The Soufan Group Morning Brief



On Thursday, just a day after voting to override President Obama’s veto, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) both said they were open to discussions about changing the bill that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts. McConnell told reporters on Thursday that “I do think it’s worth further discussions, but it was certainly not something that was going to be fixed this week,” and said “it appears as if there may be some unintended ramifications” of what he described as a very “popular bill.” Ryan said that while “we want to make sure the 9/11 victims and their families have their day in court, at the same time, I would like to think that there may be some work to be done to protect our service members overseas from any kind of legal ensnarements that occur, any kind of retribution.” New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Hill

New York Times: Angered by 9/11 Victims Law, Saudis Rethink U.S. Alliance
The Hill: White House: Congress has 'buyer's remorse' on 9/11 bill

The Drug Enforcement Administration allegedly paid confidential informants millions of dollars without proper oversight, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department inspector general. The report described serious missteps in the DEA’s use and payment of confidential informants. In one case the DEA paid nearly a half million dollars over a five-year period to a source who had previously lied in trials and depositions. The report criticized how the DEA used transportation and parcel service employees in ways that could border on unconstitutional and said that the DEA “violated federal regulations by selectively approaching and paying Amtrak employees for information that the DEA would have received for free.” Washington Post

Nuclear Policy: Hillary Clinton expressed doubts about whether the United States should carry out a trillion-dollar modernization plan for its nuclear arsenal, according to a hacked audio recording of her comments at a fundraiser in February. She specifically spoke out against a Pentagon plan to develop a nuclear-tipped cruise missile, saying “the last thing we need, are sophisticated cruise missiles that are nuclear armed.” The audio recording was reportedly hacked from a campaign staff member and then released by the conservative publication The Washington Free Beacon. New York Times

Surveillance: The FBI’s use of a controversial program that allowed it to collect American’s phone records decreased significantly after the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013, according to a new report by the Justice Department’s inspector general. The report found a 20 percent decrease in the number of FBI requests for “business records orders” approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the year after the Snowden leaks. The Daily Beast

Russia said it would consider a 48-hour ceasefire to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid rebel-held areas in eastern Aleppo. However, tensions grew between the two sides as Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded to a recent statement by State Department spokesman John Kirby who had said that if not stopped, extremists in Syria could launch attacks “against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities.” Ryabkov said “we cannot interpret this as anything else apart from the current U.S. administration's de facto support for terrorism.” Washington Post, CBS, Reuters

Reuters: U.S. close to suspending Syria talks with Russia as Aleppo battle rages
Washington Post: Russia says US boycott would help ‘terrorists’

Afghanistan: The UN mission in Afghanistan said on Thursday that an American airstrike earlier this week killed at least 15 civilians in eastern Nangarhar Province. American and Afghan officials had previously claimed that the strike had targeted and killed a gathering of several ISIS members and affiliates. New York Times, Guardian

Iraq: The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq killed 18 ISIS leaders in the last 30 days, according to a U.S. military spokesman. Air Force Col. John Dorrian said the leaders included military commanders, propagandists, and those facilitating the recruitment of foreign fighters. The Hill

Yemen: A suspected U.S. drone strike killed two senior members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on Thursday, according to local officials. The strike, in the central province of Bayda, was the third in central Yemen over the past week. Reuters

India-Pakistan: Indian officials said on Thursday that a group of it elite forces carried out a surprise raid in the disputed territory of Kashmir against suspected militants who were allegedly planning attacks on major cities. Eighteen Indian soldiers and dozens of militants were killed in what were described as “surgical strikes” against “terrorist teams.” Reuters, TIME
How Donald Trump Is Reviving General Douglas MacArthur's Nuclear Gameplan: “Nothing else Trump has said—about Muslims, women, protesters, immigrants and so on—has chilled the political, military and media establishment more than his glib pronouncements on nuclear weapons,” writes Jeff Stein on Newsweek. “The frightening alchemy of Trump’s personality and his casual remarks about using nukes is reminiscent of General Douglas MacArthur, who in 1952 threatened to ride a similar yearning to make America great again into the White House.”

Putin is making a mistake in Syria — and Russia will pay the price: “By supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the merciless bombardment of Aleppo, Russia is destroying the cease-fire agreement. In so doing, Putin is imposing serious costs not only on defenseless Syrians, but on Russia itself,” writes Philip Gordon in the Washington Post. “U.S. diplomats say they have not given up on the cease-fire and that the original arrangement remains on the table. Ultimately, only Putin can decide what is in his interest, but he still has time to make the right call about what exactly those interests are.”

Islamic State is becoming more dangerous as it weakens: “By many measures, Islamic State is a weakened and demoralized force. After months of U.S.-led bombing and defeats by local troops in Iraq and Syria, the group lost thousands of its fighters, was forced to relinquish significant territory and has been cut off from routes it used to move weapons and reinforcements,” writes Mohamad Bazzi for Reuters. “But the group remains a potent threat in other ways, especially in its ability to inspire self-radicalized militants to carry out attacks in the West and elsewhere.”

Putin Is Playing by Grozny Rules in Aleppo: “A city blasted into rubble, its civilians fleeing, hiding, or simply dying in the ruins while a world looks on in horror. Bombs spilling from Russian warplanes and shells and rockets thundering from Russian guns and launchers. Today this is a portrait of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Not long ago, it was Grozny, the capital of Chechnya,” writes Mark Galeotti on Foreign Policy. “Anyone trying to understand Russia’s military strategy in Syria would be wise to examine the heavy-handed methods Vladimir Putin used during his first war as Russia’s commander in chief, the bloody Second Chechen War, which lasted from 1999 to 2000.”

NPR: Parents Speak Out, Say FBI Arrest Saved Son On Verge Of Joining ISIS

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Battle for Libya’s Oil Crescent

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