The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Authorities say it’s not yet clear why 64-year-old Stephen Paddock rained fire down on a music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday night, killing 59 people and wounding more than 520 people -- making it the single deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

“We don’t know what his belief system was at this time,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said. U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), who received a briefing from the multi-agency anti-terrorism center, said no new clues have emerged so far in a search of Paddock’s home. “Law enforcement were looking through his computer. They couldn’t find a motive. As of a couple of hours ago, there was no motive. That’s all we know,” he said.

The militant group Islamic State issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, saying the gunman had converted to Islam months ago, though it provided no proof; almost immediately, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Las Vegas, Aaron Rouse, said federal authorities had found no such evidence. “We have determined, to this point, no connection to an international terrorist group,” Rouse said.

Police said Paddock, a resident of Mesquite, Nev., had smashed the windows with a hammer-like tool before opening fire. By the time a SWAT team burst into the room, Paddock had killed himself — leaving in the hotel room at least 23 weapons, mostly military-style rifles. At least one of them had been modified with a legal “bump stock”-style device that enables the shooter to rapidly fire off rounds. A total of 19 more weapons were found in Paddock’s home, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition. Ammonium nitrate, sometimes used in manufacturing explosive devices, was found in Paddock’s vehicle. Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal: Concertgoers Fled Amid Barrage of Bullets
New York Times: A Burst of Gunfire, a Pause, Then Carnage That Would Not Stop

Shooter was a gambler who drew little attention: While the motive for the mass shooting is unknown, details of Paddock’s history so far point to an unmoored and highly unconventional life. He was a high-stakes gambler recognized in the casinos of Nevada, and dabbled in real estate investments in Texas. His last known full-time employment was 30 years ago. He was twice divorced. He had a pilot’s license and had owned two single-engine planes. His family said he displayed no strong religious or political views, and was not known for angry outbursts. New York Times

Father on FBI Most Wanted list: Paddock’s father was previously on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Benjamin Hoskins Paddock appeared on the agency's infamous registry from June 10, 1969 through May 5, 1977 after escaping from a federal prison where he was serving 20 years for a bank robbery. He was described in an FBI poster as being “diagnosed as psychopathic” and as an individual reported to have “suicidal tendencies” who “has carried firearms in commission of bank robberies.” CNN
New York Times: Terrorizing if Not Clearly a Terrorist: What to Call the Last Vegas Attack?
Federal prosecutors opened their case against Ahmed Abu Khatallah on Monday by telling jurors he orchestrated the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Khatallah has been awaiting trial since 2014, when he was captured by a team of U.S. military and FBI officials in Libya and transported on a 13-day journey to the United States aboard a Navy vessel. In his opening statement in U.S. District court for the District of Columbia, federal prosecutor John Crabb said Khatallah hates America “with a vengeance” and played a leading role in organizing the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Robinson denied that his client had anything to do with the planning of the attack. “The evidence is going to show that Mr. Abu Khatallah did not participate in the attack,” he said.

Diplomatic security officer Scott Wickland later offered harrowing testimony, describing how dozens of assailants had burst into the main villa of the American Mission in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, trashing the building and pounding on a metal cage door protecting a safe area where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and others remained crouched out of view. New York Times, Reuters

Red Cross officials said Monday that they have been permitted to meet an American citizen being held in U.S. military custody after being captured in Syria last month.

A statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed a traditional meeting under the group’s process for interviewing detainees in military conflict, but provided few details on the encounter.  The Pentagon confirmed on Sept. 14 that an American was in U.S. custody, apparently after fighting for Islamic State forces in Syria. Politico

Russian operatives set up an array of misleading Web sites and social media pages to identify American voters susceptible to propaganda, then used a powerful Facebook tool to repeatedly send them messages designed to influence their political behavior, reports the Washington Post, citing people familiar with the investigation into Russian meddling in the election. The tactic resembles what American businesses and political campaigns have been doing in recent years to deliver messages to potentially interested people online.

The Web sites and Facebook pages displayed ads or other messages focused on such hot-button issues as illegal immigration, African American political activism and the rising prominence of Muslims in the United States. The Russian operatives then used a Facebook “retargeting” tool, called Custom Audiences, to send specific ads and messages to voters who had visited those sites. People caught up in this web of tracking and disinformation would have had no indication that they had been singled out or that the ads came from Russians. Washington Post

The CIA has denied a request by the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee to let them view some of the same information about Russian meddling that the intelligence committee has already seen, according to the panel’s top Democrat. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had asked CIA Director Mike Pompeo last week for access to certain unspecified material related to their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — information that the Senate Intelligence Committee has already received, a sign that turf battles between the two panels may be heating up. Feinstein told reporters Monday evening, however, that she and Grassley were unsuccessful. Politico

Chelsea bombing trial: The trial of the man charged with detonating a bomb in Chelsea last year began Monday in Federal District Court in Manhattan with video replays of the blast, emotional testimony from people wounded by shrapnel and an outburst by the defendant that led to his ejection from the courtroom. The interruption, arriving just as jurors had taken their seats for opening statements, was as jarring as it was brief, with Judge Richard Berman calmly asking prosecutors to proceed after the defendant, Ahmad Khan Rahimi, had been removed. New York Times

Mueller moves to get around preemptive pardons: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly tasked one of his prosecutors, Michael Dreeben, with researching past pardons and determining what, if any, limits exist, according to a person familiar with the matter. Dreeben’s broader brief is to make sure the special counsel’s prosecutorial moves are legally airtight. Bloomberg

Trump company had 2 more contacts with Russians during campaign: Associates of President Trump and his company have turned over documents to federal investigators that reveal two previously unreported contacts from Russia during the 2016 campaign. Both involve Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, who received a proposal for a Moscow residential project in late 2015 and later an invitation to an economic conference in Russia that would be attended by top Russian financial and government leaders. Washington Post

The Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a pair of suicide bombings in the Syrian capital that killed 17 civilians and policemen yesterday. In Monday’s bombings, two men attacked a police station in the al-Midan neighborhood with several bombs, before one of them blew himself up, according to Syria’s interior minister, Lt. Gen. Mohammad al-Shaar. He said the other bomber made it inside the compound, where police killed him, causing his bomb to explode. Associated Press, BBC News

Human Rights Watch said Monday that Afghan immigrant children as young as 14 are being recruited in Iran to fight — and die — in Syria. The group said it had verified the deaths of eight Afghan children in Iran, who were recruited and ultimately died fighting for the Fatemiyoun division in Syria, by inspecting tombstones in cemeteries in Iran, cross-referencing them against the names of fighters reported dead in Iranian news reports, and by speaking to the families of several of the teenagers. New York Times

The assailant who fatally stabbed two women at a train station in southern France over the weekend had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting just days before but was released, the French authorities said on Monday, adding that he had used multiple identities in dealings with the police since 2005. The authorities were initially cautious about describing the events at the Saint-Charles train station in Marseille on Sunday as a possible act of terrorism, but François Molins, the Paris prosecutor who handles such cases nationwide, said on Monday that several aspects pointed to terrorism. New York Times

The Associated Press reports that U.S. intelligence operatives in Cuba were among the first and most severely affected victims of a string of baffling sonic attacks which has prompted Washington to pull out more than half of its diplomatic staff from Havana. The attacks started within days of Donald Trump’s surprise election win in November, but the precise timeline remains unclear, including whether intelligence officers were the first victims hit or merely the first victims to report it. The US has called the situation “ongoing.” Associated Press

Iran nuclear deal: Even if President Trump declines to certify the Iran nuclear deal, it’s far from certain that the Republican Congress would follow his lead and impose strict sanctions, reports Politico.

UK terror law: People who repeatedly view terrorist content online could face up to 15 years behind bars in a move designed to tighten the laws tackling radicalization, the UK’s home secretary, Amber Rudd, is to announce on Tuesday. Guardian
White American men are a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners: “In the eight months since Trump took office, more Americans have been killed in attacks by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners,” writes Jennifer Williams in “Radical Islamic terrorists inspired or directed by groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda do pose a clear threat to the US. But here at home, the bigger threat has come from a very different kind of attacker, one with no ties to religion generally or Islamist extremism specifically.”

Las Vegas ignites an important debate: “For the third time in four months, a tragedy on U.S. soil is dominating the country’s attention,” writes Aaron Blake in the Washington Post. And for the third time in four months, we're about to have a debate about whether to label such an act — perpetrated by a man with no known ties to Muslim extremism — as ‘terrorism.’”

Paul Manafort isn’t a deep state martyr: “There are still a number of open questions — including whether there really was a FISA wiretap of Manafort at all,” write Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes in Foreign Policy. “But if such a warrant existed, you can bet your left arm it was not the product of any political spying. Critics sometimes allege that lots of FISA surveillance is unjustified. Color us unimpressed until they find a single case of a single court finding a single person to have been unlawfully surveilled under an individual FISA warrant. Until then, we’ll assume that any FISA surveillance of Manafort — if it took place at all — reflects something real about Manafort’s conduct.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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