The Soufan Group Morning Brief


A Libyan informant who was paid $7 million by U.S. authorities to help capture Ahmed Abu Khattala testified Monday and Tuesday that the accused ringleader of the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi repeatedly implicated himself in the assaults that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Appearing near the end of the government’s sixth week of trial in Washington, the witness, a thickly bearded, 40-year-old Libyan businessman, identified Khattala on surveillance video from the nighttime attack on a U.S. diplomatic post, and testified that Khattala said given the chance, he would have killed even more Americans at the post, at a nearby CIA annex and at Benghazi’s airport.

“I intended then to kill everybody there — even those who were at the airport — if it was not for [the head of Benghazi’s ruling Islamist council] who stopped me,” the informant quoted Khattala telling him in 2013 after another person urged more bloody attacks like those carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The informant, identified only by the pseudonym Ali Majrisi, also testified that he plied Khatallah with money and a car and led him to the house where he was captured before being spirited to a Navy ship and later taken to the U.S. for trial. He also spoke of his initial reservations about working with the United States, which eventually paid him a $7 million reward for his work.

“There was lot of dangers in that thing. It was really a hard decision to make,” he said, explaining that he wanted to help his home city of Benghazi.

Majrisi talked about how the Americans paid him $5,000 a month to spy on Khattala and arrange his capture at a seaside cottage about 20 miles southwest of Benghazi. Once Khattala was in American custody, Majrisi received the hefty reward, paid in two installments, and was relocated to Texas. He received other compensation from the FBI too, paying for his family’s expenses.

Khatallah, who has pleaded not guilty, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the most serious offenses. His trial began Oct. 2, and jurors have heard vivid testimony from State Department and CIA personnel who survived the assaults, as well as Libyans who have linked Khattalah to the attacks. New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal
Director Mike Pompeo recently met -- at the urging of President Donald Trump -- with one of the principal deniers of Russian interference in the US election, according to a report in The Intercept.

Trump apparently made the highly unusual request that Pompeo meet with the former National Security Agency employee and look into a theory that the leak of Democratic Party emails last year was an inside job rather than a cyberattack by Russian hackers.

William Binney, the former NSA employee-turned-whistleblower who circulated the conspiracy theory, confirmed to CNN that he met with Pompeo for about an hour on October 24 -- despite the fact the intelligence community concluded early this year that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The Intercept, CNN
Washington Post: Trump’s CIA Director Keeps Doing Controversial - and Suspiciously Pro-Trump - Things

27-year sentence in terrorism case: A judge has imposed a 27-year prison term for a man accused of supporting terrorism and trying to arrange the killing of the Ohio federal judge who originally oversaw his case. Monday’s sentence for defendant Yahya Farooq Mohammad also requires the Indian citizen to be deported at the end of his sentence and to pay a $25,000 fine. Mohammad is one of four men with Ohio ties who were accused in 2015 of working to send money to Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al Qaida leader killed by a U.S. drone in 2011. Three others are awaiting trial. Associated Press

FBI can’t crack Texas church shooter’s phone: An FBI official said at a press conference Tuesday that agents have been unable to open the phone of Devin Patrick Kelley, who killed 26 people and injured 20 more at a Texas church on Sunday. The phone is encrypted, meaning the information inside is unreadable without a passcode. The FBI didn’t say what kind of phone the shooter used. CNET

Coalition airstrikes have declined by more than 50% as U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria have largely destroyed the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate and surviving militants have been killed or fled. The number of coalition bombs and other weapons dropped to approximately 850 in October, down from an average of 1,800-2,600 in previous months, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Andrew Croft, a coalition official, told Pentagon reporters in a telephone briefing from Iraq Tuesday. USA Today

President Trump took direct aim at Kim Jong Un in a speech that both extended a hand to the North Korean leader and delivered a warning about the potential consequences of its nuclear-weapons program.

“This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past,” Trump said in an address to South Korean lawmakers Wednesday. “Do not underestimate us, and do not try us.”

The president called on Kim to abandon his country’s nuclear-weapons program as he contrasted the successful capitalist economy of South Korea with that of the North, whose economy is many times smaller. Both countries’ output was similar in 1953, when the end of the Korean War left the peninsula divided.

“North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned—it is a hell that no person deserves,” Trump said, referring to North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung.

“We will offer a path to a much better future,” he continued. “It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to the development of ballistic missiles and complete, verifiable and total denuclearization.” Wall Street Journal, New York Times

Ten people suspected of using encrypted social networks to prepare a possible terror attack were arrested in raids carried out Tuesday in France and Switzerland, officials said.

The operations were part of an investigation launched in July focused on suspicious activity by a person in Switzerland using the Telegram network, a French judicial official told the Associated Press.

Searches are still underway in the suburbs of Paris and in southeastern France. Counterterrorism investigators detained nine people in France and one in Switzerland in operations aimed at clarifying details of the suspected plot. Associated Press, France24

The Saudi government is aiming to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in its broadening crackdown on alleged corruption among the kingdom’s elite, reports the Wall Street Journal. Several prominent businessmen are among those who have been arrested in the days since Saudi authorities launched the crackdown on Saturday, by detaining more than 60 princes, officials and other prominent Saudis, according to those people and others.

The country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said late Tuesday that it has frozen the bank accounts of “persons of interest” and said the move is “in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.” The government has said that assets accumulated through corruption will become state property. Wall Street Journal
New York Times: In Saudi Arabia, Where Family and State Are One, Arrests May Be Selective

Ex-Gitmo detainee sues Canadian government for $40 million: A former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was held for 11 years is suing Canada's government, accusing it of complicity in abuse he says he suffered in the U.S. military prison. Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian, was not charged with a crime, and he denies any links to terrorism. The lawsuit, which seeks damages of $40 million, was filed in Ottawa, Ontario, on Monday. Ameziane was released in 2013. BBC News

UK surveillance agencies face surveillance legal challenge: The first major challenge to the legality of UK intelligence agencies intercepting private communications in bulk, following Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing revelations, was heard by the European court of human rights on Tuesday. Three separate British cases brought by civil rights groups were considered together by seven judges in Strasbourg, raising questions about the way GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 share surveillance material with the United States and other foreign governments. Guardian

U.N. showdown over Syrian chemical weapons: Russia clashed with Western nations at the U.N. on Tuesday over a report blaming Syria for a deadly chemical weapons attack, with Moscow dismissing its findings as “mythical or invented” and the U.S. backing its finger-pointing at President Bashar Assad’s regime. With 10 days to go to renew the mandate of the weapons inspectors, both the U.S. and Russia are introducing another round of rival resolutions. CBS News
Think mass shootings are terrorism? Careful what you wish for: “When Stephen Paddock, a troubled professional gambler, murdered 58 people in Las Vegas and wounding an astounding 546 others, the calls came fast and furious for a new law aimed at domestic terrorism,” write Brian Michael Jenkins and Richard Daddario in Politico. “A new domestic terrorism law, however, is not a solution and could create unintended consequences. Advocates for a new law, while not yet clearly articulating what they have in mind, suggest terrorism should be more broadly defined and that domestic terrorism law should more closely resemble the law applicable to international terrorism. But there is no single law for international terrorism. There are multiple federal statutes applicable to international terrorism, some of which apply equally to domestic acts of terrorism. It is necessary to understand how they came about.”

Guantanamo--Trump’s opportunity: “The Trump Administration’s response to last week’s attacks in downtown Manhattan could go either of two directions: The United States could continue to flounder with indecision about how to handle those accused of violent attacks, or it could stop equivocating and take a clear stand on the side of the rule of law. This is a perfect time for President Donald Trump to do the latter,” writes Daphne Eviatar in Just Security.

DHS nominee shouldn’t get a free pass: “Senators scarcely asked John F. Kelly about immigration enforcement during his January confirmation hearing to lead the Department of Homeland Security,” writes Clara Long in the Washington Post. “If the new administration deserved any benefit of the doubt then, it certainly doesn’t now. We have a 10-month track record of immigration enforcement practices that are as bad as promised. Now that Kelly is White House chief of staff and his deputy, Kirstjen Nielsen, has been nominated to replace him at Homeland Security, senators know what to expect. They shouldn’t give Nielsen a pass at her confirmation hearing this week.”

Moderated by Peter Bergen
Monday, Nov. 20, 7PM
Fordham Law School

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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