The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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THURSDAY, MARCH 30, 2017
STATE DEPT. EMPLOYEE CHARGED WITH HIDING TIES TO CHINA

A longtime State Department employee has been accused of lying about her 10-year relationship with two Chinese spies who allegedly gave her and her family tens of thousands of dollars in gifts in exchange for information. Candace Claiborne, 60, was arrested Tuesday in Washington after acknowledging to the FBI that she had provided the Chinese agents with information about a dissident who was being secretly housed at the embassy, and with internal U.S. government perspectives on U.S.-China relations. Claiborne told the FBI she knew her associates were seeking the information on behalf of the Chinese government, but that she had only provided them with unclassified information.

She had a top secret security clearance and repeatedly interacted with Chinese intelligence agents for five years, authorities said, during which she received cash and a long list of gifts and benefits that included an iPhone, a laptop computer, meals, international travel and vacations. She has pleaded not guilty. The Hill, Wall Street Journal, New York Times
REPORT: COMEY TRIED TO EXPOSE RUSSIAN MEDDLING BEFORE ELECTION
Newsweek reports today that FBI Director James Comey attempted to go public in the summer of 2016 with information on Russia’s campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election, but Obama administration officials blocked him from doing so. Comey reportedly pitched the idea of writing an op-ed about the Russian campaign during a meeting in the White House’s situation room in June or July. Other national security officials didn’t like the idea, and White House officials thought the announcement should be a coordinated message backed by multiple agencies, Newsweek source says. Newsweek
Related:
CNN: Comey: I Know When I’m Going to Cause a ‘Storm’

SENATORS VOW BIPARTISAN TRUMP-RUSSIA PROBE
Senators leading the investigation into Russian interference in the November election pledged publicly on Wednesday to conduct a thorough and bipartisan inquiry. At a Capitol Hill news conference, the committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and its ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, emphasized the bipartisan nature of the panel's efforts, drawing a determined, though unstated, contrast with the partisan dysfunction of a parallel investigation in the House. The committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Thursday, its first in the current investigation. “The committee will go wherever the intelligence leads us,” Burr said. Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Reuters

HAWAII JUDGE EXTENDS ORDER BARRING TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN INDEFINITELY
A federal judge in Hawaii decided Wednesday to indefinitely extend his order blocking President Trump’s travel ban. Judge Derrick Watson blocked the core provisions of the revised executive order two weeks ago, concluding that the order likely violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims. At the request of the state and other plaintiffs on Wednesday, Watson agreed to a longer-term preliminary injunction. The Justice Department may now immediately appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, should it choose to do so. CNN, New York Times

AMERICA’S WAR FOOTPRINT GROWS
“Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames,” reports the New York Times.

PENTAGON PICKS NATIONAL SECURITY LAWYER TO RUN GUANTANAMO WAR COURT
The Pentagon has reached into the private sector to tap one-time FBI lawyer Harvey Rishikof as overseer of the Guantanamo war court. Rishikof is currently senior counsel at the Washington, D.C., firm Crowell Moring, whose website describes him as “a sought-after national speaker in the area of cybersecurity and national security.” Military.com

RUSSIA SCHOLAR TAPPED AS NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL DIRECTOR
Fiona Hill, a Russia expert and frequent critic of President Vladi­mir Putin, will join the White House National Security Council as senior director for Europe and Russia. Hill is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former member of the National Intelligence Council. Washington Post

Napolitano stands by surveillance claims: Andrew Napolitano returned to Fox News Wednesday and said that he stands by his controversial claims that British intelligence officials helped former President Obama spy on Trump Tower. The Hill

Wireless network for police, firefighters: The Trump administration is expected to announce today a $6.5 billion deal with AT&T to build a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders, a project that was proposed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks but has struggled to get off the ground. Wall Street Journal


SATELLITE IMAGES SUGGEST NORTH KOREA IS PREPARING NEW NUCLEAR TEST
New commercial-satellite imagery suggests North Korea is preparing to test its sixth nuclear device, after signs of activity were detected at the site of previous nuclear tests, reports the Wall Street Journal. U.S. and Chinese leaders plan to meet in April on how to contain Pyongyang’s weapons program. Wall Street Journal

TURKEY ENDS MILITARY OPERATION IN SYRIA
Turkey has called an end to its eight-month military operation in Syria, saying it had achieved its goals of securing Turkey’s borders against ISIS attacks. The announcement came one day before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held talks with Turkey’s leaders, in a one-day visit that focused largely on the fight against ISIS. Reuters, Financial Times


U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT DROPS HUMAN RIGHTS CONDITIONS ON ARMS SALES TO BAHRAIN
The State Department notified Congress on Wednesday that it supports selling F-16 fighter jets and other arms to Bahrain without requiring that the tiny Persian Gulf monarchy first improve its human rights record. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision comes as the Trump administration looks to bolster Sunni Arab states in the Middle East and find new ways to confront Iran in the Persian Gulf. But it could be seen by other states in the region that going forward the U.S. will ease its demands about the rights of political dissidents. Washington Post, New York Times

PAKISTAN HALTS EXTRADITION OF U.S. MAN ACCUSED OF TERROR PLOT
Pakistan’s High Court this week temporarily barred the extradition of a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin accused of planning a terrorist attack in New York on behalf of ISIS. Talha Haroon, 19, was arrested in Pakistan in September after allegedly making contact with ISIS backers and hatching a terror plot. He remains held in a Pakistani jail awaiting more legal hearings. The court has asked for more information about his case. Voice of America
TOP OP-EDS
‘Mission Accomplished’ will never come in Afghanistan: “What began in 2001 as a focused effort to topple the Taliban and rout al Qaeda has become an endless, costly, and unrealistic effort with no clearly discernible endpoint and little hope of success,” writes Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy. “It has become our forgotten war, and the chief aim of those in charge of the operation seems to be keeping it off the front pages and out of the public eye.”

Preparing for when terrorists leave prison: “If past is prologue, most of those convicted of terror offenses will not be high-profile inmates serving life sentences for plotting or carrying out attacks. Most will be charged with lesser, non-violent offenses and serve sentences of 13 years on average,” writes Eric Rosand in Time.com. “This raises a critical and but little examined question regarding U.S. counterterrorism strategy: what is being done in U.S. prisons to prepare this growing and unique segment of the prison population for re-entry into society?”

The art of the deal with the Taliban: “We have a president who believes in the art of a deal,” writes Richard Olson in the New York Times. “We should negotiate a hard bargain with the Taliban.”

The myth of the ‘lone wolf’ terrorist: “This lazy term obscures the real nature of the threat against us,” writes Jason Burke in the Guardian.
EDITOR'S PICK

JOB OPENING
Research Professor (Open Rank)
Arizona State University
Center on the Future of War
 
SOUFAN GROUP
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