News from North America, Tuesday 28th May 2013

BBC News: “US Senator John McCain has visited Syria to meet rebels in the war-torn country, his office has told the BBC.

Sen McCain has repeatedly called for the US to provide military aid to members of the Syrian insurgency.

He becomes the highest ranking US official to travel to Syria, though McCain spokesman Brian Rogers did not give further details about the visit.

News of the trip came as US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Paris.”

New York Times: “The pivot in counterterrorism policy that President Obama announced last week was nearly two years in the making, but perhaps the most critical moment came last spring during a White House meeting as he talked about the future of the nation’s long-running terrorism war. Underlying the discussion was a simple fact: It was an election year. And Mr. Obama might lose.

For nearly four years, the president had waged a relentless war from the skies against Al Qaeda and its allies, and he trusted that he had found what he considered a reasonable balance even if his critics did not see it that way. But now, he told his aides, he wanted to institutionalize what in effect had been an ad hoc war, effectively shaping the parameters for years to come ‘whether he was re-elected or somebody else became president,’ as one aide said.”

Washington Post: “Designs for many of the nation’s most sensitive advanced weapons systems have been compromised by Chinese hackers, according to a report prepared for the Pentagon and to officials from government and the defense industry.

Among more than two dozen major weapons systems whose designs were breached were programs critical to U.S. missile defenses and combat aircraft and ships, according to a previously undisclosed section of a confidential report prepared for Pentagon leaders by the Defense Science Board.”

Wall Street Journal ($): “U.S. agencies are trying to move ahead on the long-stalled process of reviewing terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with an eye toward reducing the prison population.”

Reuters: “A Texas gunman who killed one person and wounded five others before being shot to death by police was stationed at a North Carolina Marine base, the Texas Department of Public Safety said on Monday.

The gunman was identified as Esteban Smith, 23, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune, the agency said in a statement.

Camp Lejeune is home to several Marine Corps commands, including the 2nd Marine Division, and a Navy unit. A spokesman for the military base was not immediately available for comment.”

Toronto Star: “Supporters of Ahmed Abassi, a Tunisian man allegedly linked to a foiled Canadian terror plot, say an undercover FBI agent posing as an Egyptian businessman provided money, advice and the promise of a job if Abassi would come to the United States.

U.S. court documents have already revealed that an undercover agent played a crucial role in the arrest of Abassi, a 26-year-old student at Quebec’s Laval University.

Abassi was allegedly in regular contact with the agent, who secretly recorded them discussing a plot to attack a Via Rail passenger train; to cause the death of ‘up to 100,000 people’ by contaminating the air or water; to provide financial support and weapons to anti-government fighters in Syria, and how to recruit other terrorists in North America.”

Extremis Project: Controversial counter-Jihad activist Pamela Geller has reiterated her support for the English Defence League. Writing on her blog, Atlas Shrugged, Geller described an EDL march as a “pro-freedom demo against racism and bigotry”.

Comment: Washington Post: “The end of the ‘war on terror’” by Eugene Robinson. “President Obama wisely avoided the phrase ‘mission accomplished’ in his major speech last week about the ‘war on terror,’ but columnists aren’t obliged to be so circumspect: It is time to declare victory and get on with our lives.

Obama could never say this, of course, because there will surely be future terrorist attacks that kill Americans both at home and abroad. But he came close when he said that ‘the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11’ — in other words, before we rashly declared war on a tactic rather than an enemy.”

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