Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Secret Service chief Pierson resigns amid security breach scandal

    DHS secretary says independent panel will review Sept. 19 fence-jumping incident

    U.S. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, appointed to fix the embattled agency in the wake of a scandal in which agents consorted with prostitutes in Colombia, has resigned, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced on Wednesday.

    Pierson “offered her resignation, and I accepted it,” Johnson said in a statement. “I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the nation.” She was the agency's first female director.

    At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama had telephoned Pierson to thank her for her service.

    "Over the last several days, we’ve seen recent and accumulating reports raising questions about the performance of the agency," Earnest told reporters. "The president concluded that new leadership of that agency was required."

    Johnson said he had appointed retired Secret Service agent Joseph Clancy, former head of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service, as acting interim director of the Secret

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  • Eric Holder announces resignation, sets up confirmation battle

    President Obama’s attorney general says he will step down as soon as a replacement can be confirmed

    After a stormy 5½-year tenure, Attorney General Eric Holder formally announced Thursday that he plans to resign as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Holder's decision sets up what will likely be a bruising confirmation battle for his successor as President Obama's second term winds down.

    The resignation robs Obama of one of his longest-serving aides one of the handful who have been with him since the dawn of his history-making first term. Holder will stay on until his successor is confirmed.

    "This is bittersweet," the president admitted as he formally announced the move in the White House's State Dining Room. "Eric has done a superb job."

    Obama gave no hint of whom he might name for the job, but some administration officials have floated figures like Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., California Attorney General Kamala Harris, and two-term Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

    "I come to this moment with very mixed emotions," said Holder, who choked up as he

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  • Obama on Syria strikes: War on Islamic State will 'take time'

    Hours after plunging the United States into new warfare in the heart of the Middle East, President Obama insisted Tuesday that international support proved that “this is not America’s fight alone.”

    Obama, speaking on the South Lawn of the White House, vowed to “take the fight” to the Islamic State and other extremists groups but braced Americans for a long and difficult conflict.

    “The overall effort will take time. There will be challenges ahead, but we’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group, for the security of the country and the region and for the entire world,” he said.

    The president’s remarks were notable in part for their lack of detail and their brevity  he spoke for barely three minutes, with his Marine One helicopter visible over his shoulder, and gave no details about whether the overnight operations were successful or what the next military step might be.

    Instead, Obama seemed most eager to claim widespread support for America’s latest

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  • Official: Some Americans who fought in Syria have returned

    Some of the estimated 100 Americans who have tried to get to Syria and join up with groups like the Islamic State have returned to the United States and are under FBI scrutiny, a top official told reporters on Monday.

    For months, top American officials have warned that U.S. citizens trying to swell the ranks of the Islamic State and other groups fighting to topple Bashar Assad pose an exceptional security risk.

    Asked whether there were 100 Americans now in Syria, a senior administration official told reporters that the figure “includes those who’ve gone, those who’ve tried to go, some who’ve come back and who are under active – the FBI is looking at them.” The official was speaking at a briefing organized by the White House; the ground rules required that the official be anonymous.

    Earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the administration’s concerns in an interview with MSNBC.

    “We have over a hundred fighters there from America. They have passports. They can come back

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  • Why the Secret Service didn’t shoot the White House fence-jumper

    The small army of Secret Service agents guarding the White House carry a wide range of weapons and get training on how to repel sophisticated armed assaults – so why did no one shoot the intruder who jumped the fence on Friday and got all the way to the mansion’s doors?

    Officials inside the storied agency describe astonishment and embarrassment that no one tackled the suspect — identified as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas — before he reached the grand columned entrance that looks out at Pennsylvania avenue. But they also defend the decision to hold their fire.

    “This wasn’t a military-style assault. He had no bag, no backpack, no visible weapons. And from the early reports from the officers he seemed to be mentally disturbed,” one insider told Yahoo News.

    President Obama and his family had just departed the White House for the Camp David retreat just outside Washington in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains.

    “That was probably a part of it – a small part,” said the insider, who

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  • Jewish group brands Biden's Shylock comment 'offensive'

    Vice President Joe Biden drew fire from a prominent Jewish group on Tuesday after he described unscrupulous bankers who prey on servicemen and servicewomen deployed overseas as “Shylocks” a term frequently condemned as an anti-Semitic caricature.

    “Shylock represents the medieval stereotype about Jews and remains an offensive characterization to this day. The Vice President should have been more careful,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said.

    Shylock, the villain in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” is a Jewish moneylender who mercilessly demands a “pound of flesh” from the merchant who defaults on a loan. Whether the 16th-century play is anti-Semitic or reflects the anti-Semitism of the time is a subject of frequent, bitter debate, but the term Shylock is offensive enough that Florida stripped it from state law back in 2009. (Not everyone has gotten that memo).

    “When someone as friendly to the Jewish community and open and tolerant an individual as is

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  • Democrats take aim at ‘asked and answered’ Benghazi questions

    A screen grab of a page from Benghazi on the Record: Asked and Answered (Select Committee on Benghazi)A screen grab of a page from Benghazi on the Record: Asked and Answered (Select Committee on Benghazi)
    On the eve of the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s first open hearing, the panel’s Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a website dismissing some recurring Republican questions about the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack as “asked and answered.”

    What was President Obama doing during the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist strikes on American facilities in Benghazi, Libya? In the months before the attacks, did Hillary Clinton personally reject pleas for tighter security? And why was the United States “the last flag flying” in Benghazi after other world powers had fled the volatile city?

    Those questions and 10 others will be featured on the new site, which goes live one day before the committee holds its first open hearing. It is also accessible through the committee Democrats’ site.

    The site directs readers to the formal investigations and reports drawn up by nine previous congressional investigations into the attacks, as well as the separate probe by the State Department's Accountability

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  • Obama urges public to back open-ended war on Islamic State

    On the eve of Sept. 11, President Barack Obama on Wednesday made a prime-time plea for Americans to support an open-ended war on the brutal fighters of the Islamic State — an escalating Middle East campaign with ill-defined conditions for victory and a timetable that will likely take it into his successor’s term.

    Obama made certain to distinguish his approach from his predecessor’s large-scale invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. He promised that there will be no American ground troops taking the fight to the terrorist group also known as ISIL or ISIS.

    “This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground,” he said. The model? Smaller-scale conflicts in Yemen and Somalia where U.S. drone strikes and special operators have targeted extremists “for years,” he explained.

    Critics of both of those campaigns point out that U.S. forces essentially

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  • Obama to brace Americans for escalating conflict with Islamic State

    Exactly one year ago, President Barack Obama delivered a prime-time speech to defend his Syria policy. Facing a war-weary public broadly opposed to his call for even limited airstrikes, and a divided Congress not at all eager to risk the political price of giving him the authority to go to war, Obama defended his plan to bomb Bashar Assad’s forces in response to the Syrian strongman’s alleged use of chemical weapons. And then he dramatically turned away from military action in favor of diplomacy.

    On Wednesday night, the unpopular president strides to the same spot in the White House to deliver another 15-minute speech. He’s expected to announce that he is poised to escalate America’s campaign against brutal guerrillas from the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) in Iraq, and may strike the group’s strongholds in Syria.

    In doing so, the president elected to pull America from its painful overseas military entanglements, notably the Iraq War, may be plunging the United States

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  • Renouncing U.S. citizenship is about to get a lot more expensive

    The record numbers of Americans who have renounced their U.S. citizenship since January 2009 did so at the bargain-basement cost of $450, a subsidized fee that the State Department plans to raise sharply this week as more and more people sever their ties with the United States.

    Officials say the new pricetag of $2,350 will “capture the real, unsubsidized cost of providing this service” at a time when escalating demand has put new strain on consular resources.

    The government does not make public any reasons citizens may have given for renouncing U.S. citizenship, making it impossible to say for certain what has driven the sharp rise in demand. But the most likely cause appears to be the Obama-era crackdown on U.S. citizens hiding wealth overseas.

    From 2001 to 2008, 3,937 people who had lived on U.S. soil for at least eight years either renounced their citizenship or gave up lawful permanent resident status, according to Andrew Mitchel, an international tax attorney in Centerbrook,

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