The Soufan Group Morning Brief


FRIDAY, MARCH 10, 2017


Several U.S. states are moving to take the Trump administration back to court over the president’s revised executive order that blocks U.S. entry to travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries. The order is set to take effect next Thursday. The state of Washington, which sued successfully to block Trump’s original order, asked a federal judge yesterday to extend the restraining order on the initial ban to the new one, alleging it inflicts many of the same harms on the state. Several other Democratic-led states, including New York, Oregon, and Massachusetts are expected to join the lawsuit.

The state of Hawaii has also asked a federal judge to block Trump’s new order. Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said yesterday that the order is so “blatantly discriminatory” that it seems intended to divide people into a “superior race.” A hearing in that case is set for next Wednesday. Legal experts note that Hawaii and Washington are both in the 9th Circuit, where the appeals court previously ruled against the Trump administration. (WaPo, NBC, CNN, NYT, WSJ)



In a radio interview, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would advise the president to send newly captured terrorism suspects to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “I don’t think we’re better off...trying them in federal court where they get discovery rights to find out our intelligence, and get court-appointed lawyers and things of that nature,” he said.


The attorney general’s remarks echo his stated views as a U.S. senator on the Armed Services Committee, but they are drawing more scrutiny now that he is the nation’s top law enforcement official. Critics of military commissions at Guantanamo note that none of the five men accused of helping orchestrate the 9/11 attacks have undergone a military trial at the prison. Instead, they and a handful of others have been locked in years of pretrial hearings. (NYT, WaPo)


Assange offers tech firms help: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said his organization was ready to share leaked computer code that it has not yet published with Apple, Google, and other technology companies to help them plug vulnerabilities described in the recently leaked CIA documents. Some analysts warned that working with an organization that publishes stolen government secrets would raise a number of ethical, legal, and public-relations questions. (NYT, Bloomberg)


Comey on the Hill: FBI Director James Comey met with top lawmakers yesterday as pressure grows on the Justice Department to either confirm or deny President Trump’s claims that the Obama administration tapped his phones during the presidential campaign. Senior lawmakers sent letters to Comey and acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente demanding a full account of any wiretapping applications, orders, or warrants issued with regard to Trump. (WaPo, WSJ)


Islamic center threat: A Minnesota federal court sentenced Daniel George Fisher to 12 months in prison and three years of supervised release for mailing a letter in which he threatened to blow up an Islamic Center in Minneapolis. Fisher pleaded guilty in September of last year. (VOA, DOJ)

Trump appointments: The president has yet to appoint deputy secretaries of state, treasury, and defense, three positions closely involved in national security policy. Trump's pace of deputy appointments lags behind his predecessors, according to data from the Partnership for Public Service. (CNN)


Testifying before the Senate, Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, said the operation in Yemen in January in which a Navy SEAL and up to 12 civilians were killed wasn't the result of poor decision-making or incompetence. His comments were reportedly based on an “after action review” of the SEAL’s death. Two other military investigations are looking into the raid’s civilian casualties.


The White House has insisted that its first major counterterrorism operation was highly successful, but critics have questioned the series of mishaps that befell U.S. forces and have cast doubt on the value of the intelligence obtained. (WSJ, WaPo)

Battle for Raqqa: The Trump administration is reportedly debating who the U.S. military should partner with to push ISIS out of its headquarters in Syria. Some are pressing for a reevaluation of the Pentagon’s close ties with Kurdish fighters in Syria as a way to assuage Turkey. Others want the United States to work with Kurdish forces but then hand over control of Raqqa to a local group sympathetic to the Syrian regime. (WSJ)

Korea: A South Korean court removed President Park Geun-hye on Friday, a first in the nation’s history. Analysts expect her ouster to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, whose leaders want more engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major confrontation in the region. (NYT)


Germany: Police have arrested a man who injured seven people with an ax at a train station in Dusseldorf. Authorities described the man, who is from the former Yugoslavia, as mentally ill. The motive for the attack is unclear. (BBC, CNN)


UK: New government instructions require refugees who have applied to live in Britain permanently to undergo an official review to assess whether it is safe for them to be sent back to their home countries. Critics say the policy prolongs the anxious limbo many refugees are forced to endure while their asylum claims are processed. (Guardian)

Bulgaria: A nationalist paramilitary organization that claims to be 50,000 strong is patrolling Bulgaria’s borders in an effort to help the government intercept migrants. The country has become a major overland route for migrants due to its border with  Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Romania. (NBC)


The Islamic State’s Virtual Entrepreneurs: “Among the most recent evolutions of jihadi terrorist tactics in the West has been the rise of the virtual entrepreneur. The increased use of social media, often paired with applications that offer the option of encrypted messaging, has enabled members of groups like the Islamic State to make direct and lasting contact with radicalized Americans. In some cases, these individuals direct terror plots, and in others, they provide encouragement and motivation for attacks,” write Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Seamus Hughes in the CTC Sentinel.


The Man Who Wants to Unmake the West: “While commentators are focusing on [Steve] Bannon’s views about nationalism here in the United States, his public comments and interviews with several people who know him make clear that, even as he helps Trump 'make America great again,' he has his sights set on a bigger target across the Atlantic Ocean,” writes Michael Crowley in Politico.

When the Generals Become Democracy’s Guardians: “In many democratic societies, the military officer corps is, along with the church, among the most reflexively conservative institutions. In the United States, that conservatism has led some prominent general officers to take on a new role: the defenders of liberalism and its core values,” writes Andrew Exum in the Atlantic.


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: U.S. Dives Deeper Into Syrian Civil War 

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