By Richard McGregor in Washington
After sensitive details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden began leaking, an infuriated Robert Gates, then secretary of defence, stormed into the office of Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.
“Why doesn’t everybody just shut the f*** up?” said the incensed Pentagon chief.
At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.
So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: Read more
Free Syrian Army soldiers on the Turkish side of the Oncupinar crossing into Syria (Getty)
What to do when the nightmare next door shows no sign of coming to an end? That is the dilemma facing Turkey, perhaps one of the countries most troubled by the brutal civil war raging in Syria, with which it shares a 900km long border.
Consider the issues Ankara has to address: 600,000 Syrian refugees on Turkish soil, for now and the foreseeable future, dozens of deaths on the border, the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria, diplomatic strains, domestic political controversy and economic fallout.
So what do you do if you are a 76m-strong Nato member with serious ambitions to play a big role in the Middle East and beyond? A number of answers are emerging from Ankara: Read more
A resurgence of global terrorism?
The terrible attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi has refocused the world’s attention on the threat of urban terrorism. Gideon Rachman is joined in the studio by defence and diplomatic editor James Blitz, and down the line from Nairobi by Katrina Manson, east Africa correspondent to discuss whether we are facing a resurgence of global terror.
Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi protest the killing of his supporters by the security forces. (Getty)
Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi on Saturday proposed banning the Muslim Brotherhood group in a move apparently aimed at barring it from participating in politics in Egypt. Read more
Residents gather at the site of an explosion in Beirut's southern suburbs, stronghold of Hizbollah, July 9, 2013. AFP/Getty
Hizbollah has brushed off the European Union’s decision on Monday to blacklist its “military wing” as a terrorist organisation. Well, it would, wouldn’t it.
The Shia paramilitary group issued the mandatory rhetorical broadside. “It looks as if the decision was written by American hands and with Israeli ink”, it said, to which “the EU only had to add its signature”.
In fact, as Hizbollah would surely know, it takes a great deal more than that for the EU’s 28 member-states to reach a consensus on anything at all. Read more
Images of the two suspects at an FBI press conference on April 18 (Darren McCollester/Getty)
Two brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are suspected by US law enforcement officials of carrying out the bombing of the Boston marathon on Monday. The elder brother Tamerlan died in the course of an early morning car chase. The younger is now the subject of a manhunt. If we assume that these two men were indeed the perpetrators of the killings, establishing the motive for the attacks will soon become the biggest challenge for the US authorities.
Over the next few hours and days the US police and security services will be searching properties and buildings associated with the two men, analysing the content of computers and laptops, interviewing family and friends – all in order to build up a picture of why the two brothers acted as they did. Only then will the US government be able to work out the security and policy implications of the horrific events Boston has seen this week.
As of now, no form conclusion can be drawn. What can be said is that the two brothers will have had one of three possible motives. Read more
John Brennan – Barack Obama’s nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director – testifies before the Senate intelligence committee today. The hearing offers a rare moment of public scrutiny of the government’s expanded use of drones to kill suspected terrorists, which has returned to the news this week.
By Shannon Bond in New York with Geoff Dyer in Washington. All times are GMT.
John Brennan’s confirmation hearing on Thursday for CIA director is shaping up to be a rare moment of scrutiny into the war on terror, especially the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists. Among politicians, there is little opposition to the basic idea of targeted killings, but a growing feeling among some members of both parties that the programme has got out of control. Here are 10 questions he should be asked.
1) Legality. The legal opinion that justifies killing suspected al-Qaeda terrorists who are Americans is being shared with some members of Congress, but is secret for everyone else. If the government claims the authority to kill some of its citizens, at the very least shouldn’t the legal justification be made public?
2) The Decider. According to a leaked summary of the legal opinion, drone strikes can be authorised by an “informed, high-level official”. How senior does that official have to be? Only the president? His counter-terrorism adviser? Military commanders in the field? And what happens if other high-level officials disagree? Read more
Facing a grilling: Chuck Hagel (Getty)
Chuck Hagel’s keenly awaited confirmation hearing on Thursday to be the next US defence secretary is likely to be dominated by the hot-button issues that have already got him into trouble with some of his fellow Republicans (and a few Democrats) – his position on Israel, his opposition to Iran sanctions, his criticism of the Iraq war and his views on gays.
If so, that will be a shame, because it would be both interesting and important to hear him explain what his brand of “principled realism” actually means for US foreign policy. The hearing could provide a seminal debate on America’s global role. Here are ten questions he should be asked.
1) Defence budget. You said in September 2011 that the defence budget was “bloated”. That was before the Pentagon announced $485bn in cuts over the next decade. Is the budget still bloated? Are more cuts possible or necessary?
2) Pentagon cuts. To meet the cuts that have already been announced, will the Pentagon need to axe some important capabilities? Can the US still afford all of its aircraft carrier groups? Is the F-35 jet fighter too expensive to support? Does the US need such a large presence in Europe? Read more
By Gideon Rachman
In their second terms, many American presidents decide to strut the global stage. Richard Nixon had his overture to China. Bill Clinton became obsessed by the Middle East peace process. George W. Bush was embroiled in the Middle East war process.
We’ve wrapped up our live coverage of the unfolding crisis at the In Amenas gas complex, but you can follow the latest developments on FT.com. Read more
Islamist militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. (AFP/Getty)
A breach of the security at gas and oil installations was the Algerian regime’s nightmare back in the 1990s, when the country was wracked by an Islamist insurgency.
Under intense financial pressure at the time, and desperate to attract foreign investment into its energy sector, installations in the southern part of the country were heavily guarded exclusion zones that seemed a world apart from the heavily populated north.
There are two Algerias, people would say at the time, one soaked in blood, the other peaceful and bursting with oil and gas. Read more
It was always my impression that spies generally try to keep out of the papers, and out of the law courts. Judged by those standards, MI6 is not doing a very good job – and neither is the CIA. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
What is worse? Locking somebody up for years, without trial, while you try to find proof he is a terrorist? Or killing somebody whose name you don’t even know because his pattern of behaviour suggests to you that he is a terrorist? The first strategy, internment without trial at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, was a signature policy of the George W. Bush administration. The use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists has become a trademark of the Obama administration. Yet while Guantánamo attracted worldwide condemnation, the use of drones is much less discussed.
Perhaps predictably, Imran Khan’s protest march against US drone strikes was stopped before the marchers could make it into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Khan is a politician and so not averse to a bit of free publicity. He has also been accused of being soft on the Pakistani Taliban. Nonetheless, the issues that he and others are raising about the drone strikes are very important.
The allegations involve the death of hundreds of innocent civilians. If these charges are true, they strike me as much more serious than – for example – the detention without trial of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo, which became such a cause célèbre, during the Bush presidency. Read more
Mitt Romney makes remarks on the attack on the US consulate in Libya (Reuters)
There are moments that can indelibly brand a politician and Mitt Romney may just have met his.
The alacrity – and brittle certainty – with which the Republican nominee responded to the violence against US diplomats on Tuesday night offers a snapshot of why his candidacy has failed to attract true believers. On Wednesday morning, Hillary Clinton read out a sombre statement condemning the killing of Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans. Forty minutes later, Barack Obama followed suit. Both focused on Mr Stevens’ tragic death. Read more
Yesterday the FT opinion desk was offered a piece from a prominent French commentator, attacking President Sarkozy for having helped to create a climate of intolerance in France. A decision was made not to run it, on the grounds that we didn’t yet know who was responsible for the killings in Toulouse and Montauban. It was not yet clear that this was the work of right-wing extremists.
The rush to judgement was not confined to the French left. Also yesterday I heard a strange piece on the BBC’s “Today” programme (compulsory listening for the British middle-classes), where once again the premise of the discussion was that the killer of the French soldiers and the Jewish school-children was likely to be a right-wing extremist. This also struck me as very premature.
And so it seems. As I write the French police are surrounding the house of the chief suspect, who appears to have been an al-Qaeda member or sympathiser. Read more
A Russian Channel One undated television grab shows a man identified as Adam Osmayev, one of the suspected militants alleged to have conspired to kill Russian PM Vladimir Putin. Photo AFP/Getty
If you’re planning to bump off a world leader, then doing so in the middle of an election campaign is a good guarantee of maximum impact. But in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s case, assassination “plots” seem to crop up so regularly around election time there is reason to be suspicious. Read more
Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in an air raid in Yemen, the US confirmed on Friday. He was regarded by western intelligence agencies as the most dangerous figure in the global al-Qaeda network. But what else do we know about the US-born cleric?
Q: Who was Anwar al-Awlaki?
Al-Awlaki, a US citizen and son of a former high-ranking Yemeni official, was a radical cleric and advocate of “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” based in Yemen. The Yemeni offshoot of the global terrorist movement has carried out several innovative attacks aimed at the US. Notorious examples include the shipping of explosives hidden in printer cartridges, and the attempt to kill a Saudi official with explosive powder lodged in an attacker’s body cavity. Read more