Behind the Scenes: Iowa

A few photos from the Fox News/Google debate in Des Moines and Special Report for the Iowa Caucuses. You can find more photos from the week on my Instagram account @BretBaier!

TSA Administrator to FOX: "We're Significantly Better Than We Were"

In a one-on-one interview following his remarks at a Washington Aero Club luncheon in DC, TSA Administrator Peter said that he is confident in his workforce and added that “we’re significantly better than we were.” Neffenger’s comments are in reference to the scathing DHS OIG report leaked last year that found TSA screeners failed to detect weapons being smuggled through airport checkpoints by auditors 67 out of 70 times.

“I am confident that I have the attention of the workforce, that they take it seriously, and that they really want to do the job to the best that they can because they see events around the world they don't want that to happen here. That encourages me.” Neffenger told Fox. “I'm certain that they'll do better, I'm certain that the IG is going to go out and test us again. I hope he does because those results are very valuable to us.”

Looking specifically at the broad terrorism picture and threats posed by ISIS, Neffenger told Fox that of primary concern in airport environments is what happens in areas in which people have not yet gone through security screening. Neffenger alluded to active shooter situations and the San Bernardino attack in outlining the challenges law enforcement agencies and TSA face in securing non-sterile airport zones.

“We're reengaging with local law enforcement to ensure that they're on the lookout for anybody who might do something outside the sterile area of the airport,” Neffenger said. “We're comfortable that we have a lot of procedures in place to help us identify individuals coming into the system, and, of course, identify prohibited items that you don't want to get through. But the real question is outside the sterile area, what do you know?”

In speaking to the MetroJet crash over Egypt last year and potential insider threats at U.S. airports, Neffenger said TSA is taking active steps to enhance screening of airport workers and vendors to ensure the safety of the travelling public and those within sterile areas of U.S. airports.

“Right now we have 900,000 or so people that are badged in some level of access to airports across the nation,” Neffenger told Fox. “They are recurrently vetted – I mean, on a daily basis – against terrorist databases for any information that may indicate that they are people that we need to be concerned about.”

Neffenger also spoke to TSA’s presence at this Sunday’s Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. He noted TSA is deploying agents to screen fans entering the stadium before the game, as well as VIPR Teams (Visual, Intermodal, Protection and Response Teams) that include bomb-sniffing dogs and uniformed Air Marshals. In speaking to potential target that the Super Bowl paints, especially in light of November’s attacks in Paris, Neffenger acknowledged the challenges and complexity of securing such a large venue with droves of spectators.

“Well, I think that everybody has concerns about large congregations of people right now at high profile events,” Neffenger said. “I will tell you that there's been no specific, credible threat reporting against the Super Bowl. But any time you have large numbers of people congregating at an event that's high profile and televised, you just want to make sure that you have all the precautions in place.”

Russians survey new airbase on Turkey's border, US officials concerned

By Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson

Russia appears to be making preparations to establish a new airbase in Syria, this time along the border with NATO-member Turkey, a senior US official tells Fox News. 

The move is bound to anger the Turkish government months after the downing of a Russian jet by the Turks.

A handful of Russian military personnel including engineers have been seen in the vicinity of a largely abandoned airfield in Qamishli, a city in northeast Syria along the border with Turkey.  The area is largely controlled by Syrian Kurds, with pockets of regime controlled territory including the airport.

Russia and Syria’s Kurds have a common enemy in Turkey and make natural allies.

Defense officials think Russia could establish another airbase and build-up similar to what occurred previously in September at an airport along Syria’s Mediterranean coast in Latakia, an Assad regime controlled stronghold.

“This could be Latakia all over again,” said the official, speaking about the buildup of Russian forces last fall.  

Days before Russian transport planes and ships arrived in September carrying thousands of Russian troops and supplies, a small group of Russian advisors and engineers visited Latakia on an apparent site survey similar to what is being seen on the Turkish border.  

Eventually over 30 Russian warplanes and dozens of attack helicopters arrived in Latakia and began combat operations against Syrian rebels, some backed by the U.S., in late September.

Qamishli, the town where the new Russian military presence has been observed is home to Syrian Kurds and Assyrians, a Christian people, but the airport is controlled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“This is another example of the Russians [messing] with the Turks,” said the official who is carefully watching the developments.

The concern is that the potential expansion of the Russian military into northeast Syria on Turkey’s border will spark new tensions in the region after a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 was downed by a Turkish F-16 in late November.

So far, there are no indications that Russia has moved any military aircraft, including jet fighters to the airport in Qamishli. [see map here of airport].

But U.S. officials worry it’s only a matter of time.


10 US Navy sailors held by Iran

A senior defense official tells Fox News that the two US Navy riverine vessels were headed from Kuwait to Bahrain when the US Navy lost contact with the boats.

“It appears the two vessels went into Iranian territorial waters,” said the official.  He said U.S. Navy sailors are currently being held on Farsi Island, a tiny island in the middle of the Persian Gulf controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The official said NONE of the US Navy vessels were disabled.  The official was not aware of how Iran ended up commandeering the US Navy ships.  He did not know if warning shots were fired, but could not rule it out.   

The U.S. Navy informed “earlier today” by Iranian authorities that they were holding the sailors and their “safety and well-being was assured” by Iran and the American sailors “would be allowed to continue their journey.”

The official offered no timeline on when the US Navy sailors would be released.

The official did not know if this incident was tied to President Obama’s State of the Union. 

FBI Investigation Expands: Classified Emails and Public Corruption

By Catherine Herridge

The FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of private email as Secretary of State now has two tracks with one focused on the classified material found on her personal server, and the other on whether the co-mingling of Clinton Foundation work and State Department business potentially violated public corruption laws, according to three intelligence sources not authorized to speak on the record.

"The agents are investigating the possible intersection of donations to the Clinton Foundation, the dispensation of State Department contracts and whether regular processes were followed,"  one source said.   The Clinton Foundation is a public charity, known as a 501 (c)(3) which had grants and contributions in excess of 144-million in 2013, the most current available data.  

Fox News was told that FBI agents will be “screaming” if a prosecution is not pursued because “many previous public corruption cases have been made and successfully prosecuted with much less evidence than what is emerging in this investigation.” 

With the latest State Department email dump,  the number of classified emails identified on Mrs. Clinton’s private account has risen to at least 1340.  A 2015 appeal by the State Department to challenge the “Top Secret” classification of at least two emails failed, and as Fox first reported, is now considered a settled matter.

It is unclear which of the two lines of inquiry was opened first by the FBI and whether they will eventually be combined and presented before a Special Grand Jury.  One intelligence source said the public corruption angle dates back to at least April 2015.

On their official website, the FBI lists "public corruption as the FBI's top criminal priority."

Fox News is told that some 100 special agents assigned to the investigations were also asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, with as many as 50 additional agents on TDY --temporary duty assignment.  The request to sign a new NDA could reflect that agents are handling the highly classified material in the emails, a reminder not to leak about the case, or both.  

On Sunday, when asked about her email practices while Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton insisted to CBS News Face The Nation, "there is no there, there."


New Fox News Polls

Days before President Obama’s State of the Union speech, the Fox News poll asked voters to assess whether the White House had “mostly succeeded” or “mostly failed” at handling national priorities. The results are clear, as voters consistently say the administration has mostly failed. 

The poll, released Friday, shows the worst rating is on ISIS:  65 percent think the administration has mostly failed on dealing with the Islamic extremist group, while 23 percent say it has mostly succeeded. 

Fox News Poll

Obama Administration On ISIS

Mostly Succeeded      23%

Mostly Failed              65%

January 4-7, 2016

Registered Voters ± 3% Pts.

In addition, 58 percent of voters feel the White House has mostly failed to make the country safer (34 percent say succeeded).  That’s a significant change from how voters felt the first time Fox News asked in June 2012.  At that time, 55 percent said mostly succeeded and 32 percent said mostly failed.  This is the only area that shows such a shift since 2012. 

Fox News Poll

Obama Admin. On Making Country Safer

Now    Jan. 2015         June 2012

Mostly Succeeded      34%     43%                 55%

Mostly Failed              58%     49%                 32%

January 4-7, 2016

Registered Voters ± 3% Pts.

To be sure, there are extreme partisan divides in the assessments, with more than 8 in 10 Republicans responding negatively on each issue area tested and Democrats being mostly supportive.  However, more than half of independents say Obama has mostly failed in each instance. 

On other issues, views are only slightly less negative.  Overall, 26 percent of voters say the administration has mostly succeeded on handling illegal immigration, while 62 percent feel the opposite.

And despite Obama’s signature health care law, by a 53-41 percent margin, voters say the administration has mostly failed on improving health care. 

Voters also aren’t impressed with how Obama has done on keeping his “most transparent administration ever” promise:  59 percent feel he’s “mostly failed” on running a transparent administration.

Thirty-four percent think the White House has mostly succeeded on improving the country’s image, while 60 percent say mostly failed.

Thirty-one percent say Obama has improved race relations, while 59 percent think he’s mostly failed on this too. 

Some of the best ratings are on the economy.  Yet even there, 40 percent say Obama has mostly succeeded in improving things compared with 51 percent mostly failed.

Fox News Poll

Rate Obama Administration On…

                                    Mostly             Mostly

                                    Succeeded       Failed

Health Care                 41%                 53%

Economy                     40%                 51%

U.S. Image                  34%                 60%

U.S. Security               34%                 58%

Transparency               32%                 59%

Race Relation              31%                 59%

Immigration                26%                 62%

ISIS                             23%                 65%

January 4-7, 2016

Registered Voters ± 3% Pts.

Meanwhile, the number who feels optimistic about the economy has dropped to 49 percent, down from 58 percent a year ago.  And most voters, 76 percent, continue to rate economic conditions negatively (43 percent “only fair” and 33 percent “poor”).

Fox News Poll                                                           

     Feel About U.S. Economy

                        Now    Jan. 2015

Optimistic       49%     58%

Pessimistic       49%     39%

January 4-7, 2016

  Registered Voters ± 3% Pts.


Fox News Poll

Condition Of Economy

Excellent/       Only Fair/

Good               Poor

Now                23%                 76%

Nov. 2015       21%                 79%

Jan. 2015         25%                 75%

Jan. 2013         9%                   91%

Jan. 2009         5%                   94%

January 4-7, 2016

Registered Voters ± 3% Pts.


Only 28 percent would describe the country as “strong and confident” right now (71 percent disagree).


Fox News Poll

Is The Country Strong And Confident?

            Now    Jan. 2015

Yes      28%     27%

No       71%     71%

January 4-7, 2016

Registered Voters ± 3% Pts.


Currently, 42 of voters approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 53 percent disapprove.  A year ago it was 42-52 percent.  His highest job rating came in the weeks after his first inauguration: 65 percent approved and just 16 percent disapproved (January 2009).  Obama’s record low was 38 percent approval in September 2014. 


Fox News Poll 

President Obama’s Job Performance

                                    Jan. 11-13        Sept. 2014

                        Now    2015                Record Low

Approve          42%     42%                 38%

Disapprove      53%     52%                 56%

January 4-7, 2016

Registered Voters ± 3% Pts.



President Obama took new executive action on guns this week.  The poll asked voters how concerned they were, in general, about Obama’s use of executive orders “permanently” altering the country’s system of checks and balances:  65 percent are at least somewhat concerned.  Republicans (88 percent) are more likely than independents (66 percent) and Democrats (43 percent) to express concern. 


Fox News Poll

Pres. Obama’s Use Of Executive Action

Altering System Of Checks & Balances

                                    Now    Dec. 2014

Concerned                   65%     68%

Not Concerned           33%     32%

January 4-7, 2016

Registered Voters ± 3% Pts.


The Fox News poll is based on landline and cellphone interviews with 1,006 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from January 4-7, 2016.  The full poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.



Gen. Joseph Votel to be named next US CENTCOM commander

By Lucas Tomlinson

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, currently commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, will be named by President Obama to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command, responsible for the Middle East and Afghanistan, multiple officials tell Fox News.

President Obama’s appointment of Gen. Votel as the next CENTCOM commander is noteworthy because of his background in special operations, the U.S. military’s elite organization used extensively by the administration to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS in coordination with U.S. airpower.

Gen. Votel has led all U.S. special operations forces since 2014.

Gen. Votel replaces Gen. Lloyd Austin, a general most famous for his candid admission that only “4 or 5” U.S. military- trained Syrian rebels remain “in the fight” against ISIS in Capital Hill testimony in September.

WSJ first to report the news of Gen. Votel expected to be named new CENTCOM commander.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter will be heading to different U.S. military commands in the United States next week, part of the administration’s effort to get out speak more about the war against ISIS.

Carter will visit Ft. Campbell next week, home to the Army’s 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) as well as the U.S. Army’s  160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, tasked with flying U.S. special operations forces into and out of harms way.  Carter is expected to speak about the ISIS war at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

Carter will later travel to Florida late next week to take part in a press conference naming Gen. Votel as the next CENTCOM commander.  (U.S. Special Operations command and U.S. Central Command are both located in Tampa.)

Carter will also visit the U.S. Southern Command located in Miami, responsible for South America, before returning to Washington at the end of the week.

US special ops team "pinned down" inside Marjah compound awaiting rescue

UPDATE: A US military official tells Fox News--

A US military “quick reaction force” of reinforcements have arrived and have

evacuated the US special operator killed in action and the two wounded Americans in the compound in Marjah, Afghanistan.

The crew of the disabled helicopter have evacuated safely as well.

But the rest of the US special operations team remain in the compound to secure the damaged HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and the team remains in an area surrounded by Taliban fighters.


A team of US special operations forces is currently pinned down inside a compound in Marjah in Helmand Province Afghanistan while an AC-130 gunship orbits overhead to protect those trapped inside.

A U.S. official describing the “harrowing” scene to Fox and said there were enemy forces surrounding the compound in which the spec ops team sought refuge.

“On the map there is one green dot representing friendly forces stuck in the compound, and around it is a sea of red [resenting hostile forces],” the official told Fox News.  

A team of nearly 12 special operations forces, including the body of the special operator killed today as well as two other Americans wounded in the fighting remain inside the compound overnight awaiting rescue while fending off the Taliban.

Earlier today, two USAF HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters were sent to rescue the US special operations team.  One of the helicopters took fire and waved off the mission and flew back to base. 

The other helicopter’s blades struck the wall of the compound while attempting a rescue of the special ops team, according to defense officials who compared the scene to one similar to the helicopter crash inside Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan on the mission to kill the al-Qaeda leader in May 2011.

The joint US and Afghan special operations team was sent to Marjah to clear the area of Taliban fighters who have retaken most of the town since November.

There were nine airstrikes today in support of a clearing operation. 

Earlier today, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook confirmed to reporters that the fighting in Marjah remains ongoing.

"There's fighting on the ground as we speak," said Cook.

"Everything's being done to secure the safety of those Americans and the Afghan forces," he added.


No Investigation of Senator Cruz or Senator Rubio

Via Chad Pergram-Capitol Hill

Fox News has learned there will be no “investigation” by the Senate Intelligence Committee of comments made at last night’s debate by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) or  Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) for purportedly bringing attention to what may have been a revelation of classified information.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) indicated to other news outlets that his panel was looking at the transcripts after last night’s debate, but Fox News has learned there will be no official probe or study of the remarks.

Fox News is told that those familiar with these intelligence products think the comments were a “nothing burger” and did not reveal classified information.

That said, Fox is told that intelligence community does get a little rattled when people start to talk “numbers” in public as Senator Cruz did. Fox is told that the nation’s adversarsaries are then able to establish a metric as to “what they should and shouldn’t do.”

Moreover, the Senate Intelligence Committee does not “investigate” other members and what they have said or how they have handled (or mishandled) intelligence products.

In order for there to be a real investigation of alleged breach of classified matieral, someone would have to make a formal complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee would then have to make an adjudication as to whether there was enough meat to a case to take it up and possibly decide whether there was a transgression.

Any disciplinary action..up to and including expulsion…would be the province of the entire Senate.


Yes, I was in the Nutcracker...

 I had a great time in a walk-on role of an Ambassador in the The Washington Ballet 's production of "The Nutcracker" this weekend. The boys enjoyed my (temporary) sideburns! 



Coming Up

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Special Report will be in the Granite State with the latest on the 2016 race.

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