The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the third version of the Trump administration’s travel ban against residents of six Muslim countries to go into effect while legal challenges against it continue.

It was a victory for the White House, which has seen the courts trim back various iterations of the travel ban. Two lower courts had imposed restrictions on Trump’s new order, exempting travelers from the six countries who had “bona fide” connections with relatives — such as grandparents, aunts or uncles — or institutions in the United States. Those exemptions to the president’s order, issued in the fall, were along the lines of those imposed by the Supreme Court last summer on a previous version of the travel ban.

But in an unsigned opinion Monday that did not disclose the court’s reasoning, the justices lifted the injunctions, which had been issued by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland. The court’s orders mean that the administration can fully enforce its new restrictions on travel from eight nations, six of them predominantly Muslim. For now, most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea will be barred from entering the United States, along with some groups of people from Venezuela. New York Times, Washington Post, NPR
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Monday withdrew its support for a less-restrictive confinement of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pending his trial for money-laundering and other charges. In a court filing, Mueller’s team said it learned last week that Manafort has been working with a Russian compatriot on a newspaper column that prosecutors say violates a gag order by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Attorneys in the case were instructed not to talk about it in public. NPR, Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials.

The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency. The Intercept

Questions were being raised this week about whether K. T. McFarland, who served on the presidential transition team before becoming the White House deputy national security adviser this spring, misled U.S. lawmakers when she said this summer that she was “not aware of any” instances of Michael Flynn speaking to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. But in an email exchange obtained by The New York Times, McFarland, who has been nominated to be ambassador to Singapore, appears to be aware at the time of a crucial Dec. 29 phone call between Flynn and Kislyak that was intercepted by American intelligence. New York Times

The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) — an interagency team formed by the Obama administration after a wrenching national debate over Bush-era torture practices and charged with developing humane interrogation methods based on academic research - is floundering under the Trump administration, U.S. officials say. Its members were sidelined when an American fighting for ISIS was captured in Syria, and recent departures, U.S. officials say, are putting the organization’s future in danger.

“We run the risk of losing this innovative and important instrument of national power,” said Bobby Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has advised the U.S. government on detainee policy. “It’s such an obviously good idea. But it also treads on the turf of several agencies.” Politico

FBI agent dismissed from Mueller probe changed Comey’s description of Clinton actions: A former top counterintelligence expert at the FBI, now at the center of a political uproar for exchanging private messages that appeared to mock President Donald Trump, changed a key phrase in former FBI Director James Comey's description of how former Secretary of state Hillary Clinton handled classified information, according to US officials familiar with the matter. Electronic records show Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server as the No. 2 official in the counterintelligence division, changed Comey's earlier draft language describing Clinton's actions as "grossly negligent" to "extremely careless," the sources said. CNN
RealClearPolitics: Tucker Carlson: “Out of Control” FBI Considers Itself Above the Law, Threat to Every American
Bloomberg: House Republicans Prepare Contempt Action Against FBI, DOJ

Sept. 11 pretrial hearings at Guantanamo: At the start of this 26th pretrial session at Guantanamo, defense attorneys for the Sept. 11 accused argued the commission lacks jurisdiction to try the case. NPR

Ali Abdullah Saleh, the deposed strongman who led Yemen for more than three decades and colluded with Iran-aligned rebels to topple his successor, was killed Monday as fighting raged between his followers and their former allies.

Saleh’s death removes one of the most enduring and cunning political figures in Yemen, injecting new uncertainty into a devastating civil war just days after he turned against the rebels Houthis, and made overtures to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that sided with the country’s internationally recognized government.

Even after he was swept from office five years ago in an Arab Spring uprising, Saleh remained a force in Yemen, retaining the loyalty of the Republican Guard and other elements of the security forces.
The Houthis announced Saleh’s death after reports of an explosion at his family’s compound, but there were conflicting accounts about the circumstances. Houthi officials said their forces ambushed Saleh's convoy as he tried to flee the capital, Sana, but members of his political party, the General People's Congress, said a sniper shot him.

Grisly video circulating on social media purported to show gunmen loading Saleh’s body, wrapped in a floral blanket, onto the back of a pickup truck and shouting, “God is great!” Los Angeles Times, New York Times
Washington Post: Death of Yemen’s Strongman Sets the Stage for More Chaos
New York Times: With Death of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Need for Yemen Peace Grows

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency announced Tuesday that a series of joint U.S.-Afghan operations had killed a top leader of the extremist al Qaeda network along with scores of other members.

Omar bin Khatab was the second most important leader of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and the most senior leader to have been killed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led war that ousted the former Taliban rulers in late 2001, said an official with the Afghan National Directorate of Security. Washington Post, Reuters

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said on Saturday he sent a letter to Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani warning him that the U.S. would hold Tehran accountable for any attacks it conducted on U.S. interests in Iraq. Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and elite Quds Force, reportedly did not read the letter. Reuters, Guardian

Mattis tells Pakistan to ‘redouble’ counterterrorism efforts: In a series of meetings with Pakistani officials in Islamabad on Monday, Defense Secretary James Mattis on Monday pushed Pakistan to “redouble” its efforts to fight terrorism. The Hill
The cost of Trump’s attacks on the FBI: “In July, I had dinner with a friend who has worked as a lawyer in the Justice Department for decades. My friend bemoaned the recent tweets by the president of the United States that called into question the integrity of the Justice Department,” writes Jack Goldsmith in The Atlantic. “But another sharp cost of Trump’s caustic tweets has been largely neglected: The slow destruction of the morale of federal government employees, especially executive branch employees.”

A special counsel needs to investigate the FBI and Justice Department. Now. “The Post reported that a former top FBI official, Peter Strzok, who had been assigned to and then removed from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, had ‘exchanged politically charged texts disparaging [President] Trump and supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton’ and that Strzok was ‘also a key player in the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server,’” writes Hugh Hewitt in the Washington Post. “This is a blockbuster revelation, carrying the possibility of shattering public confidence in a number of long-held assumptions about the criminal-justice system generally and the FBI and the Justice Department specifically. The Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate Strzok’s actions as soon as possible.”

Tillerson isn’t the problem. Trump is. “It appears that those who have been calling for Rex Tillerson’s head—which includes most of the foreign policy know-it-alls inside the Beltway—may have finally gotten their wish,” said Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky in Politico. “But before we say goodbye to a man who may well turn out be the shortest-tenured secretary of State in modern history, it's critical that his situation at State be properly understood. We don’t come to this space to bury or praise him. But it is important—at least from our vantage point of decades of experience at State—to get a better perspective on what went wrong, in part because whoever succeeds him may well face the same impossible conundrum.”

How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace
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Tuesday, Dec. 5
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