The Soufan Group Morning Brief


President Trump said Tuesday night that he has directed the government to “step up” its vetting program for foreign nationals after authorities said an Uzbek immigrant killed eight and injured 11 in a terrorist attack in Manhattan.

Trump wrote in a tweet, “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!” In another tweet, the president said, “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!” Washington Post, Politico

The tweets came after a truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a lower Manhattan bike path shortly after 3 PM, in what officials called the deadliest terror attack in the city since Sept. 11, 2001. The rampage ended when the motorist — whom the police identified as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old from Tampa, Fla., who came to the U.S. in 2010 and is originally from Uzbekistan — smashed into a school bus, jumped out of his truck and ran up and down the highway waving a pellet gun and paintball gun and shouting “Allahu akbar,” before he was shot in the abdomen by the officer. He is currently in custody at a local hospital.

Police found handwritten notes near the truck saying that the suspect carried out the attack in the name of ISIS. But investigators have not uncovered evidence of any direct or enabling ties between Saipov and ISIS and were reportedly treating the attack as a case of an “inspired” attacker.

The foreign ministries of Belgium and Argentina said five Argentines and a Belgian were among the victims. The Argentine nationals were part of a group of friends celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation.

Saipov came to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010, and had a green card that allowed permanent legal residence. He had apparently lived in Paterson, N.J., and Tampa, Fla. An official said Mr. Saipov rented a truck from a Home Depot in Passaic, N.J., where a white Toyota minivan believed to be his was found parked. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN, NBC News
More Coverage:
New York Times: From Truck Driver to Uber Driver to Terror Attack Suspect
Just Security: The Real Test Comes Tomorrow, Not Today
The Atlantic: What the Attack in New York Revealed about the Islamic State’s Supporters
Fox News: Terror Suspect’s Mosque Has Been Under Surveillance
Wall Street Journal: New York Attack Underlines Central Asia as Growing Source of Terrorism
New Yorker: A Terrorist Attack in Lower Manhattan
Senators pressed representatives from three technology giants to explain why they didn’t recognize Russia-linked accounts earlier, as the officials struck a contrite tone about the role their services played in stoking political tensions during the 2016 campaign

Facebook, Alphabet Google, and Twitter were all summoned in front of a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, where officials told members of Congress that they were actively developing better policies for how to curb foreign activity on their platforms and ensure that foreign governments, terrorists and criminals aren’t able to abuse social media for nefarious purposes.

Both Democrats and some Republicans on a Senate Judiciary subcommittee complained that the companies had waited nearly a year to publicly admit how many Americans were exposed to the Russian effort to spread propaganda during the 2016 campaign. Senators pushed for harsher remedies, including regulations on their advertising practices akin to rules for political advertising on television.

“Why has it taken Facebook 11 months to come forward and help us understand the scope of this problem, see it clearly for the problem it is and begin to work in a responsible legislative way to address it?” asked Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post
New York Times: Russian Influence Reached 126 Million Through Facebook Alone

The American military command in Afghanistan has decided to keep secret key figures related to the growth and progress of local security forces, redacting the numbers at the behest of Afghan officials from the latest report by the government’s watchdog for spending.

Among the details being kept private in the report are the number of people in the Afghan army and police force, how many of them have been wounded or killed and the state of their equipment. While the quarterly reports have had a classified annex since 2015, most of the data categories redacted in the latest release have been available to the public since the inspector general started putting out the reports in 2008. New York Times, The Hill

A series of firsts at the Guantanamo war court occurred in rapid succession on Tuesday, all centered around the USS Cole death-penalty case: A Marine general refused to testify and refused to rescind an order releasing three civilian defense lawyers; a Navy defense attorney refused to file pleadings; and a military judge scheduled a contempt hearing in the USS Cole death-penalty case. The drama is being driven by a decision by three civilian attorneys to quit the USS Cole case over a secret ethical issue involving, they say, compromised attorney-client privacy at Guantanamo. Miami Herald

More than half of Americans say in a survey by Chapman University in California that they fear the threat of terrorism, but they are divided along party and racial lines over which groups represent the greatest threats to national security.

Pollsters found that a majority of Americans, 61 percent, said they are afraid or very afraid that Islamic extremists represent a threat to national security. Republicans and white Americans, however, harbor greater fears about Muslim jihadis than do minority groups. More than eight in ten Republicans say they are afraid or very afraid of Islamic extremists, while just 42 percent of strong Democrats said the same.

Nearly two-thirds of whites said they feared jihadis, according to the poll, while only 42 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics said they were afraid or very afraid of Islamic terrorism.

On the other hand, Democrats or minorities make up the majority of Americans who say they believe white supremacists represent a threat to national security. Three-quarters of strong Democrats, 58 percent of blacks and 69 percent of Hispanics said they were afraid or very afraid of white supremacists, while only a third of Republicans agreed. The Hill

DOJ nominee: John Demers, who has been nominated to lead the Justice Department’s National Security Division, pledged in an appearance before lawmakers on Tuesday to cooperate with Congress’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The hearing lasted less than an hour, and the senators who questioned him — even those who took issue with his position on a controversial surveillance authority — said they would vote to confirm him. Washington Post

A suicide bomber struck near the US Embassy in Afghanistan’s capital Tuesday, killing five people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Mujro said another 20 people were wounded in the blast, which took place in a heavily guarded area housing several diplomatic missions and the offices of international organizations.

ISIS claimed the bombing in a brief statement carried by its Aamaq news agency, without specifying the target. Associated Press, BBC News

Russia to host Syria talks: Russia says it will host Syrian talks beginning Nov. 18 aimed at reaching a political settlement. Associated Press

A Syrian teenager has been arrested in Germany on suspicion of planning an attack using powerful explosives, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor said Tuesday. The 19-year-old man, known as Yamen A., was arrested in the early hours of Tuesday morning in Schwerin, northern Germany.

He is “suspected of having planned and made concrete preparations for an Islamist-motivated attack,” spokeswoman Frauke Kohler said in a news conference.

The Syrian teen had researched bomb-making techniques online and had begun acquiring the necessary chemicals and materials to build an explosive device, including sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide, Kohler said. The location of the planned attack was not known. CNN
Trump can pardon Manafort. He shouldn’t: “President Trump has tweeted that he has the ‘complete power to pardon.’ As someone who supported the broadest reading of executive power as a deputy assistant attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, I think that Mr. Trump has the Constitution about right,” writes John Yoo in the New York Times. “But unless Mr. Trump wants to meet the same end as Richard Nixon, he should resort only to pardons that promote the central purpose of the power. So far, nothing in the Mueller inquiry cries out for considerations of mercy. Far from it.”

Putin, exposed, may become more dangerous: “Russian meddling is now advertised to the world. This topic will dominate American debate for the next year, at least. President Vladimir Putin once imagined that Trump would be Russia’s bridge back from isolation. Not anymore,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “Next comes the overtly dangerous part: When covert operations are exposed, nations sometimes adopt more aggressive actions. On the continuum of warfare, Russia has been playing somewhere in the middle, between war and peace. Now, as the world focuses on Russian mischief, will the Kremlin move the dial up or down?”

What the attack in New York revealed about ISIS’s supporters: “As ISIS loses territory, the greatest danger remains that more competent fighters will return home,” writes Graeme Wood in The Atlantic.
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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