The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, JANUARY 23, 2017
MICHAEL FLYNN’S LINKS TO RUSSIA SAID TO BE INVESTIGATED

U.S. counterintelligence agents have reportedly investigated communications that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had with Russian officials, reports the Wall Street Journal. It isn’t clear when the counterintelligence inquiry began, whether it produced any incriminating evidence or if it is continuing. But it appears to have centered on a series of telephone calls Flynn made to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., on Dec. 29. That day, the Obama administration announced sanctions and other measures against Russia in retaliation for its alleged use of cyberattacks to interfere with the 2016 election. Wall Street Journal, The Hill
ON FIRST FULL DAY IN OFFICE, TRUMP VISITS CIA HQ
President Trump used his first official stop as president on Saturday to visit CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., where he assured the 400 or so members of CIA senior leadership and staff in attendance that he backs them “1,000 percent.” He accused the media - whom he labeled “the most dishonest human beings on earth” - of inventing a dispute with the intelligence community, despite having criticized the intelligence agencies repeatedly in the past few weeks in an attempt to push back against conclusions that Russia had meddled in the election to benefit him. “[The media] sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community,” Trump said, standing in front of the CIA’s Memorial Wall. “And I just want to let you know, the reason you're the number one stop is exactly the opposite.” Trump also complained at length that the media had misreported the size of his inauguration crowds.

John Brennan, who resigned Friday as CIA director at the conclusion of Obama’s presidency, said through a spokesman that he was angry about Trump's speech. “Former CIA director Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump's despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA's Memorial Wall of Agency heroes. Brennan says that Trump should be ashamed of himself,” Nick Shapiro, a former deputy chief of staff to Brennan, said in a pair of tweets. Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, New York Times

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway shot back at former Director Brennan for his criticism, saying the former intelligence leader sounded “like a partisan political hack.” The Hill, ABC News
Related:
Washington Post: CIA Officers Give Mixed Reviews of Trump’s Strange Visit

POMPEO LEAVES DOOR OPEN TO WATERBOARDING
President Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo, has reportedly left the door open to returning to harsh interrogation techniques after repeatedly stating in confirmation hearings that he would not bring back torture, even if asked to by President Trump. In newly released written answers to lawmakers’ queries, the Kansas Republican says if confirmed, he’ll ask if the CIA feels current interrogation techniques are producing results—and if not, he’ll consider asking for changes. Pompeo is scheduled for a confirmation vote on Monday. Daily Beast

WITH LAST OBAMA TRANSFERS, FIVE MEN STRANDED AT GUANTANAMO
For five of the 41 remaining detainees at Guantanamo, Donald Trump’s inauguration represented a narrowly missed chance at freedom. The five men — an Algerian, a Moroccan, a Tunisian, a Yemeni, and an apparently stateless detainee — were all certified by Obama administration officials as eligible for resettlement overseas. But they did not form part of a final flurry of transfer deals sealed by the departing Obama administration. Now their detention could conceivably last another four years. Washington Post

Trump emoluments suit: A group of prominent constitutional scholars, Supreme Court litigators and former White House ethics lawyers intends to file a lawsuit Monday morning alleging that President Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his hotels and other business operations to accept payments from foreign governments. New York Times

Trump and Comey: President Trump warmly greeted FBI Director James Comey at a White House event for law enforcement officials on Sunday, slapping him on the back and remarking “he’s become more famous than me.” The greeting has raised eyebrows given that the FBI is said to be investigating links between Trump’s administration and Russia. Politico


SUSPECTED DRONE STRIKES KILL 10 IN YEMEN
In what are believed to be the first drone strikes carried out under President Trump, two strikes on Saturday in the central Yemeni province of Bayda killed 10 suspected al Qaeda militants. Elsewhere in the country, airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 52 Houthi fighters in Mokha on Saturday and Sunday. New York Times

Syrian peace talks open in Kazakhstan: Indirect talks between Syrian rebel factions and government representatives opened today in Kazakhstan. The talks have been brokered by Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Guardian


U.S. SPIES WORRY ALLIES WILL STOP SHARING INTEL WITH TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Politico reports that U.S. officials and analysts fear other countries will hesitate to share information with a Kremlin-friendly Trump administration. “If there’s a sense that we’re cozying up to regimes like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, that could have something of a chilling effect," said a senior official from former President Barack Obama’s administration. "The challenge may be in places like Germany, France, potentially even the United Kingdom. If there is a reorientation toward Moscow, there could be some doubts there.” Politico

United Kingdom: King’s College London has admitted that it monitors staff and student emails as part of a government program to prevent radicalization on campus. Independent
TOP OP-EDS
Trump’s vainglorious affront to the CIA: “Trump’s remarks caused astonishment and anger among current and former C.I.A. officials,” writes Robin Wright in the New Yorker. “It’s hard to see how America’s new leader will recoup from a performance so shallow, irreverent, and vainglorious.”

Trump at the CIA: “President Trump made a smart move in visiting the CIA on his first full day on the job, but he and his staff are going to have to raise their game if they want to succeed at governing,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “This was not a presidential performance.”

How will Trump handle a Pakistan surprise? “Pakistan has been at the root of crisis for the last several administrations,” writes Bruce Riedel in Newsweek. “Bill Clinton faced nuclear tests and a dangerous border war in 1999 with India; George W. Bush was surprised by 9/11 and another Indo-Pakistan crisis; and Obama dealt with Mumbai and Abbottabad. The next administration will likely be tested early.”

Russia is a terrible ally against terrorism: “A partnership with Russia of the kind Mr. Trump proposes has the potential to profoundly undermine the United States’ counterterrorism progress and shred our relationships with Sunni Muslims around the world,” writes Daniel Benjamin in the New York Times. “Moreover, it’s doubtful such an alliance could actually be forged.”

Trump’s intel reform is a good first step: “President Trump argues that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence—which we helped create—needs streamlining. We agree,” write Jane Harman and Peter Hoekstra in the Wall Street Journal. “ODNI reform is a logical first step to build new capability and restore trust.”
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