The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Chinese and U.S. defense officials are reportedly discussing how to facilitate Beijing’s return of a U.S. undersea drone that was taken out of the water by a Chinese naval vessel in the South China Sea last week. The seizure, in waters off the Philippines, was the first of its kind in recent memory. After the drone was seized by the Chinese on Thursday, the Pentagon said it was being operated by civilian contractors to conduct oceanic research, and the U.S. lodged a formal diplomatic complaint demanding the drone back.

President-elect Donald Trump waded into the controversy by tweeting about the incident, calling it an “unpresidented” act, and later tweeting that “we should tell the Chinese we don’t want the drone they stole back - Let them keep it!” Reuters, Los Angeles Times
New York Times: Muted U.S. Response to China’s Seizure of Drone Worries Asian Allies
Wall Street Journal editorial: China Tests U.S. Resolve
Twenty-two of the last 59 detainees at Guantanamo have been cleared for release, but with a month to go until Donald Trump’s inauguration, it is not clear whether the State Department envoy responsible for making transfer deals can get transferred before Trump takes office. The law requires 30 days notice before a flight can leave this base with a cleared captive. Trump has vowed to grow the detainee population and Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s pick for defense secretary, has expressed his opposition to detainee transfers. Miami Herald
Miami Herald: South Africa Turns Away Former Guantanamo Detainee

Trump and Russian hacking: Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said Sunday that Trump would accept the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia hacked DNC emails with the intent to elect Trump if the FBI and CIA would “would get together, put out a report, [and] show the American people that they’re actually on the same page as opposed to third parties through The Washington Post.” CNN

King: Brennan should be investigated: Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) suggested Sunday that CIA Director John Brennan should to be investigated for a “hit job” against Donald Trump. Brennan, in a memo to the CIA workforce Friday, said there’s a “strong consensus” among himself, FBI Director James Comey, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election.” Politico

National Security Council exodus: The Guardian reports that the White House “is struggling to prevent a crippling exodus of foreign policy staffers eager to leave before the arrival of the Trump administration.” An unusual number of career NSC staffers are looking to leave, reportedly because they are concerned about working under Michael Flynn. Guardian
Washington Post: Washington’s Most Exclusive Meeting May Lose Its Luster Under Trump

Surveillance numbers: The U.S. intelligence community is expected to disclose an estimate of the number of Americans whose electronic communications have been caught in the crosshairs of online surveillance programs intended for foreigners, according to a letter sent to DNI Director James Clapper by U.S. lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee. The information could be made public as early as next month. Reuters

The U.S. State Department has increased its reward to $25 million for information leading to the capture of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “The threat that al-Baghdadi poses has increased significantly since the Department of State's initial $10 million reward offer for information leading to his location, arrest, or conviction was announced in 2011," the department’s Rewards for Justice Program said on its website on Friday. CNN, USA Today

ISIS has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Aden that killed at least 48 soldiers who were lining up to receive salaries on Sunday. At least 60 other troops were wounded. BBC News, Guardian

Several hundred people were able to leave eastern Aleppo on Sunday, after evacuations by bus resumed from the besieged Syrian city. Earlier in the weekend, a deal to free Aleppo’s remaining civilians in exchange for sick and wounded people from two pro-government villages stalled after six buses sent to evacuate the loyalist areas were stopped and set ablaze. Several additional buses with evacuees are said to have left Monday. Guardian, Reuters
Wall Street Journal: Russia Spins Tales of Success in Syria
Daily Beast: The Fall of Aleppo Is a Huge Gift to ISIS

Turkey bomb: A car bomb exploded near a public bus in the central Turkish city of Kayseri on Saturday, killing 13 soldiers and wounding 55 people, according to Turkish officials. Washington Post, CNN

Battle for Mosul: The fight to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS “has settled into a grinding war of attrition,” reports the New York Times. “The front lines have barely budged in weeks. Casualties of Iraqi security forces are so high that American commanders heading the United States-led air campaign worry that they are unsustainable. Civilians are being killed or injured by ISIS snipers and growing numbers of suicide bombers.” New York Times
Will Trump play spy vs. spy? “We’ve been here before,” writes Evan Thomas in the New York Times. “Presidents face a great temptation to go “in-house” for intelligence that fits with their plans; some have even set up formal or informal operations to circumvent the C.I.A. and other agencies. In almost every case, the result has been a disaster — for the president and for the country.”

How to wage hybrid war on the Kremlin: “President Obama has been shamefully derelict in making Putin pay a price for his aggression,” writes Max Boot in Foreign Policy. “It’s time to give Vladimir a taste of his own medicine.”

Donald Trump and the CIA: In this New York Times Room for Debate, Marcy Wheeler, Vicki Divoll, and Melvin Goodman debate whether Trump’s attitude toward the CIA is damaging to national security.

Trump is right to be skeptical of CIA and FBI: Is there any wonder or question why President Trump is being cautious about these ‘intelligence briefings?’” writes John Kushma in The Hill. “Our U.S. intelligence agencies have a history of rivalry and competition, and information manipulation. Their trustworthiness and accuracy is legitimately questionable.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief

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