Blog Posts by Olivier Knox, Yahoo News

  • U.S. (kinda) calls out Syria over chemical arms disclosures

    The White House has taken pains to portray Syria’s agreement to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal under international supervision as a big diplomatic victory for President Barack Obama. But on Tuesday, his envoy to the United Nations seemed to suggest that Syria might be double-dealing — that it may still be keeping some chemical weapons facilities secret.

    Speaking at United Nations headquarters in New York, Ambassador Samantha Power said that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had inspected 21 of 23 arms sites “declared by Syria” and 39 of 41 facilities at those sites.

    Power went on to say that Syria has “completed functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing and filling plans, rendering them inoperable.”

    Got that? Solid progress at “declared sites.” But here’s the problem:

    “More work, of course, remains to be done to ensure that the Syrian government’s list of declared sites is

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  • Obama fights to recapture health care initiative

    After an initial phase of shell-shocked damage control, President Barack Obama’s efforts to save his signature health care law — and with it his second term and his place in U.S. history — are taking on an aggressive tone.

    “Let’s face it, a lot of us didn’t realize that passing the law was the easy part,” Obama told scores of supporters late Monday at a posh Washington hotel.

    The new approach — emphasizing Affordable Care Act benefits that are already in effect and don’t require navigating a botched website, promoting the law’s success stories, blaming Republicans and the news media in equal measure for the bad news — also comes with a renewed focus on issues that helped unite the winning coalition of his 2012 re-election campaign.

    The president has stepped up calls for Congress to pass, by year’s end, legislation overhauling America’s immigration policy. On Tuesday, he’ll meet with top executives to make the argument that doing so would help the economy.

    And the Democratic-held Senate

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  • Replace Biden with Hillary Clinton? No way, White House says

    Did President Barack Obama’s top re-election campaign officials consider replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Not seriously, the White House insisted on Friday.

    “What I can tell you without a doubt is that the president never considered that, and had anyone brought that idea to him he would have laughed it out of the room,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

    The Clinton-for-Biden swap talk is one of the more eye-popping claims in the campaign-centered “Double Down: Game Change 2012.” The book contends that senior strategists for the president's re-election campaign conducted extensive focus-group tests and polling on the matter in late 2011 when it seemed the president risked losing his bid for a second term.

    “Campaigns, and pollsters as part of campaigns, test a lot of things,” Carney insisted. “I mean, they poll and focus-group on what you have for breakfast.”

    Carney, a former spokesman for the vice president, said Biden “has been an

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  • Obama’s Halloween: No ‘web’ problems here

    Obamacare might be the nightmare before Christmas for those trying to sign up online, but it turns out that the White House does have a functioning web operation. And it was on full display on Thursday night as President Barack Obama celebrated Halloween with some 5,000 area schoolchildren and kids of military families.

    The web in question housed a giant inflatable black widow spider above the entrance of the famed South Portico, with about a dozen more of the eight-legged creepy-crawlies swarming down the columns, escorted by bats and crows. Two large autumn wreaths were hung nearby.

    At about 5:30 p.m., kids walked up the driveway and formed a line that snaked from near the main door, past the East Wing and down the driveway as far as this pooler's eye could see.

    The president, first lady Michelle Obama and her mother, Marian Robinson, emerged shortly thereafter.

    "Hi guys! Come on down," the president called out. He was wearing an orange shirt, black sweater and khakis. The first lady

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  • Will U.S. stop spying on allies? Not likely

    Will President Barack Obama’s ongoing “review” of American spying programs lead to a blanket ban on surveillance targeting allied leaders? Not likely.

    At first blush, the odds might seem good that the president would embrace sweeping new restrictions in response to the global uproar over the National Security Agency actions.

    On Monday, Obama told Fusion TV that he hoped “to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing.”

    Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., declared herself “totally opposed” to National Security Agency spying on leaders of U.S. allies, except in times of war or emergency and with a presidential order.

    And National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said officials were “examining whether we have the appropriate posture when it comes to heads of state, how we coordinate with our closest allies and partners, and what further guiding principles or constraints might be appropriate for our

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  • Has U.S. stopped all spying on allies? A top official says no

    A senior U.S. official late Monday disputed Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein’s assertion that the United States has stopped all spying on allies.

    Amid a global uproar over American surveillance activities, Feinstein, D-Calif., had announced earlier that “the White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support.”

    National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, in a statement emailed to reporters, said the White House worked closely with Feinstein but would not confirm the senator’s assertion. “I’m not going to go into the details of those private discussions, nor am I going to comment on assertions made in the Senator’s statement today about U.S. foreign intelligence activities,” Hayden said.

    A senior administration official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, later told Yahoo News that Feinstein’s claim was “not accurate.” The official said there had been “some individual changes” to the policy, “we have not made

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  • White House denies NSA spies on allies for economic warfare

    The White House denied on Monday that the National Security Agency's widespread overseas spying is intended to give the U.S. an edge over allies who might also be economic competitors. But former Vice President Dick Cheney suggested to CNN that NSA snooping has been "enormously important" when it comes to "economic matters." 

    At his daily media briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked: "Can you assure our allies that the U.S. is not using the NSA's intelligence capabilities to promote American economic interests?"

    "We do not use our intelligence capabilities for that purpose. We use it for security purposes," Carney insisted.

    But the spokesman's comments appeared to be at odds with comments from Cheney, who suggested in an interview on CNN's "The Lead" airing on Monday that American spying has a wide range of applications.

    "We do collect a lot of intelligence. Without speaking about any particular target or group of targets, that intelligence capability is enormously

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  • FBI chief Comey: New agents must visit MLK Memorial

    Amid a furious global controversy over the National Security Agency's spying on U.S. allies, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said on Monday he will order all new FBI agents to visit the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to reflect on past “abuse and overreach” by the agency.

    Comey noted that former FBI Director Louis Freeh had ordered all new agent classes to visit the Holocaust Museum “so they could see and feel and hear in a palpable way the consequences of abuse of power on a massive, almost unimaginable scale.”

    That will continue, Comey said.

    But “I'm going to direct that all new agents and analysts also visit the Martin Luther King Memorial here in Washington,” the FBI director announced, with President Barack Obama looking on. “It will serve as a different kind of lesson, one more personal to the bureau, of the dangers in becoming untethered to oversight and accountability.”

    The FBI spied on King, the famed civil rights leader, throughout the 1960s until

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  • Government shutdown delays NSA spying review report

    The high-profile "review group" of experts looking into National Security Agency (NSA) spying practices will deliver its interim report to President Barack Obama two weeks later than expected because of the government shutdown, a senior administration official told Yahoo News on Friday.

    "The review group will provide an interim report to the president through the DNI the week of November 11, 2013, and their final recommendations are due to the president by December 15, 2013," the official said on condition of anonymity. "DNI" refers to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

    "The group was given 60 days to provide an interim report, which would require them to provide that interim report this week," the official said. "However, because of the government shutdown, which prevented their ability to work on this critical issue, we had to delay the deadline. We still expect the final report to be on time by December 15."

    How did the shutdown hamper the report? "As a technical/legal

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  • A Biden 'comeback'? He never left

    Vice President Joe Biden helped usher in the Obamacare era with a now-famous expression that, while commonly used, cannot be printed here in full. But the voluble veep has kept an uncharacteristically low profile for the past three weeks as Obama’s signature domestic achievement has labored through a thoroughly botched rollout.

    Biden, so often at the heart of solutions to past fiscal standoffs, also was silent during the government shutdown and debt ceiling wars. One unconfirmed report said he was deliberately sidelined by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. On two occasions, the White House left the vice president off the list of attendees when President Barack Obama met with congressional leaders.

    When Obama pushed for immigration reform Thursday, there was Biden — standing and smiling next to Obama but not speaking.

    Is this the calm before the 2016 storm? Has the VP — the guy who “rode sheriff” on the stimulus, handled major foreign policy headaches, and led the ill-fated

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