The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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THURSDAY, MARCH 23, 2017
EIGHT ARRESTED IN RAIDS AFTER LONDON TERROR ATTACK

British police have arrested eight people in six raids in London, Birmingham, and elsewhere in the UK after a terrorist rampage at the gates of the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday that left four people dead, including the attacker and a police officer.

The assailant, who has not been publicly identified, drove his vehicle through panicked pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then fatally stabbed a police constable near Parliament before being shot by police. Around 40 people were injured. “It is still our belief, which continues to be borne out by our investigation, that this attacker acted alone and was inspired by international terrorism,” The Met’s head of counterterrorism, Mark Rowley, said. Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the terror attack on Brussels that killed 32 people.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who was rushed out of parliament as the attack unfolded, said that Britain’s threat level would remain at severe, but she struck a defiant tone, insisting it would be business as usual for MPs and Londoners on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, May addressed Parliament and said the attacker was British-born and had been previously investigated by authorities. “What I can confirm is the man was British born and that some years ago he was once investigated by MI5 in relation to concerns about violent extremism,” May said. “He was a peripheral figure. The case is historic. He is not part of the current intelligence picture. There was no prior intelligence of his intent or the plot.” Guardian, BBC News, Telegraph
Related:
Guardian: The latest updates
Guardian: Crude Nature of Attack Suggests Limited ISIS Network in Britain
Independent: This Is the New, Low-Tech Face of Modern Terrorism
New York Times: Brussels Commemorates Attack Anniversary with both Silence and Noise
NUNES SAYS SURVEILLANCE MAY HAVE ‘INCIDENTALLY’ PICKED UP TRUMP AND ASSOCIATES
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the presidential election, shocked much of Washington on Wednesday by calling a press conference and announcing that a source had told him that the U.S. intelligence community incidentally collected information on members of Trump’s transition team and then “widely disseminated” the information. Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition team, made the announcement without first informing his Democratic counterparts on the House panel -- a move that threatened to plunge the committee into open partisan warfare.

In another extraordinary move, Nunes went to the White House and briefed President Trump about the information. Critics said that action raised serious questions about the impartiality of Nunes’s investigation and the viability of it going forward. Trump later said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by the revelations.

Nunes acknowledged that the surveillance was legal, and that he could find no evidence to support President Trump’s claim that he was personally wiretapped. The real issue, Nunes told reporters, was that he could figure out the identities of Trump associates from reading reports about intercepted communications that were shared among Obama administration officials with top security clearances. He said some Trump associates were also identified by name in the reports. New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post, The Hill
Related:
Lawfare: What the Heck Is Devin Nunes Talking About? A Guide for the Perplexed

CNN: INFO SUGGESTS TRUMP ASSOCIATES MAY HAVE COORDINATED WITH RUSSIANS
CNN reported late Wednesday that the FBI has information that indicates associates of President Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings. The sources said that information is raising suspicions among investigators that coordination may have taken place, but cautioned that the investigation is ongoing. CNN
Related:
Associated Press: Before Trump Job, Manafort Worked to Aid Putin

TILLERSON PLEDGES SAFE HAVENS FOR REFUGEES, MORE PRESSURE ON ISIS
At the start of a multi-day conclave of the 68-nation coalition to defeat ISIS held at State Department headquarters, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. would set up "interim zones of stability" to help refugees return home in the next phase of the fight against ISIS. Although it was unclear how the zones would work, analysts suggest that creating any safe havens could ratchet up U.S. military involvement in Syria. Overall, the ISIS strategy outlined by Tillerson -- which also included identifying and intercepting terrorist fighters who go to Syria from other countries; targeting the terror group's finances; and working to counter its propaganda -- looks quite similar to the one pursued by the Obama administration. Reuters, CNN, New York Times

Dems press Gorsuch on security views: Democratic senators continued to press SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch on his views on security on Wednesday, questioning him on his past legal work on enhanced interrogation techniques and Guantanamo detainees, and his views on wiretapping and executive power. Time, Associated Press, US News and World Report

Guantanamo: Lawyers representing those charged in the 9/11 plot trial have requested an investigation into whether government spy agencies are eavesdropping on them and their confidential conversations with their clients. Miami Herald


TALIBAN SEIZE STRATEGIC DISTRICT IN HELMAND
Taliban fighters captured the strategic district of Sangin in the southern province of Helmand on Thursday, after Afghan troops were evacuated following a heavy offensive by insurgents. The district has long been the subject of fierce fighting; more British and later American Marines died in Sangin than in any of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 other districts, until the international military coalition turned it over to Afghan military forces in 2013. Washington Post, New York Times


GERMANY TO DEPORT NATIVE-BORN TERRORISM SUSPECTS
In a first, Germany has decided it will deport two terrorism suspect who were born in Germany but whose parents are foreign. The men, a 27-year-old Algerian and a 22-year-old Nigerian, were arrested last month on suspicion of planning a terror attack, but have not been charged. In a raid, police reportedly found multiple black Islamic State flags and a range of weapons. Criminal proceedings were dropped because police never established whether the suspects had planned to carry out an attack. The deportations are likely to occur in the next several weeks. BBC News, Deutsche Welle, NPR
TOP OP-EDS
Terror and dismay in London: “The only surprise [about Wednesday’s attack in London] is that they don’t come along more often, given how frighteningly simple they are to stage, and how hard they must be to police and prevent,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. “If you wish to spread terror, these days, you don’t have to know how to handle a weapon or to construct an explosive device. All you need is a vehicle, or a blade, or—as in this instance—both.”

The multibillion-dollar spy agency you haven’t heard of: “The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is to pictures what the NSA is to voices,” writes James Bamford in Foreign Policy. It has little name recognition, and “its principal function is to analyze the billions of images and miles of video captured by drones in the Middle East and spy satellites circling the globe. But because it has largely kept its ultra-high-resolution cameras pointed away from the United States, according to a variety of studies, the agency has never been involved in domestic spy scandals like its two far more famous siblings, the CIA and the NSA. However, there’s reason to believe that this will change under President Donald Trump.”

How the electronics ban serves the Trump agenda: “There are quite a few reasons to be both perplexed and skeptical about the new rules” on devices in airplane cabins from certain countries, writes Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post. “Security experts interviewed by a number of outlets were bemused by the decision. Some doubted that placing laptops in cargo holds would be any safer than carrying them aboard….Some experts suggested Tuesday’s order is an example of the Trump administration ‘weaponizing interdependence’ — using its leverage in a world where American airports are key “nodes” in global air travel to weaken competitors.”
EDITOR'S PICK

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