The Soufan Group Morning Brief


In an interview that airs Friday on NPR, President Obama says that the U.S. “will retaliate” against Russia over its hacking during this year’s presidential election. “I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections...we need to take action,” Obama said. “And we will—at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be.”

The president did not comment on reports that the CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in order to help Donald Trump win the presidency, or on reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the hacking operation. Washington Post

Intelligence officials now believe with “a high level of confidence” that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” an unnamed U.S. official told NBC News.

“We don't have Putin’s fingerprints on anything or a piece of paper that shows he signed the order, but the nature of the operation was such that this had to be approved by top levels of the Russian government,” a senior administration official with access to the intelligence on the hacking told CNN.

Pressure is growing on Trump in Congress for him to acknowledge intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Russia was behind the hacking. But on Twitter on Thursday, Trump again refused to accept Moscow’s culpability, asking why the administration had waited “so long to act” if Russia “or some other entity” had carried out cyberattacks. New York Times
Washington Post: Something Is Deeply Broken at the FBI (by John Podesta)
CNN: House Intel Chair Blasts Spy Agencies for Delaying Hill Briefing on Russian Hacking
Wall Street Journal: Republican National Committee Security Foiled Russian Hackers
CBS News: Russian Hack on the Pentagon Almost Brought the U.S. Military to Its Knees
Republican Rep. Peter King of New York met with President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday and reportedly urged him to create a federal Muslim surveillance program modeled on the one in New York City that was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge. “The main issues I discussed were what we have to do to have the Justice Department and the FBI be more leaning-forward when it comes to investigating Islamic terrorism,” King told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower on Thursday.

“I suggested a program similar to what Commissioner Kelly did here in New York,” King said, referring to former New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly, “and that we can’t worry about political correctness.” A federal judge recently ruled that the New York Police Department had shown a “systemic inclination” to ignore rules protecting free speech and religion. Huffington Post, New York Times

Roof convicted for church massacre: Dylann Roof was found guilty on all counts at his federal hate crimes trial on Thursday, after nearly a week of painful testimony about his murder of nine black parishioners at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015. Roof faces the death penalty. Washington Post, NPR

The evacuation of residents in Aleppo broke down again on Friday, after anti-regime activists reported hearing explosions near the gathering point for those seeking to leave, and the state news media accused rebel fighters of firing on convoys of evacuees. New York Times
New York Times: ‘It’s So Sad,’ Donald Trump Says of Syria, Promising Safe Zones

Justice Department officials filed a civil action this week to try to recover antiquities looted by ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria, marking the first time that federal prosecutors have gone to court to seize cultural artifacts ISIS holds or once held. The filing is intended to alert art dealers, auction houses, and other potential buyers that the government will go after the items, in a bid to shut down the financing ISIS has established in the antiquities trade. Washington Post, Reuters

ISIS in Palmyra: U.S. officials say that ISIS has taken possession of three Russian surface-to-air missile launchers outside of Palmyra. Fox News

Germany has arrested a 12-year-old German-Iraqi boy and accused him of attempting to blow up a Christmas market in western Germany late last month. The German magazine Focus reported that the police said the boy was “strongly radicalized” and apparently instructed by an unknown ISIS member to carry out the attack, which involved a homemade nail bomb. The boy is thought to be the youngest person ever detained on modern terror charges in Europe. Evening Standard, Reuters

United Kingdom: The overwhelming majority of people arrested for alleged terrorism offenses in the United Kingdom over the past 15 years have been freed without charge or conviction, official figures from the UK Home Office show. Guardian

Guantanamo detainee: A Guantanamo detainee who was resettled in Uruguay two years ago has left that country for South Africa. Syrian native Abu Wa’el Dhiab has long been vocal about his unhappiness in the South American country and was allowed to leave this week. He had been detained at Guantanamo for 12 years as an enemy combatant but was never charged. Associated Press

France: The main suspect in an August 2015 attack on a high-speed train in northern France, which was partly foiled by three young American men -- two of whom were off-duty members of the U.S. military -- was under orders from the same ISIS terrorist cell that orchestrated the Paris attacks in November 2015, the man’s lawyers told a counterterrorism court in France Thursday. Ayoub El Khazzani, 26, a Moroccan citizen who had been granted Spanish residency, admitted the ISIS connection via his lawyer. Washington Post
5 questions Trump should raise about Afghanistan: “One of the more disturbing aspects of the 2016 presidential campaign was the fact that nobody really spoke in concrete or detailed terms about America’s military involvement in Afghanistan,” writes Daniel DePetris in the National Interest. “Here are five questions that the Trump administration will need to ask as it figures out what to do with this longest of wars.”

Putin wants a new world order. Why would Trump help him? “China’s view of the world over the past two decades has been fundamentally benign, having grown to wealth and power in that period,” writes Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post. “Putin, by contrast, believes that the end of Soviet communism in 1989 was the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ and that Russia has been humiliated ever since. His goal appears to be to overturn the U.S.-created international order, even if this means chaos. The question is, why would an American president-elect help Moscow achieve that goal?”

A Trump strategy to end Syria’s nightmare: “Trump’s instincts on Syria may augur a viable alternative to the Obama administration’s failed strategy,” writes Michael O’Hanlon in the Wall Street Journal. “President-elect Trump has stated that his priority in Syria will be to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to hasten the defeat of ISIS. Any attempt to push Mr. Assad out of power would be deferred. In Jordan, as I learned on a recent trip, many see this approach as more realistic than trying to defeat ISIS while simultaneously expediting Mr. Assad’s ouster.”

How to tell if Trump is engaging in secret surveillance: “There are warning signs that might help the public figure out that the Trump administration is unilaterally altering surveillance policies,” write William Bendix and Paul Quirk in the Washington Post. “Four kinds of signs are particularly important,” including efforts to silence privacy watchdogs and whether public advocates appear before the FISA court.

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Conviction of an American Terrorist

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