The Soufan Group Morning Brief


MONDAY, JULY 25, 2016

On Friday, the Pentagon revised its manual for interpreting international laws of war, adding details to protect journalists involved in wartime and battlefield reporting. The 2015 version of the Law of War manual had previously contained a clause suggesting that journalists could be viewed as combatants, prompting a number of media organizations to complain. The revision to the manual emphasized that “engaging in journalism does not constitute taking a direct part in hostilities.” Other disputed and controversial sections, including rules for weighing when it is lawful to fire on a military target when civilians are present, remain unchanged. New York Times, Washington Post

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt sued the U.S. Department of Defense on Friday, accusing the government of failing to produce records related to President Obama’s proposal to transfer detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth. Schmidt claims the government has failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for records on surveys of potential alternate sites to house Guantanamo detainees on American soil. Miami Herald, The Hill

Gitmo: Defense attorneys for the alleged 9/11 attack plotters said for the first time this weekend that the government destroyed a secret CIA prison with permission of the trial judge. Defense attorney Cheryl Bormann said she learned after the fact that U.S. agents undertook a “decommissioning” of a secret, overseas CIA “black site.” Miami Herald

Airport security: The Department of Homeland security is pushing to increase the number of American law enforcement staff stationed at overseas airports in order to screen passengers before they board flights bound for the United States. The department is looking to expand the existing Preclearance program, under which U.S. customs officers check travel documents and photos of passengers before they board flights to the United States, to additional airports in Europe. New York Times

Surveillance: The Federal Communications Commission selected a Swedish-owned company to run a sensitive national database that routes billions of phone calls across the U.S. The firm, Telcordia, is responsible for building a system that can track calls and text messages by almost all phone numbers in North America and ensure the data is secure. Washington Post

In the wake of Friday’s leak of 20,000 stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers, evidence suggests that Russian intelligence agencies were responsible for the data theft, given the similarities to previous Russian cyber operations. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, argued that the emails were leaked “by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.” New York Times

On Saturday, a suicide attack killed more than 80 people in Kabul. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted a peaceful demonstration by the Hazara ethnic minority in the Afghan capital. The UN described the attack as a war crime. New York Times, Reuters

CNN: ISIS attack on Afghan rally a war crime, UN says

Syria: The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower began striking ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq on Friday from its position in the Persian Gulf. A Navy spokesperson said “the primary focus of the carrier strike group in the region is to dismantle and roll back terrorist networks in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere and to ensure free flow of commerce.” The Hill

Washington Post: Nothing will ‘quickly or easily’ stop Islamic State bombings in Baghdad, U.S. military warns

Al Qaeda: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on his supporters to take Western hostages and exchange them for imprisoned jihadists, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Zawahiri reportedly appeared in an online audio recording on Sunday calling for his followers to kidnap Westerners. Reuters

France: Nice truck attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel reportedly showed signs of severe mental illness since he was a teenager. Investigators into the attack have found few clear signs the Bouhlel was directly radicalized by ISIS or other extremist ideologies. Bouhlel’s brother Jaber said “he danced, he smoked, he ate pork. It was almost as though he wasn’t even Muslim….He didn’t even pray.” New York Times

Germany: An explosion killed at least one person and injured 12 others on Sunday near Nuremberg. German authorities said that a man with a backpack was likely carrying an explosive device that he detonated, killing himself and seriously injuring those around him outside a restaurant in the town of Ansbach. Earlier on Sunday, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee was arrested by police after killing a pregnant woman and injuring two others in the city of Reutlingen, near Stuttgart. Reuters

Ali Sonboly, the 18-year-old gunman who killed nine people at a Munich shopping center on Friday was not inspired by Islamist militancy, according to German authorities. Reuters

New York Times: Terrorist or Disturbed Loner? Munich Attack Reveals Shifting Labels
The Long War on Terror: “What can be done in response? To answer that question, it is first necessary to face what can’t. Not all these attacks can be stopped. It is one thing to increase security at ports and airports — and even there, as the attacks on airports in Brussels and Istanbul show, such measures are hardly foolproof. But there is simply no way to police every subway station, cafe and public square from Berlin to Honolulu,” writes David Rieff in The New York Times. “So the one sure thing is that these attacks will continue. Even assuming that the Islamic State can be defeated in Syria and Iraq, the group’s efforts to inspire people via the internet to carry out attacks on their own are likely to continue to resonate.”

A troubling turn for U.S. relations in the Muslim world: “When he launched his attempt to rebuild U.S. relations with the Muslim world seven years ago, Barack Obama started with Turkey and Egypt, vital U.S. allies that seemed to be on the cusp of change,” writes Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post. “Since then, the two countries have, indeed, transformed their political systems and their relations with the United States — and the result has been a disaster for U.S. interests.”

28 Pages, Zero Proof of Anything: “The recently declassified ‘28 pages’ from the joint congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks had the potential to rock the U.S.-Saudi relationship at a critical moment,” writes Andrew Bowen on Foreign Policy. “But the pages are not ‘devastating’ to Saudi Arabia...If anything, the conspiracy theory peddled by former Sen. Bob Graham that Saudi Arabia ran a network of intelligence agents in the United States who were central to the 9/11 plot and to the hijackers’ ability to carry out the attacks is bust.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Two Tragedies in Manbij

Out Now: Karen Greenberg's newest book, Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, is the definitive account of how America's War on Terror sparked a decade-long assault on the rule of law, weakening our courts and our Constitution in the name of national security.

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