Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Benghazi: Behind the scenes (Part II)

- Doug Hagmann (Bio and Archives)  Friday, November 30, 2012

Obama does not want the American people to know the truth about what is going on, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM

Author’s note: This is part two of a multi-part interview with a government insider intimately familiar with the events that took place in Benghazi. It is important to note that the information contained in this series was developed from interviews that spanned over 100 hours. In this part, the insider provides information about the events of the attack and the continuation of the cover-up at the highest levels of our government. (For Part I, please click here).

We’ve heard different accounts and different timelines concerning the attack at Benghazi. What exactly happened?

First, people must understand that the compound that was attacked was situated in a somewhat rural area and was not a consulate, but a rented villa, or a residential structure. The residence was the primary building, and what has been referred to as the annex was located about 1800 feet away as the crow flies, but just over a mile to travel by road. And again, visible security was not present as the compound was the headquarters for a covert operation. No one wanted to draw attention to what was taking place at this location.

The first indications of problems there began at least twelve-(12) hours before the first shot was even fired. One of the men at the compound observed a policeman or Libyan security officer taking photographs outside of the villa.

 Keep in mind that Ambassador Stevens, the point man in this Obama-sanctioned weapons running operation, was hastily scheduled to meet with the Turkish consul general at this location. The meeting was deliberately planned for dinner time, toward evening, when the events that happened next could be performed under the cover of darkness.

It’s also important to consider the location of this meeting. Tripoli is the seat of power in Libya, and a genuine diplomatic meeting could more safely have been conducted there, at the embassy. Also, what most people don’t know is that Libya is split, much like East and West Germany before the wall. The eastern part is more closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, the same group that controls Egypt. The Turkish consul general had to meet there, not just with Stevens but with other factions involved in this covert operation.

Now I’ll digress for a moment. It is reasonable to ask whether the Turkish consul general was setting Stevens up for a hit, like a classic mob-style hit.

First, there is no dispute that there was surveillance done at 6:30 a.m. and intermittently throughout the day. Next, consider that three hours before the first shot was fired, about 6:30 p.m. local time, some strange things were observed taking place near the compound. Military type vehicles began closing of the streets with trucks that had 50 caliber guns mounted on them.

Checkpoints on the streets and at intersections were being quietly closed off around the compound. Nearby residents began going inside their homes. Anyone walking in the area got off the streets, like a scene from a movie in the Godfather series. It was obvious that the stage was being set for a strike against the compound. This alone reveals preplanning and coordination.
It’s also noteworthy to point out that the Turkish counsel general most likely passed through one or more of these checkpoints, or at least would have noticed that things were not right in the area. You must remember that just as Stevens was previously CIA working under diplomatic cover, the Turkish counsel general was his counterpart. It’s typical spy-versus-spy stuff.

Also consider this. One of the men stationed at the compound, a British national, left the compound at about 9:20 p.m., reportedly to get more phone cards. That’s right, phone cards, like you would buy at Walmart. Why? Because the men at the compound ran out of minutes. Just who do you think they were talking to that day to burn through the minutes, and why do you think they needed them at that exact time?

They were using the phones as a last and perhaps only line of communications to provide assessments of the strange things going on earlier. They knew that something was being planned and they were conveying that information - their observations to those who could assist them, in Tripoli and DC.

Based on these activities, it is clear that the men at the compound suspected that they were in trouble long before the first shot was ever fired. They were calling anyone who would listen, or who should have listened. We knew trouble was brewing and no one responded in any meaningful way.

Could the man who left to buy more phone cards have known what was about to take place?

Well, it’s possible, but there is no indication of that.

Was the Turkish counsel general in on this, to set Stevens up?

Well, what have we heard from our government? Has anyone even bothered to interview him? What did he say? Don’t forget, this administration decided to handle this attack as a crime and not a terrorist attack. How long did it take for the FBI to be able to access the ‘crime scene’ after the attack? More importantly, what was left at the ‘crime scene’ to examine by the FBI due to this delay? Do you think the delay was accidental?

Do you know what was discussed, or the reason for the meeting between Stevens and the Turkish consul general?

Yes, I know some key points. First, keep in mind what this arms running operation was all about. It was to topple Assad and replace him with a Muslim Brotherhood leader. It was to destabilize Syria to advance the agenda of Saudi Arabia. They were using U.S. and NATO forces to do exactly that.

However, Assad is no Gaddafi, and there is no comparison between Assad’s army and the Libyan army. It would take much more than rebels inside Syria to topple Assad. There is no way on earth that the Syrian rebels, or Free Syrian Army, has the capability to accomplish this objective alone. It required U.S. assistance, arms and training.

Now, Turkey is a NATO ally. They were assisting the Obama-Clinton-Saudi plan to funnel weapons ultimately to Syria, but the primary staging areas for these weapons were in Turkey near the Syrian border. Visual surveillance by Russia, using satellites and other means amassed photographic documentation of the U.S. assisting the ‘anti-Assad rebels’ inside Turkey. They developed evidence of the U.S. training these rebels and assisting them into Syria to fight against Assad.

Think about this. What if surveillance images observed anti-Assad rebels being trained to handle and mount chemical weapons - gas shells - onto rockets? The process would be apparent and would obviously be detected by a number of visual indicators. Obviously, Syria wanted this to stop. By extension, so did Russia.

One aspect of the weapons plan was to set up a false flag operation to make it appear that Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. Imagine the outcry from the civilized world to the news that Assad ‘gassed’ his own people. That would be an invitation to NATO and the West to openly intervene. Don’t forget about the timing of all of this. Two months before the elections, and time was running out. The job of taking out Assad was not yet complete. Such an event would quickly advance this agenda. By this time, however, being caught and placed in a rather unenviable position between Russia and the U.S., the Turkish consul general was in a ‘CYA, clean-up’ mode, assuring that none of the chemical weapons that might have still been in Libya were headed for Turkey.

It is also important to understand that the covert weapons running operation was just about finished. An estimated 40 million pounds of weapons were already shipped from Libya, and things were winding down.

There was another issue as well, a very important and telling one.

Seven members of the Iranian Red Crescent had been kidnapped or snatched from the streets of Benghazi on or about July 31, 2012. Again you must understand that virtually anyone walking on the streets of Benghazi not indigenous to the area are spies. Covert operatives, operating under various covers. From all nations.

Along with the message that the weapons running operation was compromised, the Iranians had good reason to suspect that the ‘Red Crescent workers’ were snatched by the CIA or with their assistance. Iran wanted them back. They were spies, and countries want their spies back! So part of the meeting was to address this, as there was pressure by Russia against a wavering Turkey to switch sides. Anyway, you’ll see how this ties in to the way the actual attack was executed.

Please continue.

So at 9:30 pm local time, the compound began to take on small arms fire. Based on all reports I’ve reviewed, there were three twelve-man attack teams armed with small arms, RPGs, and other sophisticated military style weapons. These were not run-of-the-mill street weapons, but military issued type weapons. The types of weapons alone scream that this was a preplanned attack.

Eyes on the area [author’s note: satellites, surveillance drones] confirmed that two of these teams surrounded the villa and the annex. The third team was elsewhere, lying in wait. The two teams began their assault on the compound where Stevens was inside about an hour after the Turkish counsel general left. Remember, he had to pass the checkpoints after the meeting. Just keep that in mind.

Anyway, we all know now that there was an intense firefight that lasted nearly nine hours during which four Americans, Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Dougherty and Tyrone Woods were killed. And of course that attack was not over a video and there were no protests before the attack.

Now there are questions that are not being asked. The two well-armed ‘hit teams’ had the capability to reduce the compound and annex to rubble quickly. Why a protracted firefight? There are a couple of reasons.
First, what was the makeup of the ‘hit teams,’ or who were the attackers? We have verified that the attackers were a combination of members of Ansar al Sharia and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but they were operating under the flag of Ansar al Sharia. Who is Ansar al Sharia? Iranian terrorists. They are a terrorist group that receives their training by and funding from Iran. Now think about this. Carefully consider the implications here. IRAN. It’s the elephant in the room no one wants to mention or talk about.

The attack on our ambassador and our people - Americans - was an attack by Iran.

It was an attack at a nation-state level.

AQIM also assisted. They are indigenous to Africa and are extremely dangerous. AQIM is a very ‘elite’ and extremely well-funded group, and very limited in number. Our last assessment suggests that there are only 400 or so members, but they are very influential across Africa and into South and Central America and Western Europe. Their importance and relevance will become evident shortly.

The reason that they did not just take out the compound and everything and everyone in it is that they were looking for their spies. Remember the Red Crescent workers? The Iranian spies? They suspected that they might be held at the annex. As such, they wanted to free them and did not want to risk killing them.

Oh, and there were others ‘missing’ as well. AQIM members. These were terrorists involved in drug running operations from the Tri-border (TBA) areas of South America through North Africa and into Western Europe. By the way, this is the way they made their money. Drugs sell at higher profits in Western Europe than elsewhere, so there is money to be made. The problem is that some of them got caught—snatched up in Benghazi and northeastern Libya.

Now regarding AQIM, this has a direct connection not only to South America, but also to Mexico and Mexican drug gangs. You think that what’s going on in Libya is just ‘over there,’ and far away from the U.S. and has nothing to do with our safety and security? Think again, but more on this in a bit.

There’s also another reason. The hit teams fully expected rescue teams from the U.S. to be dispatched to the compound. Certainly, calls for help went out.
By waiting for the back-up or rescue forces, a surprise assault by the other ‘hit team’ team would have exposed our forces to possible causalities and turned the event into a much bigger event where the actual nature of the operation could be exposed to the world. Instead of being a cover-up for which they have yet to be held accountable, it would have been an international incident that would have exposed the entire affair.

So the Ansar al Sharia attack groups deliberately conducted a protracted assault on the compound. Just imagine, our men and even the bad guys never expected team Obama would leave our people twisting in the wind, fighting for their lives. That alone should speak volumes to every American.
As daylight approached, they had to wrap things up so they could disappear under the cover of darkness. Oh, and the crowds that are often cited by this administration, did form in the area as the attack progressed, much like a growing mob in riot. They provided the fog, or the cover, that permitted the attackers to escape amid the crowd.

You mentioned the missing Iranian Red Crescent workers and members of AQIM. Were they ever released or found?

Yes, and this is an extremely important part of this entire story. This reaches into the highest levels of our government. This is so very important that it must be addressed separately.

So the attack was first and the crowd came later. I noted that the administration said that there were protests going on at the Embassy in Cairo at the same time and they compared it to Benghazi.

Yes, that’s their cover story and they know that there is absolutely no comparison. This is one huge lie that is easily addressed and put out of its misery.

How soon did U.S. intelligence officials know who was responsible for the attack?

Almost immediately, if not concurrent with the attack. Every part of that area is under active aerial surveillance by the U.S. There was SIGINT or communication intercepts at the time of the attack. Then, there was even an admission by the attackers. Obama knew. Hillary knew. Clapper knew. Everyone knew, expect the American people. And you know what? The American media knew as well.

I heard a statement that they did not admit knowledge to avoid alerting the perpetrators.

Yes, it was said that Rice and others did not want to alert the ‘bad guys’ or tip their hand or some such nonsense, but did that mean that Susan Rice, for example, had to appear on national television and lie to every one of us, to the country? In my opinion, Rice took on the temporary job of propaganda minister for a day in exchange for a shot at Secretary of State in the future.

You are painting quite a dire picture.

It gets worse, much worse, and it involves real threats across the globe and even to us here in the United States. But it’s all because of our actions, the covert weapons running from Libya to Syria by way of Turkey at the direction of Barack Obama and his Saudi ‘handlers.’
FORTY THOUSAND men, women and children are dead in Syria as a direct result of this attempt at nation building, or tearing down Assad. There are four dead Americans. We are arming some of the very people who are killing our troops. Not only are we on the wrong side of this, we are actively pushing the world to the precipice of World War III.
We are engaged in a real war here with Iran and Syria and by extension, with Russia and China. And we are being lied to about it every step of the way. And the lies are getting worse, but so are the attempts to stop the truth from getting out.

What do you mean?

What do you think the recent directive issued by Obama, the one you wrote about ‘insider threats,’ is all about? Obama does not want the American people to know the truth about what is going on. He’s doubled down to stop leaks, like this. But you know what? He just might be too late, because we’re not done here. I’m not done talking, and there’s much more that needs to be exposed.

Is Franken an elf? Gift exchange brings Senate bipartisan cheer

While the mood may be icy when it comes to political sparring in Washington, there was a warm bit of good cheer in the U.S. Senate.

Minnesota's Sen. Al Franken, inspired by an old grade school tradition from his childhood, organized a Secret Santa gift exchange again this year.  The parties regularly tangle over government spending, but the senators did agree to a $10 spending cap for gifts. 

Aides say a bipartisan group of 60 senators participated by picking names, mostly across the aisle, keeping those identities secret and then delivering small presents at a gathering over eggnog and seasonal treats Monday night.

Frank Fey / U.S. Senate Photographic Studio
Sen. Al Franken, right, speaks with colleagues during the gift exchange.
Not just any fruitcake was served -- the Senate kitchen began making fruitcake a few months ago, giving the brandy enough time to soak the cake.  Due to fog that delayed some flights and therefore postponed Senate votes, some members were not able to attend the Monday party but were spotted exchanging wrapped gifts on the Senate floor late Tuesday.

Among the gifts given and received:
  • Sen. Franken received a VHS copy of the movie "Tunnel Vision" and a DVD of  "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29" from Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barasso.
  • Franken, in turn, gave Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman a mahnomin porridge kit from Hell's Kitchen, a popular restaurant in Minneapolis. Sen. Franken serves that breakfast porridge at his weekly breakfast with constituents.
  • Florida Republican Marco Rubio gave Godiva chocolates to Delaware Democrat Chris Coons. 
  • North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan gave her state's famed peanuts to fellow Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
  • New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte gave Hagan a book, "1,001 Gardens you Should See Before You Die."
  • Wyoming's Mike Enzi, R-WI, gave Virginia Democrat Mark Warner a George Washington University T-shirt and a book on bicycling.  Aides say Enzi "refrained from getting him a book on freestyle BMX tricks because of the safety issues Sen. Enzi works on."
  • Alaska Democrat Mark Begich presented a cookbook and wine from his home state to Missouri's Claire McCaskill.
  • Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns gave Nebraska wine to Florida Democrat Bill Nelson.
  • Johanns received a shirt for his undergraduate alma mater, St. Mary's University, from Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar.
  • Montana Democrat Jon Tester gave home state chocolates to Ohio Republican Rob Portman.
  • Portman gave Louisiana's Mary Landrieu a Cincinnati favorite, Graeter's Buckeye Blitz ice cream.
  • Arkansas Republican John Boozman gave Georgia's Saxby Chambliss Mason jar wine glasses.
In 2011, the participation was a bit better, with 62 senators exchanging gifts. This year, with much year-end business left to complete, senators may spend more of the holiday season together as the “fiscal cliff” looms.

Girl, 15, shot in Oregon mall cheats death twice

Courtesy of the Shevchenko family
Kristina Shevchenko, 15, was hospitalized Tuesday night after being shot by a gunman at Clackamas Town Center in Portland, Ore.
Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET -- A teenager from Oregon faces a “long road to recovery” after surviving her second brush with death in just the past few months.

Kristina Shevchenko, 15, was rushed to a hospital Tuesday in critical condition after a masked gunman sprayed bullets around a suburban Portland, Ore., mall during the height of holiday shopping season, piercing her chest. After surgery, she was in stable condition, according to a statement from her family.

Her family continued to update supporters on her condition via a Facebook page on Wednesday, with her brother, Yevgeniy, writing early in the morning, "The bullet went through bruising her lung, it missed any vital organs and it missed her ribs. She will need 2 more operations. we appreciate any and all support including your prayers! Thank you."

In another post, Shevchenko's family revealed something else: Over the summer, Shevchenko had survived another fatal encounter.

"Many of you have noticed the earlier tragedy that happened in our family a couple months ago where 7 of my siblings and 2 friends were involved in a fatal car accident. You could read it online for yourself, but yes it did happen and yes Kristina was in that car accident," the post read, and linked to an article about a Beaverton, Ore., man who was killed after veering into a van driven by a 27-year-old member of the Shevchenko family.

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Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts identifies the victims of a deadly shooting at an Oregon mall, saying there was "no apparent relationship" between the two and the shooter.
Oregon mall gunman ID'd; motive unclear

The crash happened in Vancouver, Wash., in August, and alcohol was believed to have been a factor, Vancouver police told

Multiple teens and adults were in the van when the driver -- Alberto Perez Garcia, 25 -- veered into it, they said. The driver and at least two other adults had been hospitalized at the time.

In a statement, the family described Shevchenko as a "happy child" who is "active in church," and said "by the mercy of God she is now in stable condition, but has a long road to recovery."

Shevchenko, who had been with a friend when she was shot, regularly walked through the mall around the time of the shooting -- which happened at about 3:20 p.m. on Tuesday -- to get home from school, her family said.
The motive for the shooting, which sent Christmas shoppers and people waiting in line to see Santa running for cover, wasn't clear.

Several witnesses reported hearing the gunman, identified as Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, announce, "I am the shooter," before he began firing.

"All of a sudden, I just heard a series of gunshots… boom, boom, boom, boom, boom… whatever the shooter was shooting at, they continued to shoot," shopper Bill Hoff told NBC station KGW.

Macy's employee Mariah Saldana told KGW that she was sitting by the door "watching what was going on, and then some guy just ran by in a white mask and an assault rifle, and then I look out because I hear a few shots and he's … and he’s sitting there and he's pointing the gun at some people."

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Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts discusses the gunman who opened fire at a Portland-area mall, saying it "looked to be a random shooting."

North Korean satellite 'tumbling out of control,' US officials say

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China has offered a rare criticism of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, after the country fired a long-range rocket that has been described by U.S. officials as a weapons test. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
The object that North Korea sent into space on Wednesday appears to be “tumbling out of control” as it orbits the earth, U.S. officials told NBC News.

The officials said that it is indeed some kind of space vehicle, but they still haven’t been able to determine exactly what the satellite is supposed to do.
In a statement, the White House said the rocket launch was a highly provocative act that threatens regional security and violates U.N. resolutions.

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday condemned the launch, calling it a "clear violation" of U.N. resolutions. A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he "deplores" the launch.

North Korea is banned from conducting missile and nuclear tests, under the terms of U.N. sanctions imposed after a series of nuclear weapons tests in 2006 and 2009.

Missile warning systems detected the launch at 7:49 p.m. ET Tuesday. North American Aerospace Defense Command officials said in a statement that the initial indications were that the first stage fell into the Yellow Sea and the second stage fell into the Philippine Sea.

North Korea said the launch was an attempt to place a satellite into a pole-to-pole orbit. Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency said that the rocket was fired from the Sohae Satellite Launch Center on the secretive country's west coast, and that the Kwangmyongsong weather satellite went into orbit as planned.

KCNA via Reuters
North Korean scientists work as a screen shows the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket being launched at the satellite control center in Cholsan county, North Pyongan province.

But U.S. officials say the launch was a thinly veiled attempt to test a three-stage ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as the U.S. West Coast.

ANALYSIS: 'Spoiled child' North Korea snubs China

Russia added its voice to the condemnation of the launch and also called on other nations to refrain from further escalating tensions.

"The new rocket launch carried out by North Korea flaunts the opinion of the international community, including calls from the Russian side," it said.
China, North Korea's only major diplomatic ally, said officials had urged Pyongyang not to go ahead with the launch, and expressed regret that it had taken place.

Japan and South Korea voiced concern as well. "The Japanese government regards this launch as an act compromising the peace and stability of the region, including Japan," said Osamu Fujimura, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting of his national security council.

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North Korea has successfully launched a long-range rocket, defying a U.N. Security Council Resolution and warnings from the West. On the streets of the country's capital, there were celebrations at the announcement. But internationally, the launch has provoked widespread condemnation and threats of further sanctions. ITN's Angus Walker reports.

The liftoff came as a shock to many South Koreans because they thought it would not take place until after South Korea's presidential election on Dec. 19.

Only a day earlier, North Korea hinted that the launch time might have to be readjusted due to weather or a technical problem.

"It was a surprise in terms of the timing," Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst with the RAND think tank, told The Associated Press. "They had talked about postponing for a week. To recover so quickly from technical problems suggests they have gotten good at putting together a missile."

This was North Korea's fifth test launch of a long-range rocket or ballistic missile – and the second launch since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came to power in the wake of his father’s death a year ago. Experts say none of the previous attempts was successful, although Pyongyang says otherwise.

The last rocket was launched in April but fell apart shortly after being fired.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NBC News that Kim was under pressure to launch a success.

"He knows the stakes are high either way, and it is really what he does next that matters," the official said.

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Ezra Klein reports the breaking news that North Korea has test-fired a long-range rocket in defiance of the international community.
Obama says US recognizes Syrian opposition coalition

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

President Barack Obama said the U.S. has recognized the Syrian opposition coalition as representing the country's citizens in an interview with ABC News.

By NBC News staff and wire services

The United States now considers the Syrian opposition coalition to be the "legitimate representative" of the nation, President Barack Obama said Tuesday.

"We've made a decision that the Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama said in an interview with ABC News.

The move, which was widely expected, could give new international legitimacy to the rebels fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad but stops short of authorizing the U.S. to arm the opposition, something Obama has steadfastly refused to do.

France, Britain, Turkey and the Gulf states led the way last month in recognizing the opposition coalition. But Washington held off until now, demanding the groups, dogged by splits and rivalries throughout their battle to end the Assad family's long authoritarian rule, do more to coalesce into a unified front.

Syrian defector: Violence is now part of my kids’ lives

A formal endorsement by Obama, accused by critics of failing to respond forcefully enough to the bloody Syrian conflict, could mark a new phase in his efforts to isolate Assad, who has defied repeated U.S. calls to step down.

But Obama made clear that he remains cautious about some of the armed Syrian factions linked to the political coalition and is not ready to start supplying weapons to the rebels, something he has steadfastly resisted despite demands from some Republican critics.

"Not everybody who's participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with," Obama said. "There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda, and we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements."

Winter brings more troubles for displaced Syrians

Obama specifically singled out the radical Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, which the United States on Tuesday designated as a foreign terrorist organization that it said was trying to hijack the rebellion on behalf of al-Qaida in Iraq.

U.S. officials said the al-Nusra group had claimed responsibility for carrying out nearly 600 attacks in major cities that have killed numerous innocent Syrians during the uprising against Assad.

U.S. officials said it was an important signal both to the Syrian opposition and its foreign supporters, particularly in the Gulf, that al-Nusra and its ilk cannot play a part in Syria's eventual political transition.

Tuesday's action came as U.S. officials were set to attend the Friends of Syria meeting in Marrakech, to discuss the Syria crisis, as rebels push forward on the battlefield and move to unify the political opposition.

Women slow to make gains in boardrooms


Meg Whitman is Hewlett Packard's CEO and president.

NEW YORK-- Although women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, only 16.6 percent have seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies and the number has barely budged since 2005, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The Catalyst 2012 F500 Census, which annually tracks women in top positions in companies, showed progress is painfully slow for women seeking the top spots in corporate America, with only a 0.5 percent rise from the previous year.

"What we found is that the needle barely budged for women aspiring into corporate board service or into top-level leadership at these very prominent American companies," said Rachel Soares, a senior research associate at Catalyst, a nonprofit group.

"In 2012 women held only 16.6 percent of board seats and only 14.3 percent of executive officer positions."

The number of women executives last year was slightly lower than in 2010 and only marginally better than in 2011. During the past two years more than a quarter of U.S. companies had no women executive officers, according to the research, and just one-fifth had 25 percent or more.

Improvement at a snail's pace

Women's advancement into boardrooms and executive offices has been slow since Catalyst, which works to expand opportunities for women and businesses, started with the F500 Census in 1993. In 2005 it slowed to a snail's pace, with half or less than half of a percentage point gain each year.

"It is not meaningful. It is not significant," Soares said of the lack of progress in closing the gender leadership gap.

For women of color, the situation is even worse, with 3.3 percent holding board seats in 2012, up 0.3 percent from 2011.

"It just underscores the challenges that women face, particularly at the intersection of different dimensions of diversity, in this case gender and race/ethnicity," said Soares.

In 2011 and 2012 two-thirds of companies did not have any women of color serving on their boards.

Catalyst compiled the results by studying the top 500 U.S. companies ranked by revenues by Fortune magazine and counting everyone on boards and in top executive positions, noting their gender and race/ethnicity. Three companies were excluded because data was not available.

Plenty of qualified women

Although many barriers block women's entry to boardrooms and executive offices, Catalyst research showed that sponsorship is critical to advancing women, as is the commitment of current leadership.

"Our data shows that between 2009 and 2011, 81 percent of (board) seats that were filled went to men. The pool that companies were drawing from is not taking advantage of the full range of women with their skills that are available," Deborah Gillis, chief operating officer of Catalyst, said in an interview.

To pry open the door further and break through the relationship barrier, Catalyst is compiling a directory of board-qualified women based on recommendations from sponsors and companies.

"What we are saying with this list is that the under-representation of women on corporate boards is not about a lack of supply. That's a myth," said Gillis.
"In fact, if we look at the executive officer pool, we see 710 women executive officers in Fortune 500 companies. It is an extensive pool of women with skills and experience in critical areas that corporate boards could tap into."

GOP makes new 'fiscal cliff' offer to Obama

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John Boehner makes a new offer to President Obama in hopes of reaching a deal to resolve the impending fiscal cliff. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) sent a new offer on Tuesday afternoon to President Barack Obama in hopes of reaching a deal to resolve the impending fiscal cliff.

Specific details are scarce, but the proposal apparently was made as a counter-offer to something the White House had proposed over the last few days. A GOP aide said the White House plan offered $1.4 trillion in new revenue, but the GOP still not moved from offering $800 billion in revenue.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told NBC News the following:

"We sent the White House a counter-offer that would achieve tax and entitlement reform to solve our looming debt crisis and create more American jobs.  As the Speaker said today, we're still waiting for the White House to identify what spending cuts the president is willing to make as part of the "balanced approach" he promised the American people.  The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff."

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Speaker of the House John Boehner provides an update on the fiscal cliff negotiations, placing pressure on the White House to reveal how they intend to compromise with House Republicans on spending cuts.
Since this is a new offer, it’s assumed to be different from the one put forward last week by the GOP that called for $800 billion dollars in new revenue through closing tax loopholes and deductions, along with an additional $600 billion in savings through cuts to entitlements.

A GOP aide opined to NBC News that the president must move more quickly on “the spending side” before any deal could hope to be accomplished. A major sticking point to date has involved how much ground Republicans would give on tax rates for the wealthy.