The Soufan Group Morning Breif


In what’s likely to be the final national security address of his presidency, President Obama defended his administration’s counterterrorism record on Tuesday, saying he’d protected the nation against major terrorist attacks from abroad while adhering to American values and the rule of law. “No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland,” Obama said at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. “And it’s not because they didn’t try. Plots have been disrupted. Terrorists have been taken off the battlefield. And we’ve done this even as we’ve drawn down nearly 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Obama never mentioned President-elect Donald Trump by name. But the speech served as a stark rebuttal to the counterterrorism approach that Trump and other Republicans laid out during the campaign. Obama rejected the president-elect’s contention that “dropping more bombs, deploying more troops” or placing restrictions on Muslim immigrants would make America safer.
“We are fighting terrorists who claim to fight on behalf of Islam, but do they do not speak for over a billion Muslims around the world,” Obama said. “If we stigmatize Muslims, that just feeds the terrorist narrative.” He added, “the United States is not a country that imposes religious tests as a price for freedom...The United States is not a place where citizens have to carry an ID card.” New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, Guardian, Time, CNN
Time: Read the Full Transcript of President Obama’s Speech
Slate: The Real Subject of Obama’s Final National Security Speech Was the Man He Wouldn’t Name
Flynn and Rice to meet today: Incoming national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will meet with national security adviser Susan Rice for the first time Wednesday at the White House. Flynn’s son, who acted as his father’s adviser and chief of staff, was reportedly fired from the transition yesterday after sharing fake news stories related to Pizzagate. Washington Post
Pre-trial hearings in the 9/11 cases at Guantanamo were thrown into confusion and briefly paused Tuesday after a prosecutor cautioned the presiding judge against allowing open-court discussion of an unclassified 2008 document that offered speculation about five secret CIA detention and interrogation sites, reports the Miami Herald. “Why can’t I discuss that in open court?” asked Army Judge Col. James L. Pohl. The prosecutor replied that even though the document itself is unclassified, discussing it in open court might somehow confirm top secret information.

That prompted some defense attorneys to reiterate that they still have not been given access to classified information about where the 9/11 defendants were held after their capture or details about their treatment while in custody. According to the Miami Herald, “what appeared to trouble the judge more than the back and forth characterization of the CIA as alternately torturers or honorable Americans was why an unclassified document — sitting on his desk, not hidden behind a red SECRET cover — could not be discussed in open court.”
Miami Herald
LA Metro threat: Investigators have found no evidence to corroborate a warning of a terrorist plot to bomb the Universal City Metro station, defusing fears of an imminent attack. Los Angeles Times
Trump’s pledge to fight ISIS: At a rally Tuesday night in North Carolina as part of his ‘thank-you’ tour, President-elect Donald Trump pledged to both scale back interventions in the Middle East and ratchet up the fight against ISIS. “We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with,” Trump said. “Instead, our focus must be on fighting terrorism and destroying ISIS.” Politico

The New York Times reports on Saudi Arabia’s long-term efforts to play both sides of the Afghan conflict: quietly bankrolling the Taliban with private financing even as the government coolly supports the Afghan government in Kabul and rebuilding efforts. “Playing multiple sides of the same geopolitical equation is one way the Saudis further their own strategic interests, analysts and officials say.” New York Times
After a nearly seven-month struggle, Libyan fighters declared victory over ISIS at its coastal stronghold of Sirte on Tuesday, ending the extremist group’s ambitions for a caliphate on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, according to reports. New York Times, Washington Post
Syria: Syrian rebels have reportedly left the last areas they controlled in Aleppo’s old city. The pullback comes after days of heavy fighting, as Syrian government forces, backed by Russian and Syrian air strikes, attempt to completely retake Aleppo. BBC News, Washington Post
Pakistan: A Pakistani military court has sentenced to death Naeem Bukhari, who is regarded as one of the country’s most dangerous extremists and who was allegedly involved in the 2002 abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Wall Street Journal

A UK court has convicted a Belgian citizen of Moroccan descent of funding terrorism, over charges that he allegedly provided money to Mohamed Abrini, the “man in the hat” accused of taking part in the ISIS bombing of Brussels airport in March and driving one of the cars used in the Paris attacks last year. Zakaria Boufassil, 26 years old, was convicted following a trial where the jury heard how he and a 27-year-old Briton, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, handed over 3,000 pounds to Abrini in the Birmingham area in July 2015, knowing the money could or would be used to fund terrorism. Ahmed had already pleaded guilty to similar charges. Wall Street Journal, BBC News
Australia: An Australian 18-year-old has been sentenced to seven years in prison over a plot to set off a homemade bomb in Melbourne’s central business district. The teen, who was not named in reports, pleaded guilty to possession of bomb-making manuals and to partially constructing the explosive device. The password protecting the manual’s encryption was Arabic for “Islamic State forever.” Guardian
United Kingdom: A 22-year-old man was arrested at Heathrow Airport in London on Tuesday on suspicion of preparing for terrorist acts. BBC News
Los Angeles Times: Michael Fallon, the British defense secretary, talks terrorism and Trump
Mattis can use ‘tough guy’ appeal to keep us safe: “Mattis’ personality, coupled with his reasonable policy views, is also precisely why America needs him as secretary of defense at this moment in our history,” writes Benjamin Haas in “For all his professed love for ‘tough guys,’ Trump has displayed his scorn for military leadership despite having no national security experience himself. As such, it is critical to have a secretary of defense who not only commands Trump’s respect but whose responsible advice will also resonate with Trump and his advisers. Mattis meets these criteria and most importantly has the audacity and cleverness to stand up to Trump effectively if need be.”
Guantanamo is still open, to our shame: The detainee released over the weekend to Cape Verde “is just one more sad story from Guantanamo out of dozens that involve men who were wrongly seized, wrongly held behind bars for years, then quietly released,” writes the Miami Herald in an editorial. “As long as the Guantanamo prison stays open, it will remain a symbol of the great injustice that was committed in the name of keeping America safe. Far more troubling than the symbolism, however, is the actual damage done to the tradition of civil liberties and the notion of justice and fair play that Guantánamo represents — and what it means for the future.”
Reforming the National Security Council: “President Trump needs to reform the National Security Council process by shrinking its White House staff and placing trust and accountability back in the hands of his cabinet and NSC principles,” writes Lt. Col. James Price in

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Legacy of Pearl Harbor, 75 Years Later

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