The Soufan Group Morning Brief



A former police officer for the D.C. Metro system was found guilty Monday of trying to aid ISIS, making him the first law enforcement officer nationwide to be convicted in a terrorism case. Nicholas Young could face up to 60 years in prison and will be sentenced on February 23. The FBI arrested Young in July 2016 after a sting operation in which the police officer sent gift cards worth $245 on mobile messaging accounts to a supposed ISIS operative, prosecutors said.

Court records showed that Young had long been on the FBI’s radar for links to terrorism. He was under scrutiny by the FBI for six of the 13 years he worked for the Metro Transit Police Department. In 2010, the FBI interviewed him about a friend, Zachary Chesser, who was subsequently arrested for supporting an affiliate of ISIS based in Somalia. An undercover law-enforcement officer reported that Young claimed to have traveled to Libya twice to fight with rebels seeking to overthrow the government in 2011. Young also came under scrutiny for meeting another friend, Amine El Khalifi, who was charged with planning a suicide attack at the U.S. Capitol building in 2012. Mr. El Khalifi was sentenced to 30 years in jail in connection with those charges. Reuters, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal

An Iraqi refugee who authorities say wanted to set off bombs at two Houston malls has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for trying to help ISIS. Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan was sentenced in Houston federal court on Monday. He pleaded guilty in October 2016 to attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. The 25-year-old came to Houston from Iraq in 2009. He was arrested in January 2016. Authorities say Hardan was learning to make electronic transmitters that could be used to detonate explosives. Associated Press

President Donald Trump on Monday warned of global rivals that are “tough, tenacious and committed” as he emphasized the need for strength at home and foreign relationships that prioritize American national security. Rolling out the administration’s National Security Strategy, Trump said the U.S. faces growing competition from Russia and China, two great-power rivals that he said “seek to challenge American influence, values and wealth.” CBS News

In a departure from past administrations, which stressed the need for diplomacy and dialogue with adversaries, Trump declared that his administration will use military power as a means for earning respect from allies and keeping adversaries in line. But midway through the speech, Trump seemed to contradict that message, saying the U.S. would work to “build a great partnership” with Russia and China — language that is not included in the official strategy document. In addition, Trump said nothing in his speech about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, although the strategy document warns that “through modernized forms of subversive tactics, Russia interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries around the world.” Politico, The Hill, Reuters

The new strategy also notably does not recognize the changing climate as a threat to national security. The document instead places climate under a section on embracing “energy dominance,” and says that while “climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system,” American leadership will be “indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda.” New York Times
Bloomberg: Trump's National Security Strategy Is Shockingly Normal
The Atlantic: Three Ways to Read Trump's National Security Strategy
CNN: China Says Trump’s New Security Policy Shows ‘Cold War Mentality’
Washington Post: Trump’s National Security Strategy Marks a Hawkish Turn on China
USA Today: Trump Omits Key Military Priority from National Security Strategy: Climate Change

The Trump administration on Monday evening publicly acknowledged that North Korea was behind the WannaCry computer worm that affected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries earlier this year. “The attack was widespread and cost billions, and North Korea is directly responsible,” Tom Bossert, the White House Homeland Security Adviser, wrote in an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal. “We do not make this allegation lightly. It is based on evidence. We are not alone with our findings, either,” he wrote.

Bossert said anyone who harmed the U.S. would be held accountable, but he did not detail any specific actions Washington might take against Pyongyang, other than saying it would continue to pursue a “maximum pressure strategy.” Another senior administration official said the U.S. had assessed with a “very high level of confidence” that a hacking entity known as Lazarus Group, which works on behalf of the North Korean government, carried out the WannaCry attack. The accusation against Pyongyang comes as worries mount about North Korea’s hacking capabilities and its nuclear weapons program. Washington Post, Reuters
Reuters: Multi-Stage Cyber Attacks Net North Korea Millions in Virtual Currencies

FBI warned Trump in 2016 of Russian attempts to infiltrate campaign: In the weeks after he became the Republican nominee for president in July 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would likely try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign. The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, government officials familiar with the matter said. A similar briefing was given to Hillary Clinton; the briefings are commonly provided to presidential nominees and are designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies. The were timed to occur around the period when the two candidates began receiving classified intelligence. NBC News

Turkey complains to Justice Department over Iran sanctions case: Turkey’s justice minister over the weekend wrote to the U.S. Justice Department to express frustration over the trial in New York of a Turkish banker charged in a billion-dollar scheme to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran. Turkey contends the prosecution is fueled by Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of orchestrating a coup attempt from his Pennsylvania compound last year. The letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions alleges that a key prosecution witness, a former Turkish police officer, is a follower of Gulen and therefore a fugitive terror suspect. “We are deeply saddened that the American legal system has been used as an instrument for such an organization,” the letter said. NBC News

U.S. bars drones over nuclear sites for security reasons: The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it will bar drone flights over seven major U.S. nuclear sites. The move is the latest in a series of growing restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles over U.S. sites that have national security implications. The FAA said it is considering additional requests from other federal security agencies to bar drones. Earlier this year, the FAA banned drone flights over 133 U.S. military facilities. The Pentagon said in August that U.S. military bases could shoot down drones that endanger aviation safety or pose other threats. Voice of America

Japan and South Korea urged China to do more to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Tuesday. “We agreed that it is necessary to ask China to play even more of a role,” Kono said after talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. Kono said China was implementing UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea but said it could do more. Reuters

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, Japan’s cabinet approved a plan to purchase a set of land-based U.S. missile combat systems to increase the country’s defense capabilities from threats from North Korea. The approval will allow the Defense Ministry to buy two Aegis Ashore systems to add to Japan’s current two-step missile defense consisting of Patriot batteries and Aegis-equipped destroyers. “North Korea's nuclear and missile development has become a greater and more imminent threat for Japan's national security, and we need to drastically improve our ballistic missile defense capability to protect Japan continuously and sustainably,” a statement issued by the Cabinet said. Associated Press

Al-Qaeda divisions may aid Assad as he eyes Syria’s Idlib: As Syrian President Bashar Assad seeks to reassert his authority in Idlib, the only remaining province in the country where his forces have almost no presence, he may be aided by fractures within al-Qaeda, which dominates the region.Tensions inside Idlib have been on the rise for months. They worsened in late November after a wave of detentions by an al-Qaeda-linked group against more extremist, mostly non-Syrian members. Among those detained were two of al-Qaeda’s most esteemed leaders and founding members of the extremist group’s branch in Syria, who were set free days later after pressure by factions within the group who threatened to withdraw from the battlefield in protest. The detentions and violence within al-Qaeda have raised fears of an all-out war between insurgents in Idlib as Assad’s forces make their push into Idlib. Associated Press

U.S. forces carry out airstrike against extremists in Somalia: The U.S. military last week conducted an airstrike against Islamic extremists in Somalia, killing eight militants. In a statement released Monday, AFRICOM said that no civilians had been killed in the strike. The statement said U.S. forces will continue to use “all authorized and appropriate measures” to protect U.S. citizens and to disable extremist threats. This includes partnering with the multinational African force in Somalia and the Somali National Security Forces. Associated Press, The Hill

Iraq to use drones to protect oil pipelines from 2018: Iraq plans to use drones to monitor and protect its oil export and production pipelines from the first quarter of 2018. Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi has asked the ministry to seek out professional security companies that can supply Iraq with drones and sophisticated camera systems to protect its pipelines. Last week, he announced plans to build a network of pipelines that will carry crude oil and refined products across Iraqi territory. The use of drones to monitor pipelines is common in advanced energy producing countries but a new step for Iraq, which has witnessed attacks on pipelines by insurgents since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion in the country. Reuters

Four men arrested over terror attack plots in Britain: Four men have been arrested in Britain on suspicion of plotting terror attacks. Officers from the North East Counter Terrorism Unit detained the men, who are suspected of having Islamist links, at their home addresses in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and Chesterfield, Derbyshire on Tuesday morning. They are being questioned at a police station in West Yorkshire, while three properties in Sheffield and another in Chesterfield are being searched. A police spokesman said the arrests were intelligence led and pre-planned as part of an ongoing investigation. The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph

British air base on security alert after checkpoint incident: A British air base also used by U.S. forces was placed on temporary lockdown Monday after a driver apparently tried to ram through a checkpoint at the facility. The incident was not considered a terrorist incident, police said. Shots were filed by American personnel, but there were no reports of serious injuries. A U.S. Air Force statement said one person was arrested, but it did not provide further details on the incident at the base, known as Royal Air Force Mildenhall, about 80 miles northeast of London. Washington Post, Reuters
Actually, Egypt is a terrible ally: “American and Egyptian interests are increasingly divergent and the relationship now has far less common purpose than it once did,” Andrew Miller and Richard Sokolsky write in the New York Times. “Even where American and Egyptian goals remain aligned, Egypt struggles to promote our mutual objectives effectively. Washington has not grasped a new reality: Because of its internal decay, Egypt is no longer a regional heavyweight that can anchor America’s Middle East policy.”

The Trump doctrine, in theory: “Donald Trump campaigned on an often radical revision of U.S. foreign policy, but his first year as President has been marked by more conventional policies than his opponents feared or his rhetoric advertised,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “He wants to do deals and charm his adversaries. But the irony is that if he reads his own strategy document, he’ll learn why those adversaries can’t be charmed. A strategy of ‘principled realism’ requires a realist with firm principles in the Oval Office.”

Why it’s far worse for Trump to fire Rosenstein than to fire Mueller: “The FBI can only pursue its investigative efforts with the assistance of a prosecutor. Obtaining evidence, either through the criminal process or grand jury testimony, and knowing which investigative avenues to pursue to build a case requires the active participation of an attorney who can go into court and facilitate each step,” Asha Rangappa writes in Just Security. “Mueller, obviously, is fulfilling that function right now. But although many people may not realize it, so is Rosenstein.”
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