for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act by selling two African elephant tusks and for making false accounts of wildlife related to that sale, the Justice Department announced today.

The three count indictment returned yesterday alleges that Kokesh legally imported a sport-hunted African elephant trophy mount from Namibia, but thereafter illegally sold the two tusks, from New Mexico to a buyer in Florida. The sale price was approximately $8,100, to be paid in a combination of currency and guns. After the sale, Kokesh allegedly falsely described that sale, in an email to personnel at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as a shipment to an appraiser in anticipation of a donation to a non-profit entity. Kokesh similarly falsely accounted for the location and disposition of the tusks in subsequent correspondence. Each false account and record is charged under the Lacey Act.

African elephants are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Both the United States and Namibia are signatories to CITES. African elephant populations in Namibia are listed in Appendix II of CITES, which includes species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction now, but may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is strictly regulated. Since 2000, the Namibian African elephant listing has specified that the species cannot be used for commercial purposes.

The United States implements CITES through the Endangered Species Act and regulations issued thereunder. To implement the CITES prohibition against commercial use of African elephant specimens, regulations issued under the Endangered Species Act proscribe the commercial use, including sale, of sport-hunted African elephant trophies, even if the trophies are legally hunted and imported.

According to a recent report produced by CITES and partner organizations, entitled "Elephants in the Dust –The African Elephant Crisis," populations of elephants in Africa are under severe threat as the illegal trade in ivory grows – with the number of elephants killed doubling and the amount of ivory seized tripling over the last decade. An estimated 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011 to feed the illegal trade.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

The maximum penalty for the charged violation of the Endangered Species Act is up to six months in prison and a $25,000 fine. The maximum penalty for making a false statement is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida.

Thursday, May 23, 2013



Strong Storms Over Oklahoma

This image of the storm system that generated the F-4 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma was taken by NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard one of the Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites. The image was captured on May 20, 2013, at 19:40 UTC (2:40 p.m. CDT) as the tornado began its deadly swath.

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team

President Obama Honors Carole King | The White House

President Obama Honors Carole King | The White House


Pacific Commander: U.S., China Can Build on Common Ground
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2013 - The United States and China, by increasing their dialogue and engagement, can build a foundation of trust while fostering regional security and prosperity, the top U.S. commander in the region said yesterday.

"While competition between the United States and China is inevitable, conflict is not," Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told members of the National Committee for U.S. China Relations in New York.

"This means identifying strategic areas where our two countries can cooperate, while recognizing frankly and openly the areas where we will continue to differ, and to manage those," he said. "Our approach is to manage the friction and disruptive competition and increase areas of congruence and cooperation between our two nations."

Locklear encouraged the China experts to envision a future in which "the U.S. and China collaborate to build upon an existing Indo-Asia-Pacific community of peace and prosperity."

Reaching that goal, he said, requires recognizing, understanding and managing areas of divergence that could disrupt the security environment. These range from China's concerns that the U.S. strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region is designed to contain China's rise to differences in how the two countries view the maritime global commons and the lack of common ground on behavior in cyberspace.

Locklear emphasized that the rebalance is a whole-of-government strategy, recognizing that "the United States' success in the 21st century will, to a large extent, depend on what happens in this critically important region of the world."

Based on a strategy of collaboration and cooperation, the rebalance acknowledges the reality that the United States' future is "inextricably linked" to Asia's, he said. And one of the fundamental goals in implementing it is to build a "stable, productive and constructive relationship with China," he added.

Despite many areas of divergence between the two countries, Locklear said, he believes they're outweighed by areas where the United States and China share common interests.

"First, it is my belief that neither of our two nations desire conflict, especially armed conflict," he said.

But both countries must also recognize the major roles they both play in the region, he said. "The Pacific is big enough for all of us," Locklear told the group, borrowing a quote from both former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the United States' and China's economic relationship -- one that Locklear said draws them together and positively affects the entire region.

The admiral noted other promising developments that are solidifying this foundation: China's growing participation in the international community, its commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and its efforts to address HIV/AIDS and pandemic diseases, among them.

Meanwhile, China is demonstrating "a real appetite to deepen the military-to-military dialogue and build on those areas on which we converge," Locklear said. The goal, he said, is to continually improve the channels of communication and to demonstrate practical cooperation on issues that matter to both sides.

Gen. Fang Fenghu, China's top military officer, identified counterterrorism, antipiracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, logistics and military medicine as potential areas of cooperation during a visit to Beijing by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Looking to the future, Locklear said, it's vital that both China and the United States recognize their responsibilities as regional and global leaders.

"We must move beyond our individual differences to bring consensus to issues that threaten regional stability and future prosperity," he said. That includes partnering with other nations to address regional security challenges such as piracy, terrorism, proliferation and pandemic disease.

Secondly, he said, the two countries must work together and with the international community to ensure access to the shared domains through universally accepted standards. This extends from the maritime domain -- and territorial disputes in the South China and East China Seas -- to the cyber and space domains, where they can play a role in helping to establish worldwide standards and practices, he said.

Also key, Locklear said, is China's increasing participation in regional military-to-military engagements. He cited progress in the Military Maritime Consultative Meeting and other forums, and China's agreement to take part in the next Rim of the Pacific international maritime exercise.

These engagements help to build trust and mutual understanding and, ultimately, reduce the likelihood of miscommunication and miscalculation that could derail forward progress, Locklear said.

"I believe the best hope for sustained bilateral cooperation will come from strategically identifying those areas where our interests overlap and building, over time, greater understanding and trust between our two armed forces," the admiral said.

U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update

U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update


As seen through a night-vision device, U.S. soldiers prepare their equipment for a night air assault operation from Forward Operating Base Connolly, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, May 14, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Vang Seng Thao.
Combined Force Arrests Taliban Leader in Helmand Province
From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 22, 2013 - A combined Afghan and coalition security force arrested a Taliban leader and four other insurgents in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Afghanistan's Helmand province today, military officials reported.

The leader plans, directs and executes attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also is instrumental in producing and planting improvised explosive devices and conducts reconnaissance and intelligence gathering for local insurgents.

Also today, a combined force in Wardak province's Sayyidabad district arrested two insurgents during a search for a senior Taliban leader who controls about 70 insurgents responsible for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also oversees weapons trafficking and reports on insurgent operations to higher-ranking Taliban officials. The security force also seized an assault rifle and ammunition.

In Afghanistan operations yesterday:

-- A combined force in Paktia province's Zurmat district killed four insurgents during a search for a senior Haqqani network intelligence operative. He also coordinates placement of mines and IEDs, provides equipment to insurgents and organizes kidnappings for ransom.

-- Afghan local police and coalition forces found and destroyed an explosives laboratory in Logar province's Baraki Barak district. The lab contained more than 150 pounds of ingredients for homemade explosives, several hand grenades and two rocket-propelled grenade warheads.

U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update

U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update

Nebezpečí pod dohledem: ESA otevřela středisko pro sledování asteroidů

Nebezpečí pod dohledem: ESA otevřela středisko pro sledování asteroidů



Statement from Secretary Duncan on Preventing Student Loan Interest Rates from Doubling on July 1

Our priority is to ensure that Congress doesn't allow federal student loan interest rates to double on July 1. President Obama has put forward a comprehensive solution that will help middle-class students and their families afford college by lowering interest rates on July 1, without adding to the deficit, and Senator Harkin and Congressman Miller have also been leaders within Congress to prevent rates from doubling for students and families.

While we welcome action by the House on student loans, we have concerns about its current approach, which does not guarantee low rates for students on July 1, makes students bear the burden of deficit reduction, and fails to lock in interest rates when students take out a loan – so their rates could escalate in the future.

Now is not the time to double interest rates on student loans, and we remain committed to working with Congress on a bipartisan approach to a long-term, fiscally sustainable solution that will help students and families afford higher education now and in the future. Given the impending July 1 deadline, an extension that protects students against higher rates while Congress develops an alternative solution is another reasonable option.

Both the President and I firmly believe college should not be reserved only for the wealthy. All of us share responsibility for making college affordable and keeping the middle-class dream alive. There is no excuse if Congress fails to come to an agreement that prevents rates from rising suddenly in July, and we look forward to working with members of both parties to reach a solution.


Benghazi Accountability Review Board Implementation
Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
May 20, 2013

Following the September 11, 2012 attack on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, the independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board (ARB) issued 29 recommendations (24 of which were unclassified) to the Department of State. The Department accepted each of the ARB’s recommendations and is committed to implementing them. This will require fundamentally reforming the organization in critical ways. While risk can never be completely eliminated from our diplomatic duties, we must always work to minimize it. A brief summary of the Department’s actions on the 24 unclassified recommendations is as follows:

Unclassified Recommendations of the ARB (Text abridged) and Department Actions


1. The Department must strengthen security for personnel and platforms beyond traditional reliance on host government security support in high risk, high threat posts.
The Department established a High Threat Board to review our presence at High Threat, High Risk posts; the Board will review these posts every 6 months.
We created a Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), who is responsible for ensuring that such posts receive the focused attention they need.

2. The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities.
The Department established a six-person panel to thoroughly review DS’s organization and management structure; the panel has developed draft findings.
3. Regional bureaus should have augmented support within the bureau on security matters, to include a senior DS officer to report to the regional Assistant Secretary.
DS staff attend regular Regional Bureau meetings, and Regional Bureau staff attend DS daily briefings to better communicate on security issues.
The Department has adjusted the work requirements (position descriptions) for senior level staff (Assistant Secretaries and Deputy Assistant Secretaries) to reflect everyone’s responsibility for overseas security.

4. The Department should establish a panel of outside independent experts (military, security, humanitarian) with experience in high risk, high threat areas to identify best practices (from other agencies and other countries), and evaluate U.S. security platforms in high risk, high threat posts.
The Department established a six-person panel to identify best practices used by other agencies and countries; this panel’s work is expected to be complete by late summer.
5. The Department should develop minimum security standards for occupancy of temporary facilities in high risk, high threat environments, and seek greater flexibility to make funds rapidly available for security upgrades at such facilities.
The Department has re-affirmed that Overseas Security Policy Board Standards apply to temporary facilities.
We identified flexible funding authorities to make improvements to our overseas facilities.

6. Before opening or re-opening critical threat or high risk, high threat posts, the Department should establish a multi-bureau support cell, residing in the regional bureau.
The Department developed standard operating procedures for "Support Cells" for opened/reopened posts. The process is being incorporated into the Foreign Affairs Handbook.
7. All State Department and other government agencies’ facilities should be collocated when they are in the same metropolitan area, unless a waiver has been approved.
We verified all data on our overseas facilities; we are exploring which non-collocated facilities can be eliminated and their personnel relocated.
8. The Secretary should require an action plan from DS, OBO, and other relevant offices on the use of fire as a weapon against diplomatic facilities, including immediate steps to deal with urgent issues.
The Department issued guidance to all posts on "weapons of opportunity."
Fire testing is ongoing at U.S. military facilities.

9. The Department should revise its guidance to posts and require key offices to perform in-depth status checks of post tripwires.
The Department reviewed and revised requirements for posts on how to respond to changing security benchmarks (i.e., "tripwires").
The Department established a Washington-based "Tripwires Committee" to review tripwires upon breach, to help ensure that posts and regional bureaus in Washington respond more quickly should security deteriorate at post.

10. The State Department must work with Congress to restore the Capital Security Cost Sharing Program [for embassy construction] at its full capacity, adjusted for inflation to approximately $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2015.
The FY14 President's Budget included a request for $2.2 billion in the Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance account.
11. The Board supports the State Department’s initiative to request additional Marines and expand the Marine Security Guard (MSG) Program – as well as corresponding requirements for staffing and funding.
Along with the Congress and Department of Defense, we are working to increase the number of Marine Security Guards at U.S. diplomatic facilities, and have requested (and received) more resources to build facilities at additional posts to host Marine Security Guards in the future.

12. The Board strongly endorses the Department’s request for increased DS personnel for high- and critical-threat posts and for additional Mobile Security Deployment teams, as well as an increase in DS domestic staffing in support of such action.
With Congressional support, the Department is creating 151 new Diplomatic Security positions -- 113 are expected to be hired this fiscal year. The remainder will be hired in FY14.
13. The Department should assign key policy, program, and security personnel at high risk, high threat posts for a minimum of one year. For less critical personnel, the temporary duty length (TDY) length should be no less than 120 days.
All high threat posts now have a minimum of a one-year tour of duty. We are planning to ensure overlap between incumbent and incoming positions to facilitate continuity of operations at high threat posts.
Temporary duty assignments are set at a minimum of 120 days.

14. The Department needs to review the staffing footprints at high risk, high threat posts, with particular attention to ensuring adequate Locally Employed Staff (LES) and management support. High risk, high threat posts must be funded and the human resources process prioritized to hire LES interpreters and translators.
The Department surveyed every post to review the numbers of interpreters and translators on staff, and found that there was adequate staffing.
15. With increased and more complex diplomatic activities in the Middle East, the Department should enhance its ongoing efforts to significantly upgrade its language capacity, especially Arabic, among American employees, including DS, and receive greater resources to do so.
The Department is ramping up the language capacity of its American employees, including Diplomatic Security agents, especially in Arabic. Increasing language capacity takes time – certain languages take up to 2 years to learn. In the short term, the Department is committed to better equipping the growing cadre of security experts to engage local populations and cooperate with host nation security forces.

16. A panel of Senior Special Agents and Supervisory Special Agents should revisit DS high-threat training with respect to active internal defense and fire survival as well as Chief of Mission protective detail training.
The Department established a panel of Supervisory Special Agents to participate in a Program Review of the High Threat Tactical Course; as a result, DS revised high-threat training and COM protective detail training and raised standards for passing the High Threat Tactical Course. DS and the Foreign Service Institute are currently revising the curriculum.
DS is pursuing a high-threat training strategy that will incorporate elements of this training across the full spectrum of courses required for DS special agents throughout their careers.

17. The Diplomatic Security Training Center and Foreign Service Institute should collaborate in designing joint courses that integrate high threat training and risk management decision processes for senior and mid-level DS agents and Foreign Service Officers and better prepare them for leadership positions in high risk, high threat posts.
The Department has enhanced security training efforts, including by requiring personnel headed to high threat posts to receive additional, specialized security training.

18. The Department should ensure provision of adequate fire safety and security equipment for safe havens and safe areas in non-Inman/SECCA facilities, as well as high threat Inman facilities.
The Department has surveyed fire and life safety equipment requirements abroad and is now upgrading this equipment, to include enhanced fire safety equipment and personal protective equipment, at all high-threat, high-risk U.S. diplomatic posts abroad.
19. There have been technological advancements in non-lethal deterrents, and the State Department should ensure it rapidly and routinely identifies and procures additional options for non-lethal deterrents in high risk, high threat posts and trains personnel on their use.
The Department has addressed this recommendation.
20. DS should upgrade surveillance cameras at high risk, high threat posts for greater resolution, nighttime visibility, and monitoring capability beyond post.
Over the next year the Department will have upgraded high-threat, high-risk facilities with more modern surveillance cameras that feature greater resolution and monitoring capability at all times of day.

21. Careful attention should be given to factors showing a deteriorating threat situation in general as a basis for improving security posture. Key trends must be quickly identified and used to sharpen risk calculations.
The Department has addressed this recommendation.
22. The DS Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis should report directly to the DS Assistant Secretary and directly supply threat analysis to all DS components, regional Assistant Secretaries, and Chiefs of Mission in order to get key security-related threat information into the right hands more rapidly.
The DS Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis, now reports directly to the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security for threat reporting and supplies threat analysis to regional Assistant Secretaries and Chiefs of Mission.

23. The Board is of the view that findings of unsatisfactory leadership performance by senior officials in relation to the security incident under review should be a potential basis for discipline recommendations by future ARBs, and would recommend a revision of Department regulations or amendment to the relevant statute to this end.
The Department is working with Congress to increase accountability. In January, the Department proposed legislation to grant future ARBs the authority to recommend disciplinary action on the basis of unsatisfactory leadership, and thus increase accountability for security incidents.
24. The Board was humbled by the courage and integrity shown by those on the ground in Benghazi and Tripoli, in particular the DS agents and Annex team who defended their colleagues… We trust that the Department and relevant agencies will take the opportunity to recognize their exceptional valor and performance, which epitomized the highest ideals of government service.
The President and the Secretary of State have publically mentioned the bravery and heroic efforts of our personnel on numerous occasions.
The Department bestowed the Holbrooke award on Ambassador Chris Stevens; the Thomas Jefferson award to the personnel who gave their lives in September; the Secretary’s award to one officer who was seriously injured; and the Secretary's Heroism Award to 12 personnel who defended the Benghazi facilities.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

DVIDS - Video - Press Briefing

DVIDS - Video - Press Briefing

Press Briefing | The White House

Press Briefing | The White House

U.S. DOD Briefing by Under Secretary Kendall on the Electronic Health Record Modernization and Healthcare Management Software from the Pentagon Briefing Room

DOD Briefing by Under Secretary Kendall on the Electronic Health Record Modernization and Healthcare Management Software from the Pentagon Briefing Room


Olive Baboon.  Credit:  Wikimedia.
Scientists Discover Oldest Evidence of Split Between Old World Monkeys and Apes

Two fossil discoveries from the East African Rift reveal new information about the evolution of primates, according to a paper published this week in the journal Nature.

Findings by scientists at Ohio University's (OU) Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and colleagues document the oldest fossils of two major groups of primates: the group that today includes apes and humans (hominoids) and the group that includes Old World monkeys such as baboons and macaques (cercopithecoids).

The research, funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), underscores the integration of paleontological and geological approaches that are essential for deciphering complex relationships in vertebrate evolutionary history, the scientists said.

Geological analyses of the study site indicate that the finds are 25 million years old, significantly older than fossils previously documented for either of the two groups.

Both fossil discoveries uncovered primate species newly recognized by scientists. The fossils were collected from a single site in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania.

Rukwapithecus fleaglei is an early hominoid represented by a fossil mandible in which several teeth were preserved. Nsungwepithecus gunnelli is an early cercopithecoid represented by a tooth and jaw fragment.

The primates lived during the Oligocene epoch, which lasted from 34 to 23 million years ago. The research documents that the two lineages were already evolving separately during this geologic period.

"The late Oligocene is among the least sampled intervals in primate evolutionary history, and the Rukwa field area provides a first glimpse of the animals that were alive at that time from Africa south of the equator," said Nancy Stevens, Ohio University paleontologist and first author of the paper.

Co-authors are Patrick O'Connor, Cornelia Krause and Eric Gorscak of Ohio University; Erik Seiffert of SUNY Stony Brook University; Eric Roberts of James Cook University in Australia; Mark Schmitz of Boise State University; Sifa Ngasala of Michigan State University; Tobin Hieronymus of Northeast Ohio Medical University and Joseph Temu of the Tanzania Antiquities Unit.

Documenting the early evolutionary history of these groups has been elusive, as there are few fossil-bearing deposits of the appropriate age, Stevens said.

"Finding monkey and ape fossils of this age in Africa has been extremely difficult, but to find both branches in a well-dated fossil layer this old is extraordinary," said Paul Filmer, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences.

"These 'oldest-yet' fossils reinforce that the Old World monkey and ape branches were already separate 25 million years ago."

Using an approach that dated multiple minerals in the rocks, geologists could determine a precise age for the specimens.

"The rift setting provides an advantage in that it preserves datable materials together with these important primate fossils," said Roberts.

Prior to these finds, the oldest fossil representatives of the hominoid and cercopithecoid lineages were recorded from the early Miocene, at sites dating millions of years younger.

"The Nsungwe Formation of Tanzania is a unique site, both geographically and chronologically, with excellent potential to yield important fossils from a vitally important time period and biogeographic area of Africa," said Carolyn Ehardt, NSF program director for biological anthropology.

"To have described two highly distinctive and completely new primates, one designated the oldest known fossil 'ape' and the other the oldest 'stem' member of the Old World monkey clade, is remarkable."

The new discoveries are particularly important for helping reconcile a long-standing disagreement between divergence time estimates derived from analyses of DNA sequences from living primates versus those suggested by the primate fossil record, Stevens said.

Studies of clock-like mutations in primate DNA have indicated that the split between apes and Old World monkeys occurred between 30 million and 25 million years ago.

"Fossils from the Rukwa Rift Basin in southwestern Tanzania provide the first real test of the hypothesis that these groups diverged so early, by revealing a novel glimpse into this late Oligocene terrestrial ecosystem," Stevens said.

The new fossils are the first primate discoveries from this precise location in the Rukwa deposits, and represent two of only a handful of known primate species from the entire late Oligocene, globally.

The scientists scanned the specimens in OU's MicroCT scanner, allowing them to create detailed three-dimensional reconstructions of the ancient specimens. The reconstructions were used for comparisons with other fossils.

"This is another great example of how modern imaging and computational approaches allow us to address more refined questions about vertebrate evolutionary history," said O'Connor.

In addition to unveiling these newly discovered primates, the Rukwa field sites have produced several other fossil vertebrate and invertebrate species new to science.

The late Oligocene interval is interesting because it provides a final snapshot of the unique species inhabiting Africa prior to the large-scale faunal exchange with Eurasia that occurred later in the Cenozoic Era, Stevens said.

A key aspect of the Rukwa Rift Basin project, she said, is the interdisciplinary nature of the research team, with paleontologists and geologists working together to reconstruct vertebrate evolutionary history in the context of the developing East African Rift System.

"Since its inception, the project has employed a multi-faceted approach to addressing a series of large-scale biological and geological questions centered on the East African Rift System in Tanzania," O'Connor said.

The research was also funded by the Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society.