The Soufan Group Morning Brief




Malaysian authorities say VX nerve agent was used to murder Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, last week at Kuala Lumpur International airport. VX, which is derived from pesticides, is believed to be the most toxic known nerve agent and is classified by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction. Many militaries, including those of the United States and Russia, stocked it for decades, but it has been banned globally except for research. News that VX was used in such a high-profile killing raises the stakes over how Malaysia and other governments will respond, analysts say.


Malaysian police have three suspects in custody--nationals from Vietnam, Indonesia, and North Korea--and are reportedly searching for several more. The North Korean embassy in Malaysia has reacted harshly to the investigation and called for the suspects’ release. North Korea previously attempted to prevent an autopsy of the body. Both U.S. and South Korean officials believe North Korean agents assassinated Kim Jong Nam, who had been living in Macau under Beijing's protection and had spoken out against the North Korean regime. (WSJ, Reuters, NYT)



Wall Street Journal: North Korean Terror Notice

New York Times: North Korea’s Palace Intrigue


From the Archive:

Congressional Research Service: Small-Scale Terrorist Attacks With Chemical Weapons


Some U.S. intelligence officials are reportedly concerned that, in helping the Trump administration justify its temporary travel ban on individuals from seven countries, their work is being politicized. Other officials disagree with the notion that travelers from the affected countries represent a security threat and are finding their work disparaged by their own department. President Trump has directed the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to build the legal case for its temporary travel ban. (CNN)


WH asked FBI to dispute Russia stories: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked top FBI officials to counter media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians during the 2016 campaign. He reportedly reached out after the FBI signaled that it did not believe the reporting to be accurate. The request runs afoul of a standing policy limiting contact between the White House and the law enforcement agency regarding an ongoing investigation. (CNN, WaPo)


Nusra Front: The Trump administration has imposed economic sanctions on two leaders of the Islamist militant group in Syria: Iyad Nazmi Salih Khalil and Bassam Ahmad al-Hasri. Khalil was the group's third-highest ranking official as of last year, U.S. authorities say. (VOA)


Trump terrorism advisor: One of the president’s senior security advisors, Sebastian Gorka, telephoned one of his top critics, terrorism expert Michael S. Smith, at home and threatened him with legal action. (Newsweek)


Trump interview: In an exclusive interview with Reuters, the president discussed a number of top foreign policy issues, including the U.S. nuclear arsenal, China, the EU, and NATO. (Reuters)


McRaven: The retired four-star admiral, who oversaw the U.S. mission that killed Osama bin Laden, criticized President Trump’s characterization of the media as “the enemy of the American people.” That sentiment “may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime,” William McRaven said to a group of college students and faculty. (Daily Texan)

Guantanamo: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer avoided several questions on whether the Trump administration would send U.S. citizens to the U.S. military prison in Cuba, but says the president “believes that Guantanamo Bay does serve a very, very healthy purpose in our national security.” (Military Times)


ISIS Strategy Review: The Trump administration will consider a number of options as it reevaluates the military campaign against ISIS, including sending a limited number of new troops to Syria and Iraq. Defense Secretary Mattis is expected to provide the president with a range of recommendations in the coming days. (WSJ)


Jihadists overtaking moderate rebels: A rebel stronghold in northern Syria is reportedly falling under the control of al-Qaeda-linked fighters amid a surge of rebel infighting. The trend threatens to undo what is left of the moderate rebellion, analysts say. (WaPo)

Yemen: A suicide bomber killed at least eight soldiers in a dawn raid on a military camp in the southern city of Zinjibar. The bomber is suspected to be an al-Qaeda member. (Reuters)

Germany: Authorities in Lower Saxony detained an unidentified 26-year-old German man suspected of planning a terror attack. The man, who is reportedly a follower of a fundamentalist branch of Islam, confessed to planning a bomb attack on soldiers or policemen. (WSJ)

Denmark: A regional prosecutor charged a 42-year-old man who burned a Quran and posted a video of it on Facebook with blasphemy. Analysts say the decision is notable because Denmark is largely secular and no one has been convicted of blasphemy in the country since 1946. (NYT)


Trump and Russia: “The challenge facing the Trump administration is to skillfully manage, rather than permanently resolve, these tensions with Moscow. Trying to appease Putin, perhaps by making unilateral concessions, would only convince him that he is winning and encourage him to continue wrong-footing the United States and the West. But a more confrontational approach would risk generating a provocative and dangerous response from Russia. So Washington will need to chart a middle path,” write Eugene Rumer, Richard Sokolsky, and Andrew Weiss in Foreign Affairs.


Russia’s Assault on America’s Elections: “The Russians are masters of what they call ‘active measures’ in the ‘information space.’ Their intelligence services have been using ‘fake news’ and stolen information for more than a century to try to manipulate Europe and the United States. What’s different now is that the power of digital technology allows intelligence agencies to alter the very landscape of fact,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post.

A Muslim in Trump’s White House: “I told him I had to leave because it was an insult walking into this country’s most historic building every day under an administration that is working against and vilifying everything I stand for as an American and as a Muslim. I told him that the administration was attacking the basic tenets of democracy,” writes Rumana Ahmed in the Atlantic.

Foreign Policy: The Shallow State

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Another Reshuffle at the National Security Council

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