The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Trump administration will roll out its first national-security strategy in the next few weeks, marking the beginning of what it calls a tough new approach to confront a raft of global security challenges. Trump has reportedly signed off on the core elements of the draft, which is almost completed, and all the principals — James Mattis, Rex Tillerson, Steven Mnuchin - have agreed to the core tenets.

Designed to guide the Trump administration’s foreign policy and national security decisions, the NSS will explain how Trump’s America First mantra applies to the vast range of threats America faces, including Chinese economic competition, Russian influence operations, and the weaponization of space.

Nadia Schadlow, a respected member of the National Security Council and trusted confidant of H.R. McMaster, spent months drafting the document, working with Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell and McMaster.

Sources familiar with the document call it “hard-nosed” and “realistic” — and less ambitious and idealistic than prior efforts. Others described it as a “corrective” to the past 16 years of American foreign policy. Axios, Wall Street Journal
The special counsel, Robert Mueller III, removed a top FBI agent this summer from his investigation into Russian election meddling after the Justice Department’s inspector general began examining whether the agent had sent text messages that expressed anti-Trump political views.

The agent, Peter Strzok, is considered one of the most experienced and trusted FBI counterintelligence investigators. He helped lead the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton had mishandled classified information on her private email account, and then played a major role in the investigation into links between President Trump’s campaign and Russia. He was reassigned this summer from Mueller’s investigation to the FBI’s human resources department, where he has been stationed since, after the discovery of text messages in which Strzok and a colleague reacted to news events, like presidential debates, in ways that could appear critical of Trump. New York Times, Wall Street Journal

President Trump on Sunday unleashed an extraordinary assault on the nation’s top law enforcement agency, calling it a biased institution whose reputation for fairness was “in tatters.”

In a series of early-morning tweets, Mr. Trump said the FBI’s standing was now the “worst in history.” The outburst came two days after his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

On Twitter and other platforms, former FBI Director James Comey, former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., former acting Attorney Gen. Sally Yates, and others jumped to the FBI’s defense. New York Times, Washington Post, Slate

Trump and obstruction of justice: Another Trump tweet about why he fired Flynn is garnering attention -- with some calling it a possible admission of obstruction of justice. Trump tweeted Saturday: “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” The White House later said that Trump’s attorney John Dowd had written the tweet. CNN

Dowd later told Axios that the tweet has no bearing on obstruction of justice because the “president cannot obstruct justice.” Dowd added that Trump “is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution's Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.” Axios
Politico: George Papadopoulos’ Late Night with the FBI
Lawfare: The Flynn Plea: A Quick and Dirty Analysis

A National Security Agency employee who worked at home without authorization on sensitive hacking tools pleaded guilty Friday to violating the Espionage Act — a security breach that the agency was tipped off to by Israeli cyberspies.

Federal prosecutors said they will seek an eight-year sentence for Nghia Hoang Pho, 67, of Ellicott City, Md., for willful detention of national defense information.

Pho’s case is noteworthy not only because it is one of several significant breaches at the NSA but also because he was using anti-virus software from a Russian firm on his computer — software the agency never deployed on its computers for fear it could enable Russian government spying. Washington Post, New York Times

Guantanamo war court convenes: A set of pre-trial hearings in the Sept.11 war crimes trial begins this week at Guantanamo. The agenda includes several attorney-client privilege motions. NPR, Miami Herald
Miami Herald: Lawyers Ask Federal Judge to Clear Marine General of Contempt Charges

The death toll in October’s massive truck bombing in Somalia’s capital has reached 512 people, according to the committee tasked with looking into the country’s worst-ever attack. Government officials had reported the death toll at 358 near the end of October. Nearly 70 people remain missing, and 295 still have injuries suffered in the attack, Abdullahi Mohamed Shirwac, the chairman of the 11-member government investigation committee, said in a press conference.

It was not immediately clear what caused the death toll to increase so significantly more than a month and a half after the deadly attack. There still has been no claim of responsibility. CNN, Wall Street Journal

Kushner upbeat in first remarks on Middle East peace process: Jared Kushner made his debut in front of the world of veteran diplomatic hagglers on Sunday with a polite, deferential and purposefully bland appearance at a Middle East conference that was designed to pay respect but little more. “We do think it’s achievable,” Kushner said of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Kushner made a point of praising past negotiators, saying he was building on their efforts, without offering any specifics for why the outcome now would be any different. Politico, New York Times

Trump expected to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: President Trump is expected Wednesday to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital -- something no president has done in the nearly 70 years since Israel’s founding. The announcement would amount to the not-quite fulfillment of a campaign promise to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a step for which many of Trump’s Jewish and evangelical supporters, and their allies in the Israeli right wing, have been clamoring. New York Times
Politico Magazine: Is Trump About to Blow Up Kushner’s Middle East Peacemaking?
Foreign Policy: How to Move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

Yemen fighting: Forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh battled Iranian-backed Houthis for a fifth day on Sunday as their rebel alliance fighting in Yemen’s civil war unravelled. The fighting in Sana’a, the capital, has killed dozens of people and could reshape the Arab state’s nearly three-year conflict that has become a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Financial Times

Domestic deployments to guard against terrorism are among the largest in Western Europe since World War II. Until recently, for instance, 40 percent of Belgium’s combat-ready soldiers were devoted to domestic guard duty. But critics say the years-long deployments at home are sapping the ability of these militaries to fight wars at a time when European militaries are being tapped to address an unusually wide range of challenges at once: a resurgent Russia, grinding conflicts in the Middle East, migration across the Mediterranean and smaller wartime deployments far from their borders. Washington Post

German Christmas market bomb was extortion plot: A bomb found in the city of Potsdam on Friday was accompanied by a note demanding payment of a sum equivalent to millions of euros from postal company Deutsche Post AG’s DHL courier service, police said. Wall Street Journal
No longer a haven for international terrorists: “Conventional wisdom holds that withdrawing all or a significant number of American troops from Afghanistan would lead to a Taliban takeover and the creation of a new safe haven for militants bent on attacking the United States,” writes Michael Dempsey in the New York Times. “Such dire consequences are far from certain. Here are five reasons I believe it’s time to re-evaluate our assumptions about Afghanistan’s potential as a terrorist safe haven.”

How to respond when the ICC goes after America: “For the first time, the International Criminal Court  is poised to open an investigation that includes alleged crimes by U.S. personnel,” writes David Bosco in Lawfare. “The prosecutor wants to examine both CIA and military activities, and it is conceivable that the prosecutor might eventually pursue former high-level U.S. officials.”

The art of keeping Guantanamo open: I’m a professor at John Jay College in New York City and I curated the art exhibit of Guantanamo detainees’ paintings that the Pentagon has recently taken an interest in, said Erin Thompson in “As with so many policy decisions about Guantánamo, the true rationale for this one remains hidden. My guess: the U.S. authorities there were surprised that the artwork they had been scrutinizing so carefully for hidden messages had a unifying one they had missed: that its makers were human beings. Which is precisely the realization the authorities need to stop the rest of us from having if Guantánamo is to remain open.”

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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