The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2017
SESSIONS TO FACE QUESTIONS OVER RUSSIA CONTACTS

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is set to face a fresh round of lawmaker questions on Tuesday about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials, as he appears before the House Judiciary Committee at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing of the Justice Department. The hearing is likely to be dominated by questions about Russia, weeks after new revelations about communications between advisers to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and people connected to the Russian government.

Some Democrats have said the newly disclosed interactions, involving Trump campaign foreign-policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, raise questions about whether Sessions was truthful when he previously said he knew of no such contacts with anyone on the campaign. Wall Street Journal
Related:
New York Times: What to Watch For as Sessions Testifies about Russia Contacts

JUSTICE DEPT. WEIGHS INQUIRY INTO URANIUM DEAL INVOLVING CLINTON
The Justice Department said Monday that prosecutors were looking into whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate political rivals President Trump has singled out for scrutiny, including Hillary Clinton.

The department, in a letter sent to the House Judiciary Committee, said the prosecutors would examine allegations that donations to the Clinton Foundation were tied to a 2010 decision by the Obama administration to allow a Russian nuclear agency to buy Uranium One, a company that owned access to uranium in the United States, and other issues.

The letter appeared to be a direct response to Trump’s statement on Nov. 3, when he said he was disappointed with his beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and that longstanding unproven allegations about the Clintons and the Obama administration should be investigated. New York Times, Washington Post
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IN ‘WATERSHED MOMENT,’ YOUTUBE BLOCKS AWLAKI’S MESSAGE
For eight years, the jihadist propaganda of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has helped shape a generation of American terrorists, including the Fort Hood gunman, the Boston Marathon bombers and the perpetrators of massacres in San Bernardino, Calif., and Orlando, Fla. And YouTube, the world’s most popular video site, has allowed hundreds of hours of Awlaki’s talks to be within easy reach of anyone with a phone or computer.

Now, under growing pressure from governments and counterterrorism advocates, YouTube has drastically reduced its video archive of Awlaki. A search for “Anwar al-Awlaki” on YouTube this fall found more than 70,000 videos, including his life’s work, from his early years as a mainstream American imam to his later years with Al Qaeda in Yemen. Today the same search turns up just 18,600 videos, and the vast majority are news reports about his life and death, debates over the legality of his killing, refutations of his work by scholars. New York Times

DONALD TRUMP JR. COMMUNICATED WITH WIKILEAKS DURING 2016 CAMPAIGN
President Trump’s eldest son exchanged private messages with WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign at the same time the website was publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials, according to correspondence made public Monday by The Atlantic and later by Trump Jr. himself.

Trump Jr. did not respond to many of the notes, which were sent using the direct message feature on Twitter. But he alerted senior advisers on his father’s campaign, including his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to two people familiar with the exchanges.

In the messages, WikiLeaks urged Trump Jr. to promote its trove of hacked Democratic emails and suggested that President Trump challenge the election results if he did not win, among other ideas.

At one point during his communication with WikiLeaks, Trump Jr. sought to learn more about a rumored leak of new documents related to Clinton, the messages indicate. “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?” Trump Jr. asked during one exchange with the WikiLeaks account on Oct. 3.

More than a week later, on Oct. 12, the account replied with a suggestion: “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications,” WikiLeaks wrote. “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us.” The message included a link to search documents that had been hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Trump Jr. did not answer. Fifteen minutes later, his father tweeted to his millions of followers: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!” The Atlantic, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Politico

Hate crimes in the U.S. increase: More hate crimes were carried out in the United States last year, with an uptick in incidents motivated by bias against Jews, Muslims and LGBT people, among others, according to new FBI data released Monday. There were more than 6,100 reported incidents of hate crimes in 2016, up from more than 5,800 the year before. Washington Post

Judicial nominee married to White House lawyer: Brett J. Talley, the 36-year-old lawyer who has been nominated to a federal judgeship by President Trump despite having only practiced law for three years and never tried a case, failed to disclose on his Senate questionnaire that he is married to Annie Donaldson, who is White House Counsel Don McGahn’s chief of staff. Robert Mueller’s team recently talked to Donaldson about her notes on conversations with McGahn regarding the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey. Washington Post

House declares U.S. role in Yemen war unauthorized: In a rare exercise of its war-making role, the House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly passed a resolution explicitly stating that U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen is not authorized under legislation passed by Congress to fight terrorism or invade Iraq. Politico

CIA officer joins NSC staff as agency vows to be more “vicious”: With CIA Director Mike Pompeo promising to make his agency more “vicious,” the Trump administration has elevated to a key White House position a CIA officer who, according to two sources, once worked on a secret CIA assassination program meant to target terrorists. The official, Michael Barry, became the National Security Council’s chief intelligence officer in September and is the primary liaison between the NSC, which coordinates US national security policy, and the CIA. BuzzFeed


REPORT: SECRET DEAL ALLOWED ISIS FIGHTERS TO ESCAPE FROM RAQQA
The BBC has uncovered details of a secret deal that let hundreds of IS fighters and their families escape from Raqqa, under the gaze of the US and British-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces who control the city. A convoy included some of ISIS’s most notorious members and – despite reassurances – dozens of foreign fighters. Some of those have spread out across Syria, even making it as far as Turkey.

The deal was arranged by local officials, and local drivers were promised thousands of dollars to keep it secret. BBC News

DEATH TOLL FROM AIRSTRIKES ON SYRIAN MARKET RISES TO 61
A Syrian war monitoring group says the death toll from airstrikes on a market in northern Syria on Monday has climbed to 61. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there were six women, five children, and three police officers among those killed in the three strikes on Monday on the market in the opposition-held town of Atareb. The rest of those killed were reportedly male civilians. Associated Press, BBC News


IAEA CONFIRMS IRAN IS MEETING ITS COMMITMENTS UNDER NUCLEAR DEAL
Iran is adhering to the restrictions imposed on its nuclear program under a 2015 agreement, the United Nations agency charged with monitoring the country’s facilities has said in its first report since President Trump refused to certify the Islamic republic’s compliance.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a confidential report viewed by Reuters and several other news outlets Monday that Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium have not exceeded the agreed limit of 300 kilograms. It also reported that IAEA inspectors were able to gain access to any sites they tried to visit. Washington Post

TENSE HARIRI INTERVIEW BACKFIRES
When Saad Hariri gave an interview to a TV station he owns from his home in Riyadh on Sunday, the aim was to put to rest the widespread belief that he is being held against his will in the Saudi capital after quitting as Lebanese Prime Minister last week.

But the plan backfired spectacularly. Analysts say viewers appeared to pay less attention to what Hariri said than how he said it, and the uncomfortable interview seemed to reinforce claims that his shock resignation was ordered by the Saudis. Members of his own political party now believe Saudi Arabia is “restricting” his movements. CNN, Financial Times
TOP OP-EDS
The NSA should delete its data on Americans: “The NSA cannot reliably protect even its most closely guarded secrets from adversaries,” writes Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic. “There is no reason to trust it to store years of details about private citizens’ communications, too.”

Niger proves America’s counterterrorism tactics are failing: “The tragic loss of four American fighters in Niger reminds one that the United States has learned little from the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq,” writes Amitai Etzioni in the National Interest. “It still believes that it can send its troops into a faraway country, in this case a particularly underdeveloped one, and that they will be able to stop ISIS from spreading. This is to be achieved not by the United States doing the fighting, but—the magic formula goes—by advising and training. The main problem with this idea is that all too often the locals would much rather have the Americans do the fighting.”

Fix a surveillance law to stop backdoor searches of Americans: “Section 702 is valuable and it should be reauthorized — not permanently, as the Trump administration proposes, but for another five years,” writes the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. “At the same time, Congress must place significant limits on the ability of domestic law enforcement agencies to view the communications of Americans. Reauthorization bills approved by committees in the Senate and House so far fall short in that regard.”
EDITOR'S PICK

EVENTS
UNDERSTANDING PROXY VIOLENCE IN THE ARAB WORLD AND BEYOND: 
THE ROLE OF STATE AND NON-STATE ACTORS
Moderated by Peter Bergen
Featuring 

Tricia Bacon
Ambassador Gerald Feierstein
Assaf Moghadam
Monday, Nov. 20, 7PM
Fordham Law School

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