The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2017
The Morning Brief will return on Monday, November 27. Happy Thanksgiving!

TRUMP PUTS NORTH KOREA BACK ON LIST OF STATE SPONSORS OF TERRORISM

President Trump on Monday announced that his administration has redesignated North Korea as a state sponsor of terror, a move aimed at increasing pressure on Pyongyang nearly a decade after the George W. Bush administration removed the rogue nation from the list. North Korea joins Sudan, Syria and Iran as countries that the State Department identifies as those that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.”

Trump made his decision public during a brief photo op at a Cabinet meeting, calling it “a very critical step” that “should’ve happened a long time ago.” The president cited assassinations by the dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime carried out on foreign soil, as well as the treatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died in June days after he was released in a coma by the North after spending 17 months in captivity.

Trump said the designation supports U.S. efforts to put pressure on the North Korean regime and would lead to further sanctions from the U.S. Treasury, with some significant measures to be announced on Tuesday.  Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times

On Tuesday, North Korea criticized Trump, calling the American president “an old lunatic, mean trickster and human reject” over a speech he made in South Korea earlier this month. Washington Post
Related:
The Atlantic: North Korea’s Terrorism Designation Isn’t Exactly About Terrorism
Slate: Does North Korea Really Commit Terrorism?
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DHS ENDS PROTECTIVE STATUS FOR HAITIANS WITH 18-MONTH DELAY
The Trump administration will terminate a humanitarian status extended to roughly 59,000 Haitians living in the United States, but with an 18-month delay, the Homeland Security Department announced Monday evening. Tens of thousands of Haitians were initially granted that status after a destructive earthquake hit the island nation in 2010.

After consulting U.S. and Haitian officials, Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke decided that on-the-ground conditions in Haiti no longer warranted the protection granted under the program. The move means that the Haitians given temporary protected status, or TPS, may remain until July 22, 2019, but could face deportation after that date. Politico, New York Times

DHS IG: TRAVEL BAN CONFUSION LED AGENTS TO VIOLATE COURT ORDER
The Trump administration’s botched rollout of its first travel ban led federal agents to violate court orders by telling airlines not to let certain passengers board U.S.-bound flights, according to an internal watchdog.

In a letter Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, John Roth, notified lawmakers of the violations. He also alerted them that his findings have become bogged down in a battle with the department over redactions that he said would obscure the true failures of the administration’s handling of the first travel ban. Washington Post

Benghazi jury deliberations begin: A federal jury of 12, all residents of the nation’s capital, began deliberations Monday over the fate of the man charged with helping orchestrate the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The 7-week trial featured dramatic testimony from surviving State Department and CIA operators, some of them taking the stand under fake names and disguised in wigs and mustaches to protect their identities.

Prosecutors also relied heavily on surveillance video taken by overhead drones and diplomatic compound cameras, and cellphone records the government obtained from Libyan authorities. Abu Khattala, 46, has pleaded not guilty and faces life in prison if convicted of 18 charges, including murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to support terrorism. Washington Post


PUTIN TO TALK TO TRUMP ABOUT SYRIA AFTER SURPRISE ASSAD VISIT
Russian President Vladimir Putin held a surprise meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, kicking off a diplomatic drive this week to outline the terms of an end to the Middle Eastern country’s bloody civil war. Putin said he’ll speak by phone with U.S. President Donald Trump later Tuesday.

Putin met with Assad before a gathering planned for this week in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi with the leaders of Turkey and Iran – two other powers heavily involved in the conflict in Syria.

“We still have a long way to go before we achieve a complete victory over terrorists. But as far as our joint work in fighting terrorism on the territory of Syria is concerned, this military operation is indeed wrapping up,” Putin said. Guardian, Bloomberg, BBC News

U.S. begins bombing Taliban drug labs: U.S. and Afghan forces have launched a series of attacks on narcotics laboratories in southern Afghanistan, marking the start of what could become a long, expanded air war there under President Trump. The initial strikes, which began Sunday and were ongoing Monday, represent the first significant use of new legal authorities granted by the Trump administration in August that enable the Pentagon to target Taliban revenue streams. Washington Post
Related:
NBC News: U.S. on Track to Triple Bombs Dropped on Afghanistan


ICC SEEKS PROBE OF POSSIBLE WAR CRIMES IN AFGHANISTAN BY U.S. MILITARY, CIA
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Monday formally requested authorization to investigate the U.S. military and CIA for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.
Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian jurist who has been the ICC’s chief prosecutor since 2012, confirmed earlier reports that the United States would be implicated in the probe. The decision marks the first time the ICC under Bensouda will investigate American forces and operatives. She named the U.S. armed forces and the CIA among a roster of probe targets that also included the Taliban and its affiliated Haqqani network, as well as the Afghan National Security Forces.

In addition to alleged crimes by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including possible “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence” against detainees around 2003-4, Bensouda wants to investigate the activities of CIA operatives in secret detention facilities in Afghanistan and in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, which also are members of the court.

The appeal for authorization sets up a possible showdown with Washington. The United States is not a member state of the court, but its citizens can be charged with crimes committed in countries that are members. Washington Post, Associated Press

TREASURY SANCTIONS ‘LARGE-SCALE’ IRAN COUNTERFEITING RING
The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on what the Treasury Department describes as a “large-scale” Iranian counterfeiting ring that it says is run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The action against the network affiliated with the IRGC, an elite military wing that has taken over swaths of the Iranian economy, is part of a broader strategy by the administration of President Donald Trump to escalate sanctions pressure on Tehran. Monday’s designations also are likely to bolster Washington’s case in Europe for governments to strengthen their own sanction regimes against Tehran amid growing tensions with allies over the Trump administration’s criticism of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Wall Street Journal

AT THE RITZ IN RIYADH, DETAINED SAUDIS TRY TO NEGOTIATE FOR FREEDOM
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has become a regular visitor to the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, spending hours each visit to the hotel that has become a luxurious detention center for wealthy Saudis caught up in a widening corruption probe.

According to Saudi officials, detainees at the Ritz have negotiated with Prince Mohammed and his deputies for the past two weeks about handing large chunks of their wealth to the state in exchange for their freedom. The amounts detainees are being asked to surrender are commensurate with what they are alleged to have gained improperly, Saudi officials told the Wall Street Journal.

“This appears to be taking place outside anything that resembles a clear legal process,” said Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch who monitors Saudi Arabia. “If the Saudi authorities don’t offer a chance for legal defense, then this is nothing other than a shakedown.” New York Times

FIFTY PEOPLE KILLED IN NIGERIA MOSQUE ATTACK
Fifty people were killed in a suicide bombing attack on a mosque during early morning prayers in a northeastern Nigerian town, according to the police. The 17-year-old suspect attacked Tuesday at 5.20 a.m. in a town about two hours drive from Adamawa state’s capital Yola, police spokesman Othman Abubakar said by phone from the city. Bloomberg
TOP OP-EDS
Prosecuting terrorists in civilian courts still works: “On November 15, the defense rested in the trial of terrorism suspect, Abu Khattala, the alleged conspirator behind the 2014 attack in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Given the notoriety of Khattala’s case, one might think it would garner greater notice. Yet his trial lasted seven largely uneventful weeks,” writes Karen J. Greenberg in The Atlantic. “For years, the Justice Department has worked to ensure that terrorism suspects wind up in federal court and not in military commissions. Now, under Trump and Sessions, things may be shifting.”

Rex Tillerson is underrated: “Over the past year, Rex Tillerson seems to have doggedly pursued the title of Worst Secretary of State Ever,” writes Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy. “But last week I had an odd thought: Is it possible we’re being unfair to him? For one thing, the list of ineffective secretaries of state is a long one, and it’s by no means obvious where Tillerson ranks in that dubious company.”

Has Kushner given Riyadh carte blanche? “The State and Defense departments have urged Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to ease their pressure campaigns on Qatar and Lebanon and improve aid access in Yemen to avert catastrophic famine,” writes Laura Rozen in Al Monitor. “But Saudi and Emirati officials have suggested to US diplomatic interlocutors that they feel they have at least tacit approval from the White House for their hard-line actions, in particular from President Donald Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who Trump has tasked with leading his Middle East peace efforts.”
 
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