The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2017
SENATE CONFIRMS BRADBURY AFTER FIGHT OVER ‘TORTURE MEMOS’

The Senate on Tuesday narrowly confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee for the top legal post at the Transportation Department despite his role in crafting legal justifications for torture during the Bush administration.

Steven Bradbury headed the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel from 2005 through 2009, and authored some of the memos that provided the legal underpinning for intelligence officers to use waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques with terror detainees.

The 50-47 vote to confirm him as the Transportation Department’s general counsel came after an impassioned plea from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who joined Democrats in a push to derail Bradbury’s nomination.

“I am astonished that we are here considering the nomination of a person who is in violation of the Geneva convention, the rules of war to which the United States of America is signatory,” McCain said on the floor of the Senate prior to the vote. “Put simply, Mr. Bradbury’s memos were permission slips for torture.”

McCain did change one mind, however, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voting no after crossing the aisle to support Bradbury on a key procedural vote Monday. Politico, Bloomberg
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SESSIONS INSISTS HE TOLD THE TRUTH ABOUT RUSSIA CONTACTS
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that he now recalls a 2016 meeting with a Trump campaign adviser at which the aide spoke about contacts with Russians, after earlier saying he knew of no such contacts.
In a five-hour appearance before the House Judiciary Committee that became combative at times, Sessions defended his changing statements, blaming a turbulent campaign and faulty memory for his failure to recall contacts that two former Trump campaign advisers have disclosed in recent weeks.

“None of you had a part in the Trump campaign,” Sessions told committee members. “And it was a brilliant campaign, I think, in many ways. But it was a form of chaos every day from day one.”

“I have always told the truth,” Sessions said, adding that he stood by his previous testimony because “I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports.” Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Related:
Washington Post: Four Key Takeaways from Jeff Sessions’s Memory-Lapse-Filled Hearing
New York Times editorial: Jeff Sessions Doesn’t Recall

Trump administration says six terror-linked foreigners came in through diversity lottery: At least five foreign nationals with suspected ties to terror resettled in the U.S. through the same visa lottery program that allowed NYC terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov into the country, the Trump administration said Tuesday. The visa “lottery,” also known as the Diversity Visa Waiver Program, grants up to 50,000 immigrant visas annually, “drawn from random selection among all entries to individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration” to the U.S., according to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. Fox News


CHINA WILL SEND ENVOY TO NORTH KOREA
China said it would send a special envoy to North Korea, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, days after President Trump pushed for more action from Beijing to pressure Pyongyang over its nuclear program. Song Tao, a special envoy of President Xi Jinping, will leave for North Korea on Friday, Xinhua said. It wasn’t clear from the Xinhua report whether Pyongyang’s nuclear program would be on the agenda during Song’s visit, or how long he would be in North Korea. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

RUSSIA’S ‘PROOF’ OF U.S. HELP FOR ISIS APPEARS TO BE VIDEO GAME STILL
Russia’s defense ministry has tried to pass off what appear to be stills from a mobile phone military simulation game as “irrefutable evidence” of cooperation between U.S. forces and Islamic State militants in Syria.

The photographs were appended to social media posts from the ministry’s official accounts posted on Tuesday morning, which accused the Americans of providing air cover for an ISIS convoy with the aim of using Isis fighters to further U.S. interests. The Russians said their drones spotted the convoy fleeing Bukamal on Nov. 9, the same day Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces said they captured the key militant stronghold on the Euphrates River.

For those who are gamers interested in air combat simulators, you may have already seen the convoy before you gunned downed digital enemies on your computer screen while playing AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron, released in 2015 by the Byte Conveyor game studio. Guardian, Washington Post

TALIBAN ATTACK AFGHAN CHECKPOINTS, KILLING MORE THAN 20 POLICE OFFICERS
The Afghan Taliban attacked more than a dozen checkpoints over six hours in the southern province of Kandahar, killing 22 police and wounding 15, officials said on Tuesday, as militants killed eight soldiers in the west in a growing insurgency. Government forces killed 45 insurgents and wounded 35 and none of the police checkpoints was captured in the overnight attacks, officials said. Reuters
Related:
New York Times: Taliban ‘Red Unit’ with Night Vision Kills Dozens of Afghan Officers


ZIMBABWE MILITARY TAKES OVER COUNTRY IN COUP
Zimbabwe’s military took control of the country and its longtime leader President Robert Mugabe early Wednesday, capping a political showdown over Mugabe’s apparent attempts to install his wife as his successor. A televised announcement after tanks and troops rolled into the capital, Harare, insisted it was “not a military takeover.”

Despite the assurances, the events bore all the hallmarks of a coup, with military vehicles stationed around the city, the army taking over the television station and a uniformed general issuing a statement. Overnight, witnesses reported tanks and soldiers moving around the city along with sounds of gunfire and explosions. By morning, soldiers in armored vehicles controlled major intersections near government buildings.

Mugabe told South African President Jacob Zuma in a call that he was confined to his home and was fine, according to South Africa’s presidency. The commander of the armed forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, is considered close to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom Mugabe summarily expelled from the government and the governing ZANU-PF party last week. The move was widely seen as clearing the path for Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace, 52, who had been amassing growing political power in the past two years as her aging husband’s health declined visibly. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Reuters

UK cybersecurity chief warns of Russian hacking:  Russian hackers over the past 12 months have tried to attack the British energy, telecommunications and media industries, the government’s top cybersecurity official said Tuesday in a summary of a speech to be delivered on Wednesday. The warning, by Ciaran Martin, chief of the National Cyber Security Center, is the strongest indication yet that Russian cyberattacks on Western governments and industries may be far more persistent than United States or British officials have previously acknowledged. New York Times


U.S. HIRES COMPANY WITH KGB LINK TO GUARD MOSCOW EMBASSY
To make up for the loss of security guards axed in recent Russian-mandated staff cuts, Washington has hired a private Russian company that grew out of a security business co-founded by Vladimir Putin’s former KGB boss, an 82-year-old veteran spy who spent 25 years planting agents in Western security services and hunting down their operatives.

Under a $2.8 million no-bid contract awarded by the Office of Acquisitions in Washington, security guards at the American Embassy in Moscow and at consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok will be provided by Elite Security Holdings, a company closely linked to the former top KGB figure, Viktor G. Budanov, a retired general who rose through the ranks to become head of Soviet counterintelligence. New York Times
TOP OP-EDS
Trump’s extraordinary 12-day adulation tour: “Trump is a vain man who flatters others so that he will be stroked himself,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “If there’s a strategic concept underlying his approach, it may be realism married to acquiescence. The Asia trip left me feeling that we’re watching an American retreat, accompanied by a shiny brass band.”

Pulling the plug on ISIS’s ‘virtual caliphate’: “In my own research, I have found that introduction to a terrorist organization happens through friends 35 percent of the time and through family members in 26.5 percent of the cases I studied,” writes Ahmet Yayla in the Daily Beast. “So, interdicting the ISIS recruitment chain means short-circuiting both human and electronic terrorist engagements.”

Trump and Xi’s narcissism of small differences: “The presidents of the United States and China are destined to clash, precisely because their economic worldviews are so similar,” writes Christopher Balding in Foreign Policy.
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