The Soufan Group Morning Brief


As Donald Trump prepares to become the 45th U.S. President on Friday, taking the oath of office at noon, many key administration posts remain unfilled, leading to worries that his administration will be dangerously short-handed on Day One. On Thursday, his team announced that it has asked more than 50 of President Obama’s appointees to stay on to ensure continuity of government. As of Thursday, only two of Trump’s 15 cabinet nominees — John Kelly, to head the Department of Homeland Security, and his nominee for defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis — had been approved by congressional committees and were close to assuming their posts. Trump has also named only 29 of his 660 executive department appointments. New York Times, Reuters

Career government officials say the chaotic nature of the transition has left them stunned. The positions that remain to be filled, according to Foreign Policy, include senior management and policy posts that oversee diplomacy, military budgets, nuclear weapons, counterterrorism, and media relations. “The Trump team has not yet named senior deputies for the State or Homeland Security departments. Meanwhile, dozens of important posts at the Defense Department remain vacant in part because of a growing feud between Trump’s advisors and Mattis, the retired general picked to serve as the next defense secretary. As for the White House, the Trump team has yet to name a national security advisor for Vice President-elect Mike Pence and other key posts.” Foreign Policy

Inside Trump’s shadow national security council: Three people in Trump’s orbit -- incoming chief strategist Stephen Bannon, senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus -- have reportedly emerged as a kind of shadow national security council, with final say on all national security personnel appointments and major decisions. “Bannon is focused on Trump the ideological brand, Kushner is focused on Trump the man, and Priebus is focused on everything else,” one transition official said. Washington Post
Four more Guantanamo detainees who had been cleared for release were transferred on Thursday, leaving the prison’s population at 41 as Trump takes the oath of office. Three men were sent to the United Arab Emirates — Russian Ravil Mingazov, 49, Afghan Haji Wali Muhammed, 50, and Yemeni Yassin Ismail Qasim, 37, the Pentagon said. Saudi Arabian Jabran al Qahtani, 39, was repatriated to the Saudi Kingdom in the same mission. All four men had been at Guantanamo since 2002.

The 41 remaining prisoners include 10 men charged at the war court; 26 indefinite detainees known as “forever prisoners”; and five cleared men, including two whose repatriation deals stalled at the Department of Defense. Miami Herald

In a parting letter to Congress, President Obama repeated his eight-year request to Congress: Close the military prison at Guantanamo. “There is simply no justification beyond politics for the Congress’ insistence on keeping the facility open,” Obama wrote in a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan that was released by the White House on Thursday. “Members of Congress who obstruct efforts to close the facility, given the stakes involved for our security, have abdicated their responsibility to the American people.” Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal

An investigation by U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald Trump, including his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, includes an examination of intercepted communications and financial transactions, reports the New York Times. The investigation, led by the FBI, centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Manafort is among at least three Trump campaign advisers whose possible links to Russia are under scrutiny. Two others are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative. New York Times, Guardian

Batches of newly disclosed documents about the CIA’s defunct torture program are providing new details about its interrogation practices, reports the New York Times, as well as internal disputes over whether two psychologists who designed the program were competent. On Thursday, the judge overseeing Abu Zubaydah’s habeas corpus case, Emmet Sullivan, ordered the government to “immediately” preserve a complete, unredacted copy of the Senate torture report and deposit it with the court for secure storage by Feb. 10. New York Times

Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the notorious drug lord known as El Chapo, was unexpectedly extradited to the United States late Thursday. He will appear in federal court in Brooklyn on Friday to face six separate indictments, which include charges of the manufacture and distribution of a range of drugs, the use of firearms, money laundering, and running an ongoing criminal enterprise.

Officially, Mexican authorities said the timing of the extradition was related to judicial processes and not the U.S. political calendar. But one Mexican official described the transfer of the prisoner as a “farewell gift” to President Obama. Washington Post, New York Times

Trump to visit CIA Saturday: President Trump reportedly plans to visit CIA headquarters in Langley on Saturday, in what would be his first trip to a government agency. He would attend the swearing-in ceremony of Mike Pompeo as CIA director, unless Pompeo is not confirmed today as expected. NBC News

Trump nominees: The Senate is scheduled to vote on just two of Trump’s national security nominees on Friday -- Gen. James Mattis for Defense Secretary and Gen. John Kelly for the Department of Homeland Security. Debate and a possible vote is scheduled for Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to lead the CIA. Reuters

NY resident pleads guilty to ISIS charges: Akhror Saidakhmetov, a 21-year-old citizen of Kazakhstan and resident of New York, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors said he tried two years ago to board a flight to Turkey on his way to Syria in order to join ISIS. Reuters

The Pentagon announced Thursday that two U.S. B-52 stealth bombers had struck ISIS camps southwest of the Libyan city of Sirte on Wednesday night, killing more than 80 individuals, including some who were allegedly involved in plotting terrorist attacks in Europe. The strikes came less than a month after the Pentagon declared an end to an extended air campaign in the country. Washington Post, Guardian, New York Times

U.S. and European officials say that ISIS has ramped up oil and gas sales to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, providing vital fuel to the government in return for desperately needed cash. Despite the Assad regime’s insistence that it is determined to eradicate the militant group, oil and gas sales to the regime are now ISIS’s largest source of funds, replacing revenue the group once collected from tolls on the transit of goods and taxes on wages within its territory. Wall Street Journal

ISIS in Palmyra: ISIS militants reportedly destroyed a landmark ancient Roman monument and parts of the theater in Syria’s historic town of Palmyra this week. Bloomberg
The audacity of Trump: “Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office on Friday facing unprecedented opposition but also an extraordinary opportunity,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “He confronts the paradox of a country skeptical that he has the personal traits for the Presidency but still hopeful he can fulfill his promise to shake up a government that is increasingly powerful even as it fails to work. In this respect he is the opposite of President Obama, whom Americans admire personally but see as a failure in delivering on his promises. Mr. Trump begins his Presidency without a reservoir of personal goodwill, so more than most Commanders in Chief he will have to win over Americans with results.”

A new kind of beginning: On this inauguration day, “we must reflect on what we can do to stop Trump from damaging our country any more than he already has,” writes David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy. “Or, if we truly dare, to ask ourselves how we can use this moment to trigger changes that might better our union and place in the world. This is not about politics. It is about our shared interests as a nation.”

Trump disrupts the world: “Over the past ten weeks, more than one diplomat has told me of plaintive daily cables from their capitals appealing for guidance on wars, humanitarian disasters, and other crises in which they have common interests with the U.S., have supported American positions, and, in some cases, have personnel,” writes Robin Wright in the New Yorker. “Many in the diplomatic corps expected more clarity to emerge during the transition. One ambassador told me, “Every day I send back the same cable saying, ‘We don’t really know.’”

Could Jared Kushner resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? “Let Jared Kushner have a chance to broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians,” writes Aaron David Miller in “But let's be real. A solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict would be one of the crown jewels of world diplomacy. No American has ever cracked it -- in large part because the parties themselves weren't prepared to own up to the decisions required to see matters through and to get close enough so that an outside mediator might close the remaining gaps.”

Where We've Come, Where We're Headed
February 14, 2017
6:00pm - 7:30pm
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Guantanamo Bay Under the Trump Administration

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