The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2017

TRUMP ADVISOR ON THIN ICE FOR RUSSIA CONTACTS

The White House is reportedly considering whether to sack National Security Adviser Mike Flynn amid a controversy over his contacts with Russian officials before President Trump took office. Senior administration officials are looking into Flynn's pre-inauguration communications to see whether he discussed the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia, which may have violated a law prohibiting private citizens from engaging in foreign policy.

 

Neither the president nor his top advisers have publicly defended Flynn, and some administration officials said that support for him has eroded largely because he was disingenuous about his dealings with Russia. In particular, the episode has created a rift with Vice President Pence, who had publicly vouched for Flynn, repeating information that turned out to be false. Some administration officials are reportedly hopeful he will resign.

 

Flynn initially denied discussing U.S. sanctions on Russia in a late December conversation with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. But he now concedes that he did, administration officials said, after transcripts of his phone calls indicated as much. Flynn also admits that he spoke with the ambassador more than once despite weeks of the Trump team’s insisting it was just one phone call. (WSJ, Reuters, WaPo, NYT)

Related:

Politico: The Husband and Wife Team Driving Trump’s National Security Policy

 
WHITE HOUSE MULLS OPTIONS ON IMMIGRATION POLICY

The Trump administration is weighing several options for how to proceed after a federal appellate court upheld a nationwide injunction on the president’s executive order attempting to prohibit travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. Alternatives under consideration include seeking an emergency stay at the U.S. Supreme Court, continuing an appeal through the Court of Appeals, holding a full trial in U.S. District Court, or issuing an entirely new executive order. Speaking in a television interview on Sunday, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller condemned the appellate court’s decision as “a judicial usurpation of power.” (WaPo, Reuters, WSJ)

 

New Yorkers plead guilty to supporting ISIS: Munther Omar Saleh, a former student at the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens, and Fareed Mumuni, of Staten Island, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court to conspiring to provide material support to ISIS, and to assaulting a federal officer. Federal prosecutors said the two men talked of planting bombs in Times Square and at the World Trade Center. (NJ.com, DOJ)

 

Guardsman sentenced in ISIS case: A Virginia federal court sentenced former national guardsman Mohamed Bailor Jalloh to 11 years in prison and five years supervised release for attempting to provide material support to ISIS. Jalloh stated he had been thinking about conducting an attack similar to that on Fort Hood, in November 2009, in which the assailant killed 13 people and wounded 32 others. (WaPo)

 

SecDef to make first Europe trip: Defense Secretary James Mattis will depart tomorrow on his first trip to Europe as Pentagon chief. The trip will include stops in Brussels to meet with European counterparts and in Germany to participate in the annual Munich Security Conference. (WaPo)

 

Standing Rock: An FBI terrorism task force is reportedly investigating activists campaigning against the Dakota Access pipeline. The news has alarmed some civil liberties groups. Trump, a former investor in the Texas-based firm behind the pipeline, took executive action in his first week in office to expedite the project. (Guardian)

 

Guantanamo: The commander of the military prison, Rear Adm. Peter J. Clarke, said Sunday he has not seen nor does he think he will have a say on any coming executive order on law of war detention. As a candidate, President Trump said he would reverse former President Obama’s 2009 closure order and “load it up with bad dudes.” (Miami Herald)

Torture Report: The Trump administration delivered to a federal court in Washington, DC, a Justice Department copy of the so-called Senate Torture Report on the CIA’s secret prison network during the George W. Bush administration. The Obama administration had balked at turning over a copy to any court. (Miami Herald)



Jihadist groups clash in Syria: A British-based war monitor said that Syrian jihadists seen as close to ISIS battled a rival Islamist faction in the country’s northwest. Analysts say that since the Syrian army recaptured Aleppo in December, some of the many armed groups in the northwest have consolidated and are now fighting each other for control of territory and resources. (Reuters, BBC)

 

Kashmir: Indian security forces engaged in a 12-hour-long gun battle with members of the rebel group Hizbul Mujahedeen. The weekend skirmish left four militants, two soldiers, and one civilian dead, authorities said. (NYT)

Iraq: Five civilians and one policeman were killed in Baghdad amid protests demanding an overhaul of an election commission ahead of a provincial vote in September. The growing tension comes at a bad time for the government which is trying to focus on a critical battle with ISIS in Mosul. (Reuters)



FEW GOOD OPTIONS TO RESPOND TO NK MISSILE

Security analysts say that President Trump’s relatively restrained response to North Korea’s ballistic missile test highlights the limited range of alternatives the United States and its allies have to curb Pyongyang’s weapons program. U.S. options include imposing additional sanctions, increasing shows of force, and bolstering missile defenses. During the campaign, Trump said the United States should pressure China to intervene and said he might support Japan developing nuclear weapons. (Reuters, BBC)

 

United Nations: Diplomats around the world are wondering whether Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the UN, has her boss’s ear. Last Friday the United States quashed the appointment of a Palestinian leader for a senior UN post at the last minute, prompting some to think Haley had been overridden by the White House. (NYT)

 

East China Sea: China expressed concern after Japan got continued U.S. backing for its dispute with Beijing over islands in the East China Sea. A joint Japanese-U.S. statement said President Trump and Prime Minister Abe affirmed that Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan security treaty covered the disputed islands. (Reuters)

Related:

TomDispatch: Is Trump Headed to War With China?

 
TOP OP-EDS

What’s Happening to Our Children? “The threat presented by the Islamic State is taking on a new form: child terrorists either directly in contact with or inspired by the militant group. Even as it suffers setbacks on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is cultivating adolescents in the West, who are being asked to stay in their home countries and strike targets with whatever weapons are available, such as knives and crude bombs,” write Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet in the Washington Post.

 

Husbands Are Deadlier Than Terrorists: “Above all, fear spouses: Husbands are incomparably more deadly in America than jihadist terrorists. And husbands are so deadly in part because in America they have ready access to firearms, even when they have a history of violence. In other countries, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; in America, they put them in graves,” writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.

The Legal Fight Over Trump’s Authority: “This case presents a unique opportunity for the [U.S. Supreme] Court to make clear that the incantation of national security or immigration is not enough to insulate government action from review. Like the courts below, it could insist that the government come forward with actual evidence to support its judgments,” says Cristina Rodriguez in this Council on Foreign Relations interview.

EDITOR'S PICK

UPCOMING EVENTS
Revisiting Guantanamo Bay
Where We've Come, Where We're Headed
February 14, 2017
6:00pm - 7:30pm
 
SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Serious Threat of North Korea




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