The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The official news agency of ISIS on Tuesday labeled the Ohio State student who smashed his car into a crowd and then slashed at people with a butcher knife a “soldier” of the militant group. The Somali-born attacker, identified as Abdul Razak Ali Artan, was shot and killed by a police officer. ISIS’s claim does not mean that Artan had been in touch with the group or acted at its behest. But, the New York Times reports, “the vast majority of attacks claimed this way by ISIS have eventually been shown to at least have been inspired by the group’s propaganda.” Authorities have not established a motive in the attack. Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters
New Yorker: The Hand of ISIS at Ohio State
The Periodic Review Board at Guantanamo this week approved the release of a 21st Guantanamo prisoner, and rejected the release of another. The board ruled that of Jabran Qahtani, 39, a Saudi man who was once accused of helping assemble bombs in Pakistan, be sent home to possible prosecution and rehabilitation. Another captive, Yemeni Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah, 47, was rejected for release. In rejecting Abdullah, the board cited his “past ties with al Qaeda’s external operations planners and senior leadership, including 9/11 conspirator Walid Bin Attash.” Bin Attash is one of five men awaiting a death-penalty tribunal for the 9/11 attacks.
The decisions mean that, of the 60 war-on-terror captives at the prison, 29 are “forever prisoners” -- board-approved indefinite detainees -- and 10 are in war crimes proceedings at military commissions, six of them death-penalty tribunals. The other 21, including Qahtani, are approved for release to security arrangements approved by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter after 30 days notice to Congress. Miami Herald
Trump and cybersecurity: President-Elect Donald Trump promised in a Nov. 21 video message that during his first 100 days he would ask the Department of Defense to develop a plan to protect America’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks. But, as Paul Rosenzweig points out at Lawfare, that plan “would be a sea change in current policy” that would likely “violate existing law” because the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for helping the private sector protect infrastructure like airports, hospitals and power plants. The Pentagon, through U.S. Cyber Command, only defends military networks. Politico, Lawfare
ISIS guilty plea: A 20-year-old North Carolina man accused of plotting a mass killing in support of ISIS pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to terrorism-related charges. According to court documents, Justin Sullivan began watching videos of ISIS beheadings and other atrocities on his laptop in September 2014. The next year, Sullivan allegedly made contact with an ISIS recruiter online and promised to stage an attack. Prosecutors said Sullivan agreed to a sentence of life in prison. Washington Post, Charlotte Observer
Brennan backs Iran deal: Outgoing CIA Director John Brennan said Wednesday it would be the “height of folly” for Donald Trump to tear up Washington’s deal with Tehran because it would make it more likely that Iran and other countries would acquire nuclear weapons. Reuters
Surveillance powers: Bloomberg reports that the FBI and NSA are likely to gain new surveillance powers under Trump and a Republican-led Congress. Some expanded powers are already in the pipeline. A new rule is set to go into effect on Dec. 1 that allows the FBI to get permission from a judge in a single jurisdiction to hack into multiple computers whose locations aren’t known. Bloomberg

The U.S. military on Tuesday blamed human error for what it called a mistaken coalition air assault on Sept. 17 that reportedly killed dozens of Syrian soldiers in Syria’s Deir al-Zour Province. The attacks were conducted under the “good-faith belief” that the targets were ISIS militants, according to the official inquiry. NPR, CBS News, New York Times
The Kurdistan Regional Security Council in Iraq’s Kurdish region recently offered Reuters the rare opportunity to interview two jailed ISIS suspects in the presence of an official. “They described how ISIS transformed them from ordinary Mosul citizens into jihadists through promises and threats and said unjust treatment of their Sunni community by the Shiite-led government and armed forces played a major role.” Reuters
New York Times: Another Mass Grave Dug by ISIS in Iraq, and a Ghastly Ritual Renewed
Yemen: In an unexpected move, the Houthi rebels and their allies formed a new government in Yemen this week, angering their Saudi-backed rivals and complicating U.N. efforts to end the two-year old conflict there. New York Times

A confidential report by German authorities provides new insights into what investigators know about the mindsets of ISIS recruits who have returned to Europe from Syria and Iraq, reports the Washington Post. At the core of the report, partially published by German newspaper Die Welt, is the question of what differentiates a disillusioned returnee from a potentially dangerous individual who might be willing to conduct attacks in Europe. Only 10 percent of all returnees are disillusioned with the ideology, the new report suggests. Eight percent of them might only have come back to their home country Germany to recover from being on the battlefield, before trying to return to Syria and Iraq, the report says. According to the report, about half—48 percent—stay committed to extremist ideology and remain friends with other extremists. Washington Post, Die Welt
Somalia: Somalia’s presidential election, scheduled for this week, has been postponed for a third time. Foreign Policy, Voice of America
Germany: Germany’s top spy cautioned Tuesday that Russian hackers may seek to disrupt Germany’s national elections next year. Washington Post
India-Pakistan: Tensions between Pakistan and India were renewed this week after a group of heavily armed militants disguised as police officers attacked an Indian Army unit in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, killing seven Indian soldiers. New York Times
The terror war under Trump: “President Obama refuses to refer to a ‘global war on terror’ as his predecessor did, or to a war on ‘radical Islam’ as his successor does,” writes Max Boot in Commentary. “He has nevertheless presided over a robust set of counter-terror measures that have been implemented across the world. The CIA and the military’s Special Operations Command have continued what they started after 9/11, waging a covert war to kill or capture terrorist leaders belonging to groups ranging from al-Qaeda, ISIS, or al-Shabaab. The ascension of President Trump offers an opportunity to make some important tweaks that will improve the effectiveness of this effort.”
What Trump should do in Syria: “All wars are frightening for those stuck in the middle, but the five-and-a-half-year conflict in Syria has proven to be especially horrific,” writes Kenneth Roth in the New York Review of Books. “What kind of policy might President-elect Donald Trump adopt toward it? How different would his approach be from Barack Obama’s? Despite his early rhetoric about joining with the Russian and Syrian governments to fight ISIS, Trump is likely to encounter a far more complicated terrain than he seems to understand, which will require a much tougher approach toward Moscow than he so far envisions.”
Flynn is the wrong man for Trump’s national security adviser: “Gen. Michael Flynn has served our country admirably, and there is certainly a role for him in the Trump administration,” writes Robert Carle in The Federalist. “But it would be risky to place him in charge of developing and executing the new president’s foreign and defense policies.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief:  The High Stakes in Aleppo

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