The Soufan Group Morning Brief


President Obama on Tuesday commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army private convicted of taking secret diplomatic and military documents and disclosing them to WikiLeaks. Obama’s decision about the transgender former soldier was announced along with more than 200 other commutations and dozens of pardons by the White House three days before he leaves office. Manning, formerly Bradley before she transitioned to being a woman while in prison, is now set to be released on May 17 rather than in 2045. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

Republicans immediately criticized the commutation. “This is just outrageous,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets. President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.” New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post
New York Times: Chelsea Manning Describes Bleak Life in a Men’s Prison

On Tuesday, President Obama also granted a full and complete pardon to retired ­Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in an investigation of a leak of classified information about a covert U.S.-Israeli cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program. Prosecutors had been seeking a two-year prison sentence for Gen. Cartwright, who was one of Mr. Obama’s most-trusted military advisers. He was due to be sentenced this month. The Hill, Slate, New York Times

Wall Street Journal: Politically Correct Clemency
Lawfare: Obama Was Right on Chelsea Manning
Mother Jones: Seven Years Is Enough
Los Angeles Times: An Entirely Defensible Act of Mercy
JustSecurity: Why the Cartwright Pardon Is More Important Than the Manning Commutation
Noor Zahi Salman, the widow of the gunman who massacred revelers at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year, became the first person to be charged in connection with the attack on Tuesday. Salman appeared before a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., near where she lives with her small son, and was charged with aiding and abetting Omar Mateen’s provision, and attempted provision, of material support or resources to ISIS. “She knew he was going to conduct the attack,” said federal prosecutor Roger Handberg. The six-page indictment doesn’t detail what she allegedly did to aid and abet her husband, though the document does state that her alleged help began “at least as early as in or about the end of April 2016.” Wall Street Journal, New York Times

The CIA on Tuesday published nearly 13 million pages of documents online, spanning the agency’s work from the 1940s through the 1990s. The documents are wide-ranging, covering everything from Nazi war crimes to mind-control experiments to the role the CIA played in overthrowing governments in Chile and Iran. They were previously accessible to the public, but only by visiting the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. “This is one of the things that we think improves transparency for us, and it’s a simple thing” to make information “more widely available,” Joseph Lambert, the CIA’s director of information management. BuzzFeed, CNN, Bloomberg

The Defense Department is prepared to provide the new administration with military options to accelerate the war against ISIS in Syria that could send additional US troops into direct combat, according to reports. President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly promised a more effective military campaign than that of his predecessor, though dialing up the size of the U.S. force deployed in support of local troops in Syria and Iraq could have toxic side effects. CNN, Washington Post
New York Times: Obama’s Stark Options on ISIS: Arm Syrian Kurds or Let Trump Decide

White House concedes Obama won’t close Guantanamo: Administration officials admitted to reporters on Tuesday that President Obama will be unable to close Guantanamo by the time he leaves office. Forty-five detainees remain at the prison, with several more transfers of cleared prisoners expected to take place in the coming days. Miami Herald

Trump personnel gaps: Dozens of high-level personnel holes across key foreign policy and defense agencies have national security experts asking: Will Donald Trump be ready to manage a national security crisis from Day One? Politico

Fort Lauderdale airport shooting: The man charged with killing five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport earlier this month has told FBI investigators that he carried out the attack on behalf of ISIS. CNN

ISIS fighters have in recent days made territorial gains in Deir Ezzour, an oil-rich eastern Syria province, putting new pressure on the Assad regime after the terror group suffered setbacks elsewhere. Wall Street Journal

America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, delivered her final speech Tuesday, and used it to sharply criticize Russia, which she called “a major threat facing our nation.” Outlining Russian actions like the annexation of Crimea, the bombing of civilians in Syria, and a hacking of America’s election, Power argued that the U.S. could cooperate with Russia where possible, but with the understanding that an outright embrace runs counter to American interests and global stability. Moscow, she said, is not trying to shape a new global order, but rather “tearing down the one that exists.” “This is what we are fighting against,” Power said. “Having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism.” CNN, Foreign Policy, Politico

Snowden in Russia: Edward Snowden has been granted permission to stay in Russia for another two years, according to reports. Guardian
It’s time to talk to North Korea: “U.S. President-elect Donald Trump sounds awfully certain about one thing,” writes Andrei Lankov in “After North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared on New Year's Day that his country was on the verge of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S., Trump condescendingly tweeted, ‘It won't happen!’ As a matter of fact, it will happen -- unless a Trump administration radically rethinks U.S. policy toward the North.”

Will Brennan’s controversial CIA modernization survive Trump? “After interviewing several dozen CIA officers and veterans over the past several months, my conclusion is that Brennan’s reforms should continue, but only with adjustments that reduce the bureaucratic layering and duplication that his overhaul unintentionally fostered,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “The CIA’s old culture was broken, as Brennan argued, but a new version hasn’t yet taken root. That will be Pompeo’s challenge.”

How to give counterterrorism a fighting chance: “We need a counterterrorism strategy with clear goals and meaningful, identifiable metrics, rather than relying on responses that can satisfy popular demands or answer to a bureaucratic boss,” write Jenna Jordan, Margaret Kosal, and Lawrence Rubin in the National Interest. “The first step is to acknowledge that the threat that ISIS and other extremist ideologies pose is generational and success cannot be measured in the number of militants killed or percentage of territory reclaimed.”

Six thoughts in defense of James Comey: “The emerging bipartisan groupthink on Comey needs a big splash of ice cold water,” writes Benjamin Wittes in Lawfare. “First, the notion that there was some great double standard in which Comey was willing to discuss in detail the Clinton email investigation yet now stays mum about allegations about Trump is wrong. There is no double standard; the comparison between the Clinton and Trump investigations is not even an apples-to-oranges comparison. It is comparing apples to orangutans.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Recalibrating the Concept of ‘Lone Wolves’

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