The Soufan Group Morning Brief



Lawyers for the Justice Department revealed for the first time in a court filing Thursday that an unnamed U.S. citizen, who has been detained as an “enemy combatant” in Iraq for over two months, asked his interrogators for an attorney and was told it is “unknown” when he would receive one. During a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the government to disclose whether the individual was advised of his rights to an attorney and whether he indicated that he wants to pursue legal action challenging his detention.

“The individual stated he understood his rights, and said he was willing to talk to the agents but also stated that since he was in a new phase, he felt he should have an attorney present,” Justice Department attorney Kathryn Wyer wrote. “The agents explained that due to his current situation, it was unknown when he would be able to have an attorney.” Judge Chutkan, visibly frustrated, responded, “I'd like to know how long you think you get to do this to a U.S. citizen.” She said the court did not dispute the U.S. military’s decision to temporarily withhold the detainee’s name, but said it couldn’t expect a “blank check” to imprison American citizens indefinitely and without charge.

The individual, whose identity and precise location have not been released, was turned over to U.S forces in mid-September and is accused of fighting for ISIS in Syria. Since then. he has met twice with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The hearing on Thursday centered on a habeas corpus lawsuit filed in October by the ACLU, which is asking Judge Chutkan to order the government to give its lawyers access to the detainee and to declare that continued indefinite detention without charges unlawful. The Justice Department argues that the ACLU has no standing to bring the lawsuit. The court filing on Thursday suggested that U.S. officials had not raised the issue of a habeas corpus case with the detainee, saying the Justice Department was “not currently aware of any additional information regarding the individual’s wishes in connection with his invocation of constitutional rights or pursuit of remedies in U.S. courts.” CNN, Politico, Wall Street Journal, New York Times

The White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with President Donald Trump has been strained, and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, perhaps within the next several weeks, senior administration officials said on Thursday. Pompeo would be replaced at the CIA by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters. Senator Cotton has reportedly signaled that he would accept the job if offered. Reuters, Washington Post

It was not immediately clear whether Trump had given final approval to the reshuffle, which the New York Times reported was developed by Chief of Staff John Kelly. When asked on Thursday whether he wanted Tillerson to remain in the job, Trump responded, “He’s here, Rex is here.” For his part, Kelly denied reports that the White House had put together a plan to remove Tillerson. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Kelly told Tillerson’s staff that the “rumors are not true.” New York Times, Wall Street Journal

Meanwhile, several CIA veterans reacted with alarm on to the news that Cotton could replace Pompeo as head of the intelligence agency. Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the CIA, pointed to a letter Cotton wrote to top Iranian leaders in March 2015 warning them against striking a nuclear deal with then-President Barack Obama. The letter was signed by 47 Senate Republicans and infuriated the White House, which viewed it as an inappropriate congressional intervention in sensitive diplomatic negotiations. Others, including longtime CIA intelligence officer Glenn Carle, expressed about Cotton's views on torture. Cotton told CNN last November that “waterboarding isn't torture,” saying it was used to train elite U.S. forces to resist torture. Carle said Cotton was “wholly unfit” to be CIA director, adding, “those of us with some knowledge and objectivity have pointed out endlessly that torture does not work, is illegal, is unnecessary and harms the perpetrators of it. The Daily Beast, Business Insider
Washington Post: Trump’s National Security Shake-up Will Make the World a Much More Dangerous Place
New York Times: Tom Cotton, Said to Be Trump’s CIA Pick, Would Bring Ambition but Little Experience
Amnesty International: Mike Pompeo and Tom Cotton Must Disavow Torture

President Trump over the summer repeatedly urged senior Senate Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to end the panel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to a half dozen lawmakers and aides. Trump’s requests were a highly unusual intervention from a president into a legislative inquiry involving his family and close aides.

Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said in an interview this week that Trump told him that he was eager to see an investigation come to an end. “It was something along the lines of, ‘I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible,’” Burr said. In addition, according to lawmakers and aides, Trump told Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) to end the investigation swiftly. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Trump’s requests were “inappropriate” and represented a breach of the separation of powers. A White House spokesman said the president had not acted improperly. New York Times, Business Insider

Trump administration mulls pitch for private spy network: The White House and CIA are considering a package of secret proposals to allow former U.S. intelligence officers to run privatized covert actions, intelligence gathering, and propaganda missions, according to three sources. One of the proposals would involve hiring a private company, Amyntor Group, to set up a large intelligence network and run counterterrorist propaganda efforts. Another proposal would allow individuals affiliated with the company to help capture wanted terrorists on behalf of the U.S. In keeping with that proposal, people close to the company are tracking two specific suspects in a Middle Eastern country, the sources said, for possible “rendition” to the U.S. Buzzfeed

State Department warned White House after anti-Muslim tweets: After President Donald Trump retweeted anti-Muslims videos on Wednesday, multiple State Department officials said the department communicated to the White House that there was concern that protests could occur at U.S. embassies. Officials feared that the tweets, which appeared to depict Muslims engaged in different acts of violence, would spark a reprise of violent protests at U.S. embassies in the Middle East, similar to those that occurred in 2012 following the publication of an anti-Muslim video. CNN

At least 800 civilians have been killed in strikes in Iraq and Syria by the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS since the campaign began in 2014, according to a report released by the coalition on Thursday. The estimate, which looked at coalition strikes between August 2014 and October 2017, was far lower than figures provided by monitoring groups. The monitoring group Airwars says a total of at least 5,961 civilians have been killed by coalition air strikes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in late October it had documented 2,910 civilian deaths that resulted from coalition airstrikes in Syria. “We continue to hold ourselves accountable for actions that may have caused unintentional injury or death to civilians,” the coalition said in the report. Reuters, Voice of America

The government of Niger has given the Defense Department permission to fly armed drones out of the Nigerien capital, Niamey, Pentagon officials said Thursday, marking a major expansion of the American military’s footprint in Africa. U.S. defense officials had previously said the Pentagon had been seeking the authority to arm its drones in Niger for months prior to the October ambush of U.S. forces there that left four soldiers dead.

A memorandum of understanding between the United States and Niger calls for drones to be armed initially, by the military’s Africa Command, at the Nigerien air base in Niamey where they are currently deployed without arms. The drones will eventually be moved to a Nigerien air base in Agadez, where American troops will also be deployed. Pentagon officials said the new mission would increase the number of American troops in Niger, from the 800 who are there now.

It is unclear what if any authority military commanders have to conduct drone strikes in Niger. A spokeswoman for the Pentagon declined to speak about specific authorities or permissions but stressed the closeness of the U.S.-Niger relationship. The deployment would be the second time that armed drones have been stationed and used in Africa; drones now based in Djibouti are used in Yemen and Somalia. CNN, New York Times

At least four Taliban militants disguised as women in burqas attacked a university dormitory in Peshawar in northern Pakistani on Friday, killing at least nine people and wounding at least 30 others. The attackers reached the gates of the Agriculture Training Institute in the University of Peshawar by rickshaw before opening fire and breaking into buildings. The attack occurred on Eid Miladun Nabi, a major Muslim holiday celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Ordinarily, the dormitory houses 450 students, but only about 150 were present due to the holiday.

The attack was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban. In a statement, the militant group said its members had attacked a safe house of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the country’s spy agency. But security officials denied the claim that the university campus housed a secret intelligence facility. Local residents said there was no evidence of an office related to the intelligence agency in the neighborhood. New York Times, USA Today, NBC News

U.S. to withdraw 400 marines from Syria after defeat of ISIS in Raqqa: More than 400 U.S. Marines are to leave Syria after completing their mission to help defeat ISIS in Raqqa, U.S. coalition officials said Thursday. The coalition called the withdrawal of the Marine artillery battery a “sign of real progress.” Director of Operations for the coalition Brig-Gen. Jonathan Braga said, “we're drawing down combat forces where it makes sense, but still continuing our efforts to help Syrian and Iraqi partners maintain security.” BBC News, ABC News

Yemen rebel missiles fired at Saudi Arabia appear Iranian: Remnants of four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Houthi rebels this year appear to have been designed and manufactured by Iran, a confidential report by UN sanctions monitors said. The independent panel of monitors said it “as yet has no evidence as to the identity of the broker or supplier” of the missiles. Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with weapons, saying U.S. and Saudi allegations are “baseless and unfounded.” On Thursday, the second time in a month, the Saudi military intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile that it said was launched from Yemen. Reuters, CNN

Syria peace talks overshadowed by frustration over humanitarian access: The starvation and bombardment of Syrian civilians in a long-besieged Damascus suburb overshadowed efforts on Thursday by UN diplomats to inject life into another round of peace talks in Geneva. The special UN humanitarian adviser for Syria, Jan Egeland, expressed outrage over what he described as heavy casualties in the suburb, Eastern Ghouta, and the inability of aid workers to help the 400,000 residents trapped there. Russia told the UN on Wednesday that it had arranged a two-day truce in the area, but fighting has continued. New York Times

Nigeria puts fortress towns at heart of new Boko Haram strategy: In Nigeria’s northeast, which has been torn apart by eight years of conflict with Boko Haram, the government plans to house displaced people in fortified garrison towns, ringed by farms, with the rest of the countryside effectively left to fend for itself. The vision for the state of Borno is a stark admission of the reality in the northeast. For two years, the military and government have said Boko Haram is all but defeated. But the military is largely unable to control territory beyond the cities and towns it has wrested back from Boko Haram. That means many of the nearly 2 million displaced people across the northeast cannot return to their homes in rural areas. Reuters

Erdogan helped Turks evade Iran sanctions, Reza Zarrab says: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally ordered that two Turkish banks be allowed to participate in an oil-for-gold scheme that violated U.S. sanctions on Iran, according to testimony on Thursday by a Turkish-Iranian gold trader in a federal trial in Manhattan. Reza Zarrab, who helped orchestrate the billion-dollar scheme, recently pleaded guilty to conspiring to evade the sanctions and has become a witness for American prosecutors. On Thursday, he testified that in 2012, a senior Turkish official told him that Erdogan — at the time Turkey's prime minister — and a second official, the treasury minister, had given orders for the banks “to start doing this trade.” Zarrab’s testimony marked the first time Erdogan has been implicated in the alleged sanctions violation, which first surfaced when the Turkish police uncovered the activity in 2013. Zarrab’s testimony about Erdogan was relatively brief, coming in the first week of the trial of a Turkish banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was also charged in the scheme. New York Times

Chinese drone maker denies giving data to government: The Chinese company that is the world’s biggest maker of commercial drones is denying claims in a U.S. government document that it gives Beijing information about American law enforcement and utility companies. The U.S. document, citing an unidentified source in the unmanned aerial systems industry, says data from DJI drones are transmitted to computers in China to which the government might have access. The Chinese company denied suggestions that it shared information about U.S. utility companies and other “critical infrastructure” with the Chinese government. The dispute highlights growing concern among governments about potential risks associated with the flood of data generated by smartphones, social media, and other technology. Associated Press
Tillerson doesn’t deserve this: “Tillerson was from the beginning a decent man caught in an impossible situation. But he played a bad hand badly...In focusing on reform that turned unpopular quickly, keeping far too low a public profile and tolerating others like Nikki Haley expounding on foreign policy, Tillerson reduced his own prestige and relevance,” Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky write in CNN. “Having spent decades at the State Department, we know how hard it is to get anything done. We wished Tillerson good luck when he started and for the good of the republic we wish Pompeo the same. He's going to need it.”

If you can’t beat ISIS online, ban 'em: “As 2017 comes to a close, many fighting the online war for the hearts and minds of would-be terrorists are rethinking their strategy. Hearts and minds, of course, still matter,” Eli Lake writes in Bloomberg. “But the efforts of Western governments, academics and the private sector to craft clickable content and stories to discredit terrorists are often clumsy and slow. It's also difficult to measure just how effective these campaigns really are.”

Mission still not accomplished in Iraq: “As much as Trump and other Americans may wish to end any involvement, what happens in Iraq does not stay in Iraq. ISIS has lost most of the territory it controlled in the country and is severely weakened as an organization, but the group retains the capacity to conduct attacks internationally,” Emma Sky writes in Foreign Affairs. “The collapse of Iraq was instrumental in the unraveling of regional order; its stability is key to restoring a balance of power.”

How—and why—to end the war in Yemen: “Set aside for a moment the obligation to relieve suffering and protect civilians. Hard security interests are also at stake. The world can ill afford another failed state—a new Afghanistan or Somalia—that becomes a breeding-ground for global terrorism,” The Economist writes. “The longer the war goes on, the more Saudi Arabia’s Western allies are complicit in its actions.”

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