► British parliament voted no yesterday on the use of military force against president Bashar al-Assad’s security forces in Syria, rejecting U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s motion for military authorization. According to Business Week, this is the first time in over a century that a British prime minister’s call to military action has been rejected by the ruling legislative body. As five U.S. military carriers remain positioned outside of Syria in the Mediterranean Sea, the Obama administration is weighing its options. The New York Times said in an article on Thursday that the Obama administration is planning to use “limited” military force against al Assad’s security forces despite Britain’s vote, according to U.S. officials. All this comes after strong indications that the Syrian regime did indeed launch a chemical attack against thousands of people in the suburbs of Damascus early last week, killing scores including dozens of children.
► In an opinion piece on CNN.com, terrorism expert Peter Bergen argues that al Qaeda’s presence in Syria could be playing a role in the United States’ reluctance to launch military action. As Bergen writes, “Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, is generally acknowledged to be the most effective force fighting al-Assad.” He says the fighters of this “splinter” al Qaeda group are strong fighters because they are “willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause, are widely viewed as uncorrupt and are not involved in looting as other opposition forces are,” and are also receiving vast resources from Sunni fundamentalsists in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Because this group has close ties to al Qaeda, it poses a major threat to U.S. interests should the Western nation intervine. Bergen writes that al-Nusra was the first insurgent group to claim responsibility for civilian casualties in Syria when they ignited a series of suicide attacks in November. Still, he writes, the group “seems to have learned from this mistake and is operating in a Hezbollah-like manner as a large-scale provider of social services, and with the consent of the population in the areas it controls.”
►The Washington Post has obtained a top-secret document from former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden detailing the U.S. government’s “so-called ‘black budget,’ which is the secret portion of the federal budget dedicated to intelligence gathering and analysis.” For fiscal 2013, the total budget for the nation’s six spy agencies was $52.6 billion. While the government annually releases how much it spends on intelligence, a practice adopted in 2007, it doesn’t detail how the money is actually used. Upon further analysis, the Post found that the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) budget has “increased dramatically over the last ten years.” Its budget increased by 56 percent since 2004, according to the leaked documents, while the NSA’s budget expanded by 53 percent.