The Soufan Group Morning Brief




The anti-secrecy organization founded by Julian Assange has published a new batch of secret documents, mostly dating from 2013 to 2016, that it says show how the CIA has used highly sophisticated tools to hack into phones, communication apps, and other electronic devices, including smart televisions. WikiLeaks said the release constituted the “largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency,”consisting of more than 8,000 documents and files from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence. The authenticity of the documents has not been publicly confirmed, although experts say they appear to be genuine.

News of the leak is almost certain to rekindle the debate over whether U.S. intelligence agencies should disclose the cybersecurity flaws they find so they can be fixed and consumers can be protected, or keep them secret so the government can exploit them for surveillance. Unlike the NSA documents Edward Snowden leaked to journalists in 2013, this cache does not include examples of how agencies used the tools against foreign targets, which analysts say might limit the damage to national security. Nonetheless, the breach is highly embarrassing for an agency that depends on secrecy, they say. (Guardian, Reuters, NYT, WSJ, USA Today)


Seth DuCharme, who leads the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office’s national-security and cybercrime unit, is trying out a counterterrorism initiative in which law enforcement is using former jihadist recruits to intervene with young terrorism suspects. For instance, Mo, a U.S. citizen who traveled to fight with ISIS in Syria but returned and is now working with the FBI, has successfully dissuaded a teenager in Brooklyn from joining the terrorist group. (WSJ)


Hawaii challenges new travel ban: Attorneys for the state have asked a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of the Trump administration’s new executive order. The new order still “suffers from the same constitutional and statutory defects” as its predecessor, said Neal Katyal, one of the lead attorneys for Hawaii and former acting U.S. solicitor general. (CNN)


Ban will strand many refugees: President Trump’s order will effectively leave in limbo tens of thousands of families attempting to flee violence, as they try to compete for the fewer than 13,000 refugee slots that remain for this fiscal year. (NYT)


Paying for the wall: In its search to fund the multi-billion dollar border wall with Mexico, the Trump administration is reportedly considering significant cuts to the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other agencies focused on national security. (WaPo)


Russia probe: U.S. Senate Democrats grilled Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, nominated to be the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, but were unable to extract from him a commitment to name a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into Russia’s influence on the U.S. presidential election. (Baltimore Sun)


Tillerson’s Asia trip: The secretary of state will make his first trip to the region next week where he is expected to meet with senior officials to discuss North Korea's missile tests and U.S. economic and security interests. His trip will include stops in Japan, South Korea, and China. (Reuters)

Lynne Stewart dies: The lawyer who gained notoriety for representing violent, self-described revolutionaries, and who spent four years in prison herself, convicted of aiding terrorism, died at home in Brooklyn at the age of 77. One of her clients was Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric found guilty in 1995 for plotting to blow up New York City landmarks. (NYT)

Syria summit: U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford met with his Russian and Turkish counterparts in the coastal city of Antalya, Turkey, to discuss how to prevent clashes between their countries' forces and the factions they support in the Syria conflict. The military leaders also discussed next steps in the anti-ISIS campaign. (


Iraq: Speaking at a forum in the autonomous Kurdish region, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi forces would continue to target militants in neighboring countries, as it did last month with airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. (AP)

Afghanistan: Gunmen disguised in medical uniforms raided the main military hospital in Kabul and killed 30 people and wounded many others, Afghan officials said. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency. (NYT)


The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, known as Swift, has banned three North Korean state banks after the UN found they were using its services in defiance of sanctions. More than 11,000 banks, securities houses, and other organisations use Swift to communicate and verify financial transactions globally. U.S. senators have called for Swift to completely ban North Korea in response to recent nuclear and missile tests. (WSJ, FT)



New York Times: North Korea Poses Early Test for Trump

Reuters: Japan Considering First Strike Options for North Korea


Netherlands: Dutch voters are wary of U.S. meddling in their upcoming election. Far-right leader Geert Wilders is reportedly getting some support from American conservatives attracted to his anti-European Union and anti-Islamic views. (NYT)

Global travel: A new travel industry report says that security is the main consideration for vacationers when choosing a destination. It recommended a "pass/fail" security accreditation for hotels and landmarks. (Reuters)


Good News About the New Leaks: “While many of the headlines accompanying these documents will send a shiver down the spine of readers, there is some good news in the WikiLeaks documents. Contrary to early reports suggesting that the CIA can ‘defeat’ popular end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp, the WikiLeaks release is further evidence that encryption does work to protect people’s privacy,” writes Trevor Timm in the Guardian.


WikiLeaks New Damage: “The losses from this exposure are incalculable. These tools represent millions of dollars of investment and man-hours. Many will now be rendered moot as terrorists or foreign agents abandon traceable habits. Merely because America’s enemies are barbaric—think al Qaeda or Islamic State—does not mean they are stupid,” write editors of the Wall Street Journal.


The Country’s Real Life Spy Thriller: “Trump’s defiance has put his presidency on a collision course with Congress and the FBI. Some supporters claim he’s facing a secret coup from an intelligence and foreign policy establishment that constitutes a despotic ‘deep state.’ But really, Trump is confronting the orderly process we call the ‘rule of law,’” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post.

France Braces for the Impossible: “This is the great political battle for the heart and soul of Europe. With the approach on March 25 of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of European unity, France’s partners in the European Union are anxiously watching every step of this [presidential] campaign. In Berlin, the anxiety borders on panic: Never have the stakes been higher for the future of the European project,” writes Sylvie Kauffmann in the New York Times.


New York Review of Books: What Trump Could Do

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Lingering Untruths of Guantanamo

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