The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Turkish police have launched raids in Istanbul and arrested at least 12 people as the manhunt intensifies for the suspect who attacked a Istanbul nightclub in the early hours of New Year’s Day. At least 39 people were killed and scores more wounded in the attack, which a single man carried out with a rapid-fire rifle after shooting his way into the club. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday, calling the attacker “a hero soldier of the caliphate.” It is not clear whether ISIS had organized the attack or had merely inspired the gunman. In an apparent reference to Turkey’s role in the conflict in Syria, the ISIS statement warned that “the government of Turkey should know that the blood of Muslims, which it is targeting with its planes and its guns, will cause a fire in its home by God’s will.”

Reports in Turkey suggest the attacker, who has yet to be identified publicly, traveled to Turkey with his wife and two children in November to avoid detection, and that his family are among those detained. A ‘selfie’ video of the purported attacker walking in central Istanbul also surfaced on Monday. BBC News, New York Times, Time, Associated Press, CNN
NPR: Civilian Attack in Istanbul Marks Shift in ISIS-Turkey Dynamic
President-elect Donald Trump, continuing to dismiss U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia carried out cyberattacks to meddle in the 2016 election, pledged on New Year’s Eve to divulge “things that other people don’t know” about the hacking and its sources on either Tuesday or Wednesday. He offered no clues, however, to what information he might have, but he insisted that hacking is “a very hard thing to prove,” and that the culprit “could be somebody else” other than the Russians. New York Times

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer, who is due to become White House press secretary after the inauguration, told Fox News Monday that “there is zero evidence that [the Russians] influenced the election,” and insisted it would be irresponsible to jump to conclusions before receiving a final intelligence report. Another Trump adviser, former CIA Director James Woolsey, contradicted those statements Monday, telling CNN that he does think the Russians were involved in election-related hacks. Reuters, CNN  
Wall Street Journal: Tensions Within GOP Rise Over How to Handle Russia

Suspected Russian hacking of Vermont utility: A Vermont electrical utility notified federal officials last week that malware associated with Russian hackers had been detected on a laptop used by one of its workers. As the investigation continues, federal officials are reportedly finding evidence that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility, according to the Washington Post.
Bloomberg View: U.S. Intelligence Got the Wrong Cyber Bear

Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, has a long track record of opposing torture and investigating detainee abuse, reports the New York Times. “The general’s beliefs were shaped by his military training, but also by his experiences in dealing with issues related to torture or mistreatment, according to an examination of his nearly half-century career and interviews with former colleagues and friends.” New York Times

After North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s address that his country had reached the “final stages” of testing its first intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States, Donald Trump responded Monday night, writing on Twitter that such a test “won’t happen!” He later berated China for trading with the United States but doing little to help stop North Korea's development of nuclear weapons, tweeting: “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!” Washington Post, CNN, BBC News

China shrugged off Trump’s criticism on Tuesday. Addressing questions about Mr. Trump’s tweets during a regular press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that China’s efforts to solve the North Korean nuclear issue “are clear for all to see.” Wall Street Journal

Fight over terrorism trial alias: A Detroit terror suspect accused of plotting to use explosives in an ISIS-inspired attack is fighting to have the alias name “Abdurrahman Bin Mikaayl” deleted from his federal indictment, claiming he only used the name “on a whim” on  Facebook. Federal prosecutors argue that Sebastian Gregerson, 29, used the alias “Abdurrahman” a lot more than he claims, and that the name connects him to ISIS and the crimes that he’s charged with. Detroit Free Press

Syrian rebel groups announced Monday that they had decided to freeze any talks about their possible participation in Syrian peace negotiations being prepared by Moscow unless the Syrian government and its Iran-backed allies end what the rebels called violations of the ceasefire. Guardian, BBC News

ISIS claimed a spate of bombings in Baghdad that Iraqi officials said had killed at least 28 people, days after the Iraqi army renewed its offensive to retake the group’s stronghold in Mosul. Hours before the deadliest bombing, which struck a produce market packed with day laborers and wounded scores of people, President François Hollande of France had arrived in the Iraqi capital to meet with leaders. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, NPR

Terrorism toll in Iraq: The United Nations said Monday that terrorism and other acts of violence in Iraq killed at least 6,878 civilians and wounded another 12,388 last year. Voice of America
Shut down Guantanamo, Mr. Trump: “If [Trump’s] desire is to try and convict captured terrorists, U.S. courts have proved to be the best venue, and federal supermax prisons have had no trouble holding those convicted,” writes the Washington Post in an editorial. “If he wishes to avoid handing easy propaganda victories to enemies of the United States, Mr. Trump will not send new prisoners to Guantanamo, but instead finish Mr. Obama’s work and shut it down.”

Putin’s real long game: “What both administrations fail to realize is that the West is already at war, whether it wants to be or not,” writes Molly McKew in Politico Magazine. “It may not be a war we recognize, but it is a war. This war seeks, at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests.”

Russia’s new favorite jihadis -- the Taliban: “More than 15 years into America’s war in Afghanistan, the Russian government is openly advocating on behalf of the Taliban,” writes Thomas Joscelyn in the Daily Beast.

How Syria defeated the Sunni powers: “Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, three of the Middle East’s major Sunni powers, once equated their standings in the region with the outcome of the war in Syria,” writes Emile Hokayem in the New York Times. “In the last several months, it became clear they were on the losing side.”

Is the United States Prepared? Zero Days, Cyber Wars, and the Russian Hack
Thursday, January 5, 2017 at 6pm

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Islamic State Attacks in Turkey

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