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.”

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October 30, 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

Kagan’s Confirmation Hearings Begin Today; Expect It To Get Ugly

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

When President Obama’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, begins her confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill around noon Monday, she will be thrust into the middle of a battle; as she defends her ability to sit on the high court against a long list of republicans who say she’s not up for the job.

If she makes it through the processes, she will become the nation’s 112th Supreme Court Justice.

Many democrats are calling her a liberal lion; ready to take on opponents to her confirmation and be a key liberal voice on the court.

But for those of us who frequently watch Capitol Hill, we know these hearings can turn very ugly, very fast.

Republicans are ramping up their anti-Kagan rhetoric.  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell told the media two weeks ago that he would not rule out a filibuster.

Ready More About Filibusters

If Kagan is confirmed, she would be the first Supreme Court Justice with no experience on the bench.  She has an impressive resume from dean of the Harvard Law School to United States Solicitor General.  But will that be enough to get her past the blockade conservatives hope to put up during her confirmation hearings.

Because Kagan hasn’t had a very public profile before her nomination, many lawmakers in Washington are expected to ask a lot of questions in the hopes of getting to know her better.

Kagan on Gun Rights

Members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) are nervous about Kagan’s confirmation.  As a clerk for Justice Marshall, Kagan wrote that she was “not sympathetic” to a constitutional challenge of Washington D.C.’s gun-control law which was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2008 in the hotly debated D.C. v Heller decision.

During her confirmation hearings for Solicitor General, Kagan said she would uphold the court’s ruling because the decision is “settled law.”

She’s expected to be grilled about a paper she wrote while working in the Clinton administration that led to an executive order banning a variety of semiautomatic weapons.  The White House argues Kagan’s role in the Clinton administration was primarily to give advice and counsel and that she played no part in creating policy.

Kagan to Be Grilled On Abortion

The country is so divided on the issue of abortion; it makes it a politically tricky topic to discuss.  It’s like the third rail in national politics, you step on it and you die.  But it wouldn’t be a Supreme Court confirmation hearing without talking about the hot button issue.

Many pro-lifers are worried about Kagan’s stance on abortion because they believe she’s pro-choice.  They point to a memo she authored while working in the Clinton White House.  The memo recommended the President support a ban on late-term abortions excluding cases where the mother’s life or physical health would be in danger by not having the abortion.

In a letter written to Senators by the National Right to Life Committee, the pro-life group argues, “The picture that emerges of Kagan is not that of a staffer who presented the President objective information and disinterested analysis but, rather, a staffer who sometimes presented selective and tendentious information and who employed a variety of legal and political arguments to achieve her overriding goal of defeating the legislation.”  This, to encourage lawmakers not to confirm Kagan to the high court.

Kagan Takes Conservative Heat on Gay Rights Issues

During her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan raised eyebrows, and new much criticism, for temporarily barring military recruiters from the school’s resources office because of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; baring gay men and women from serving openly in the military.

She had little choice but to allow recruiters back on campus after the Federal Government threatened to revoke millions of dollars in aid to Harvard for not allowing the military recruiters to work on campus.

Republicans have portrayed Kagan as “anti-military” because of the decision to bar the recruiters in the first place.  But Democrats are standing up against Kagan’s opposition.  Democratic Senator John Kerry wrote, in an op-ed defending Kagan, “Like me, Kagan has never made it a secret that she opposes ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ – so, by the way, do [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Admiral [Mike] Mullen.  But Elena Kagan’s actions as dean don’t speak to her political beliefs, they simply reflect current law.”

But some liberals are concerned about Kagan’s more conservative view on gay marriage.  During her Solicitor General Confirmation Hearing, she said, “There’s no federal constitutional right to same sex marriage.”  She also defended the Defense of Marriage Act, which says states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Either way, it looks like Kagan’s future is far from settled.  Lawmakers will begin taking cracks at her Monday at noon (eastern) on Capitol Hill.

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

President Names New National Intelligence Director

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]  –  Sunday, June 6, 2010

Courtesy: MSNBC

President Barack Obama nominated retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper to be the new director of national intelligence.

Clapper, who retired in 1995 after 32 years in the service, has been the top Pentagon intelligence official, will replace Dennis Blair, who resigned last month.

If confirmed, Clapper will be the fourth DNI in the last 5 years.  The position was created after the 9/11 attacks as a way to coordinate and oversee the 16 agencies in the nation’s intelligence community.

June 6, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Estimates Show Much More Oil Gushing Into Gulf Than Once Feared

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]

New estimates show 500,000 to 1 million gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico in the worst oil spill in the nation’s history.

BP engineers are using robots to place a cap onto the jagged edge of the oil well.  This is the company’s latest attempt to restrict the flow of oil gushing from the blown out well in the Gulf of Mexico.

5,000 feet below the Gulf’s surface, maintenance efforts are being hampered because the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil gushing out is reducing visibility.

BP says this is not a fix.  Instead, it is meant to restrict, not cut-off, the flow of oil.  As the work is being done, there is the possibility the oil could flow faster than before for a short time (BP hopes).

A permanent fix won’t be ready until August.  With BP’s failure record, many question whether that fix will actually work.

Until Thursday, BP’s plans to stop the oil have failed time after time.  And while it’s too soon to

MSNBC: BP LIVE Video Feed

know if this plan will work, it’s the closest they’ve come so far.

Fears continue to grow along the Gulf coast where oil continues to spread.  So far, between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil has spewed out of the blown out well and into the Gulf of Mexico.  As of Thursday, oil was spotted six miles from the white sand beaches along the Florida panhandle.

BP will soon be getting a bill from the federal government.  The White House says BP owes $69 million in costs so far.

What do you think?  Is it time for the federal government to take over the emergency efforts going on in the Gulf?  Leave comments and take my Soundoff news poll.

June 4, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Polls, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The White House and BP Telling Different Stories

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]

As frustration grows over the handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, questions are surfacing about who fumbled the initial estimates of the size of the spill.

BP’s managing director, Robert Dudley, told CNN’s “State of the Union” the federal government was the first to estimate the amount of oil leaking into the ocean each day.  Dudley insists government satellite imaging of the spill site led to early estimates that 210,000 gallons were leaking into the ocean every day.  Last week, new estimates put the leak at 504,000 to 798,000 gallons a day, that’s more than double the early figures.

President Obama’s assistant on energy and climate change, Carol Browner, told NBC’s Meet the Press that early estimates were offered by BP using their internal figures.  Browner has noted that BP has a “vested financial interest” in downplaying the leak’s size.

June 1, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment