The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2017
SECURITY BREACHES UPEND NSA’S MISSION

Current and former NSA officials say the Shadow Brokers disclosures, which began in August 2016, have been catastrophic for the agency, calling into question its ability to protect potent cyberweapons and its very value to national security, reports the New York Times.

Fifteen months into a wide-ranging investigation by the agency’s counterintelligence arm, known as Q Group, and the FBI, officials still do not know whether the NSA is the victim of a brilliantly executed hack, with Russia as the most likely perpetrator, an insider’s leak, or both. Three employees have been arrested since 2015 for taking classified files, but there is fear that one or more leakers may still be in place. And there is broad agreement that the damage from the Shadow Brokers already far exceeds the harm to American intelligence done by earlier leaks. New York Times

FORMER U.S. INTEL OFFICIALS: TRUMP BEING ‘PLAYED’ BY PUTIN
Two top former U.S. intelligence officials said Sunday that President Trump is being “played” by President Vladi­mir Putin on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and accused him of being susceptible to foreign leaders who stroke his ego.

“By not confronting the issue directly and not acknowledging to Putin that we know you’re responsible for this, I think he’s giving Putin a pass,” former CIA director John Brennan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think it demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.”

Appearing on the same program, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said he agrees with that assessment.

Trump told reporters traveling with him in Asia that Putin had assured him at a conference in Danang, Vietnam, on Saturday that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, and he indicated that he believed Putin was sincere. Trump also referred to Brennan and Clapper as “political hacks.”

“Every time [Putin] sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that,' and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said. ”But he says, 'I didn't do that.' I think he is very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth. Don’t forget. All he said was he never did that, he didn’t do that. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”

Trump later walked back his comments about Russian interference, saying at a news conference in Vietnam, “What I said is that I believe [Putin] believes that.” Washington Post, Politico, Slate, Vanity Fair
Related:
The Atlantic: Taking Putin’s Word for It
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REPORT: GREEN BERET MAY HAVE BEEN KILLED AFTER DISCOVERING COLLEAGUES’ ILLICIT CASH
Logan Melgar, a Green Beret sergeant whose death in Mali earlier this year is now under formal investigation by the military, may have discovered that two SEALs were pocketing some of the money from an informant fund used for counterterrorism intelligence gathering in the country. The SEALS offered to cut him in, but Melgar declined, sources told the Daily Beast, and the SEALS may have responded by killing him. Daily Beast

MUELLER PROBES FLYNN’S ROLE IN PLOT TO DELIVER CLERIC TO TURKEY
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating former White House national security adviser Mike Flynn’s alleged role in a plan to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Under the alleged proposal, Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy. Wall Street Journal

TRUMP’S CONSERVATIVE PICKS ARE RESHAPING THE JUDICIARY
The Trump administration has for the past year been engaged in a secret plan to fill the federal appeals courts with young and deeply conservative judges, reports the New York Times. The White House Counsel’s office has begun by filling vacancies on appeals courts with multiple openings and where Democratic senators up for re-election next year in states won by Trump — like Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania — could be pressured not to block his nominees.

Nearly a year later, that plan is coming to fruition. Mr. Trump has already appointed eight appellate judges, the most this early in a presidency since Richard M. Nixon, and on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to send a ninth appellate nominee — Mr. Trump’s deputy White House counsel, Gregory Katsas — to the floor. New York Times

FBI counterterrorism supervisor under investigation: An FBI counterterrorism supervisor is under internal investigation after a woman stole his gun following a night of heavy drinking in a North Carolina hotel. In July, Robert Manson, a unit chief in the F.B.I.’s international terrorism section who oversees all terrorism investigations in the Midwest and the Carolinas, had his Glock .40-caliber handgun, a $6,000 Rolex watch and $60 in cash stolen from his room at the Westin hotel in Charlotte, N.C., according to a police report. New York Times


U.S. SOLDIER IN NIGER WAS BOUND AND APPARENTLY EXECUTED, VILLAGERS SAY
The body of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. soldiers killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Niger last month, was found with his arms tied and a gaping wound at the back of his head, according to two villagers, suggesting that he may have been captured and then executed. Washington Post

TRUMP EMBEDDING MORE U.S. FORCES WITH AFGHAN COMBAT UNITS
President Trump’s decision to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan has paved the way for a major expansion of the U.S. air war against the Taliban and will involve more American forces working directly with Afghan troops in combat to call in airstrikes. Hundreds of American troops will accompany Afghan forces on combat missions, where they will be able to directly request bombing raids and artillery fire for their Afghan partners, reports Foreign Policy.

U.S. CARRIES OUT DRONE STRIKES IN SOMALIA
U.S. forces say they have carried out three drone strikes within 24 hours in Somalia, stepping up their campaign against the Islamic extremist rebels of al-Shabaab and the Islamic State group. The strikes by unmanned drones killed several extremist fighters, a spokeswoman for AFRICOM said Sunday. With these three attacks, the U.S. has now carried out 26 attacks in Somalia against extremist targets in 2017, she said. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

MASS ISIS GRAVES REPORTEDLY LOCATED IN IRAQ
Iraqi security forces have found mass graves that could contain up to 400 bodies in an area recently retaken from ISIS, an Iraqi official said Sunday.

The bodies of civilians and security forces were found in an abandoned base near Hawija, a northern town retaken in early October, the Kirkuk governor, Rakan Saed, said. He did not say when authorities would start exhuming the bodies. “Not less than 400 people were executed,” he said, adding that some were clad in the uniform of prisoners condemned to death while others wore civilian clothing. Guardian, CNN


TRUMP SKIRTS HUMAN RIGHTS QUESTIONS IN MEETING WITH DUTERTE
Those hoping President Donald Trump would use a bilateral meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday to publicly denounce the country’s violent war on drug users were instead treated to platitudes about the weather. “I’ve enjoyed being here. The weather is always good. Today it’s pretty good. But one thing about the Philippines: eventually it gets good no matter what,” Trump said during brief remarks in front of reporters ahead of the meeting, adding that he and Duterte have a “great relationship.” Trump ignored shouted questions from reporters about whether he’d press Duterte on human rights. Politico

LEBANON’S LEADER, STILL IN SAUDI ARABIA, CLAIMS HE’S FREE TO GO
Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, whose mysterious sojourn in Saudi Arabia has shaken the Middle East, said in a television interview on Sunday night that he was able to move freely, that he had left Lebanon in order to protect himself and that he would return home “within days.” The remarks were his first in public since he unexpectedly flew to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 3 and announced his resignation from Riyadh a day later. His comments seemed unlikely to clear up the confusion and tension over whether he had acted freely or whether he’s effectively being held hostage in the kingdom. New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Related:
New Yorker: The Mystery Deepens Over Lebanon’s Prime Minister: Hostage or Free?

Swedish radio channel hijacked by ISIS song: Listeners of one of Sweden's most popular radio stations heard an Islamic State group recruitment song on the station's frequency for about 30 minutes on Friday morning, reports say. Mix Megapol's owners believe the station's frequency was hijacked to play the song, For the Sake of Allah. BBC News
TOP OP-EDS
Trump has unleashed the Saudi Arabia we always wanted - and feared: “Now that the boy wonder Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has accelerated his ascent to the throne through a series of wide-scale purges last weekend and reckless foreign-policy moves abroad, both of us are feeling nostalgic for the good old days when the Saudis were scared of their own shadow,” write Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky in Foreign Policy.

Guantanamo is delaying justice for 9/11 families: “The environs and mix of civilian and government-commissioned lawyers on both sides add unnecessary and wasteful complexity and confusion to court proceedings,” writes Julia Rodriguez in the New York Times. “There has never been a trial like this in American history — one in which defendants accused of civilian crimes are tried in military court, in an offshore prison and in a system that does not uphold human-rights standards for a fair trial.”

The tax on women in national security: “The question of how prevalent sexual harassment and discrimination are in national security circles is an important one,” writes Dan Drezner in the Washington Post. “As a straight, middle-aged guy, this topic seems more than a little awkward to broach right now. Which means that, for the past month or so, I’ve gotten a small taste of what it’s like to be a professional woman trying to live like an ordinary human being.”

Trump’s plan for dealing with domestic terrorism is missing in action: “Due to politics, bureaucratic wrangling and a lack of resources, the United States is falling behind in combating the fastest-growing part of the terrorist threat,” writes Josh Rogin in the Washington Post.

The Senate papers: America and torture: “In June 2017, while Jeff Bezos was buying Whole Foods and the media was debating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, Trump’s administration began to return copies of the 6,700 page 2014 Senate ‘torture report back’ to the Congressional vaults,” writes Sofia Soroka in International Policy Digest. “Upon completion, the report was circulated to at least eight federal agencies. None have incorporated it into their records, preventing public access to the documents, and under the Republican Senate, the agencies are urged to return the copies to the Senate committee where they can be buried, or worse, destroyed.”
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