The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2016
SYRIAN REBELS LAUNCH MAJOR COUNTEROFFENSIVE IN ALEPPO
A coalition of Syrian rebels groups said it had begun a major offensive on Friday to break the months long siege of eastern parts of Aleppo by government and Russian forces. “The aim is to relieve the city and provide our brothers and sisters inside with the food and medicine they desperately need,” Abu Baker, a commander with the Jaish al-Mujahideen rebel group, told the Financial Times. The fighting continued through the weekend, as the rebels deployed car bombs and salvos of rockets and mortar shells to break through government lines. Financial Times, Washington Post, New York Times, Al Jazeera

COMEY UNDER FIRE FOR TIMING OF CLINTON ANNOUNCEMENT
Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer at the White House during George W. Bush’s presidency, has filed an ethics complaint against FBI Director James Comey for possible violations of the Hatch Act, “which bars the use of an official position to influence an election.” New York Times, Slate
NSA MISSED ‘RED FLAGS’ WITH NSA SUSPECT
Harold Martin, the NSA contractor who was arrested in August and charged with stealing government documents and mishandling classified information over two decades, received and kept a top-secret security clearance despite a record that included drinking problems, a drunken-driving arrest, unpaid tax bills, a charge of computer harassment and an episode in which he posed as a police officer in a traffic dispute, reports the New York Times. Those revelations, and the scope of Martin’s alleged hoarding of classified information, have cast a harsh light on the agency’s vetting procedures in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks.
 
A federal judge denied Martin bail on Friday. Prosecutors say they will add new charges under the Espionage Act. New York Times
 
ISIS guilty plea: An Indiana man pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to distributing information regarding the manufacture and use of explosives. Marlonn Hicks, 30, had expressed a desire to join ISIS, according to federal authorities. Chicago Tribune
 
‘Merchant of death’: The case of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been called one of the world’s most prolific arms traffickers, will be back in federal court today, where his attorneys will argue for a new trial. They say they have uncovered new evidence that Bout’s alleged co-conspirator was a government informant. Bout was convicted in 2011 of charges including conspiracies to kill U.S. citizens and provide material support to terrorists. Wall Street Journal

McMullin’s 10 years undercover at the CIA: Conservative independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, who stands a chance of winning the state of Utah, worked for 10 years undercover at the CIA. Josh Rogin at the Washington Post interviewed six former case officers who worked with him, and reports that McMullin was by many accounts a young case officer “who volunteered for duty in the world’s most dangerous places and had a unique talent for recruiting members of extremist organizations as assets.” Washington Post
 

TALIBAN GAIN GROUND IN AFGHANISTAN, AS SOLDIERS LEAVE POSTS
The Taliban have taken more territory in Afghanistan this year than at any time in their 15-year struggle against the Western-supported Afghan government, the New York Times and Reuters report. Scores of Afghan soldiers have surrendered to the group in recent weeks, as the Afghan military suffers from declining numbers and high attrition rates. New York Times, Reuters
Related:
New York Times: Fire, Film, Tweet: The Taliban’s New Way of War
 
THOUSANDS OF SHIITE FIGHTERS JOIN FIGHT AGAINST ISIS IN MOSUL
Iraq’s state-sanctioned Shiite militias said Sunday that some 5,000 fighters have joined their push to encircle Mosul and cut off ISIS militants there. The additional assistance brings the total number of anti-ISIS fighters to more than 40,000. CBS News, CNN
 
Meanwhile in Kirkuk, where a sudden and ambitious ISIS attack was put down in the past 10 days, a local counterterrorism unit is mining the cellphones of dozens of dead ISIS fighters for data and trying to find any residents who might have been assisting them. New York Times
Related:
CNN: A Conversation with the General Running the War Against ISIS
Los Angeles Times: Life under Islamic State Was Strict and Brutal, But Some Moments Didn’t Seem So Bad, Sunni Iraqis Say


Saudi Arabia: Saudi authorities say they have foiled a plot to bomb an international football match in the western city of Jeddah, as well as a second ISIS plot targeting security officials in Riyadh. BBC News, Wall Street Journal
 
The spread of ISIS: Counterterrorism officials in Southeast Asia are concerned that the fall of Mosul will prompt ISIS fighters from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and other countries to return home and plot attacks. South China Morning Post
 
TOP OP-EDS
The end of the Islamic State will make the Middle East worse: “As the Islamic State weakens, the sense of relief [across the Middle East] is unmistakable. The terrorist organization has not turned out to be the Godzilla many feared,” says Emile Hokayem in the Washington Post. “Yet, even as eyes are riveted on reports from Mosul, Iraq, and elsewhere, there is little optimism — and certainly no euphoria — to be found here. Everyone knows that the weakening of the Islamic State is accompanied by the resurfacing, often in more potent ways, of past fault lines.”
 
What good are America’s counterterrorism allies? “Over the last fifteen years, the U.S. has partnered with dozens of countries, providing military assistance and cooperation for targeting terrorists or building partner capacity or, in some cases, foreign aid to mitigate the root causes for terrorism,” writes Clint Watts in Lawfare. “The results of these partnerships have been uneven at best.”
 
Why Al Qaeda remains a bigger threat than ISIS: “Al Qaeda presents the gravest long-term problem to the West,” said Colin Clarke and Barak Mendelsohn in RAND.org. “Al Qaeda’s ruthlessly pragmatic approach has placed it in a far better position to achieve its strategic objectives. It has proved more effective in taking advantage of U.S. policy in the Middle East, primarily in Syria, to legitimize itself as an armed force and, increasingly, as a viable political player.”
EDITOR'S PICK
 
SOUFAN GROUP
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