Michael Isikoff

Stories by Michael Isikoff

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    Monica

    Backstage at the ultimate Washington drama.
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    U.S. Counterterror Chief: We Need Debate on CIA Terror Targets

    NCTC Director Michael Leiter agrees that the government needs to engage in dialogue about recent decisions to use force again U.S. citizens. In a rare interview, he talked about Washington’s latest thinking on Al Qaeda and radicalization.
  • Obama Cracks Down on Classified Leaks

    The Obama administration is quietly ratcheting up its campaign against national-security leaks with a series of moves that are surprising intelligence-community veterans. One recent example: a memo, signed by National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair before his departure last month, that will require Justice Department prosecutors to make quick decisions about charging federal employees suspected of disclosing classified info.
  • Obama Plugs Leaks Bush-Style

    Expected criminal charges related to a Fox News story last June are only the latest example of a wide-ranging Obama administration crackdown against leakers—an enforcement campaign that may exceed similar efforts under President George W. Bush, according to some media groups.
  • Awlaki: The New Bin Laden?

    With the release of a provocative new video to justify killings of American civilians, Yemen-based cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki seems on the verge of becoming the new Osama bin Laden—an avowed enemy terrorist who frustrates the best efforts of U.S. intelligence agencies to find him....
  • Is the Flow of U.S. Weapons to Mexican Drug Cartels Increasing Under Obama?

    The Mexican military has discovered a major training camp run by the notorious Zetas drug cartel and stocked with an arsenal of military weapons, including 140 semi automatic assault rifles and 10,000 rounds of ammunition—all of them believed to be purchased in the United States, U.S. law enforcement officials tell Declassified.
  • U.S. Weighs Official 'Terrorist Organization' Status for the Pakistani Taliban

    In light of evidence that the group known as the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attempted May 1 Times Square bombing, the Obama administration is "actively considering" designating it as a "foreign  terrorist organization" in the next few weeks—a move that would allow the U.S. government to freeze any assets belonging to the group and make it a federal crime to assist it, officials said Tuesday. But the disclosure, first made by State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley, immediately raised questions among some counterterrorism experts as to why Washington didn't act sooner. "I'm pretty surprised that it has taken the U.S. government such a long time to do this," says Hassan Abbas, a Columbia University professor and former Pakistani police officer who is considered the leading academic expert on the Pakistani Taliban. "This is certainly one of the most lethal [terrorist] groups in South Asia, and I would rank it in the top five of all...
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    Will the BP Oil Spill Kill Offshore Drilling?

    BP has been trying hard to burnish its public image in recent years after being hit with a pair of environmental disasters, including a fatal refinery explosion in Texas and a pipeline leak in Alaska. One major step was to announce, in 2007, that it had hired a high-powered advisory board that included former EPA director Christine Todd Whitman, former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, and Leon Panetta, who were each paid $120,000 a year. (Panetta left when he became President Obama’s CIA director.) Two years ago the oil giant’s chief executive, Robert Malone, flew board members out to the Gulf of Mexico on a helicopter to demonstrate the safeguards surrounding BP’s advanced drilling technology. “We got a sense they were really committed to ensuring they got it right,” Whitman told NEWSWEEK.
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    How BP Works Washington

    How British oil giant BP used all the political muscle money can buy to fend off regulators and influence investigations into corporate neglect.
  • U.S. Officials Skeptical About Shahzad's Claims That He Acted Alone

    Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters Tuesday that accused New York City terror bomber Faisal Shahzad had provided "useful" intelligence to authorities after he was escorted off an airplane at John F. Kennedy Airport last night and questioned by FBI agents. ...
  • The White House Drug Czar's Diminished Status

    These have been tough times for White House drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske. After spending much of his first year in office crafting a new anti-drug strategy, he had hoped to unveil it two months ago with President Obama. But Kerlikowske couldn't get on Obama's schedule. When he pressed, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel directed him to Vice President Joe Biden, say two Kerlikowske advisers who asked not to be identified talking about an internal matter. But after agreeing to a joint announcement, Biden had to cancel at the last minute when the health-care bill landed on the president's desk. Appearing before a House subcommittee recently, Kerlikowske got hammered for not having yet produced the drug-control strategy that his office was charged with releasing by last Feb. 1....
  • Settlement Freeze? What Settlement Freeze?

    Say this much for Nir Barkat, the multimillionaire venture capitalist who serves as mayor of Jerusalem, the world’s most contested city: he doesn’t pull his punches. ...
  • Gun-Dealer Case Sheds New Light on Hutaree Antigovernment Hatred

    A Michigan-based firearms dealer indicted this week on an unrelated federal gun charge had sold about a half  dozen weapons to members of the extremist Hutaree militia group that was plotting to assassinate police, a federal law-enforcement official tells Declassified.  ...
  • Holder's Dilemma: Will Justice Have to Pay Money to a Terrorist Organization?

    Of all the tricky decisions Attorney General Eric Holder is facing right now, here's one that has lawyers at the Justice Department really scratching their heads. All things being equal, they would love nothing more than to let stand a federal judge's recent decision that President Bush's warrantless-wiretapping program was illegal, thereby avoiding further legal skirmishes over one of the Bush administration's most divisive legacies. But unless they appeal last month's landmark decision by Judge Vaughan Walker, the U.S. government may be forced to pay damages into the bank account of one of the plaintiffs in the case: an Islamic charity that has been formally declared a global terrorist organization. Can the Justice Department pay money to a terrorist organization? And if it did, would it be committing the federal crime of providing "material support" to terrorists? "They've got a dilemma," says Jon Eisenberg, lawyer for the Al...
  • ATF Has No Head 15 Months Into Obama Presidency

    Just last month, secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Mexico City and announced the Obama administration was "doing all that we can" to curb the illegal flow of U.S. weapons to Mexico's drug cartels. But 15 months after the president took office, the White House has yet to nominate a director to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the agency tasked with policing weapons traffic. In fact, the acting director, Kenneth Melson, recently had to be demoted to deputy director because of a law that limits how long acting chiefs can run federal agencies. This has left ATF without a Senate-confirmed leader at a time of increased cross-border gun violence and mounting concerns about militia activity. "It's shocking and indefensible," says Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control group, "that when you have a huge problem from gun trafficking and gun violence, they have left this agency leaderless." The...
  • GOP Folds Its Cards at Holder Hearing

    Attorney General Eric Holder escaped the Senate Judiciary Committee virtually unscathed on Wednesday, signaling that the political firestorm over his handling of big terrorism cases may have subsided.Only a few months ago, Republicans were practically calling for Holder’s scalp, accusing him of bungling the Christmas Day bombing incident and making a wrongheaded decision to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York. But at a long-anticipated hearing before the Senate on Wednesday, Holder firmly stood his ground—and got little resistance. He forcefully touted recent Justice Department successes in securing guilty pleas in major terrorism cases in New York and Chicago, and told the panel that accused Christmas Day underpants bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has provided “actionable” intelligence to federal authorities despite having been read his Miranda rights after his capture. Perhaps more surprising, he told the panel that “New York is not...
  • Ex-Marine Provided Hutaree 'Hit List' of Judges and Elected Officials and Served as Group's 'Heavy Gunner'

    A former U.S. Marine rifle expert and veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War supplied the extremist Christian Hutaree militia with a "hit list" of federal judges and elected officials and served as the group's "heavy gunner" who was responsible for providing a "significant volume of firepower" against designated law-enforcement targets, according to a court document released by federal prosecutors....
  • Alleged Corruption Surrounds Karzai

    Last fall President Obama made what may be his most agonizing decision yet, sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. But now White House officials are making little secret about how exasperated they are with the erratic behavior of the country's president, Hamid Karzai. After Karzai suggested last week that he might join the Taliban if the U.S. and other Western nations keep dictating how his government should be run, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president may scrap a planned meeting between the two leaders next month. One big issue lurking behind the spat: an ever more tense confrontation regarding alleged corruption within Karzai's inner circle....
  • Ex-Members of U.S. Military Were Members of Hutaree Militia Extremist Group

    Federal investigators have discovered that two members of the extremist Michigan-based Hutaree militia group charged with plotting to assassinate law-enforcement officers are former U.S. military servicemen, including a Marine Corps corporal who was a Persian Gulf War veteran and decorated expert rifleman....
  • Qatari Diplomat in “Shoe Bomb” False Alarm to Leave U.S. Soon

    After setting off the biggest mobilization of U.S. counterterrorism agencies since the unsuccessful Christmas Day underpants bombing attempt, Mohammed Al-Madadi is expected to leave the United States voluntarily within the next day or so, according to a senior administration official. Still, as of Friday morning, the Qatari diplomat remained in the country, and Brown Lloyd James, the public-relations firm that represents the Qatari Embassy in Washington, said plans had not been finalized for his departure. “We’re still very much in discussions,” said Alison Bradley, a spokeswoman for the firm, whose principals include a former editor of Britain’s raunchiest tabloid. “There are no negotiations going on,” said the senior administration official, asking not to be named when discussing diplomatically sensitive information. ...
  • Who Is Obama's Next Supreme Court Pick?

    While much of Washington has been preoccupied with health care, a small group of White House lawyers has been focused on another perennially contentious issue: naming the next Supreme Court justice. Although there are no guarantees, most court watchers expect John Paul Stevens, the 89-year-old longtime liberal lion, to announce his retirement soon, perhaps as early as next month, after the court holds its last oral argument of the current session. (Update: On April 9, John Paul Stevens announced his retirement, expected sometime this summer.) One leading frontrunner to replace him: Solicitor General Elena Kagan. A former Clinton White House lawyer and Harvard Law School dean, Kagan has certain advantages over U.S. appellate court Judge Diane Wood, another shortlist candidate, especially to White House aides looking to avoid a confirmation battle. At 49, she is 10 years younger than Wood and, never having been a judge, lacks the lengthy paper trail that could be picked apart by...
  • Bin Laden Is 'Healthy, Giving the Orders,' Says Terror Suspect

    A new FBI terrorism case provides a rare nugget of intelligence about Osama bin Laden: the Al Qaeda leader is alive, well, and personally “giving the orders” for the terror group’s operations, according to comments made by an alleged American Al Qaeda operative on a secret bureau recording....
  • Military-Commission Trials Set for the Summer

    The Pentagon is poised to rescind last year's order halting military-commission cases, a final legal step as it gears up to try accused terrorists. But there's an awkward hitch: the new trials will be held in the $12 million, high-tech courtroom at Guantánamo Bay, which will refocus the world's attention on the very prison President Obama pledged to close. "As of right now, we don't have the money or the authority" to hold the trials elsewhere, says a senior Pentagon official who asked not to be identified talking about a politically sensitive subject....
  • Holder Taps Fitzgerald for Gitmo Photo Probe

    Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has tapped the Justice Department's most feared prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, to lead a sensitive investigation into whether defense lawyers at Guantánamo Bay compromised the identities of covert CIA officers. The probe was triggered by the discovery last year of about 20 color photographs of CIA officials in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an alleged financier of the 9/11 attacks, say three current and former government officials who asked not to be identified talking about an ongoing case....
  • Edwards Used Nonprofit to Funnel Money to Hunter

    A nonprofit group that John Edwards set up to fight poverty paid $124,000 for Web videos and photos to the former Democratic presidential candidate’s mistress, say four lawyers familiar with the payments. The Center for Promise and Opportunity wrote the previously unreported checks to videographer Rielle Hunter in late 2006, the same year Edwards acknowledged he started a “liaison” with her. (Edwards contended originally that he cut off the relationship that year. He admitted more recently he’s the father of Hunter’s daughter, born in February 2008.) The checks have since been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors in North Carolina as part of a sprawling criminal investigation into nearly $1.5 million in payments from various Edwards entities and campaign contributors that were for Hunter’s benefit, say the lawyers, who asked not to be identified talking about an ongoing probe....
  • Liz Cheney: Heir to a New Dynasty?

    When the Republican Jewish Coalition hosted its annual winter conference at Las Vegas's splashy Palazzo hotel earlier this month, party luminaries such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham showed up to hobnob with some of the GOP's most generous donors.

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