The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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THURSDAY, APRIL 13, 2017
TILLERSON: U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS AT ‘LOW POINT’

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that relations between the two countries are at “a low point as hours of talks failed to clear divides over Syria, Moscow's alleged meddling in U.S. elections, and a host of other major issues. Tillerson and Russian Foreign Secretary Sergey Lavrov said in a joint press conference that they support a political solution in Syria. But Lavrov continued to cast doubt on the U.S. assertion that Assad ordered a chemical weapons attack last week that killed more than 100 Syrians.

“There is a low level of trust between our countries,” Tillerson told reporters. “The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.” President Trump echoed that sentiment at the White House, saying in a news conference with the NATO secretary general, “Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all — we may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia,” Trump said. NBC News, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times

Back in Moscow, Tillerson was ushered in to meet with Putin for a two hour meeting. The two men “did not agree on much,” reports the New York Times, “certainly not on who was responsible for fatally poisoning Syrian civilians with the nerve agent sarin, or for the interference in the American elections last year and the European elections underway now.” New York Times

At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a resolution condemning Syria for the chemical attack. New York Times
Related:
New York Times: Why the Syrian Chemical Weapons Problem Is So Hard to Solve
CNN: U.S. Intelligence Intercepted Communications Between Syrian Military and Chemical Experts
TWO ILLINOIS MEN FACE TERRORISM CHARGES AFTER FBI STING
Two friends from suburban Chicago have been arrested and charged with providing material support to ISIS after a year-long FBI sting operation. Joseph Jones and Edward Schimenti allegedly engaged in extensive efforts to prepare an associate for travel to Syria to fight for the terror group, equipping him with cellphone detonator devices, not knowing that the recruit was actually an informant for the FBI. Beginning in the fall of 2015, the two suspects, both of Zion, Ill., allegedly befriended the informant and two undercover FBI agents, believing they shared a commitment to support the terror group. Prosecutors allege the two pledged their allegiance to ISIS and advocated on social media for violent extremism in support of the terrorist group. USA Today, Chicago Tribune

LAWYERS AT GITMO SUE PENTAGON OVER CANCER RISK
A group of military lawyers who work at Guantanamo sued the Department of Defense this week, saying they have been forced to live and work in facilities with dangerous levels of known carcinogens for years. Associated Press, Reuters

TRUMP ON NATO: ‘NO LONGER OBSOLETE’
President Trump on Wednesday pledged his full support to NATO, reversing a key campaign pledge. During a joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump said that his criticisms of NATO prompted the alliance to make changes that satisfied his concerns--though he did not specify what those were. “I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change — and now they do fight terrorism,” Trump said. “I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.” Washington Post


AFTER BOMB ATTACK ON GERMAN SOCCER TEAM, LETTER DEMANDS PULLBACK IN SYRIA
Three explosions damaged the bus of one of Germany’s most storied soccer teams as it headed to its stadium in Dortmund on Tuesday, wounding one player and forcing postponement of an important match. A letter found after the attack called for Germany to scale back its involvement in the Western military coalition in Syria, the authorities said on Wednesday. A spokesman for the German authorities said that two people with an “Islamist background” had been taken into custody. New York Times, BBC News, Wall Street Journal

Sweden truck attack: The Uzbek man accused of driving a stolen truck through central Stockholm last week, killing four people, tried to travel to Syria in 2015 to join ISIS, according to security sources in Uzbekistan. He was detained at the Turkish-Syrian border in 2015 and deported back to Sweden, where he was later denied permanent residency. Reuters
TOP OP-EDS
Why surveillance of Carter Page is such a bombshell: “You don’t get slapped with a FISA warrant unless the court thinks you could be the agent of a foreign power,” writes Elias Groll in Foreign Policy.

Republicans complaining about surveillance are still ignoring civil liberties: “They say a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. From recent news, you’d think a civil libertarian is a conservative whose buddies got swept up in spying,” writes Marcy Wheeler in Slate.com. “What else might explain the dramatic change of heart on the part of people like California Rep. Devin Nunes, who for the last several years as chair of the House Intelligence Committee has led the fight to defeat sensible reforms to the government’s spying programs?”

How not to fight terrorism: “Instead of correcting Obama’s missteps, Trump is exploiting the public's worst fears,” writes Heather Hurlburt in The New Republic.

Trump’s shifting surveillance claims: “His newest argument, that he was talking about Susan Rice and ‘unmasking,’ doesn’t make any more sense than his previous versions,” writes David Graham in The Atlantic.
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