David Shepherd: News Blog

Journalist's Notebook

Explosives Found In Packages In Route to United States

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Friday, October 29, 2010

NBC News Photo

A terror attack on targets in the United States has been thwarted but law enforcement officials aren’t letting their guard down.

President Barack Obama briefed the country from the White House Press Briefing Room Friday afternoon calling the plot “a credible threat against our country.”

Mr. Obama confirmed earlier reports that packages carrying explosives were found aboard U.S. bound cargo planes in Dubai and the United Kingdom, Friday.

That discovery prompted heightened inspections of cargo plans and trucks in cities across the country.

 Terror officials believe al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was behind the failed attack.  The devices were found in

The President said, “Although we are still pursuing all the facts, we do know that the packages originated in Yemen.  We also know that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen, continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens, and our friends and allies.”

 Mr. Obama said the packages were being sent to two Jewish places of worship in Chicago. 

 Synagogues in Chicago are now being warned to be on alert.

The President addressing the nation about the thwarted terror attacks on the United States

The President reminded Americans about the threat we live under.  “The events of the past 24 hours underscores the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism.”

Following the President’s remarks, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan took the podium to discuss the situation in more detail. He said the devices were “in a form that was designed to try to carry out some kind of attack”.  Clearly, from the initial observation, the initial analysis that was done, the material that was found … was intended to do harm.”

U.S. officials told NBC News the amount of explosives in one of the packages was about five times greater than quantity carried by the would-be Christmas Day bomber. That would make it slightly less than a pound, but that’s a significant amount.

It was unclear how the devices were to be set off.

 FedEx and UPS have suspended receiving shipments from Yemen for “the foreseeable future.”

October 30, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BREAKING NEWS: Judge Orders Air Force to Reinstate Discharged Lesbian

A U.S. District Judge entered a ruling Friday ordering the Air Force to reinstate former Maj. Margaret Witt, who was discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bars gays from serving openly in the military.

 Witt filed a lawsuit to get her job back. 

NBC News is reporting, in 2008, a federal appeals court panel ruled in her case that the military can’t discharge people for being gay unless it proves their firing furthered military goals.

After a six-day trial, the judge said testimony proved Witt was an outstanding nurse and her reinstatement would do nothing to hurt unit morale.

September 24, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WALK OUT! Ahmadinejad’s U.N. Speech

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Friday, September 24, 2010

Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressed the United Nations Thursday. His remarks prompted a walkout.

United States diplomats walked out of the United Nations Thursday as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to the General Assembly. 

Sources tell NBC News Ahmadinejad’s remarks, in which he said most people in the world believe the United States was behind the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, prompted the walkout.

27 European Union delegations followed along with diplomats from Canada, Costa Rica, New Zealand and Australia.

Friday, Ahmadinejad held a press conference to defend his remarks.  During that conference in New York, the Iranian President asked the U.N. to set up a commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks.

“I did not pass judgment, but don’t you feel that the time has come to have a fact finding committee,” Ahmadinejad told reporters earlier today.

NBC News reports he also lashed out at the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as an overreaction to the attacks. The Americans should “not occupy the entire Middle East…bomb wedding parties…annihilate an entire village just because one terrorist is hiding there.”

President Barack Obama responded to Ahmadinejad in a BBC Persian service interview Friday saying: “Well, it was offensive. It was hateful.”

September 24, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kagan Confirmation – Day 1: Set-Up For An Inside-The-Beltway Bitch Slap?

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Monday, June 28, 2010

I’m sure President Obama’s appointee to the United States Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, has had worse days in her career but Monday’s confirmation hearings certainly had to make her somewhat uncomfortable.  Hell, if it were me, I’d be taking deep breaths into a brown lunch bag before the session was called to order.

Kagan sat in the chambers on Capitol Hill for the first the first day of, what is expected to be, a grueling confirmation process, surprisingly calm.

Imagine sitting in a room full of people who are itching to take swings at you like a piñata at a kid’s birthday party; and all you can do is sit there silently and do your best not to let the cameras catch a glimpse of you showing emotion of any sort.

That’s exactly what Kagan endured for hours Monday.  And, like her or not, she did it with poise, professionalism and an obvious sense of the great honor that’s been bestowed upon her by the President of the United States.

If Monday’s opening statements are an accurate barometer of what the rest of the week may bring, those looking for a good ol’ fashioned Inside-the-Beltway bitch-slap may get their wish.

Opening statements in Kagan’s first day of confirmation hearings set a harsh tone as Senators from both sides took stabs at the appointee’s “lack of experience” and decisions she made as dean of Harvard Law School.

Just after 12:30 ET, Republican Jeff Sessions, who will lead the GOP’s arguments against Kagan, promised a fair and respectful hearing.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

But moments later, Sessions’ tone changed as he reminded Kagan that her confirmation hearings would be a tough process: “It’s not a coronation but a confirmation process.”

He then raised concerns about Kagan’s lack of judicial experience and expressed “serious concerns” about her ability to serve impartially on the court.

The highlight of the day came as Kagan prepared to take center-stage with her opening statements.  As she spoke, I blogged up-to-the-minute highlights on the David Shepherd: News Blog.

3:37 PM (eastern):  Senators Kerry and Brown will introduce Elena Kagan within the next few minutes.  She will then be able to make her opening statement.

3:50 PM (eastern):  Kagan has been sworn in and begins her opening statements at her confirmation hearing.

Alex Brandon / AP

4:00 PM (eastern) Kagan says, “The Supreme Court, of course, has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals.”

4:05 PM (eastern) Kagan says, “The joy of my life has been to teach thousands of students about the law, and had the sense to realize they had much to teach me.  I’ve led a school whose faculty and students examine and discuss and debate every aspect of our law and legal system.  And what I’ve learned most is that no one has a monopoly on truth or wisdom.”

4:10 PM (eastern) Kagan says, “I will make no pledges this week other than this one; that, if confirmed, I will remember and abide by all these lessons.  I will listen hard to every party before the court and to each of my colleagues.  I will work hard and I will do my best to consider every case impartially, modestly; with commitment with principal and in accordance with the law.”

After Kagan’s statement, the committee chair called the hearing to recess until Tuesday morning.  If you thought Monday’s hearing was tough, just wait!  Now, the same Senators who sliced and diced Kagan in their opening statements Monday get the chance to ask her extensive questions about her publications, previous media statements, advice and counsel she’s given as a Supreme Court clerk and Clinton administration adviser; and that will just be the beginning.

The members of the Judiciary Committee are sure to hit all of the political “G-Spots” from gay marriage to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” and abortion to illegal immigration.

It appears Christmas comes early this year for political nerds (like me) who love nothing more than watching democracy in action; after all, it’s moments like these that make the United States the best country in the world.

Check back every day this week for my day-by-day political analysis of the Kagan confirmation hearings.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Accused Russian Spies Gathered Intel on Nuclear Weapons; Other Sensitive Information

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Monday, June 28, 2010

It sounds more like an old spy novel than reality.  10 people were arrested for allegedly spying on the United States for the Russian Federation, the Justice Department announced Monday.

As details continue to unfold, the more bizarre and potentially dangerous the situation seems.  Authorities say the 10 have been living in the United States for close to 20 years; going to great lengths to cover up any ties to the Russian government.  Officials say they used American names to conceal their identity; using secret code words and making document exchanges in public places like New York City’s Central Park.

The Justice Department says the alleged spies had a special, “deep-cover” mission:  Penetrate U.S. policy-making circles while posing as U.S. civilians.

But now, it appears their lives were anything but ordinary.  They lived across Manhattan, Boston, Montclair, NJ, Yonkers, NY and Arlington, VA while secretly working for the Russian intelligence service, or SVR.  They are the successor to the Soviet KGB.

While 10 of the suspects were arrested Sunday, one was still at large as of Monday night.

Suspects Allegedly Worked For Russian Intel Agency

Court documents show a message sent from the headquarters of the SVR, intercepted by U.S. government officials, to two of the defendants says, “You were sent to USA for long term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, house, etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e., to search and develop ties in policy-making circles in the US and send intels (intelligence reports) to Center.”

Another intercepted message talks about one of the alleged spies, known as Cynthia Murphy.  It states she “had several work-related personal meetings” with a man the documents describe as a prominent New York-based financier who was active in politics.

Court documents describe other messages from the suspects to Moscow discussing turnover in the highest levels of the CIA and the 2008 presidential election between President Obama and Senator John McCain.

Sources say the information was received during private conversations between at least one of the suspected spies and a former legislative counselor on Capitol Hill.

Mission: Gather U.S. / World Nuclear Info.

The Justice Department also says Russian intelligence officials wanted one defendant to gain information from a man, who has not been identified, who worked at a U.S. government research facility back in 2004.

The suspect’s intelligence report allegedly said that researcher, “Works on issues of strategic planning related to nuclear weapon development.

That same report claims the suspect had conversations with the researcher about “programs on small yield high penetration nuclear warheads (also known has nuclear “bunker-buster” warheads) recently authorized by the United States Congress.

U.S. intelligence officials say Moscow encouraged the suspects to “try to build up little by little relations,” and to gain more information about U.S. foreign policy, and about the White House “internal kitchen.”   It’s not yet clear what they mean by “internal kitchen.”

Moscow is also accused of sending directives to some of the defendants in advance of President Obama’s visit to Russia last year.  Documents show Moscow wanted information on the United States’ position on a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty as well as intelligence information about Afghanistan and Iran’s nuclear programs.

But, according to court documents, the alleged espionage didn’t stop there.  The documents show the defendants developed a short-range wireless network between laptop computers to communicate with other Russian agents.

As the investigation continues, U.S. intelligence officials are trying to determine how much the spies were able to learn during their time in the United States and if, or how, they damaged current or previous U.S. intelligence operations.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment