Blog Posts by Olivier Knox, Yahoo News

  • Obama’s vacations and golf outings, by the numbers

    President Obama’s annual family vacation  an escape to tony Martha’s Vineyard  has once again served as an inviting target for critics. They ask how he can relax while the world burns, wring their hands about "optics" (aka "how it looks to the average American") and recycle decades-old complaints about presidents enjoying high-end resorts and historically patrician sports like golf.

    Just how many vacations has Obama taken since January 2009? How does he compare to his two-term predecessor, George W. Bush?

    The authoritative figures come from CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.

    Knoller has meticulously chronicled presidential data since 1996 with an attention to detail that has made successive White Houses regard his figures as more reliable than their own. He keeps tabs on everything from the number of trips overseas to the number of foreign leaders who visit the White House to the number of formal press conferences. He also tracks how often presidents flee Washington for what he

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  • Pentagon warns airstrikes are not enough to roll back ISIL

    President Obama sent a clear message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday to step aside quietly after Iraq’s president moves to replace him, as the Pentagon warned that targeted American airstrikes won’t be enough to roll back the bloody advance of the Islamic State of Iraqi and the Levant (ISIL).

    American strikes have only “temporarily disrupted” the extremist group’s shockingly effective onslaught, the Pentagon’s Lieutenant General William Mayville told reporters. “I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained, or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of, the threat posed by ISIL,” he said.

    On the Martha’s Vineyard resort island, Obama – who has repeatedly said that resolution to the conflict in Iraq can only come through a political agreement, not a military one – used a hastily arranged public statement to declare his personal support for Iraqi prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi and to caution Maliki not to try to use force to disrupt his

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  • Obama’s new Iraq mission: No end date, but not ‘prolonged’

    How long will American airstrikes pummel fighters belonging to the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? The White House said Friday that the mission is open-ended but repeatedly promised that it will not be “prolonged.”

    What does that mean? It means that President Obama wants the maximum flexibility for tackling a dangerous threat to Iraq’s viability while confronting critics in the U.S. Congress and a war-weary U.S. public.

    “The president has not laid out a specific end date,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “We’re going to sort of take this approach in which those kinds of decisions are evaluated regularly and are driven by the security situation on the ground, both as it relates to the safety and security of American personnel but also as it relates to supporting the ongoing efforts of both Kurdish security forces and Iraqi security forces.”

    Earnest, who underlined that Obama campaigned in 2008 on ending the U.S. involvement in Iraq, said

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  • Feinstein puts Obama on the spot over CIA's ‘torture report’ edits

    The chief author of the Senate’s “torture report” urged President Obama on Tuesday to make more of the document available to the public, over the objections of the CIA. She charged that the intelligence agency’s edits “eliminate or obscure key facts” about controversial interrogation practices during the George W. Bush administration.

    “I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. The letter itself was not made public.

    “The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith,” she said, adding that “this process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate.”

    Feinstein’s comments came one day after White House press secretary Josh Earnest defended the redactions, which the

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  • Obama: Senate report will show ‘we tortured some folks’

    President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Connor Radnovich)President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Connor Radnovich)
    President Barack Obama somberly warned on Friday that a forthcoming Senate Intelligence Committee report will show that the United States “tortured some folks” before he took office. But he dismissed “sanctimonious” calls to punish any individuals responsible and rejected calls for CIA Director John Brennan’s resignation.

    “When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques — techniques that I believe, and I think any fair-minded person would believe, were torture — we crossed the line,” Obama declared in the White House briefing room.

    “And that needs to be understood. And accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that hopefully we don’t do it again in the future,” the president said.

    Obama said the White House and CIA process of declassifying portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Rendition, Detention, Interrogation was complete and that the document would now be made public “at the pleasure” of the committee.

    The report is

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  • US tracked missile that brought down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17

    The United States detected the launch of the “specific missile” that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week, a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday.

    U.S. intelligence followed “this specific missile” as it was fired from “a geographic area” controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, said the official, who requested anonymity. It followed the near-vertical flight path characteristic of an SA-11 surface-to-air missile launch.

    “We did pick up a launch. We were able to have the ability to track this specific launch,” the official said. It was not clear whether the official was referring to real-time monitoring, or whether U.S. intelligence had gone back through surveillance data after learning of the attack.

    The official spoke as the United States ramped up efforts to convince skeptics that Moscow-backed rebels armed and trained by Russia shot down the passenger jet, killing all 298 people aboard. Russia has disputed the largely

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  • Obama: Pro-Russia separatists stealing Malaysia Airlines crash evidence

    President Obama on Monday bluntly accused pro-Moscow separatist fighters in Ukraine of stealing evidence and improperly removing bodies from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and pressed Russia to compel the rebels to stop blocking an international investigation.

    “What exactly are they trying to hide?” Obama asked in a hastily arranged statement on the south lawn of the White House. “The burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence.”

    The president noted that it has been four days since the passenger jet went down, killing all 298 people aboard. The United States blames a surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by the rebels, who have extensive support from Moscow, including advanced weapons and training.

    International investigators — including an American team — have traveled to Ukraine to carry out a full investigation.

    “Unfortunately, the Russian-backed separatists who control the area continue to block the

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  • Inside The Secret CIA Museum

     Osama bin Laden’s assault rifle. A singed al-Qaeda training manual. A desiccated rat corpse designed to pass secret messages. A letter from an American operative on a sheet of Adolf Hitler’s personal stationery. A painting of the real story behind “Argo.” And a remote-controlled robotic dragonfly that may be the ancestor of today’s drones.

    These are some of the things on display at the Central Intelligence Agency’s astonishing private museum in Langley, Va.

    Yahoo News got an exclusive on-camera guided tour of what could be the coolest collection you’ll probably never get to see. It’s burrowed deep inside CIA headquarters just outside Washington, DC, secreted away behind the thick layers of security that stand between the George Bush Center for Intelligence and the public, protecting America’s top secrets from prying eyes.CLICK IMAGE for slideshow: Artifacts from the Central Intelligence Agency Museum. (Courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency)CLICK IMAGE for slideshow: Artifacts from the Central Intelligence Agency Museum. (Courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency)

    As part of being allowed a rare look inside, Yahoo News had to rely on a CIA crew to film the building’s exterior. Cell phones and wireless microphones – that is to

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  • Obama hits reset button on wobbly public response to Malaysia Airlines shootdown

    President Obama on Friday called the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 an “outrage of unspeakable proportions,” declared it a “wake-up call” for timid European leaders, and all but laid blame for the tragedy directly at the doorstep of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Obama’s blunt language, delivered in the White House briefing room from behind a lectern with the presidential seal, offered a stark contrast to his muddled public handling of the disaster a day earlier.

    As the news broke on Thursday, the White House signaled that the president had first learned about the world-shaking events from Putin at the tail end of a telephone call arranged at Moscow’s request. With grisly details coming in, Obama went ahead with a heavily partisan public schedule: A speech in Wilmington, Delaware, where he hit Republicans over infrastructure funding, followed by a brace of Democratic fundraisers in New York City.

    Obama had begun his speech in Delaware with just seven sentences on the attack,

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  • Obama warns Russia, Ukrainian separatists over downed airliner

    President Barack Obama delivered an unmistakable warning to Russia and Moscow-backed Ukrainian separatists on Thursday not to tamper with the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet apparently shot down over rebel-controlled territory.

    With no hope for the roughly 300 people board the Boeing 777, Obama discussed the tragedy with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko by telephone and offered “all possible assistance immediately” to figure out what happened, the White House said in a summary of the call.

    Poroshenko “welcomed the assistance of international investigators to ensure a thorough and transparent investigation of the crash site,” according to the summary.

    “The presidents emphasized that all evidence from the crash site must remain in place on the territory of Ukraine until international investigators are able to examine all aspects of the tragedy,” the White House said.

    That amounted to a warning to Ukrainian separatists who control the area – as well as to their patrons

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