The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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THURSDAY, JANUARY 19, 2017
SCOTUS WEIGHS WHETHER BUSH OFFICIALS CAN BE SUED FOR POST-9/11 ABUSE

The Supreme Court appeared divided on Wednesday over whether Muslims and Arabs who were rounded up in immigration sweeps following the 9/11 attacks can sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other Bush administration officials for jailing them under severe conditions. Conservatives on the court, citing the extraordinary peril of that time, appeared willing to give the officials legal protection from lawsuits arising from the detention policies they approved after the attacks. But some of the liberal justices appeared to disagree. Even in a time of national emergency, government officials sometimes “can go too far,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said. “And if they have gone too far, it is our job to say that.”

The case concerns the government’s roundup and treatment of more than 760 men who were in the U.S. illegally in the days and weeks after the 9/11 attacks. After their release in 2002, several of the men sued alleging violations of constitutional rights to due process, equal protection and religious exercise. Eight of the former prisoners are seeking to personally sue former Bush administration officials — including John Ashcroft, who was the attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, who was FBI director — for creating the policies they claim led to the abuse.

Two justices — Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — have recused themselves from the case because of apparent conflicts involving their posts before joining the court. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, WNYC, Reuters
Related:
SCOTUSblog: Argument Analysis - Six-Justice Court Sympathetic to Government in Detainee Case
CIA DOCS REVEAL INTERNAL FEUD OVER TORTURE PROGRAM
Newly released internal emails from the CIA reveal a bitter internal feud over two former military psychologists who pushed the agency to adopt interrogation methods widely condemned as torture, reports the Washington Post. The CIA’s own medical and psychological personnel expressed deep concern about an arrangement that put two outside contractors in charge of subjecting detainees to brutal measures including waterboarding. In one of the more prescient warnings, dated June 2003, an agency official wrote that “if some untoward outcome is later to be explained, their sole use in this role will be indefensible.” Washington Post

CIA REVEALS NEW RULES FOR HANDLING INFORMATION ON AMERICANS
The Obama administration, in its final week, has overhauled the rules governing the CIA’s power to gather and use information about Americans, and has made the changes public. The last time the government issued a comprehensive set of such rules was during the Reagan administration. One of the new provisions requires the CIA to purge certain types of information that it gathers overseas — including communications that might involve U.S. individuals — from its systems within five years. Benjamin T. Huebner, the CIA’s privacy and civil liberties officer, said the “biggest change” was the creation of explicit rules for dealing with huge volumes of digital files that have not been evaluated. New York Times, Washington Post

REPORT: FBI, 5 OTHER AGENCIES PROBE POSSIBLE COVERT KREMLIN AID TO TRUMP
The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have for months been collaborating on an investigation into whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump, according to McClatchy. The agencies involved -- which include FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network -- began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before an unverified dossier of possible research about Trump-Russian ties reached the FBI. A key mission of the six-agency group has reportedly been to examine who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. McClatchy

Slow start for Trump’s national security team: “The Obama administration has written 275 briefing papers for the incoming Trump administration: nearly 1,000 pages of classified material on North Korea’s nuclear program, the military campaign against ISIS, tensions in the South China Sea, and every other kind of threat the new team could face in its first weeks in office,” reports the New York Times. “Nobody in the current administration knows whether anyone in the next has read any of it.” New York Times

Bomb threats at Jewish centers: For the second time in a month, Jewish centers across the U.S. received anonymous bomb threats on Wednesday, leading to widespread evacuations at schools and community centers. There were as many as 27 bomb threats on Wednesday at Jewish centers in 17 states. Last week, 16 Jewish centers received bomb threats. New York Times

Mattis clears committee: The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to recommend President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis. His nomination will now be sent to the full Senate for a vote. Reuters

Judge order DHS officials to preserve emails: A federal judge has ordered four current or former top officials at the Department of Homeland Security, including Secretary Jeh Johnson, to preserve emails in their private accounts that may be responsive to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Politico



IRAQI FORCES SAY THEY HAVE TAKEN EASTERN MOSUL FROM ISIS
Three months after Iraqi forces began an assault to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS militants, government troops have reportedly gained control of the eastern section of the city for the first time. The effort was aided by American air support and military advisers. New York Times
Related:
The Atlantic: How the U.S. Military Sees the Anti-ISIS Fight

RUSSIAN AND TURKISH JETS POUND ISIS POSITIONS IN NORTHERN SYRIA
In the first joint air operation of its kind for the two countries, Russian and Turkish jets carried out joint airstrikes on ISIS targets in the  northern Syrian city of al-Bab Wednesday. The two countries have worked in greater cooperation since Moscow and Ankara brokered a ceasefire that largely ended hostilities in Aleppo between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the rebel groups fighting him. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

AL QAEDA AFFILIATE CLAIMS MALI BOMBING THAT KILLED 47 PEOPLE
Al Qaeda’s North African affiliate has claimed responsibility for a suicide blast at a military camp in the northern city of Gao in Mali that killed at least 47 people on Wednesday. The Al Mourabitoun militant group claimed it was behind the attack in a statement posted on Facebook; the group is the Mali branch of Al Qaeda's North African affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). CNN, BBC News, Al Jazeera
TOP OP-EDS
Enough - negotiate a settlement with the 9/11 masterminds: “As the surviving spouse of a 9/11 murder victim, Sareve Dukat, I want closure,” writes Joel Shapiro in the Miami Herald. “The proceedings [at Guantanamo] are elaborate performances that have little to do with guilt or innocence. At this point I am more interested in closure than in vengeance.”

On NATO, Trump needs a history lesson: “The president-elect claims Nato isn’t geared up to fight terrorism,” writes Benjamin Haas in the Guardian. “But that’s exactly what it’s been doing since Article Five was invoked after 9/11.”

Snowden does not deserve the threat he faces: “I dare say President Obama felt extreme irritation, even anger, with Edward Snowden back in 2013,” writes Alan Rusbridger in the Guardian. “But his actions in commissioning two reviews showed his awareness of the complex and important issues raised by the young former NSA operative. Now that a much less thoughtful president is about to take over the machinery of surveillance, it would be a final act of statesmanship to pardon the man who alerted us to the dangers ahead.”

Russia’s radical new strategy for information warfare: “Last February, a top Russian cyber official told a security conference in Moscow that Russia was working on new strategies for the ‘information arena’ that would be equivalent to testing a nuclear bomb and would ‘allow us to talk to the Americans as equals,’” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post.

The real meaning of Putin’s press conference: “What Putin’s comments showed is that he is, finally, after all these years of frustrated ego, the senior partner in [the U.S.] relationship,” writes Julia Ioffe in The Atlantic. “He has to defend Trump’s sullied reputation; he has to defend his undermined legitimacy; he is now Trump’s protector, guarding him the way a mob capo might protect a diamond shop.”

Friction deepens among al Qaeda factions in Syria: “Al Qaeda in Syria has faced – and survived – two upheavals since 2011,” writes Hassan Hassan in The National. “Today, the organisation might be facing its third major test, and the new development brings with it a fresh challenge for Syria.”
 
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