The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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THURSDAY, MARCH 9, 2017

TRUMP INVOKES PRIVILEGE TO BLOCK TESTIMONY IN TORTURE TRIAL

The Trump administration has invoked the state secrets privilege in an attempt to prevent CIA officials from testifying in a lawsuit against two psychologists, James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who were contracted by the agency to help run the Bush administration’s so-called “enhanced interrogation program.” Two former terrorism suspects--Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud--and the representative of a third, Gul Rahman, who died in custody in 2002, filed the lawsuit in 2015. If they prevail, it would be the first time a U.S. civilian court has held anyone accountable for post 9/11 counterterrorism policies, legal analysts say. (NYT)

U.S. FORCES MOVE INTO SYRIA AS TRUMP PLANS DIPLOMATIC FORUM

A few hundred U.S. Marines deployed to Syria weeks ago to set up an artillery base in support of the fight to take back Raqqa, the Islamic State’s headquarters in Syria, Pentagon officials confirmed. While the deployment is temporary, analysts say it signals the Trump administration is leaning toward allowing military commanders greater latitude to make combat decisions in the battle against the jihadist group. The Trump administration is also mulling the deployment of up to 1,000 U.S. soldiers to Kuwait, who could be called up, if needed by local commanders.

 

Meanwhile, the White House has invited representatives from more than 60 countries to Washington later this month for a planning session on how to continue the fight against ISIS as it faces defeat on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to lead a two-day gathering (March 22-23) focused on fighting ISIS militarily and starving it of money, weapons, and fighters. Analysts say the forum is an important indication that the new administration intends to maintain leadership of the diplomatic effort begun by President Barack Obama in 2014. (WaPo, Guardian, Reuters, Military.com)

 

Related:

New York Times: ISIS Leaders Are Fleeing Raqqa

Wall Street Journal: Three-Way Contest for Raqqa

 

HUNTSMAN SELECTED AS U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA

The former Utah governor and top U.S. envoy to Beijing has accepted President Trump’s offer to be ambassador to Russia. Jon Huntsman, a former 2012 Republican presidential hopeful, endorsed Trump during the recent presidential campaign but then called on him to drop out after a recording surfaced of Trump bragging about touching women in 2005. Huntsman and Trump reportedly overcame their differences during the transition. (Politico, NBC, Guardian)

 

FBI investigating CIA leaks: Federal investigators looking into the unauthorized release of thousands of classified CIA documents are likely to focus on outside contractors at the spy agency, experts say. One source said that more than a dozen firms work for the CIA on hacking tools, and that much of that work is done at a facility in Dulles, Virginia. (WSJ, NYT)  

 

Travel ban: The United Nations said President Trump’s revised executive order temporarily blocking travel from six Muslim-majority countries will increase the woes of the world’s refugees. The largest group of refugees likely to be directly affected by the ban are some 15,000 Somalis in a Kenyan refugee camp who hoped to resettle in the United States. (Guardian)

 

Anti-Semitic threats: Jewish community centers in Connecticut and Kentucky received separate bomb threats, local authorities said. The incidents followed the more than 140 threats made against JCCs, Jewish day schools, and other Jewish institutions in the first two months of this year. (NBC)

 

Gitmo trial: A military judge has ruled that defense attorneys can call former CIA officials as witnesses in their bid to derail the death-penalty trial of the alleged USS Cole bombing plotter, who was waterboarded in the spy agency’s secret prison network. (Miami Herald)

Gun-traffickers: The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office has charged more than 20 suspects with a 627-count indictment alleging they took part in a gun trafficking ring that sent more than 200 weapons from Virginia to New York. (WaPo)



Kenya/Somalia: Government security forces in Kenya, including the Kenyan Defence Force, which continues to receive significant U.S. counterterrorism funding, and the anti-terrorism police unit, have been accused of torture and summary executions. (Guardian)

Afghanistan: Health officials say that the death toll from the terrorist attack on a military hospital in Kabul has risen to 49 with dozens more wounded. Islamic state militants claimed responsibility for the raid. (Reuters)



NORTH KOREA TRIED TO SELL NUKE MATERIAL

UN investigators said the government of Kim Jong-un tried to sell enriched lithium, a key material for developing miniaturized nuclear weapons, to unidentified international buyers last year. The attempted sale has sparked new concerns about North Korea’s proliferation threat. U.S. lawmakers have reportedly requested briefings from the state department and intelligence agencies on the details of the UN report. (WSJ)

 

Related:

Washington Post: U.S. Declined China’s Diplomatic Attempts With North Korea

 

Russian Missile: A top U.S. military commander said during congressional testimony that Russia has deployed a land-based cruise missile that violates the "spirit and intent" of a 1987 arms control treaty and poses a threat to NATO. President Trump said last month that he would raise the issue of the deployment with Russian President Putin “if and when we meet.” (NYT, Reuters)

Australia: Haisem Zahab, an electrician of Lebanese descent living in a rural Australian town, is accused of using the internet to try to help ISIS develop a guided missile. His case has fanned fears about homegrown links to terrorism in a country grappling with immigration policy and labor shortages, analysts say. (NYT)

TOP OP-EDS

How Trump Undermines Intelligence Gathering: “This is exactly where intelligence professionals do not want to be: thrust into the partisan arena of political masters who have different rules, vocabulary, goals and standards. It reminds me of the Benghazi controversy, in which the intelligence community became entangled in a sustained political fracas that led to charges that it was cooking intelligence to protect the Obama administration,” writes Michael Hayden in the New York Times.

 

The Ultimate Trump-Putin Deal: “The window for handling Mr. Putin is very narrow. Mr. Trump’s brashness has stopped at attacking Mr. Putin personally. That atypical restraint horrified many Russia hawks in the West. But it may turn out that Mr. Trump took a better approach. Whether accidentally or by design, he has left the door open for Mr. Putin to make a graceful exit. That would be good for everyone,” writes Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the Wall Street Journal.

 

Dems Are Holding Up One of Trump’s Best Appointees: “We believe that Russian interference in the election is a matter of such grave public importance that appointing a special counsel would add to the Justice Department’s appearance of independence and integrity. But we respect Mr. Rosenstein for refusing to pre-commit. So should the Senate,” write editors of the Washington Post.

Hitting Iran Where It Doesn’t Hurt: “Rather than ratcheting up U.S. military involvement in the Yemeni civil war, the Trump administration should follow the lead of its diplomatic officers and commit to the UN peace process that has the best chance of producing a legitimate transitional government, while encouraging creative peacebuilding solutions – including reactivating networks of tribal mediation – at the local level, and convincing allies to contribute to an expansive postwar reconstruction program,” writes Kate Kizer for Just Security.

EDITOR'S PICK

SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Unique Threat of the Islamic State in Afghanistan 




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