The Soufan Group Morning Brief


A secret U.S. military investigation in 2010 determined that Michael Flynn, the retired Army general tapped to serve as national security adviser in the Trump White House, “inappropriately shared” classified information with foreign military officers in Afghanistan, reports the Washington Post. Flynn was not disciplined or reprimanded, because  the investigation concluded that he did not act “knowingly” and that “there was no actual or potential damage to national security as a result.” But he had not been authorized to share the information about U.S. agencies in Afghanistan, including the CIA, with British and Australian allies there.
That was the second time in a year that Flynn had been investigated or reprimanded for his handling of classified information. U.S. officials say Flynn had also disclosed sensitive information to Pakistan in late 2009 or early 2010 about secret U.S. intelligence capabilities being used to monitor the Haqqani network, the insurgent group accused of repeated attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. During the campaign, Flynn was one of the most strident critics of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server. “If I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today,” he said at the Republican National Convention. Washington Post
Attorneys for Guantanamo detainee Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is accused of masterminding the USS Cole bombing, asked the military judge at the prison Wednesday to order four key CIA figures involved in the the Saudi captive’s alleged waterboarding to testify at pre-trial hearings, in a bid to get the case thrown out. Nashiri’s lawyers want former CIA attorney John Rizzo, Jose Rodriguez, former CIA psychologist James Mitchell, and Mitchell’s CIA interrogation program partner Bruce Jessen to testify about video tapes of Nashiri’s interrogations, as well as about their destruction at the time of a federal protection order.
Defense attorney Rick Kammen cited revelations in Mitchell’s new book, Enhanced Interrogation, which described how Nashiri slipped from the straps of the waterboard during three sessions of simulated drownings. Defense lawyers want the details of Nashiri’s treatment in the record in order to argue at trial against admissibility of evidence in some instances, and against execution if Nashiri is convicted. Miami Herald
BuzzFeed: The Torture Lobby Is Excited for the Trump Years
In a surprise, President Obama declined to sign a renewal of sanctions against Iran but let the legislation become law anyway. The White House had indicated that Obama was expected to sign the 10-year-renewal, but the midnight deadline came and went Thursday with no approval from the president. Though Obama’s move doesn’t prevent the sanctions renewal from entering force, it marked a symbolic attempt by the president to demonstrate disapproval for lawmakers’ actions. Politico, Los Angeles Times
Bolton as State deputy: Republican resistance is reportedly building against the idea of naming John Bolton as deputy to serve under Rex Tillerson at the State Department. New York Times
Thomas Durkin profile: The Wall Street Journal profiles attorney Thomas Durkin, who has built his career representing terror suspects and other unpopular defendants. Wall Street Journal
Trump’s tech summit: Titans of the tech world, including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Sheryl Sandberg, met with President-elect Donald Trump in New York on Wednesday. The group reportedly discussed jobs in the U.S. tech sector, and avoided any discussion of surveillance or encryption. PCWorld
New details about National Security Letters: Credo, a progressive phone company based in San Francisco, has been granted permission by a federal judge to disclose details about its battle with the FBI over several secret National Security Letters. Huffington Post

A second attempt to evacuate the wounded from the shrinking rebel enclave in the Syrian city of Aleppo was foiled early Thursday, after Syrian government troops reportedly opened fire on ambulances. But other buses and ambulances later started moving into rebel-held areas of the city under a deal to evacuate civilians and fighters, and the Russian defense ministry said the evacuation of 5,000 rebels and their family members had begun. Washington Post, Reuters
The top American commander in charge of targeting ISIS said Wednesday that the U.S. will strike ISIS fighters in Palmyra if Russian and Syrian government forces fail to push back and retake the Syrian city. U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said at a news conference in Baghdad that ISIS’s recapture of Palmyra was of particular concern to the U.S.-led coalition because the extremist group may have acquired significant pieces of weaponry in the process, possibly including armored vehicles and air defense systems. Wall Street Journal, Reuters
Wall Street Journal: Assad’s Choice: Fight Rebels But Give Way to ISIS
ISIS’s fighting numbers at new low: U.S. officials said Wednesday that new estimates put the number of ISIS’s “battle-ready” fighters at just 12,000 to 15,000 in Iraq and Syria, less than half of what the terror group was able to field at its height. Voice of America, CNN
Terror arrests in Russia: Russian officials said Thursday that the FSB had foiled a terror plot aimed at Moscow orchestrated by ISIS-linked militants operating out of Turkey. Associated Press
Once again, reports of Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s death may be premature: He’s been reported dead many times, but senior al Qaeda operative Mokhtar Belmokhtar may still be alive despite reports of his death last month from airstrikes in southern Libya. Middle East Eye reports that the elusive insurgent leader known as the “one-eyed terrorist” is bedridden with serious injuries but still alive, citing Algerian intelligence services. Middle East Eye
Gathering intelligence is dangerous. So is not reading it. “Throughout my deployments, I found a sense of purpose knowing that my president and commanders recognized the value of intelligence,” writes Benjamin Haas in the New York Times. “Were I an intelligence officer with Mr. Trump running the show, that sense of purpose would be eroded.”
ISIS is losing in Africa -- and al Qaeda is winning: “ISIS in sub-saharan Africa has achieved a number of symbolic victories,” writes Stig Jarle Hansen in Foreign Policy, “including a pledge of allegiance from Boko Haram in Nigeria, the loyalty of at least one faction of the militant group al-Mourabitoun in Mali, and the support of a few minor al-Shabab sellouts like Mumin. But it has failed to displace al Qaeda as the continent’s premier jihadi franchise. That’s partly because the Islamic State misjudged the jihadi movements it targeted in Africa. But it’s also because al Qaeda affiliates have fought back hard against encroachment on their turf.”
How Russia wins an election: “You don’t need a security clearance to understand how Vladimir Putin does it,” write Clint Watts and Andrew Weisburd in Politico. “Just open your eyes.”
New York Review of Books: Russia, NATO, Trump -- The Shadow World
Wall Street Journal: How I Learned to Love Putin

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Trump Stokes Uncertainty with China

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