The Soufan Group Morning Brief


President-elect Donald Trump called for an immediate halt to transfers of Guantanamo detainees on Tuesday, tweeting that those who remain at the prison are “extremely dangerous people” who “should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.” Numerous news outlets have reported that the Obama administration is working with the Pentagon to transfer in the coming weeks as many as 18 detainees who have been cleared for release, which would leave approximately 40 detainees when Trump becomes president.

Shortly after Trump’s tweet, a spokesman for the Pentagon rejected the president-elect’s call to halt the transfers. “We’re going to carry out the appropriate policies set forth by the commander-in-chief,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said at a press conference. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter would continue to follow instructions from President Obama on transferring detainees legally and safely, Cook said. When pressed about Trump’s tweet, Cook said there is only one commander-in-chief at a time. Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, NPR

New York Times editorial: Trump’s latest comments “make it imperative that the Obama administration spare no effort in its remaining days to release the roughly 18 detainees who are cleared for transfer to a handful of countries that have agreed to take them.”
President-elect Donald Trump alleged late Tuesday that his intelligence briefing on Russian campaign hacking had been unexpectedly delayed until Friday, saying in a tweet that the delay could be attributed to the need “for more time to build a case. Very strange!” Trump used quotation marks throughout the tweet -- including around “intelligence” and “Russian hacking” -- suggesting that he has ongoing doubts about findings by the intelligence community that Russia intervened in the presidential race in hopes of boosting his candidacy.

In a number of reports, unnamed U.S. officials pushed back against the notion that there has been any delay, saying that the briefing had always been scheduled for Friday. Washington Post, LA Times, Wall Street Journal

A group of more than 1,100 law school professors from across the country sent a letter to Congress on Tuesday urging the Senate to reject the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for attorney general. “We are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairly enforce our nation’s laws and promote justice and equality in the United States,” states the letter, which was signed by professors from 170 law schools in 48 states. Signers include prominent legal scholars such as Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School, Geoffrey R. Stone of the University of Chicago Law School, Pamela S. Karlan of Stanford Law School and Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California at Irvine School of Law. Washington Post
Washington Post: Jeff Sessions Says He Handled These Civil Rights Cases. He Barely Touched Them.

Turkish security officials said Wednesday that they have identified the man who shot and killed 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub early on New Year’s Day,  as police stepped up raids against suspected militant hideouts. “The identity of the person responsible for the Istanbul attack has been established,” the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told the state-run news agency Anadolu, though he declined to release any additional details about the man, who is still at large. Little is known about the man outside of a series of photos and videos released by authorities. However, the fact that the public statement came from the foreign minister may be significant, according to the New York Times. It may have been a signal that the authorities believe the attack was committed by a foreigner rather than by a Turk. New York Times, Reuters

Turkey’s parliament voted on Tuesday to extend the government’s state-of-emergency powers by three months in response to the attack. Under the state of emergency, the government can rule by decree and fire public employees with little recourse, while security officials can detain terrorism suspects and other alleged enemies of the state for up to 30 days without charges. Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal editorial: The Turmoil in Turkey
The Atlantic: ISIS Ends Its Separate Peace with Turkey
NBC News: Turkey and ISIS: Istanbul Attack Signals Descent into ‘Open War’

A ceasefire in Syria backed by Russia and Turkey continued to crumble on Tuesday, as government forces pushed offensives around Damascus and rebels threatened to suspend participation in new peace talks. Washington Post

An ISIS defector who attracted global attention and claimed to have refused to commit violence for the group has been charged by German authorities with murder and war crimes for his role in a mass execution in Syria in 2015. Harry Sarfo, a 28-year-old German citizen, appeared in front-page articles and TV broadcasts last year offering a sanitized version of his involvement with ISIS, claiming disillusionment and disgust with the terrorist group and condemning its tactics. But three months ago, the Washington Post published a video that showed Sarfo helping to move prisoners into position for a public execution in the ancient city of Palmyra, and apparently firing his own weapon as the men fell in a barrage of machine-gun fire. Washington Post, New York Times

Philippines: Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial president of the Philippines, claims to have relatives who have joined ISIS. New York Daily News

Philippines: Around 100 armed men with links to Muslim rebels stormed a prison in the southern Philippines on Wednesday, freeing more than 150 prisoners, some of Islamic militants. Newsweek

Israel: An Israeli soldier was found guilty of manslaughter by a military court on Wednesday for shooting a Palestinian assailant in the head as he lay wounded on the ground, in a case that has deeply divided Israelis. New York Times

Germany: Germany’s top security official on Tuesday suggested that the country should consolidate greater intelligence and security powers with the federal government in order to respond to terrorism threats. Such consolidation has been taboo since World War II. New York Times
America’s problem isn’t Russia -- it’s Putin: “With Putin’s background as a career KGB officer, he takes a particular interest in operations dealing with that organization’s specialties of disinformation and manipulation,” writes Garry Kasparov in the Chicago Tribune. “Putin is not constrained by national interests or global alliances the way the Soviet leadership was. There is no consideration of what is or is not good for Russia, or for Russians, only what is best for him and his close circle of oligarch elites.”

Al Shabab’s resurgence: “Al Shabab, the al Qaeda affiliate that has bedeviled the East African country of Somalia for a decade, is currently enjoying its most successful run of attacks in years against the Somali government,” writes Joshua Meservey in Foreign Affairs. The group has also “escalated its attacks in the north of Somalia this year, outside its preferred southern area of operations. The group’s history and ideology suggest the campaign is likely to accelerate once the electoral process finishes.”  

What does it mean to be at war with ‘radical Islam’? “The President-elect and some of his senior advisors have stressed the need to focus on radical Islam and criticized President Obama for avoiding that specific label,” writes Daniel Byman in Lawfare. “It is tempting to dismiss the newcomers’ views as naïve and bigoted, but thinking about ‘radical Islam’ has serious intellectual pedigree.”

How Iraq and Turkey could beat ISIS and still lose: “There is reason to worry that Iraq and Turkey are in danger of effectively losing their war with the terrorists,” writes the Washington Post in an editorial. “Both dispatched their armies to capture Islamic State territories last year and recorded significant gains. But both are at risk of political, economic and social breakdown as a result of terrorist counterattacks and of their own counterproductive measures.”

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: Aleppo Victory Bolsters Iran’s Regional Strategy

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