The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2017
AT BENGHAZI TRIAL, BODYGUARD DETAILS AMBASSADOR’S LAST MOMENTS

State Department security officers described scenes of chaos and death as September 2012 assaults unfolded at the U.S. diplomatic mission and nearby CIA post in Benghazi, Libya, as the federal trial continued Tuesday of the accused ringleader of the attacks, Ahmed Abu Khattala.
In six hours of testimony, Diplomatic Security special agent Scott Wickland stood as one of the sole surviving human links between the two attack sites and several victims.

As bodyguard to U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Wickland was the last person to see him and an aide alive as they tried to escape a burning mission villa. Wickland also was at the wheel of an armored car evacuating U.S. security personnel that ran a gauntlet of hostile fire to the CIA annex, only to have the attack trail them and mortar rounds kill two more Americans and wound one of Wickland’s close friends just feet away from him on a rooftop.

“They all looked like they had seen a ghost,” said Wickland, describing agents’ reactions at finding him alive outside the villa. “My face was covered in soot, my eyes were black, my teeth were black.”

Security agent David Ubben also testified, saying that he dragged Sean Smith, a computer technician, out of the building, then returned to look for Ambassador Stevens. But when a frantic Libyan guard implored him and other Americans to leave before the attackers returned, Ubben reluctantly agreed to call off the search.

“I didn’t like the idea of not recovering at least his body,” he told the court. “I realized that the chances of finding him alive were very slim at this point, especially after we had recovered Sean Smith. Nevertheless, I wanted to at least recover his body.” New York Times, Washington Post
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MATTIS CONTRADICTS TRUMP ON IRAN DEAL AHEAD OF DEADLINE
Days before President Trump has to make a critical decision on whether to hold up the Iran nuclear deal, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis openly split with him on abandoning the agreement, the second senior member of the president’s national security team to recently contradict him.

Mattis told senators on Tuesday that it was in America’s interest to stick with the deal, which Trump has often dismissed as a “disaster.” Asked Tuesday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether he believes it is in America’s “national security interest at this time to remain” in the Iran nuclear deal. After a lengthy pause, Mattis replied to Sen. Angus King: “Yes Senator, I do.”

Trump has an October 15 deadline to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal, or decline to do so.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also recently broke with Trump, telling reporters in Beijing over the weekend that he was keeping “a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang” to defuse the situation in North Korea. The next morning, he was publicly slapped down by Trump, who read newspaper accounts of that conversation and tweeted that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” New York Times, Axios, The Hill, Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS GUNMAN PLANNED EXTENSIVELY
Stephen Paddock, the gunman behind Sunday night’s massacre on the Las Vegas Strip, planned his rampage carefully, stocking his 32nd-floor hotel suite with an arsenal of pricey, high-powered rifles and multiple cameras, authorities said Tuesday. He set up three cameras both inside and outside his hotel room, including one located on a service cart and another lodged inside the peephole of his hotel door so he could see into the hallway.

The gunman’s girlfriend, Marilou Danley, returned to the U.S. from the Philippines on Tuesday night and was met at Los Angeles International Airport by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. Paddock reportedly wired tens of thousands of dollars to the Philippines in recent weeks. Wall Street Journal, New York Times
Related:
Foreign Policy: FBI and DHS Assessment Outlined Threat of Lone Offenders Targeting Las Vegas
Vice News: ISIS Claiming Las Vegas Has Terror Experts Confused
NBC News: ISIS Claim of Responsibility Is a Sign of Desperation

AT CHELSEA BOMBING TRIAL, TAPE OF 911 CALL THAT ALERTED POLICE TO SECOND BOMB
A 911 call played in a Manhattan federal courtroom this week detailed the calm, collected thoughts of a Chelsea resident on high alert after an explosion only a few blocks from her apartment.

Photographer Jane Schreibman testified Monday during the trial of Ahmad Rahimi, the New Jersey man accused of planting the pressure cooker bombs in Manhattan on Sept. 17, 2016. Schreibman said that she doubted herself as she dialed 911 to report a pressure cooker sitting on the sidewalk next to a mailbox on W. 27th St., moments after a bomb went off four blocks away, leaving 30 people hurt. New York Daily News

The trial has proceeded at a brisk pace, with 19 witnesses testifying so far over two days. An article from the online ISIS magazine Inspire that was found on Rahimi’s laptop and several items found among Rahimi’s internet searches and bookmarks were shown as evidence to jurors on Tuesday. New York Times

GOP LAWMAKER MET WITH KREMLIN-LINKED LAWYER AT CENTER OF RUSSIA INVESTIGATION
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) met with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya during a 2016 trip to Moscow, a previously undisclosed meeting that sheds additional light on the extent to which Moscow-based political operatives sought to influence American officials in the run-up to last year’s presidential election. Two months after her meeting with Rohrabacher, Veselnitskaya met in New York with Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to discuss the Magnitsky Act and to offer potentially incriminating information about his father’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Foreign Policy

Terror trial delayed: A South Carolina teenager accused of trying to fight for the Islamic State won't be tried until next year, giving lawyers more time to review classified evidence. On Monday, a federal judge rescheduled proceedings for Zakaryia Abdin to January, according to documents filed in federal court. Abdin, 18, was arrested at Charleston’s airport in March as he tried to board a plane for Jordan. Authorities said he told an undercover FBI agent posing as an Islamic State recruiter that he wanted to torture an American, and would attack a U.S. site if he couldn’t get out of the country. He has pleaded not guilty. Associated Press


SYRIAN SOLDIER IS GUILTY OF A WAR CRIME, THE FIRST TIME IN 6-YEAR WAR
For the first time, six years into a war that began with Syria’s secret police accused of torturing teenagers and has escalated in brutality ever since, a member of the Syrian military has been convicted of a war crime.

The perpetrator: a low-level soldier who is now in Sweden as a refugee. The crime: violating human dignity by posing with his boot on a corpse. The sentence: eight months in a Swedish prison. New York Times

REPORT: RUSSIA TARGETS NATO SOLDIERS’ CELLPHONES
Russia has opened a new battlefront with NATO, reports the Wall Street Journal, by exploiting a point of vulnerability for almost all allied soldiers: their personal smartphones.

Troops, officers and government officials of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member countries said Russia has carried out a campaign to compromise soldiers’ smartphones. The aim, they say, is to gain operational information, gauge troop strength and intimidate soldiers. Wall Street Journal

Mattis: U.S. will work with Pakistan on counterterrorism ‘one more time’: The United States will try to work with Pakistan on terrorism “one more time” before taking punitive action to pressure them to do more, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday. “We need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, President Trump is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary,” Mattis said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. The Hill

ISIS releases video of captured Russian soldiers: ISIS released a video Tuesday of two injured men it claims are captured Russian soldiers that Moscow has denied losing in Syria. Newsweek


FRENCH PARLIAMENT ADVANCES SWEEPING COUNTERTERRORISM BILL
The French government on Tuesday moved a significant step closer to making permanent some of the emergency measures put in place after the terrorist attacks of 2015, expanding the powers of the security forces to combat terrorism in ways that critics say may also curtail civil liberties.

The legislation, approved by a wide margin in the lower house of the French Parliament, codifies measures including search and seizure and house arrest without judicial review and effectively institutionalizes a trade-off between security and personal liberty. The upper and lower houses of Parliament still need to smooth over differences in their versions of the bill before a final vote this month, but most of the provisions are expected to stand in their current form. New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Related:
Associated Press: France Arrests 5 After Explosives Found in Chic Paris Area

EDMONTON TERROR SUSPECT HAD BEEN DEPORTED FROM U.S. IN 2011
A man facing attempted murder charges for allegedly ramming pedestrians with a car and stabbing a police officer in Edmonton last weekend was deported from the United States by immigration officials in 2011. Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, a 30-year-old Somali refugee, crossed legally into Canada in 2012 at a border crossing and obtained refugee status, according to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. There was no information on Sharif at the time that would have raised any red flags to authorities.

Sharif was in custody in the United States for about four months in the summer and autumn of 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Lauren Mack said in a statement. He was ordered deported to Somalia but released on an “order of supervision” on Nov. 23, 2011. Sharif did not appear for a scheduled meeting in January 2012, and efforts to locate him “were not successful,” the statement said.Toronto Star, Reuters

AUSTRALIA PM SEEKS 14-DAY DETENTION LAW FOR TERROR SUSPECTS
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is pushing a change to the country’s terrorism laws that would allow authorities to hold terror suspects without charge for up to 14 days. The proposal would replace state laws, which specify varying periods of detention; most states do not currently allow 14 days.
The government also wants to make it illegal to possess terror-related “instructions,” such as bomb manuals. Sydney Morning Herald, BBC News

U.S. EXPELS 15 CUBAN DIPLOMATS
President Trump on Tuesday expelled 15 Cuban diplomats, escalating his response to a mysterious affliction that has stricken American Embassy personnel in Havana in a move that cast a Cold War chill over relations between the two countries. New York Times
TOP OP-EDS
Why we should resist calling the Las Vegas shooting ‘terrorism’: “The reality is, the Las Vegas shooting—at least as far as we know now—was not an act of terrorism. Nor was the killing in Charlottesville,” writes Masha Gessen in the New Yorker. “The fact that people are terrorized doesn’t necessarily mean that an act of terror has been committed. This matters, because language matters. When terms are used too broadly, or just sloppily, they lose their meaning.”

Trump threatened North Korea after imaginary negotiations: “Over the weekend, a story emerged that the United States was in some sort of talks with North Korea, followed in quick succession by a series of tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump rejecting any sort of diplomatic engagement with North Korea. One small problem: There never were any such talks,” writes Jeffery Lewis in Foreign Policy. “Fake news is threatening to produce a very real war.”

What if Stephen Paddock were al Qaeda? “Stephen Paddock walked into a luxury hotel—correction, he walked into a hotel-casino, where it’s part of the business model to know and watch customers carefully—with 23 weapons, ammo and related equipment. Here’s a question: Do you think Paddock, if he had also spent 30 minutes on an al Qaeda or ISIS website, would have been allowed to get this far?” asks Holman Jenkins Jr. in the Wall Street Journal. “America’s surveillance state—yes, we have one—finds what it’s programmed to look for.”

Why the NSA should thank Snowden: “NSA reforms would not have happened without a whistleblower like Snowden,” writes Timothy Edgar in Fortune.com. “From 2006 to 2013, I worked inside the surveillance state as a privacy official, first in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and later at the White House under President Barack Obama. While I helped put the NSA’s programs on firmer legal ground and made some improvements in oversight, broader changes to protect privacy were elusive. Obama’s aides showed little interest in reforming mass surveillance until after I left, when the Snowden leaks forced their hands.”
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