The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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FRIDAY, JANUARY 27, 2017
TRUMP WILL ASK PENTAGON TO HIT ISIS HARDER

President Trump is reportedly preparing an order that would direct the Pentagon to devise plans to more aggressively strike ISIS, reports the New York Times. The plans could include American artillery on the ground in Syria and Army attack helicopters to support an assault on the group’s capital, Raqqa. Trump makes his first official visit to the Pentagon on Friday, and will reportedly demand that the new options be presented to him within 30 days. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is said to be leading the effort. New York Times, CNN
GOP LEADERS SAY TORTURE SHOULD REMAIN ILLEGAL
Republican congressional leaders said Thursday morning that most of their GOP colleagues agree that U.S. interrogators should not be allowed to torture suspected terrorists. The announcement was a break with President Trump, who said this week that though he will follow the recommendations of his secretary of defense and CIA director, he believes torture “absolutely works.” The Hill, Politico
Related:
NBC News: Trump’s Torture Remarks Provoke Harsh Reaction Abroad
Voice of America: Europeans Push Back Against Trump’s Torture Remarks
CBS News: Advocates Warn of Fight Ahead if Trump Pursues Torture

TOP STATE DEPT. OFFICIALS RESIGN AFTER BEING ASKED
The entire senior level of management officials at the State Department resigned Wednesday after they were asked by the Trump administration to leave, according to reports, leaving likely Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with a leadership vacuum in key positions. Undersecretary for management Patrick Kennedy, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, all resigned. “It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” said David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal

Trump administration officials told CNN that the White House told the four that their services were no longer needed as part of an effort to "clean house" at Foggy Bottom. CNN

MEXICAN PRESIDENT CANCELS MEETING WITH TRUMP
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday canceled a meeting with President Trump that had been set for next week after tensions boiled over regarding Trump's plan to build a wall on the border. CNN

TRUMP AND PUTIN TO SPEAK BY TELEPHONE ON SATURDAY
President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to speak by telephone on Saturday, in their first conversation since Trump assumed the presidency. CNN, USA Today

House investigation of Russia election meddling: The House Intelligence Committee has launched an investigation into possible ties between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign, as well as other efforts by Moscow to meddle in the U.S. election. NPR, U.S. News and World Report

Trump’s phone: Cybersecurity researchers warn that Trump’s unsecured Android phone that he prefers to use for blasting out Twitter messages could be a security threat. New York Times

Muslim Brotherhood: The Trump administration is debating whether to issue an executive order designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and subject it to U.S. sanctions. Reuters

ISIS sentence: An upstate New York man -- Emanuel Lutchman, 26, of Rochester -- was sentenced on Thursday to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to provide material support to ISIS, in connection with his alleged role in preparing a New Year's Eve attack in 2015 at a local club. Reuters


TURKEY AND RUSSIA SKEPTICAL OF TRUMP’S PLAN FOR SYRIA SAFE ZONES
Donald Trump’s proposal to set up safe havens in northern Syria has been met with caution by officials in Moscow and Ankara, who believe the plan is aimed more at keeping refugees out of the U.S. than providing for humanitarian needs. Guardian
Related:
Wall Street Journal: Syria Safe Zone Idea Carries Risks for U.S.

U.S. congresswoman meets with Assad: Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii told CNN this week that she met with President Bashar al-Assad during a secret, four-day trip to Syria. "When the opportunity arose to meet with him, I did so because I felt that it's important that if we profess to truly care about the Syrian people, about their suffering, then we've got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we can achieve peace," the congresswoman said. CNN

Taliban tells Trump to leave Afghanistan: In a rambling letter sent to journalists Wednesday, the spokesman for the Taliban told President Trump that it’s time to leave Afghanistan. New York Post

Al Shabab attacks: The militant group al Shabab claimed to have killed dozens of Kenyan troops on Friday in an attack on a Kenyan army base in southern Somalia. Reuters


REPORTS: ARRESTED RUSSIAN INTEL OFFICER ALLEGEDLY SPIED FOR U.S.
Russian media reports suggest that an FSB officer arrested for treason in connection with a top cybersecurity researcher is suspected of being a US asset at the heart of Russian intelligence.

The Moscow Times, citing the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, reports that “the FSB believes Sergei Mikhailov tipped off U.S. officials to information about Vladimir Fomenko and his server rental company King Servers, which the American cybersecurity company ThreatConnect identified last September as ‘an information nexus’ that was used by hackers suspected of working for Russian state security in cyberattacks.” Moscow Times, USA Today, Daily Beast
Related:
TPM: Wow, It Gets Bigger
 
TOP OP-EDS
How to lose the war on terror: “The real danger [from Trump’s executive order on limiting refugees into the U.S.] is the rippling effect that the order would have on allies and enemies—and even at home,” writes Robin Wright in the New Yorker.

Trump’s little Mexican war: “Donald Trump’s path to the Presidency as an outsider always implied on-the-job-training. This week’s lesson: The world is not a Republican primary,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “President Trump’s Twitter broadsides against Mexico have unleashed a political backlash that has now become a diplomatic crisis with a friendly neighbor. Trump fancies himself a negotiating wizard, but in this case he is out-negotiating himself.”

Trump’s foreign policy revolution: “Some claim that putting America first is a reassertion of American exceptionalism,” writes Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post. “On the contrary, it is the antithesis. It makes America no different from all the other countries that define themselves by a particularist blood-and-soil nationalism.”

When is a terrorist really a terrorist? “More than 15 years after fear of international terrorism seized the world's consciousness on 9/11, Americans seem almost eager to explain away senseless acts of mass violence as being driven by ideology, preferably jihadi ideology,” writes Brian Michael Jenkins in The Hill. “This is a mistake that only stokes the fear of terrorism and exaggerates the influence and reach of America's Islamist extremist foes.”
EDITOR'S PICK

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




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