Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Secret Service report: White House needs a taller fence and more, better-trained agents

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 55 mins ago

    The Secret Service has too few agents, with too little training, assigned to patrolling a White House fence that needs to be at least 4 to 5 feet taller than it is to keep out intruders, according to a punishing report from an independent panel of experts.

    The unsparing assessment, commissioned after a fence-jumper at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. got past layers of security and reached deep into the presidential mansion before being stopped, also says that the Secret Service’s next director should come from outside the troubled agency.

    Here are some of the report's key findings, as laid out in an executive summary made public on the Department of Homeland Security’s web site.

    —  The fence around the White House  — currently only 7½ feet high  — needs to be taller. Much taller.

    —  The Secret Service needs more agents. Many more.

    —  … and better training. A lot more.

    The Uniformed Division as a whole did 576 hours of training over the same period, the report says, noting that this amounts to “about 25 minutes for each of over 1300 Uniformed Division officers.”

  • After Alan Gross release, Obama seeks to resume full diplomatic ties with Cuba

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 1 day ago

    In a move to wipe away one of the Cold War’s last vestiges, President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced that the United States and Cuba will start talks on restoring full diplomatic relations for the first time in the half-century since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

    “Today America chooses to cut loose the shackles of thepast, so as to reach for a better future for the Cuban people, for theAmerican people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world,” Obama declared at the White House.

    The stunning shift came directly after Cuba released imprisoned U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross and a U.S. intelligence asset, while the United States freed three convicted Cuban spies in a tit-for-tat that U.S. officials insisted was not a “swap.”

    Some Republicans and Democrats vowed to oppose Obama’s new policy, which will also include making it easier for Americans to travel to the Socialist-run island 90 miles from Florida beaches and return with consumer goods – including Cuba’s fabled rum and iconic cigars.

    But the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Democratic Bob Menendez of New Jersey, was expected to deliver a full-throated denunciation of the policy.

  • Kerry to Congress: Don’t rule out U.S. ground war against Islamic State

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 9 days ago

    Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday asked lawmakers debating legislation to authorize the war against the so-called Islamic State not to rule out the use of U.S. ground troops in combat.

    Kerry also indicated that President Barack Obama would prefer to wait for a vote on an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) until Republicans control the Senate.

    The work of drafting an AUMF can start “over the course of the next days” but final action should wait until “we come back in early January,” the top American diplomat told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    “In the hours, days, and weeks to come, we are determined to work with you, first and foremost to develop an approach that can generate broad, bipartisan support, while ensuring the president has the flexibility he needs to successfully prosecute this effort,” he said.

    “The president has been clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations,” Kerry began.

    Waiting until Congress is entirely in Republican hands would also give the GOP some ownership of the policy, potentially insulating the Democratic Party's nominee from criticism in 2016.


  • Obama nominates Ashton Carter as defense secretary

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 13 days ago

    Locking in a post-election shake-up of his national security team, President Barack Obama on Friday formally nominated former senior Pentagon official Ashton Carter on Friday to replace Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. Carter is expected to win Senate confirmation easily in 2015.

    "We face no shortage of challenges to our national security," Obama said with Carter and Vice President Joe Biden at his side, citing the looming U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the war against the so-called Islamic State, the military's work to contain West Africa's Ebola outbreak and other issues.

    "Ash is going to be critical to all of these efforts. When we talked about this job, we talked about how we’re going to have to make smart choices precisely because there are so many challenges out there," Obama said. "We’re going to have to squeeze everything we have out of the resources that we have in order to be as effective as possible. And I can’t think of somebody who’s more qualified to do that."

  • Senate Democrats muscle big Obama donors into ambassadorships

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 16 days ago

    In one of their final acts before losing their majority to Republicans, Senate Democrats confirmed as ambassadors on Tuesday two big donors to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, despite a controversy over their qualifications.

    David Bryson Mamet won confirmation as envoy to Argentina in a 50-43 vote, while senators agreed 52-42 to send Colleen Bell on her way to Hungary. No Republicans voted for either nominee, and several senators missed both ballots.

    Some of the political picks have not fared so well.

  • In executive 'amnesty' move, Obama pardons turkeys 'Mac' and 'Cheese'

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 22 days ago

    Joking that “some will call this amnesty,” President Barack Obama on Wednesday took part in one of the oddest traditions in American politics: The pardoning of two turkeys, “Mac” and “Cheese,” who will be spared from a Thanksgiving roasting.

    “I am here to announce what I’m sure will be the most talked-about executive action this month,” Obama declared with a smile in a thinly veiled reference to the controversy over last week's immigration announcement.

    “Today, I’m taking an action fully within my legal authority, the same kind of action taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me, to spare the lives of two turkeys.”

    “Some will call this amnesty, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of turkey to go around,” Obama said at the ceremony, which was driven indoors by bad weather.

    Both birds came from Cooper Farms in Oakwood, Ohio. And in fact, both birds will live out their days on a farm outside Washington, DC., but they may not have a long retirement. Turkeys bred for the table are fat and short-lived, meaning that either way it’s probably their last Thanksgiving.

  • Top contenders to succeed Chuck Hagel as defense secretary

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 24 days ago

    Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hadn’t even formally confirmed his resignation at his White House sendoff Monday before one of the top potential candidates to replace him pulled his name from contention.

    Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and served as an officer in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, is happy where he is, spokesman Chip Unruh said.

    Senator Reed loves his job and wants to continue serving the people of Rhode Island in the United States Senate,” said Unruh. “He has made it very clear that he does not wish to be considered for secretary of defense or any other Cabinet position. He just asked the people of Rhode Island to hire him for another six-year term and plans to honor that commitment.”

    Standing next to Hagel in the White House’s state dining room, Obama praised the Republican former senator’s service but gave no hint of whether he has settled on a shortlist for his fourth defense secretary.

    Here’s a list of some potential successors to Hagel :

  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to resign

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 24 days ago

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the only Republican in President Barack Obama’s cabinet, will announce his resignation on Monday, the White House said.

    Hagel’s departure  — a major post-election reshuffle of Obama’s struggling national security team  — comes as the United States faces a series of major international challenges, from the war against the so-called Islamic State (IS) to the planned troop drawdown from Afghanistan.

    The New York Times, which first reported the former senator’s departure, cited anonymous Obama aides as saying Hagel was being removed because he was the wrong person to lead the campaign against IS.

    A senior administration official, who requested anonymity, said a successor would “be named in short order,” but that Hagel would stay on until that person was confirmed.

    Despite the New York Times report, the anonymous official who confirmed Hagel’s departure characterized him as “a steady hand” at the Pentagon.

    “In October, Secretary Hagel began speaking with the president about departing the administration, given the natural post-midterms transition time. Those conversations have been ongoing for several weeks,” the official said.

  • White House to Democrats: We’ll seek extension to Iran nuclear talks

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 27 days ago

    President Barack Obama expects to seek an extension in Iran nuclear negotiations past the current Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a deal, White House aides told congressional Democrats on Friday.

    Secretary of State John Kerry could float the idea as early as Friday night to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, White House officials disclosed in the briefing for Capitol Hill aides, which was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.

    There are “eons to go until Monday, but it’s going to be pretty difficult to get to a comprehensive agreement by Monday,” though “not impossible,” one Obama aide said.

    So it’s a “reasonable expectation that we'll be requesting an extension,” the aide said. He did not specify a duration. The current talks resulted from a first extension that began July 20.

    Iran says it plans to expand the number of its centrifuges, the machines used in enrichment. The United States and its partners say Tehran has no need to do so, pointing to an agreement under which Russia will provide nuclear fuel to Iran’s only nuclear power reactor at Bushehr until 2021.

  • Senate to vote on two controversial Obama ‘ambassadonors’ Dec. 1

    Olivier Knox at Yahoo News 27 days ago

    The debate in Washington shifts from undocumented immigrants to questionably credentialed emigrants Dec. 1 as the Senate votes on two of President Barack Obama’s most controversial ambassador nominees — big-time donors seemingly picked only to reward them for scooping up campaign cash.

    Noah Bryson Mamet and Colleen Bell each raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. The president then nominated Mamet to be ambassador to Argentina and Bell to be ambassador to Hungary.

    But each of them ran into trouble early in the Senate confirmation process. Mamet admitted that he had never been to Argentina, while Bell stumbled and stammered her way through answering the question, “What are our strategic interests in Hungary?”

    Their nominations stalled. The Senate went on to confirm other ambassadors, including some big-time Obama donors, nominated after they were.

    But at least he “speaks conversational Spanish.”