The Soufan Group Morning Brief


On Tuesday morning, President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state, according to people on the transition team. Tillerson, 64, is a veteran chief executive at the energy behemoth who has had extensive overseas business dealings, but his relationships with foreign leaders could complicate his confirmation prospects. Leading Republicans have expressed reservations about his years of work in Russia and the Middle East on behalf of Exxon, where he has worked for the past four decades.
Tillerson’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other members of the Russian government have in particular raised eyebrows. The Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Tillerson after he struck a 2011 deal that gave Exxon access to prized Arctic resources and allowed Russian state oil company Rosneft to invest in Exxon concessions around the world. The Trump team is reportedly planning an aggressive public relations campaign to win confirmation for Tillerson, with former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and James Baker planning to go public Tuesday with their support, as well as former defense secretary Robert Gates. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times
New Yorker: Steve Coll on Rex Tillerson’s Move from a Corporate Oil Sovereign to the State Department
President Obama moved Monday to preserve his copy of the 6,700-page Senate Torture Report, but will not declassify it now. Obama decided instead to place the report in his official presidential records, according to a letter White House Counsel Neil Eggleston sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Friday. That means the full-length report will be subject to public requests in 2029, which would trigger a declassification process at that time. Politico, Guardian, Miami Herald
New York Times editorial: Declassify the Senate Torture Report

Trump-CIA fight over Russian election interference: Donald Trump’s belief that the CIA has become a political tool of the Obama administration appears to have come from Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, who has long believed that the intelligence agency has become politicized. New York Times
Related Op-Eds:
Washington Post: Trump Is Already Antagonizing the Intel Community - and That’s a Problem (By Michael Hayden)
Washington Post: Trump’s Dangerous Diss of the CIA (By Michael Gerson)
The Atlantic: Why Trump’s Republican Party Is Embracing Russia (By Peter Beinart)
New Yorker: Trump Isolates Himself with CIA Attack (By John Cassidy)
Flynn deputy: The naming of KT McFarland to be Michael Flynn’s deputy as the No. 2 national security adviser has also provoked criticism. McFarland has been out of government for three decades and is seen as an unlikely candidate for the pressure-filled job. Politico
Trump’s business ties: In a pair of tweets just after 11pm Monday night, Trump announced that he would hand over control of his businesses to his adult sons before his inauguration and vowed that the companies would make “no new deals” while he is in office. A previously scheduled press conference on Thursday where Trump promised to announce his plans for his businesses was canceled without explanation yesterday. Washington Post
Flight diverted: A Lufthansa flight from Houston to Frankfurt, Germany, was diverted to JFK Airport on Monday night after authorities received a “credible threat” of a bomb on board. New York Daily News

The last of Aleppo’s eastern districts held by rebels have reportedly fallen to Syrian government forces, with reports of civilians shot on sight by pro-regime fighters. Rupert Colville, a U.N. human rights spokesman, said reports indicated that 82 civilians had been killed across four different neighborhoods. He described what looked like a “complete meltdown of humanity” in the city. The loss of Aleppo will leave rebel forces without a presence in any of Syria’s main cities. Thousands of civilians are attempting to leave the besieged city, and the Syria Civil Defense activist group -- also called the White Helmets -- pleaded with the international community to provide safe passage out of Aleppo for their volunteers and the 100,000 civilians still living there. CNN, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Reuters
Wall Street Journal: European Diplomats Attack Russia’s Syria Position after ISIS Retakes Palmyra

United Kingdom: Police have arrested 6 terror suspects after raiding an alleged bomb-making factory in the East Midlands. Telegraph
United Kingdom: Two men who were convicted of giving money to the Brussels terror suspect known as the “man in the hat” have been sentenced to prison. Mohammed Ali Ahmed was sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty to engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism, and Zakaria Boufassil received three years. BBC News
How Trump is repeating the mistakes of Iraq: “Trump thinks the intelligence agencies screwed up in Iraq by imagining a conspiracy that wasn’t there,” writes William Saletan in “His argument is that you should assume they’re making the same mistake now about Russia. But that’s not what postwar investigations of the Iraq fiasco found. Those investigations found that the intelligence agencies’ mistake in Iraq wasn’t indulging in fancy. Their mistake was developing a rigid, self-serving conviction and ignoring evidence to the contrary. That’s exactly what Trump is doing now.”
The insidious method to the jihadist madness: “Jihadist attacks on minority religious and ethnic groups are part of a deeper strategy to destabilize regimes,” writes Kamran Bokhari in Geopolitical Futures. “The jihadis understand that they cannot directly fight the regimes in the Muslim world and hope to topple them. They do not possess that capability. Therefore, they have to create the conditions that could lead to overwhelming the regimes.”
It’s going to be very hard for Trump - or anyone - to defeat ISIS: “On the face of it, the Islamic State is already in retreat,” writes Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post. But “truly quashing extremism would require a level of engagement in the region and policy nuance that Trump has so far not demonstrated.”
What comes after Aleppo? “The battle for eastern Aleppo will be over soon, but tens of thousands of Syrians there will find little peace,” writes Faysal Itani in the New York Times. “The victory for the government of President Bashar al-Assad will open another violent, disorienting chapter in their lives, and a dangerous one for the opposition.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief:  The Islamic State Retakes Palmyra

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