SECRET SERVICE SCANDAL
-AGENTS HAD A PLAN…We’re learning more this morning about what exactly before, during and after a 24-year-old single mother (who describes herself as an escort, not a prostitute) was booted out of her room by a Secret Service Agent who refused to pay her. Reena NINAN and team in Cartagena report that Secret Service officials actually booked a party space at the Hotel Caribe before heading out to the night clubs, anticipating bringing guests back. ABC has also learned that the men told hotel staff that they anticipated roughly 30 people, booked the space, and then headed out to the “Pley Club”. At the club they drank whiskey, met women and brought them back to the Caribe. Other women were brought in from other clubs/locations.
-AN “ESCORT” TALKS…The NYTimes has an interview with the woman who says she was the one who started the dispute with one of the secret agents in Colombia last week.
INDIA JOINS THE LONG-RANGE NUKE CLUB
Karson YIU reports: Indian officials announced they have successfully launched a nuclear-capable long-range intercontinental ballistic missile - with the ability to strike the major Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai. This is seen as a significant – and potentially destabilizing – step for India in its aspirations to become a regional and world power. The Agni-V missile, which has a range of more than 5,000km (3,100 miles) was launched from a site off India’s east coast and took 20 minutes to hit its target somewhere near Indonesia in the Indian Ocean. “Today’s launch represents another milestone in our quest for our security, preparedness and to explore the frontiers of science,” said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said only that India and China should work together as strategic partners – but the state-run Global Times ran an editorial warning India not to overestimate its strength. “India should be clear that China’s nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China.”
-OUTRAGE OVER PHOTOS OF TROOPS…There are stories today about the decision-making process that went into the LATimes publishing those photos of U.S. soldiers with Afghan corpses (here) and the consequences of the decision (here). As Martha RADDATZ reported, the photos have further bruised the American-Afghan relationship that’s been battered by crisis after crisis in recent months. The NYTimes notes that analysts describe these recent events with the catchall phrase: “stress on the force,” the exhaustion felt by the class of non-commissioned officers that forms the backbone of the all-volunteer force. The Times also puts forth another factor: small units in primitive combat outposts.
-AFGHAN RESPONSE…Aleem AGHA reports that the Taliban has vowed revenge for the actions depicted in the photos. In a statement, the Taliban also said the U.S. government was behind the release. Meanwhile, President Karzai called the photos “disgusting” and warned in a statement that similar incidents in the past sparked angry reactions from Afghans and the international community. He called the act of taking such pictures and sharing “odious.”
-U.S. SUPPORT FOR WAR DETERIORATES…Following on our ABC News poll with similar findings, a Pew Research Poll finds American support for a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan continues to erode – and has hit a new low. 59% of swing voters now support a rapid troop pullout – the figure rises to 65% among committed Obama voters. Thirty-two percent of Americans now say the United States should keep troops in the country until the situation stabilizes, while 60% favor withdrawing them as soon as possible.
THE ARAB SPRING – AND FORMULA ONE
Opposition activists in Bahrain have called for “days of rage” ahead of Sunday’s big Formula One race. As Alex MARQUARDT reports, with the race approaching, protesters have taken to the streets in bigger numbers – yesterday hundreds of demonstrators were met with stun grenades and tear gas, and today the Interior Ministry denied the opposition’s request for a Thursday rally, tweeting that “participation in the event is illegal.” Last night members of the Force India team on their way back to the team’s hotel found themselves in the middle of a protest with demonstrators hurling Molotov Cocktails. No was injured, but the team was reportedly shaken and one team member has gone home. The Formula One world has been fiercely debating whether Bahrain is safe enough to hold the race (and there’s a separate issue over whether it is morally right to go ahead). It was cancelled last year due to the uprising against the Sunni ruling family; last weekend Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone called Bahrain “quiet and peaceful” and race organizers have insisted the country is safe for drivers and their teams. The Crown Prince said “This race is more than a mere global sports event and should not be politicized to serve certain goals, which may be detrimental to this international gathering.” Amnesty International published a report last week accusing the authorities of “trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests.”
-THE CEASEFIRE FAILS…Storyful has strong footage this morning of a protest surrounding U.N. vehicles before gunfire rang out and an explosion hit nearby. The scene raises questions about the safety of the UN monitors - and it’s just one of many incidents that has U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon saying Syria has failed to comply with its pledge to pull troops and heavy weapons out of urban areas.
-CLINTON AND “FRIENDS OF SYRIA”…Today Secretary of State Clinton is in Paris for a “Friends of Syria” meeting. Foreign Policy writes about the US needing a new strategy: “There was a fundamental decision made at the highest level that we need a real Syria policy with more options for the president,” one administration official said. ”Our allies were coming back to us and saying ‘What’s your next move?,’ and we were forced to admit we didn’t have one.”
EURO-MESS: HEADED SOUTH – AGAIN?
Europe’s bold program to defuse its financial crisis by injecting cash into the banking system is running out of steam. The Wall Street Journal notes that the European Central Bank’s roughly €1 trillion ($1.31 trillion) of emergency loans caused interest rates of troubled euro-zone countries to plummet earlier this year, easing fears about the debt crisis. But lately rates have been marching higher. One big reason: After months of using that cash to buy their government’s debt, banks in Spain and Italy have little left, say analysts and other experts. That is sending rates back up, rekindling investor fears about Europe’s ability to arrest the three-year-old sovereign-debt crisis and return the region to health.
BLASTS ROCK BAGHDAD
A wave of morning bombings killed 23 Iraqis across several cities Thursday, shattering weeks of calm in a reminder of the nation’s continued insurgency. In all, officials said extremists launched 10 attacks in Baghdad and in northern Iraq, in Kirkuk, Samarra, Dibis and Taji. Additionally, mortars were fired into the northern cities of Beiji and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, but no injuries were reported there. At least 79 people were wounded in the rapid-fire explosions that unfolded over an hour and 15 minutes.
CIA + YEMEN DRONE WAR
From the Washington Post: The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen – by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said. Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives. The practice has been a core element of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan for several years. CIA Director David H. Petraeus has requested permission to use the tactic against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which has emerged as the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, officials said.
Senator John Kerry is expected to introduce a bill today on increased rewards for the capture of Joseph Kony and other warlords. This comes on the eve of a big get-the-word-out campaign organized by the Invisible Children group that made the now-viral film. They have asked people the world over to plaster their cities with “Kony 2012″ posters tomorrow.
NOT MADE IN AMERICA: FORD MOVES TO CHINA
The AP reports that Ford Motor Co. plans to build a $760 million auto assembly plant in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, part of a doubling of production capacity in the world’s biggest vehicle market as it strives to catch up with rivals. The investment in the factory with joint-venture partner Changan Ford Mazda Automobile Limited will add annual capacity of 250,000 vehicles when it begins operations in early 2015, the company said Thursday.
PIPPA’S FRENCH PAL IS OH, SO SORRY
Agence France-Presse reports Arthur de Soultrait, the French viscount and fashion designer who invited Pippa Middleton to his birthday soiree over the weekend, has apologized to Pippa and others for the now infamous gun-pointing incident. Soultrait said in a written statement, “I regret enormously that this incident happened, and especially that Pippa has been subject to the subsequent attention through no fault of her own. I have apologized to her for this.”
7th ANNIVERSARY OF POPE’S ELECTION
Phoebe NATANSON notes from Rome: Today marks the seventh anniversary of Pope Benedict’s election.
“TIME 100″ AND THE RUSSIANS
Kirit RADIA notes from Moscow: The only Russian on the Time list this year isn’t named Putin or Medvedev – and isn’t some billionaire oligarch. It’s Alexy Navalny. He’s the anti-corruption blogger who has been the one of the leaders of the of the anti-Putin protests.
SOUTH AFRICA HUNTING CRACKDOWN
Wilfred WAMBURA reports: South Africa has tightened rules on rhino hunts and will use microchips and DNA profiling to counter a poaching bloodbath that has killed 171 animals this year, the environment minister says. New rules will allow hunters to kill only one white rhino a year – and hunters must now belong to a recognized hunting association in their home country. Any “trophy” must be micro-chipped by officials who will keep a sample of the horn.
MEN AT WORK FLUTE PLAYER DIES
As many have noted – it’s arguably one of the most famous flute riffs – and its author, flautist Greg Ham, the Australian member of 1980s pop band Men At Work has died. “Down Under” went to number one the Billboard charts and garnered the band a Grammy Award. Ham was 58. No cause of death revealed.
BRAZIL: CAR FLIES INTO HOUSE
Molly HUNTER flags this: The driver somehow walks away with minor injuries – after his car flew over a creek and into a house stopping just a few feet away from a baby’s bed. The car remains embedded in the side of the house.
HAPPY 115th, MR. KIMURA!
As Akiko FUJITA reports from Tokyo, it seems only fitting that the world’s fastest-aging country is home to the world’s oldest man (according to Guinness Book of World records). Jiro Kimura turned 115 years old today, and seemed to address his age with a sense of humor. As he posed for cameras, he spoke in English, saying ”thank you very much, you are very kind”. Kimura was born in 1897 and worked at the local post office. After retirement, he continued to work in farming until the age of 90. For those keeping score: He has 7 children, 14 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, and 13 great-great-grandchildren. While he sleeps more often these days, Kimura continues to eat 3 meals a day with his family. No Video from NHK yet, but here’s a TBS clip.