The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2016
The Morning Brief will return Monday, November 28. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
TRUMP SIGNALS SHIFTS ON TORTURE
After months of suggesting on the campaign trail that he would bring back waterboarding and other forms of harsh interrogation, President-elect Donald Trump reversed course on Tuesday, telling the New York Times in an on-the-record interview that he is no longer certain that torturing terrorism suspects is effective.
 
Trump suggested he had changed his mind about the value of waterboarding after talking with James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who headed the United States Central Command and is considered to be a leading pick for Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration. “He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,’” Trump said in the interview. He added that Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terrorism suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I’ll do better.’” “I was very impressed by that answer,” Trump said. Torture, he said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”
 
All of Trump’s cabinet picks so far—for national security advisor, CIA director, and vice president — have called for abusive interrogation techniques to be re-introduced to the U.S. government’s counterterrorism toolbox.
 
Trump also suggested that he was not inclined to pursue prosecutions of Hillary Clinton, but said the possibility was not off the table. New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Times
Related:
New York Times: The Full Trump Transcript
 
HALEY TAPPED TO BE U.N. AMBASSADOR
The Washington Post reports that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has been tapped to be U.N. Ambassador under Trump. An announcement is expected this morning. Washington Post
Trump’s first 100 days: In a YouTube video released this week, President-elect Donald Trump laid out a handful of priorities for the first 100 days of his administration, including working with the Department of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “to develop a comprehensive plan to protect America’s vital infrastructure from cyberattacks and all other form of attacks.” The Hill
 

U.S. IDENTIFIES ISIS OPERATIVE SUSPECTED IN PARIS AND BRUSSELS ATTACKS
The U.S. government revealed the identity on Tuesday of an ISIS operative believed to have been one of the overseers of last year’s attacks in Paris, as well as of the coordinated suicide bombings in Brussels this year. The operative, who until recently was known only by his nom de guerre, Abu Souleymane al-Faransi, is a 27-year-old originally from Morocco whose real name is Abdelilah Himich, according to a statement from the State Department announcing his designation as a global terrorist. Himich reportedly grew up in France and fought in the French Foreign Legion in Afghanistan before traveling to Syria and joining ISIS. New York Times
 
Last month, ProPublica and the PBS program Frontline reported that U.S. intelligence officials believe Himich was part of an ISIS unit in Syria that directed the terror attacks against Paris and Brussels. Composed largely of youthful European fighters, the external operations unit oversaw a campaign in which up to 200 operatives were deployed to Europe using forged documents, encrypted communications techniques and support networks supplying arms, transport and safe houses. ProPublica
 
ISIS TRIAL SHOWS TURKEY’S SECURITY FLAWS
The trial of ISIS suspects in Turkey who are accused of being behind a bombing in Ankara last year that killed more than 100 people has revealed a series of flaws in Turkey’s border security and intelligence. Reuters
 
United Kingdom: Human rights and civil liberties activists are alarmed at the ease with which the British government passed the so-called Snooper’s Charter, a wide-ranging surveillance bill that activists say is without precedent in any Western democracy. The bill forces internet and phone companies to keep records of all users for up to a year, including every website visited and every phone call made. Such surveillance does not have to be targeted or based on any reasonable suspicion and personal data can be accessed without a warrant in some instances. Los Angeles Times
 

PENTAGON: AIR STRIKE KILLS SENIOR AL QAEDA LEADER IN SYRIA
An air strike carried out by the U.S. last week killed Abu Afghan Al-Masri, a “senior al Qaeda leader,” near Sarmada, Syria, on Nov. 18, the Pentagon announced Tuesday. Reuters, Al Jazeera
 
Libya: Libyan authorities said Tuesday that they have arrested a wife of the one-eyed militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, once considered the most dangerous man in the Sahara and a veteran al-Qaeda-linked figure. Voice of America
 
Syria: As the Syrian war grinds on, the Syrian regime is reportedly struggling with a shortfall in military volunteers. The army is increasingly reliant on conscripts and even prisoners, and has been extending the terms of conscripts beyond the customary two years. Washington Post
TOP OP-EDS
The Middle East has some questions for Donald Trump: “What does Donald Trump’s election mean for the Middle East?” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “A group of prominent foreign ministers and policy experts gathered here last weekend to explore the election’s implications for the world’s most volatile region.”
 
Islamophobia is not a national security strategy: “As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump famously promised not only to use the phrase but also to fight ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’” writes Bloomberg View in an editorial. “Yet as his administration comes together, it's getting harder to make the distinction between that fight and outright Islamophobia.”
 
The hypocrisy of the anti-war Left: The Assad regime and its enablers in Russia and Iran “not only bomb hospitals, they routinely bomb civilian neighborhoods and impose sieges which make it impossible to get food or medicine to civilians trapped in the fighting,” writes Max Boot in Commentary Magazine. “How to explain the deafening silence in the face of these crimes against humanity? Could it be that atrocities only matter to the enlightened thinkers of the West when they can be blamed on the U.S. and Israel but other countries get a free pass?”
EDITOR'S PICK
 
SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief:  The Danger of Rebranding Domestic Terrorism




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