The Soufan Group Morning Brief


President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter on Sunday to criticize Beijing’s economic and military stances, as senior members of his transition team sought to play down concerns that his phone call with Taiwan’s president on Friday heralded a break from decades of U.S. policy on China. “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!” Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday evening.
As diplomats in China and the U.S. reeled from the news that Trump had spoken Friday with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen -- the first direct contact between leaders of the United States and Taiwan since 1979 -- reports increasingly suggested that the call wasn’t a diplomatic blunder, as many initially assumed, but “an intentionally provocative move that establishes the incoming president as a break with the past,” reports the Washington Post. China’s foreign ministry has lodged a formal complaint over the call. The kerfuffle is further complicated by the fact that the Trump Organization is reportedly attempting to establish new business ties in Taiwan. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, NPR, Los Angeles Times, Guardian
Reactions and Analysis:
Financial Times: Trump’s Dangerous Taiwan Gambit
Wall Street Journal: Trump’s Taiwan Move
Weekly Standard: Trump Made the Right Call
National Interest: Why Trump’s Taiwan Call Changes Everything
Brookings: Trump, Taiwan, and a Long Break with Tradition
Slate: Trump’s Phone Is a National Security Threat
Iran nuclear deal: In a signal to the incoming Trump administration, the foreign ministers of China and Iran on Monday urged signatories not to violate the deal that limits Iran’s nuclear activity. New York Times
The Trump transition team has reportedly widened its search for secretary of state beyond the four men thought to be under consideration: Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Bob Corker, and David Petraeus. The new candidates appeared to include John R. Bolton, ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush; Jon Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor and ambassador to China under President Obama; Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil; and Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia.
Word of the expanded search comes as Trump’s advisers have battled, at times publicly, for nearly a month over whether he should choose from among his campaign loyalists or go outside that circle for the choice of the country’s top diplomat. Washington Post, New York Times
Must reads on other Trump picks:
Politico: James Mattis’ 33-Year Grudge Against Iran
New York Times: In Trump’s Security Pick, Michael Flynn, ‘Sharp Elbows’ and No Dissent
New Yorker: Traveling with James Mattis, Trump’s Pick for Secretary of Defense
The Pentagon said on Sunday that it had sent a long-held Yemeni detainee from the Guantanamo prison to Cape Verde, the island nation off the west coast of Africa. It was the first detainee transfer since Donald Trump’s election victory.
Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, 35, was among a series of one-time “forever prisoners” whose dangerous status was downgraded by the U.S. intelligence community in recent years. Balzuhair has been held at Guantanamo for more than 14 years, and was never charged with a crime. According to the Miami Herald, “in July the interagency Periodic Review Board called him a ‘low-level fighter’ who was probably trying to get home to Yemen at the time of his Sept, 11, 2002, capture in Pakistan — not a would-be terrorist waiting in an al Qaeda safehouse for assignment as part of ‘The Karachi Six.’” His transfer brings the number of detainees at the prison to 59. Miami Herald, New York Times, Reuters
Nearly half of Americans in a global survey said they believed an enemy fighter could be tortured to extract military information, making Americans more comfortable with torture than citizens of war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ukraine. The results come from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which surveyed 17,000 people in 16 countries to gauge public opinion about the laws of war. Among Americans, 46 percent said torture could be used to obtain information from an enemy combatant, while 30 percent disagreed and the rest said they did not know. On a more general question, one in three said torture was “part of war.” New York Times, Washington Post
Obama administration blocks Chinese deal for German chip maker: Citing national security concerns, the Obama administration took the rare step of forbidding a foreign company from buying a firm with U.S. assets last week, telling a Chinese investment firm that it was prohibited from purchasing German semiconductor company Aixtron. Wall Street Journal, USA Today
U.S. spy agencies resist probe on Russian influence: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has asked Congress to drop a provision in a pending bill that would create a special committee to combat Russian efforts to exert covert influence abroad, saying such a panel would duplicate current work and hinder cooperation with foreign allies. Reuters
Botnet threat: The presidential Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity is recommending to the incoming Trump administration that it immediately take steps to to prevent and, when possible, eliminate botnet attacks like the one in October that overwhelmed the internet’s infrastructure. Wall Street Journal
Terror sentencing: A 20-year-old Ohio man who pleaded guilty last year to plotting an attack on the U.S. Capitol and to trying to provide support to ISIS is due to be sentenced today in federal court.
Pizzeria threat: Streets and shops around a D.C. area pizza shop were shut down by police on Sunday afternoon after a North Carolina man walked into the Comet pizzeria with an assault rifle, claiming he wanted to “self-investigate” an internet hoax that Clinton campaign adviser John Podesta and others were running a child sex ring out of the pizzeria’s back rooms. Rumors about the shop have spread widely on right-wing fake news sites. New York Times
Politico: Incoming National Security Adviser’s Son Spreads Fake News about DC Pizza Shop

Another key district of eastern Aleppo has effectively fallen to advancing Syrian government forces, a rebel official said on Monday, as the army and allied militias pressed an assault against the rebel-held enclave. The news is likely to scramble U.S. policy in the region, as advisers to Donald Trump have already called for the U.S. to cut back on support for the Syrian opposition. Reuters, Wall Street Journal
Daily Beast: How ISIS Returned to Syria
Washington Post: Fearing Abandonment by Trump, CIA-Backed Rebels in Syria Mull Alternatives
Taking advantage of cloudy skies that have hampered the U.S.-led air campaign, ISIS fighters have struck back at Iraqi troops in Mosul over the past two days, attacking security forces to the south and west of the city. Reuters
Washington Post: Found at an ISIS Training Camp: Bunk Beds, Weapons Manuals, Steroids
ISIS ‘emir’ reportedly killed: Russia’s security service announced Monday that it has killed an “emir” of ISIS in a raid in the volatile North Caucasus. The FSB said in a statement that 35-year-old Rustam Aselderov, who was allegedly involved in blasts in the southern Russian city of Volgograd that killed 34 people in 2013, was killed in the raid. Guardian

Russia alleges foreign cyberattacks: The Russian government has accused foreign spy agencies of preparing cyberattacks in dozens of cities to try to undermine its banking system. Bloomberg
Trump’s threat to the Constitution: “On July 7, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, met privately with House Republicans near the Capitol. I was present as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference,” writes Evan McMullin in the New York Times. “A congresswoman asked him about his plans to protect Article I of the Constitution, which assigns all federal lawmaking power to Congress. Trump interrupted her to declare his commitment to the Constitution — even to parts of it that do not exist, such as ‘Article XII.’ Shock swept through the room as Mr. Trump confirmed one of our chief concerns about him: He lacked a basic knowledge of the Constitution.”
Somali refugees are not a threat: “To blame Somalis and ISIS for acts of violence like Abdul Razak Ali Artan’s at Ohio State last week, and to respond with a crackdown on the group as a whole, may strike some as an understandable reaction,” writes Will Oremus in “But in fact, it is a misdiagnosis of the problem—and a deeply misguided solution. That’s not only because it’s unfair to blame the group for the sins of a tiny number of individuals. It’s also because it’s counterproductive and misses the point.”
A workable Homeland Security plan for Trump: “The leading contenders for homeland security secretary are House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), retired Marine Gen. John Kelly and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach,” writes Josh Rogin in the Washington Post. “McCaul will make his case for the job in his second annual “State of Homeland Security Address” on Dec. 7. It’s not a coincidence his speech coincides with the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Overall, McCaul will agree with Trump on most issues, such as ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants and refugees, building a border structure with Mexico and deporting criminal illegal immigrants.”
Rethinking U.S. national security: “Much of the United States’ focus on national security involves dealing with great powers, especially China and Russia, and terrorist groups, such as ISIS,” write J. Brian Atwood and Andrew Natsios in Foreign Affairs. “But there is a growing consensus among foreign-policy makers that instability in the developing world complicates these challenges, and produces others, too. The refugee crisis, fed by instability in the Middle East and North Africa, is one example; the 2008 crisis in global food prices is another. Diseases such as Ebola, AIDS, SARS, and Zika often emanate from less developed nations with weak governments incapable of preventing their spread. All of these challenges affect the national security of the United States.”
Wall Street Journal: The Last Diplomat

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