The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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FRIDAY, JANUARY 6, 2017
INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS DEFEND FINDING THAT RUSSIA MEDDLED IN ELECTION

Top U.S. intelligence officials traveled to Capitol Hill on Thursday to defend their agencies’ findings that senior Russian actors were behind hacks of the DNC and Democratic officials. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the intelligence community stands “more resolutely” than ever behind its assessment and officially accused the Kremlin’s “senior-most” officials of orchestrating a campaign of interference in the 2016 election. “I don’t think we’ve ever encountered a more aggressive or direct campaign to interfere in our election process,” Clapper said.

Clapper took aim at President-elect Donald Trump’s repeated questioning of the intelligence community’s findings, saying in response to questions on the issue that “there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policymakers, to include policymaker number one, should always have for intelligence, but I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement.’’

More details on Moscow’s hacking and influence operations will be included in a report briefed to Congress next week, Clapper said. A declassified version will be made public. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC News, Washington Post
Related:
Washington Post: Five Reasons the McCain Cyberwarfare Hearing Should Worry Trump

The Washington Post reports that in a classified report delivered to President Obama on Thursday, American intelligence agencies provided details about intercepted communications of senior officials in the Russian government celebrating Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow and congratulating themselves on the outcome. Washington Post, Time

Donald Trump is set to receive a classified briefing on the findings today from Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, as well as the heads of the CIA and NSA. Wall Street Journal
TRUMP PICKS DAN COATS AS NOMINEE FOR INTELLIGENCE CHIEF
President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly selected former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) to be the next director of national intelligence. Coats has served on and off in Congress since 1981 and his final term in the Senate ended this week. He was ambassador to Germany during George W. Bush’s presidency, and he was later a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He has also been sharply critical of Russia’s recent behavior; in 2014, as part of the Kremlin’s response to U.S. and European sanctions for its actions in Ukraine, Coats was one of several members of Congress who were banned from Russia. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

SAUDI ARABIA ACCEPTS FOUR TRANSFERRED GITMO DETAINEES
Four longtime Guantanamo detainees were transferred to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, reducing the overall prison population to 55. The four -- Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bawazir, Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad, Muhammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim and Abdallah Yahya Yusif Al-Shibli -- are all from Yemen and have been detained at the prison for the past 14 years. Bawazir, who was among prisoners who protested their detention with a lengthy hunger strike, was cleared for transfer by an inter-agency review in 2010 and was about to be sent to the Balkans last January but refused because he wanted to go to a country where he had family. Shibli was approved for transfer in 2010. Ghanem and Kanad were deemed too risky to release in 2010 but their cases were re-examined and both were declared eligible for transfer last year. Miami Herald, NPR, Reuters

FORMER CIA DIRECTOR JAMES WOOLSEY QUITS TRUMP TRANSITION
Former CIA Director James Woolsey announced Thursday that he has resigned as an adviser to the Trump transition, reportedly because of growing tensions over Trump’s vision for intelligence agencies. According to the Washington Post, “people close to Woolsey said that he had been excluded in recent weeks from discussions on intelligence matters with Trump and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the incoming White House national security adviser. They said that Woolsey had grown increasingly uncomfortable lending his name and credibility to the transition team without being consulted.” Washington Post

U.S. ADDS BIN LADEN’S SON HAMZA TO GLOBAL TERROR LIST
The State Department announced Thursday that it has added Hamza bin Laden, a son of Osama bin Laden, to its global terror list. The statement, which put Hamza’s age at 27, said that he has called for attacks around the world and is “actively engaged in terrorism.” Hamza is one of Osama bin Laden’s 23 children and was named a member of al Qaeda in 2014 by Ayman al-Zawahiri. NPR, New York Times

TRUMP ORDERS U.S. AMBASSADORS TO LEAVE POSTS BY JAN. 20
In a break with decades-long precedent, the Trump transition team has issued a blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day, declining to allow even the shortest of grace periods for envoys who have families in school or difficulty moving residences. The order could leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada and Britain. New York Times

Mattis reportedly clashing with Trump team over defense staffing: Retired Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, is reportedly clashing with the transition team over who will get top jobs in the Defense Department. Washington Post

New York bombing trial: A federal judge said this week that he’d like to stick to a March trial date for Ahmad Khan Rahimi, who is accused of planting bombs in the Chelsea neighborhood and New Jersey, rebuffing defense requests to push the trial date back. CBS News York


RUSSIA BEGINS TO WITHDRAW FORCES FROM SYRIA
The chief of Russia’s armed forces says the country has begun to withdraw from Syria, beginning with its aircraft carrier group. The reported initial withdrawal of forces come as a nationwide ceasefire -- negotiated between Russia, Turkey and the Syrian government as well as Iran and Syrian rebel groups late last year -- is largely holding across the country. One area where the ceasefire does not appear to be holding is the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Wadi Barada, which has come under fierce bombardment by Syrian planes for the past several weeks. Wadi Barada is the main source of water for the capital. BBC News, CNN, Wall Street Journal

AL QAEDA CHIEF DENOUNCES ISIS ‘LIARS’
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has denounced what he said was a dishonest propaganda campaign by rival jihadist group ISIS against his organization, in an audio message released Thursday. In the message, the 65-year-old Zawahiri complains that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has slandered his group, saying that Baghdadi has falsely alleged that al Qaeda opposes sectarian attacks on Shiites and was prepared to work with Christian leaders. AFP


SECRET REPORT: BELGIUM BUNGLED HUNT FOR ISIS OPERATIVES
A secret parliamentary report prepared by Belgian security officials has concluded that Belgian police had numerous chances to unmask the ISIS terror cell that later carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks - and that they bungled each one. The report, which has not been made public but has been reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, suggests that police ignored informant tips, failed to heed alerts from other countries, and poorly coordinated between law-enforcement branches. Among the revelations: Brussels police stopped a car driven by Brahim Abdeslam, later one of the Paris attackers, and arrested him for drug possession. At the time, Brahim was on a terror watch list. He carried a booklet about “parental consent for the Jihad.” Police found a USB thumb drive hidden behind his car radio. He was let go after brief questioning. Wall Street Journal

BANGLADESHI SUSPECTED OF TRAINING MILITANTS IS KILLED
Authorities in Bangladesh announced on Friday that Nurul Islam Marzan, who was suspected of guiding a team of militants through the deadly siege of Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka last year, has been killed in a shootout with security forces. Marzan was a close aide to Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, considered to be the top coordinator in Bangladesh for the Islamic State before he was killed in August in a police shootout. New York Times
TOP OP-EDS
A useful Trump intelligence shakeup: “Donald Trump may or may not be planning to reorganize the 17 separate U.S. intelligence agencies, and the mere suggestion seems to be a breach of Beltway etiquette,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “But the intelligence services shouldn’t be immune from a bureaucratic shakeup, especially at the White House, and we have some suggestions.”

Trump casts intelligence aside: “If he ever decides to govern responsibly, Mr. Trump has made his job much more difficult,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “Having worked so hard to convince the American people that the intelligence community cannot be trusted, what will he tell the country when agents inform him of a clear and present danger?”

Were emails leaked, not hacked? “Because NSA can trace exactly where and how any ‘hacked’ emails from the Democratic National Committee or other servers were routed through the network, it is puzzling why NSA cannot produce hard evidence implicating the Russian government and WikiLeaks,” write William Binney and Ray McGovern in the Baltimore Sun. “Unless we are dealing with a leak from an insider, not a hack, as other reporting suggests. From a technical perspective alone, we are convinced that this is what happened.”

Obama’s disclosure about Russian hacking is a cybersecurity gold mine: “Publicly laying this level of detail out sets a dramatic precedent that could serve a significant blow to Russia’s current and future cyberoperations in the U.S. and elsewhere,” write Adm. Jim Stavridis and Dave Weinstein in the Huffington Post.

Killing terrorism with kindness: “The last decade has shown that our good intelligence will never prevent every terrorist attack, and our aggressive reactions will never kill or scare away every potential terrorist,” writes Jacob Shapiro in Time. “But we can do a better job of stopping the terrorist plots in the first place. The way to do this is to get communities that produce and harbor attackers to view America and the West more favorably.”
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SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief:  Looming Uncertainty over North Korea




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