A senior U.S. intelligence official on Tuesday warned of a “very real” risk of extremist groups gaining control of Syrian chemical or biological weapons.
“The current instability in Syria presents a perfect opportunity for al-Qaida and associated groups to acquire these weapons [of mass destruction] or their components,” U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said in Tuesday testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, citing the terrorist organizations’ longtime stated interest in acquiring the most dangerous arms.
His remarks stand in contrast to some recent comments by U.S. diplomats who have played down the risk that extremists might seize Syrian chemical arms as they are transported to a coastal city for international removal and destruction.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has blamed delays in moving these sensitive warfare materials out of the country on security concerns, amid assertions that the sensitive convoys already have come under rebel attack. Damascus last year agreed to U.S. and Russian demands that it surrender its entire chemical arsenal following a major sarin gas attack that allegedly killed more than 1,400 civilians.
“While Syria’s stockpiles are currently under the control of the regime, the movement of these weapons from their current locations for disposal or other reasons drastically increases the risk of these weapons or their components falling into the wrong hands,” Flynn said. “There is also the very real possibility that extremists in the Syrian opposition could overrun and exploit chemical and biological weapons storage facilities before all of these materials are removed.”
Damascus this week said nearly all of most of its most deadly chemicals would be moved out of Syria by the end of the month — two months past a deadline set by international authorities.
At the Tuesday hearing, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper told the panel it was “hard to discern” whether the Syrian delays were due to legitimate security concerns. Instead, he indicated, the lag times could reflect a scheme by Damascus aimed at lengthening the chemical disarmament process for “as long as possible because it … serves to implicitly legitimize Assad.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power in comments to reporters last week seemed to minimize Damascus’ argument that extremist threats to chemicals under transport justified the delays.
“We know the regime has the ability to move these weapons and materials because they have moved them multiple times over the course of this conflict,” Power said. “It is time for the Assad government to stop its foot-dragging.”
On Tuesday, Clapper also told the Senate panel there are projected to be in excess of 7,500 foreign fighters hailing from about 50 countries currently in Syria. “Among them are a small group of [Afghanistan-Pakistan] al-Qaida veterans who have aspirations for external attacks in Europe, if not the [U.S.] homeland itself,” he said.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."