The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2017
FLYNN OFFERS TO TESTIFY IN EXCHANGE FOR IMMUNITY

Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Trump, has told the FBI and congressional officials investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election that he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution. “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” Robert Kelner, Flynn’s attorney, told the Wall Street Journal.

It remains unclear whether Flynn had offered to talk about specific aspects of his time working for Trump. One congressional official told the New York Times said investigators were unwilling to broker a deal until they better understand what information Flynn might offer as part of a deal. But the fact that Flynn was seeking immunity at all suggested he feels he may be in legal jeopardy following his brief stint as the national security adviser. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post
Related:
The Week: Here’s What a Flynn Deal Might Mean for Trump
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION STOPS DISCLOSING TROOP DEPLOYMENTS TO IRAQ AND SYRIA
Departing from an Obama-era practice, the Trump administration has quietly stopped disclosing information about the size and nature of the U.S. commitment in Iraq and Syria, including the number of U.S. troops deployed in either country. Earlier this month, the Pentagon quietly dispatched 400 Marines to northern Syria -- the first time Marines had been sent to that country -- and nearly 300 Army paratroopers to Iraq. Neither of those deployments was announced once they had been made. Los Angeles Times

REPORT: TWO WHITE HOUSE OFFICIALS HELPED GIVE NUNES INTEL REPORTS
The New York Times reported Thursday that a pair of White House officials helped provide Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by U.S. spy agencies. The newspaper identified the officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and was previously counsel to Nunes’s committee. Cohen-Watnick, 30, was originally hired by Michael Flynn. He was nearly pushed out of his job this month by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who replaced Flynn as national security adviser, but survived after the intervention of Jared Kushner and Stephen Bannon. New York Times
Related:
TCF/Barton Gellman: Is the Trump White House Spying on the FBI?


TRUMP SIGNS OFF ON OFFENSIVE STRIKES IN SOMALIA
President Trump on Wednesday authorized the U.S. military to take part in new types of offensive operations in Somalia, setting the stage for a wider American role in the war there. The military will now be able to conduct “precision airstrikes” in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia and the Somalia National Army in their fight against al Shabaab. CNN, Washington Post

NEW ISIS TACTIC: GATHER CIVILIANS AND THEN LURE AN AIRSTRIKE
A U.S. military spokesman said Thursday that ISIS fighters have recently been herding local Iraqi residents into buildings in western Mosul, calculating that rising civilian casualties would restrain the U.S. from using airstrikes to help retake that half of the city. “What you see now is not the use of civilians as human shields,” said Col. Joseph E. Scrocca, a spokesman for the American-led task force that is battling ISIS. “ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won’t see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack.” New York Times, Time

TILLERSON TRIES TO ASSUAGE TURKEY
The Trump administration and Turkey appeared no closer Thursday to resolving a dispute over the Kurds’ role in defeating ISIS in Syria, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his first visit to Turkey in the hopes of repairing the rocky relationship with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Associated Press, Wall Street Journal

Syria: Syrian rebels have seized large areas from ISIS militants in southern Syria in the last two weeks, as the jihadist group deploys fighters to the north in preparation of defending its Raqqa stronghold. Reuters


Terror plot in Venice: Anti-terrorism police in Italy raided a dozen homes and arrested three Kosovan men early Thursday after identifying a "jihadi cell" in central Venice. La Reppublica newspaper reported that one of the men was overhead suggesting an attack on the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal — a major global tourist draw - in an attack similar to that in London earlier this month. NBC News


PUTIN DENIES MEDDLING IN U.S. ELECTION
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday emphatically denied that Moscow meddled in last year’s U.S. election, calling the accusations “lies.” “Read my lips, no,” Putin said, who also said he is ready to meet with President Donald Trump in Finland if that country hosts an Arctic leaders’ summit. Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, NBC News
TOP OP-EDS
Trump ramps up the war on ISIS: “It is obvious that there are fewer qualms in this administration about the use of force and that authority for critical decisions has been delegated downward to the commanders in the field,” writes Max Boot in Commentary.com. “This is a welcome break from the micromanagement of the Obama White House, where the president himself would routinely get involved in making minor tactical decisions.”

Is Trump’s secret ISIS plan dragging us into another Iraq war? “Two months past his inauguration and we don’t know Trump’s ‘secret plan’ to destroy ISIS,” writes Indira Lakshmanan in the Boston Globe. “We do know he’s pressing our military to go faster and has authorized more forces to fight.”

Iraqi and Syrian civilians in the crossfire: “The Pentagon insists that there has been no major change in its rules for airstrikes against ISIS, and that a surge in civilian casualties is a result of increased military operations in western Mosul, said to be the most intense urban combat since World War II,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “Nevertheless, the disturbing number of casualties raises concerns that President Trump’s approach to counterterrorism puts too many civilians at risk and ultimately leads more people to side with the terrorists.”

All signals point once again to war in Gaza: “The next war in Gaza is coming,” writes Daniel Shapiro in Bloomberg.com. “In over five years as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, I found no issue more impervious to solutions than Gaza. I also learned that Gaza wars follow a kind of routine, and there are growing signs that this cycle is about to start anew.”

What a Trump presidency really means for Americans at the edge: “Trump may present himself as a maverick, but on security he never wavers from an all-too-familiar externally focused and militarized narrative,” writes Rajan Menon in TomDispatch.com. “In doing so, he, like his predecessors, steers clear of a definition of ‘security’ that would include the workaday difficulties that actually make Americans insecure. These include poverty, joblessness or underemployment.”
EDITOR'S PICK

JOB OPENING
Research Professor (Open Rank)
Arizona State University
Center on the Future of War
 
SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief:  Investigating Russian Active Measures Against the U.S.




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