The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2017
NEW YORK PIPE BOMBING SUSPECT CHARGED WITH TERRORISM

Akayed Ullah, the 27-year-old Bangladeshi accused of detonating a pipe bomb in a New York City subway tunnel on Monday, is due to make his first court appearance Wednesday. On Tuesday, U.S. federal prosecutors announced terrorism charges against him, including bombing a public place and using a weapon of mass destruction, each of which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Bangladeshi officials have not found any evidence linking Ullah with militants in Bangladesh, the country’s counter terrorism chief said Wednesday. “In Bangladesh we have not found any connection or have not been able to identify any of his associates who were or are involved with any terrorist groups,” said Monirul Islam, head of Bangladesh Police’s counter terrorism unit. Reuters, Voice of America

According to court documents, Ullah admitted that he built and detonated the explosive device and said he was inspired to do so by ISIS. “I did it for the Islamic State,” he told investigators. He also told his interrogators that one of his goals in carrying out the attack “was to terrorize as many people as possible.” Reports on Tuesday also said that Ullah posted on Facebook before the attack on Monday: “Trump you failed to protect your nation.”

The criminal complaint against Ullah said he started becoming radicalized as early as 2014. He watched ISIS propaganda online, including a video directing followers to carry out attacks where they were living if they could not join the group’s efforts overseas. Ullah began researching how to build homemade explosives about a year ago, according to the complaint. William Sweeney, the assistant FBI director for the New York field office, told reporters Ullah had not registered on the bureau’s radar for suspicious activity. CNN, New York Times, BBC News
Related:
CNN: New York Bombing Suspect's Wife ‘Didn’t Know About Radicalization’
Lawfare: Document: Akayed Ullah Complaint

MCMASTER PREVIEWS NEW NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Tuesday gave a preview of the Trump administration’s new national security policy, which he said will be unveiled by the president on Monday. The strategy, McMaster said, will prioritize four “vital national interests,” namely protecting the homeland and the American people, advancing American prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence. McMaster also summarized the main threats to U.S. national security as “revisionist powers” like China and Russia, “rogue regimes” including North Korea and Iran, and “transnational terrorist organizations.

Despite concerns that President Donald Trump's “America First” campaign might lead to a retreat from the world stage, McMaster said the new strategy would do the opposite, and instead mark the return of a more confident, more determined U.S. “You'll see a big emphasis on competitive engagement — competitive engagement across what we’re calling arenas of competition,” McMaster said. ABC News, Voice of America

FORMER OFFICER ARGUES FBI PUSHED HIM TO SUPPORT TERRORISM
As Nicholas Young, the first police officer to face terrorism charges in the U.S., goes to trial in federal court this week, FBI special agents and undercover operatives explained to jurors how they began investigating Young in 2010 — and why he was not arrested until August 2016. During the years-long investigation, several law enforcement officials testified, Young repeatedly made violent remarks that were concerning but did not prompt immediate action. Prosecutors said a sting operation, in which Young bought Google Play gift cards that prosecutors say he thought would be used by ISIS, was necessary to get him off the streets and out of law enforcement.

However, Young’s attorney said Tuesday his arrest was an overreach born of frustration that a six-year investigation had yielded nothing of value. Defense attorney Linda Moreno said in her opening statement that agents, in private exchanges, wrote they “hit the case with a defibrillator,” saying “let’s hope he goes one step further” and breaks the law. “The FBI induced Nicholas Young, a police officer who had served with distinction, to commit a crime where none existed,” she said. Washington Post

Justice Department releases messages between FBI agents on Trump: Two FBI agents assigned to the investigation into alleged collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia exchanged text messages referring to the future president as an “idiot,” according to copies of messages turned over to Congress on Tuesday by the Justice Department. Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed one of the agents, Peter Strzok, from the Russia probe “immediately” after learning of the texts in late July, the department said in a letter to lawmakers. The other agent, Lisa Page, had already ended her assignment to Mueller's office. The messages, which were turned up during a Justice Department inspector general investigation into potential political influence on investigative decisions during the campaign, are fueling Republican calls for a second special counsel to investigate Mueller's operation. Politico, NBC News, ABC News


TILLERSON SAYS U.S. OPEN TO NORTH KOREA TALKS WITHOUT PRECONDITION
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered on Tuesday to begin direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, backing away from a key U.S. demand that Pyongyang must first accept that any negotiations would involve giving up its nuclear arsenal. “Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said, presenting a new diplomatic overture amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile advances and harsh rhetoric between the two sides.

The White House later issued an ambiguous statement that left unclear whether President Donald Trump had given his approval for the speech. “The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the White House said. “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way...North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.” Tillerson said that the U.S. is ready to talk to North Korea but would need “a period of quiet” without new missile tests for talks to be productive. Reuters, NBC News, CNN

Meanwhile, a group of 58 retired American military leaders is making a rare public plea to President Trump, urging him not to take military action against North Korea and to instead pursue a diplomatic resolution. The letter, which will be sent to the White House on Wednesday, says the current U.S. approach to North Korea “ is failing.” It calls on the administration to “initiate and lead an aggressive, urgent diplomatic effort to freeze North Korean nuclear and missile development and reduce regional tensions.” Washington Post

Iraqi prime minister warns ISIS still a threat: Three days after declaring victory over ISIS, Iraq's prime minister warned that the group’s extremists might “erupt again somewhere else” without international cooperation in combating the militants. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told reporters that ISIS has an “unfortunate ability to recruit young people very quickly.” He said there must be an effort to “remove their grassroots in the region.” Abadi also called for continued international cooperation in training Iraqi forces and providing logistical and intelligence support. Associated Press, Wall Street Journal

Haley will display missile, other evidence Iran supplying Yemen rebels: The Trump administration is preparing a public display of what it says is evidence that Iran is providing missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to U.S. officials. This week, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is set to unveil components of a short-range ballistic missile that Houthi rebels fired into Saudi Arabia at Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters in Washington, DC. According to a senior intelligence official, she will also present other evidence of Iran’s weapons proliferation and potential violations of UN sanctions, and of Iranian destabilization and threats to U.S. allies. NBC News
TOP OP-EDS
How to fix the U.S. military’s broken targeting system: “The gloves need to be put back on. Civilian protection needs to be at the core of the U.S. mission against ISIS and other adversaries,” Marc Garlasco writes in Just Security. “In reality, the number of civilian deaths will never be zero as long as bombs are dropped, but that nevertheless needs to be the goal. It should never be tolerable to kill those we are trying to protect.”

Putin’s plan for Syria: “Moscow’s military engagement has paid off. Assad’s regime has survived and ISIS has been defeated. The war is still not over, but the focus is increasingly on a future political settlement,” Dmitri Trenin writes in Foreign Affairs. “Russia will not be able to impose this settlement alone, or even together with its allies, Iran and Turkey. But it will be as involved in the Syrian peace as it was involved in the Syrian war.”

The Qatar quarrel benefits the U.S.: “Over the years, foreign-policy analysts of all political stripes have developed a consensus: The U.S. alone cannot win the war against extremist ideologies in the Middle East. Rather, there must be a battle within Islam that ultimately renders those ideologies counterproductive, or even exposes them as corrupt. A battle along those lines is taking place in the Gulf right now,” Jonathan Schanzer writes in the Wall Street Journal. “This is not exactly a battle between moderates and radicals. The politics of the Gulf do not afford a binary equation. But this is undeniably a battle about the role of political and radical interpretations of Islam and their place in the Middle East.”
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