The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Defense Department officials were pressed Monday to explain inconsistencies between their official statements about troop counts in multiple war zones and statistics made publicly available on government-operated websites, discrepancies that raise questions about the deployment of U.S. forces worldwide.

According to the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center, which released a quarterly report in September, there were 1,720 American troops in Syria -- three times as many as the 503 troops in Syria that U.S. military spokesmen have told reporters. The Pentagon's personnel agency issues quarterly reports about how many American troops are serving in individual states and overseas countries.

The same report showed there were 8,992 American troops in Iraq, almost 3,500 more than the official Department of Defense tally of 5,262.

A Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Rob Manning, said troops numbers can fluctuate as troops rotate in and out of a region. Sometimes, he added, political sensitivities and agreements may limit the public disclosure of troop levels in certain countries. Security concerns also make it risky to tabulate precisely how many troops are stationed in any given place. Washington Post,, ABC News
The FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, according to the Associated Press.

Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the Associated Press told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting. “It’s utterly confounding,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. “You’ve got to tell your people. You’ve got to protect your people.”

Last week, the FBI declined to discuss its investigation into Fancy Bear’s spying campaign, but did provide a statement that said in part: “The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information.”

Three people familiar with the matter — including a current and a former government official — said the FBI has known for more than a year the details of Fancy Bear’s attempts to break into Gmail inboxes. A senior FBI official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the hacking operation because of its sensitivity, declined to comment on when it received the target list, but said that the bureau was overwhelmed by the sheer number of attempted hacks. Associated Press, Slate

The lawyer for President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn met Monday morning with members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team — the latest indication that both sides are discussing a possible plea deal. Trump’s legal team confirmed late last week that Flynn’s attorney Robert Kelner alerted the White House that he could no longer engage in privileged discussions about defense strategy in the case — a sign Flynn is preparing to negotiate with prosecutors over a deal that could include his testimony against the president or senior White House officials. ABC News
Vanity Fair: Has Mike Flynn Already Flipped on Trump?

Guantanamo art: The Pentagon is reviewing the way it handles prisoners’ art, after a NYC exhibit of Guantanamo detainees’ paintings received international attention, and defense lawyers say they have not been able to transport detainees’ paintings out of Guantánamo Bay in recent weeks. New York Times

An eighth round of United Nations-backed talks aimed at finding a political solution to Syria’s grinding civil war was to convene Tuesday in Geneva, but by late Monday, the world body was still expressing hopes that the Syrian government would send representatives.

On Tuesday morning, the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, received a message saying that the Syrian government delegation was “planning to arrive tomorrow,” UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said. “At least we know that they are coming,” Vellucci said as meetings got under way without the government delegation. Los Angeles Times, RFERL

Baghdad bombing kills 11: Iraqi police and hospital officials say a bombing in southeast Baghdad has killed 11 people. The officials say the attack late Monday night targeted a popular shopping district and left also 26 civilians wounded. Associated Press

Mystery surrounds fate of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal: The arrest of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal — and the lack of transparency around what has happened to him — is causing increasing consternation among his various business partners and in much of the Western business community. New York Times

Weapons for Syrian Kurds: The Defense Department on Monday said it is reviewing the process it uses to provide equipment and weapons to Kurdish fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) but has not halted sending weapons. The Hill

Australian police have arrested a 20-year-old man who they say was planning a terrorist attack in Melbourne on New Year’s Eve. The man, who police said was born in Australia to Somali parents, was charged with one count of preparing or planning a terrorist act and one of collecting a document that is connected to preparing for, or assisting in a terrorist attack. Police allege he planned to arm himself with an automatic rifle and shoot as many people as he could on December 31 at a central square in Melbourne. The Age, Wall Street Journal
Egypt is in trouble and not just from ISIS: “The mosque attack is the latest of many challenges facing President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, a former field marshal, as Egypt heads toward elections next year,” writes Robin Wright in the New Yorker. “For all his military acumen, Sisi has been unable to protect his own people—or even his security forces. Almost a thousand police officers and soldiers have been killed while fighting extremists and insurgents in the past four years. And, despite his cult-like status—his face is on candy wrappers, T-shirts, and billboards—Sisi has solved few of the problems that sparked Egypt’s chapter of the Arab Spring uprising, in 2011.”

Is the Philippines the next caliphate? “The Islamic State is already thinking about how to regroup,” said Patrick Johnston and Colin Clarke in Foreign Policy. “The Philippines is a long way from the group’s birthplace in the Middle East — but the jihadis have already seized and held a city there for three months, and exerted a grim cost on the country’s security forces to retake it.”

Supreme Court cellphone case puts free speech at risk: “On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will consider whether the government must obtain a warrant before accessing the rich trove of data that cellphone providers collect about cellphone users’ movements,” said Jameel Jaffer and Alexander Abdo in the Guardian. “Among scholars and campaigners, there is broad agreement that the case could yield the most consequential privacy ruling in a generation. The court’s resolution of the case is likely to have far-reaching implications for the freedoms of speech, press and association.”

Tehran is winning the war for control of the Middle East: “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s sudden moves on a variety of fronts may superficially have the feel of Michael Corleone’s swift and simultaneous strikes at his family’s enemies in the closing frames of The Godfather,” writes Jonathan Spyer in Foreign Policy. “Unlike in the film, however, the credits are not about to roll. Rather, these are the opening moves in an ongoing contest — and it is far from clear that the 32-year-old crown prince has found a formula to reverse Iran’s advantage.”

How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace
A Conversation with Author 
Tuesday, Dec. 5
Fordham Law School

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