The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Upon taking office, President-elect Donald Trump will face immediate tests in whether he can keep his most controversial vows on counterterrorism and national security, some of which will be almost impossible to implement, according to weekend reports. Trump already has begun modifying some of his promises, such as the radical pledge to ban foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. With others, such as a return to brutal forms of interrogation, Trump’s proposals would be barred by U.S. law. The Hill
Trump will find assistance for following through on some of his promised policies from a surprising source, writes Charlie Savage in the New York Times: “President Obama’s have-it-both-ways approach to curbing what he saw as overreaching in the war on terrorism...Over and over, Obama has imposed limits on his use of such powers but has not closed the door on them—a flexible approach premised on the idea that he and his successors could be trusted to use them prudently. Trump can now sweep away those limits and open the throttle on policies that Obama endorsed as lawful and legitimate for sparing use, like targeted killings in drone strikes and the use of indefinite detention and military tribunals for terrorism suspects.” New York Times
Two immediate tests will show Trump’s foreign policy direction, writes Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post. “The first will come quickly: appointments. The would-be Trump-tamers are fervently hoping he will choose to staff top national security posts with seasoned hands: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.); former national security adviser Stephen Hadley; David Petraeus. To do that they must overcome his strong inclination to install eccentric cronies such as Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani or retired general Michael Flynn….The other big test will be Trump’s handling of Putin.” Washington Post
Guantanamo: It remains unclear what a President Trump might do with the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Experts suggest that detainee transfers could stop the day Trump is sworn in, and that he may decide to add additional prisoners over time. Miami Herald  
Lawfare: Pence as Trump’s National Security Surrogate?
U.S. News and World Report: Five Counterterrorism Recommendations for President-Elect Trump
New York Post: Trump Needs to Make Heads Roll at FBI and CIA
Washington Post: On Foreign Policy, Trump Is No Realist
Washington Post: Trump Draws Sharp Rebuke, Concerns Over Newly Appointed Chief Strategist Steve Bannon
A federal judge in Minnesota will begin three days of sentencing hearings today for nine young Somali-American men convicted in the nation’s largest ISIS conspiracy case to date. Six men who accepted plea bargains face up to 15 years in prison; two of them who cooperated with prosecutors have been recommended for reduced sentences. Prosecutors are seeking longer sentences for three men who went to trial and were also convicted of conspiracy to murder abroad: a 40-year sentence for Guled Omar, and 30-year sentences for Mohamed Farah and Abdirahman Daud.  
Judge Michael J. Davis has openly wrestled with the fact that some of the defendants appear to be malleable youths who were ensnared by sly recruiting tactics. The judge asked a deradicalization expert from Germany to come to the U.S., interview six of the nine defendants, and determine whether they would be candidates for a reduced sentence. He also asked prosecutors to analyze sentences imposed in similar cases around the country. The government’s final report to Davis found that 26 defendants since June 2014 have been sentenced to between four and 40 years in prison, or roughly 16 years on average.
“This judge has the ability for the first time to set up some kind of coherent rationale for a spectrum of sentences—because nobody has handled a case of this size,” said Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law. “This has the possibility to set up some kind of template for others to use.” Minnesota Public Radio, Wall Street Journal, Wired, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Washington Post: Muslim Americans Share Pain of Having Family Convicted of Supporting Terrorism
The Obama administration is negotiating with Malaysia over a deal to repatriate and continue to incarcerate a Guantanamo detainee accused of being an accessory to two major terrorist attacks in Indonesia, according to the New York Times. The talks are focused on a Malaysian detainee at Guantanamo, Mohd Farik Bin Amin, better known as Zubair. Along with another Malaysian detainee, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, who is often called Lillie, Zubair is accused of helping an Indonesian militant at Guantanamo, Hambali, evade arrest after the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali and of moving funds later used to finance the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta.
According to the report, “the idea is that Zubair would plead guilty to terrorism offenses before an American military commission and agree to testify against Lillie and Hambali. If he lives up to that promise and serves about four more years in United States custody, Zubair would be repatriated to Malaysia to serve the remainder of his sentence.” The ultimate goal is to use testimony from one or both of them to win a conviction against Hambali. New York Times

Four Americans were killed in an apparent suicide bomb attack early Saturday at Bagram Airfield just north of Kabul. Two of those killed were service members, and two were contractors, according to the Defense Department. At least 16 other U.S. service members were wounded. In a tweet, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the BBC, the suicide bomber was a former Taliban member working at the base who had participated in a government reintegration program. BBC News, CNN, Wall Street Journal
After the bombing, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was shut down except for emergency services for the first time since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, in what officials called a temporary precautionary measure. Washington Post
A powerful suicide bomb ripped through a crowd gathered at a Sufi shrine in the Khuzdar district of Pakistan’s restive province of Baluchistan on Saturday, killing at least 52 people and wounding 100 others. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying the suicide attack had targeted Shiites. Associated Press, New York Times
Associated Press: Islamic State Group Flourishes and Recruits in Pakistan
Three Army Special Forces soldiers killed at a Jordanian military base this month were working for a CIA program to train moderate Syrian fighters when they were shot at a checkpoint under still-unclear circumstances, according to U.S. officials. The Fort Campbell, Ky.-based soldiers were killed Nov. 4 by a Jordanian soldier at an entry control point to Prince Faisal Air Base near Jafr, about 150 miles south of Amman. It is believed to be the deadliest single incident involving a CIA team since December 2009, when seven officers and contractors were killed in a suicide bombing in Khost, Afghanistan. Washington Post
Mosul fight: Iraqi forces are pushing deeper into Mosul neighborhoods in an effort to dislodge ISIS fighters there. U.N. officials said that ISIS militants have summarily killed scores of civilians in the city in recent days, sometimes using children as executioners, and have used chemical agents against Iraqi and Kurdish troops. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

France: France marked the first anniversary of the terror attacks that claimed the lives of 130 people last November, as French President François Hollande joined survivors and families of the victims at all six of the locations targeted by ISIS. Wall Street Journal
Russia: Russia’s security services says it has arrested 10 people from Central Asia with links to ISIS who allegedly planned to carry out attacks with firearms and explosives in Moscow and St Petersburg. Reuters
Autocracy -- rules for survival: “I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia,” writes Masha Gessen in the New York Review of Books. “I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now. Rule #1: Believe the autocrat.”
Donald Trump and the normalization of torture: “Among the troubling, bizarre, and uninformed foreign policy platforms of President-elect Donald Trump, one of the most frightening is his position on torture as a counterterror tool,” writes Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault in Lawfare.
Ending aid to terrorists: “In his eulogy recently for Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, President Obama spoke of the ‘unfinished business’ of Israeli-Palestinian peace,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “Now he or Donald Trump have an opportunity to advance the cause—by backing legislation to stop the flow of U.S. tax dollars to Palestinian terrorists.”
America needs a war on terror veterans memorial: “There is precious little that recognizes the sacrifice [of war on terror veterans],” writes Jan Scruggs in The New York Times. “Discounts at the mall, priority seating on planes — these are nice, but they hardly amount to the sort of commemoration we have bestowed on veterans of previous wars. What we need is a national memorial.”
Empire of chaos: “It’s something of a cliché to say that, sooner or later, the frontier wars of empires come home to haunt the imperial heartland in curious ways,” writes Tom Engelhardt in Tom “Certainly, such has been the case for our wars on the peripheries. In various forms -- from the militarization of the police to the loosing of spy drones in American skies and of surveillance technology tested on distant battlefields -- it’s obvious that America’s post-9/11 conflicts have returned to ‘the homeland.’”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Iran’s Challenge to the Trump Administration

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