The Soufan Group Morning Brief




President Donald Trump is reportedly looking to overhaul a Department of Homeland Security program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses entirely on Islamist extremism. Sources told Reuters that the existing "Countering Violent Extremism" program, which focuses on U.S. residents and is independent of a military effort to fight online extremism, would be renamed either "Countering Islamic Extremism" or "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism." Additionally, the revamped program would no longer concentrate its efforts on other violent groups, such as white supremacists, who have also carried out attacks in the United States.


Critics and many counterterrorism experts say that branding the problem as "radical Islam" would only serve to alienate the more than three million Americans who practice Islam peacefully. Additionally, using the label risks inspiring terrorists and jeopardizing U.S. counterterrorism cooperation with Muslim-majority countries, many say. (Reuters)



New York Times: Trump Pushes Dark View of Islam



A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that U.S. authorities must allow entry to those traveling to the United States from the seven Muslim-majority nations named in Trump’s executive order if they have a valid immigrant visa. The temporary ruling, which does not apply to tourists, students, or business travelers with non-immigrant visas, follows decisions to limit Trump’s executive order by federal judges in at least four other states. (Reuters)


Two Chicago residents who filed lawsuits against the United States saying they were unlawfully stranded overseas--one in Iran and one in the United Arab Emirates--as a result of Trump’s order were expected to return home. U.S. authorities said neither should have been barred from re-entering the country based on the president's executive order. "This was a tremendous victory for the rule of law," said attorney Thomas Anthony Durkin, who represented one of the men. (Chicago Tribune)  



Washington Post: Homeland Security Inspector to Review Implementation of Immigration Ban

Wall Street Journal: Draft Executive Order Takes Aim at High-Skilled Worker Visas

Reuters: CEOs to Question Trump on Travel Restrictions at Friday Meeting



President Trump encouraged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to invoke the so-called nuclear option and abandon the rule requiring Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed by 60 votes. His remarks came as Democrats mulled how aggressively they wanted to fight the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch. Democrats used the nuclear option in 2013 to allow President Obama’s executive branch and judicial nominations to be approved with a simple majority, but left the rule in place for Supreme Court nominations. (NYT, WSJ)



New York Times: In Judge Gorsuch, an Echo of Scalia in Philosophy and Style

Washington Post: Gorsuch, Scalia, and Originalism Explained


Trump fumes in call with Australia: President Trump reportedly hung up on Prime Minister Turnbull after the two men exchanged harsh words over refugee policy. Trump said an agreement made by the Obama administration to accept 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center was “the worst deal ever.” (WaPo)

Tillerson confirmed: The former chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil was confirmed by the Senate to become the nation’s 69th secretary of state. The 43 votes against Tillerson’s confirmation were the most in Senate history for that position. (NYT)

Orlando gunman’s widow knew: Federal prosecutors in California say the widow of Omar Mateen, the man behind the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, knew he was planning an attack and concocted a cover story for him. (Reuters)


The Defense Department acknowledged that civilians “were likely killed” during a Navy SEAL raid on the home of a senior al-Qaeda collaborator in Yemen over the weekend, the first counterterrorism operation authorized by President Trump. Media reports from the region said that at least 10 Yemeni women and children were killed. Al Qaeda said in a statement that a senior leader and an unspecified number of other militants were killed. The International Crisis Group said in a report that the civilian deaths may have given al-Qaeda in Yemen a propaganda boost. (WaPo, Reuters)


The Trump administration’s national security team, led by Michael Flynn, has said that it wants to speed the decision-making when it comes to counterterrorism strikes, delegating more power to lower-level officials. But some analysts warn this raises the risk of error. The Pentagon is reportedly drafting plans to ramp up activities against al-Qaeda in Yemen. (NYT)

U.S. watchdog offers bleak report on Afghanistan: In a new quarterly report to Congress, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction outlined a backslide in progress in Afghanistan, a country the United States has sunk over $117 billion in since 2002. The Afghan government had 57.2 percent of the country under its control by the end of 2016, a 6.3 percent decrease from 2015. (Foreign Policy)


New York Times: The Art of the Deal in Afghanistan


The White House strongly condemned a recent Iranian ballistic missile test and warned of consequences including the possibility of new sanctions. National Security Adviser Mike Flynn called Iran a “destabilizing influence” in the region and said “we are officially putting Iran on notice.” Leaders in Tehran have warned that new U.S. sanctions could unravel the nuclear deal. Trump has frequently criticized the Iran nuclear agreement, calling it weak and ineffective. (WSJ, Reuters, WaPo)


Germany arrests Tunisian suspect: Authorities arrested a 36-year-old Tunisian asylum-seeker on suspicion of planning an Islamist attack and recruiting terrorists in Germany. The man, identified as Haikel S., is also wanted in his homeland over a deadly 2015 assault on a Tunis museum. (Reuters)

Slovakia creates counter-extremism unit: Prime Minister Robert Fico unveiled a special police unit to fight extremism, warning about the rise of fascism in the region. Officials said the 125-strong force will investigate crimes related to support and funding of terrorism, hate crimes and hate speech, both online and offline. (Reuters)


The Dangers of Trump’s Orders: “Back in 2015, Mattis outlined the greatest failings of Trump’s proposal as counterterrorism policy. Its blanket exclusions—of women, children, the elderly, and the disabled—were all but scripted for the Islamic State’s propagandists. These elements remain in the executive order. Trump’s statements that he will prioritize Christian travellers over Muslim ones are likely to have a similar effect. An initiative so reviled and so easily caricatured across the Islamic world will inspire terrorists to action and invite various forms of retaliation against Americans. It will make shaky governments in Muslim-majority countries that coöperate with the United States—from Morocco to Indonesia—vulnerable to domestic protests and political pressure to break ties with American counterterrorism programs. The policy’s rollout has combined, in one act, all of the features of the Trump Administration’s startling first eleven days: it places political theatre before considered policy; it threatens constitutional principles; it reflects incompetent and hasty decision-making; and it is plainly dangerous,” writes Steve Coll in the New Yorker.


Donald Trump, Nato and a Strong Transatlantic Alliance: “It is far too soon to perform the funeral rites of the US-European relationship and, in particular, of Nato. The EU must deploy all its influence in Washington to persuade internationalists in the Trump administration, Congress and opinion-making circles that the western military alliance benefits both sides of the Atlantic. The argument is anything but lost, as is shown by the arrival in the Baltic states this week of US troops and armour under an initiative to strengthen Nato’s eastern flank. Nonetheless, it is high time for Europe to take more responsibility for its security,” write editors of the Financial Times.


A Jeffersonian for SCOTUS: “Unlike the Hamiltonian Justice Scalia, the more Jeffersonian Gorsuch seems more willing to return to constitutional first principles and to question the constitutional underpinnings of the post-New Deal administrative state,” writes Jeffrey Rosen for the Atlantic. “And his record suggests a willingness to transform the law and to enforce constitutional limitations on the excesses of Congress and the president. For all of these reasons, Gorsuch’s appointment gives conservatives reason to celebrate, and liberals reason to fear, that Trump couldn’t have made a more effective choice.”


Trump’s Immigration Order May Violate Ideological Exclusion Rule: “The President has broad powers to enforce immigration law, but some circuits have warned that a policy based on actual discriminatory intent toward Muslims may violate the Equal Protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause,” writes Michael Price on the Lawfare blog. “A ban targeting Muslims is not only constitutionally problematic; it is statutorily problematic as well. While the plain language of [section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act]  is quite broad and deferential to the President, other parts of the same law explicitly forbid the kind of ideological exclusion embodied in the ban.”

Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch: “I have no doubt that if confirmed, Judge Gorsuch would help to restore confidence in the rule of law. His years on the bench reveal a commitment to judicial independence — a record that should give the American people confidence that he will not compromise principle to favor the president who appointed him. Judge Gorsuch’s record suggests that he would follow in the tradition of Justice Elena Kagan, who voted against President Obama when she felt a part of the Affordable Care Act went too far. In particular, he has written opinions vigorously defending the paramount duty of the courts to say what the law is, without deferring to the executive branch’s interpretations of federal statutes, including our immigration laws,” writes Neal Katyal in the New York Times.


Revisiting Guantanamo Bay
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February 14, 2017
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