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News Brief: U.S. Backs Cease-Fire, Roe V. Wade Challenge, Insurrection Intelligence

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

How much leverage does the U.S. have to bring the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians to an end?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden had a phone conversation with Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, yesterday. Biden said it is time for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. But Israeli airstrikes have increased, and Hamas continues its rocket attacks into Israel. Israeli strikes have caused widespread destruction in Gaza. Jamal al-Sharif (ph) says he and his family have been living in fear.

JAMAL AL-SHARIF: The situation is terrifying. We cannot go even to the garden or the yard of the house. It's scary and dangerous. You feel that the drones will think that you are doing something wrong.

INSKEEP: Now, health officials in Gaza have been saying at least 200 people have been killed, including many children, and that there are shortages of water and electricity. Israelis say Hamas rocket fire has killed at least 10 people in Israel.

MARTIN: NPR's Jackie Northam is reporting on all this from Jerusalem. Jackie, thanks for being here.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So President Biden said he wants to see a cease-fire. But as we've pointed out, it doesn't seem to have made a bit of difference. The fighting goes on, right? What's the latest?

NORTHAM: Well, Israel carried out another round of strikes this morning against targets in Gaza. And the Israeli military says Hamas fired dozens of rockets into Israel. So you're right. The fighting continues. Meanwhile, people in Gaza are trying to dig out from a number of Israeli air attacks yesterday, and that targeted a network of underground tunnels used by Hamas. But also, small businesses and roads were also demolished. And there are concerns this could have a serious impact on Gaza's economy, as well as getting humanitarian aid into the area. Meanwhile, Rachel, Palestinian leaders in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and parts of Israel are calling for a one-day general strike today to protest the Israeli attacks in Gaza. And, you know, Palestinian government offices, banks, businesses will all be shut.

MARTIN: I want to talk about the difficult line that President Biden is trying to walk here. He isn't explicitly calling for a cease-fire, per se, right? He stopped short of that.

NORTHAM: That's right. The White House issued a statement after President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu talked yesterday. It was a very carefully worded statement that said Biden expressed support for a cease-fire. But, you know, it stopped short of demanding a cease-fire. And the wording on the statement leads some to think that it gives too much room to Israel to keep up airstrikes that have caused this widespread destruction in Gaza. Up until now, the Biden administration has been saying it's been focusing on quiet, intensive diplomacy. But, Rachel, at the same time, it's been blocking efforts by the U.N. Security Council to issue a statement expressing, you know, grave concern for the loss of civilian life and also calling an end to hostilities.

MARTIN: So what difference does it make? I mean, when President Biden calls up Bibi Netanyahu and says, you know, I'd be really supportive of a cease-fire, what influence does he have?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, it's hard to say whether there's going to be a cease-fire now or not. It's not looking very promising. Prime Minister Netanyahu came out of a meeting yesterday with his defense and intelligence chief and said the directive is to continue striking at Gaza. In the meantime, Hamas continues to fire rockets. They've sent more than 3,500 rockets into Israel since all the fighting started, and that's much more than any previous conflict. So it's hard to say what the statement yesterday will do.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Jackie Northam reporting from Jerusalem. Jackie, thank you. We appreciate it.

NORTHAM: Thanks so much, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. It has been barely six months since Republicans installed a supermajority of conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

INSKEEP: And the court has now agreed to review a state law that bans some abortions based on gestation period. Mississippi prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That is much earlier than the six months which were declared in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortions nationwide. The Mississippi case will be considered by a court where 6 of 9 justices are considered conservative. Three were appointed by former President Trump, who explicitly promised to appoint justices who would, quote, "automatically overturn abortion rights."

MARTIN: We've got NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon with us to talk about this. Sarah, thanks for being here.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Yeah, good morning.

MARTIN: What does it signify that the court is even willing to take up this case?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, it appears, at least, that some justices may be ready to allow states to pass much more restrictive limits on abortion than they've been able to for decades. Or at least they're willing to hear arguments to that end. In taking this case, the justices said they would focus narrowly on one really crucial question, and that is whether laws banning abortion before fetal viability are constitutional. Now, in the past, the court has by and large said they're not. Although states have more latitude to restrict abortion later on in pregnancy, they don't have as much earlier on, when a fetus could not live outside of a woman's body. So this 15-week ban in Mississippi, which we should say advocates have acknowledged was designed specifically to challenge those precedents - it falls before fetal viability by any way you measure that. And another important factor here - this will be the first major abortion case with Justice Amy Coney Barrett on the bench. Her presence, of course, seemingly tilts the court farther to the right.

MARTIN: So this case centers around this Mississippi law, but what are the broader implications for the rest of the country?

MCCAMMON: So if the court upholds this law, there's no reason why other states couldn't pass similar laws limiting abortion before viability. It's unclear how broad the court's ruling could be or to what degree the court would allow states to restrict abortion. But Shannon Brewer is the director of Jackson Women's Health Organization. That's the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, and they're a plaintiff in this case. Here's what she said.

SHANNON BREWER: I know that this is going to be a devastating impact if this goes through for women not only here in Mississippi but everywhere. This is going to affect half of the United States.

MCCAMMON: And what she's referring to there, Rachel, is the Center for Reproductive Rights estimates that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, around 20 states could ban abortion altogether in short order.

MARTIN: What are you hearing, Sarah, from abortion rights opponents?

MCCAMMON: Of course, they're celebrating the court's decision to take this case. Abortion rights advocates had hoped the court would just reject it and defer to lower courts who said the law is unconstitutional. But for social conservatives, overturning Roe has been a long-standing goal and a political rallying cry for decades. And now they appear to be closer than ever to that goal. I talked to Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League. He says he hopes this is just a first step.

ERIC SCHEIDLER: So if Mississippi's law is upheld and we see, you know, red states enacting similar legislation, they're going to go farther. Some of them are going to shoot for maybe a 12-week ban. There's a vast landscape of possibility. And I'll be excited to see how things play out next year when we finally get a ruling.

MCCAMMON: And, Rachel, we can expect that ruling sometime next year.

MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thank you so much.

MCCAMMON: Sure thing.

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MARTIN: All right. The Office of Intelligence and Analysis sounds kind of obscure. It is a little-known agency within the Department of Homeland Security. But what it did or didn't do on the day of the attack on the U.S. Capitol could have big repercussions.

INSKEEP: Today, a Senate panel will examine the agency's role in the runup to the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol. And NPR has obtained a report by a former New York Police Department intelligence chief about why the DHS group did not send a warning about the anticipated violence that day.

MARTIN: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is with us this morning to talk about what she's found. Thanks, Dina, for being here.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: First, explain exactly what this agency is and does.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis - it's known as I&A - is the intelligence arm of the Department of Homeland Security. And a key part of its job is to provide a written analysis of possible domestic threats. These threat assessments aren't just done for events that might have potential for violence. The I&A assessments are routine. They're done for everything. They even did one for the Kentucky Derby.

MARTIN: And as far as I understand that, they're supposed to take intelligence, analyze it and then pass it to local law enforcement, right?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, but they didn't do that last part when it came to January 6. And it doesn't appear that they did much analysis, either. One of the premier local intelligence units in the country is the New York Police Department. And Mitch Silber used to be the head of that intelligence unit. And this is how he explains it.

MITCH SILBER: Because when we think about an intelligence agency, they have three functions. Collect the intelligence. Analyze the intelligence that - you know when you connect the dots, what does it look like? And when you have that picture, then you warn the appropriate authorities so that they can take some actions to mitigate what you think is coming.

MARTIN: But the problem is this agency - bears repeating - didn't do that before January 6.

TEMPLE-RASTON: No, it didn't. And that's a problem.

MARTIN: And this report that you have a handle on - this is what this was all about?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it was certainly - a large part of the report looked at that. Among other things, the report and the people we talked to found that this particular division of DHS was much more political than intelligence agencies typically are. DHS's I&A priorities have traditionally been set by the White House. During the Obama administration, for example, the I&A focus was on ISIS and its effect on young people here in the United States. For the Trump administration, it was the border with Mexico and threats from extremists - or what they called extremists on the left. So that ended up putting a real thumb on the scale. And DHS I&A analysts focused on those priorities. You know, on top of that, we found that it wasn't really considered a plum assignment to be assigned to I&A. A lot of people are transferred there from other agencies. And often, they aren't the top performers in their home agencies. So there are more morale problems over there, as well.

MARTIN: So I imagine this is all going to be grist for questions that lawmakers will ask in this Senate panel hearing today, right?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Right. The Senate Homeland Security Committee will have this hearing. It's going to examine the role of I&A. And specifically, we expect a lot of discussion to focus on what went wrong before January 6, since there were no assessments, as we said, or intelligence reports that went out to local law enforcement. And those are important because that helps them figure out what resources to put for a particular event.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston from our investigations team. Thank you so much, Dina. We appreciate it.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.