The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, APRIL 17, 2017
PENCE WARNS NORTH KOREA NOT TO TEST TRUMP

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea on Monday not to test President Donald Trump, calling the recent U.S. military strikes on Syria and Afghanistan an example of Washington’s strength and resolve. “Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” the vice president said alongside Hwang Kyo-ahn, South Korea’s acting president, in Seoul. “North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Pence said.

The warning, delivered hours after Pence visited the DMZ between the two Koreas, came a day after North Korea launched its latest ballistic missile—which exploded within a few seconds—and amid a weekend of fanfare and military parades in North Korea, during which the regime showed off what appeared to be new missiles designed to reach the United States.

While visiting the DMZ, Pence also declared that “all options are on the table” to ensure the peace and security of the region. Regarding North Korea’s actions, “there was a period of strategic patience but the era of strategic patience is over,” Pence said. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek
Related:
New York Times: A ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ in Slow Motion
Politico Magazine/William Perry: How to Make a Deal with North Korea
Wall Street Journal editorial: Trump’s Art of the China Deal
HACKING GROUP SAYS NSA INFILTRATED MIDDLE EAST BANKING SYSTEM
On Friday, the hacking group the Shadow Brokers, which has been slowly releasing sensitive data from the NSA, released a trove of highly classified hacking tools used to break into various Microsoft systems, along with what it said was evidence that the NSA had infiltrated the backbone of the Middle East’s banking infrastructure.

Among the leaks was an extensive list of PowerPoint and Excel documents that, if authentic, indicate that the NSA has successfully infiltrated EastNets, a company based in Dubai that helps to manage transactions in the international bank messaging system called Swift. New York Times
Related:
BBC News: Microsoft Patched ‘NSA Hack’ Windows Flaw Before Leak

Competent to stand trial: A federal judge ruled last week that a schizophrenic North Carolina man is fit for trial on a terrorism charge 10 months after the man started getting forcible injections of anti-psychotic drugs to address his condition. Associated Press

Russia investigation in the House: The New York Times profiles Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who is taking over the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, following Devin Nunes’s recusal. New York Times


IRAQI OFFICIAL: ISIS LAUNCHED CHLORINE GAS ATTACKS IN MOSUL
An official with the Iraqi military said this weekend that ISIS militants launched a chlorine gas attack in a newly liberated area in western Mosul. He said seven soldiers suffered breathing problems after an ISIS rocket attack and were treated in a nearby field clinic. Associated Press

MCMASTER VISITS AFGHANISTAN AFTER U.S. DROPPED HUGE BOMB
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster met Afghan officials in Kabul on Sunday, days after the U.S. military dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an ISIS tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan. The bombing has led to speculation that Trump’s defense advisers are planning to escalate the war against militants in Afghanistan. McMaster met President Ashraf Ghani and other senior Afghan officials to discuss security, counterterrorism, reforms and development. It was the first visit by a high-level Trump official. Reuters, NBC News
Related:
New York Times: After U.S. Talks with Afghanistan, Hints at a Harder Line on Pakistan


ERDOGAN CLAIMS SLIM VICTORY, BUT REFERENDUM RESULTS ARE CHALLENGED
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in Turkey’s constitutional referendum on Sunday, but the main opposition party said it would demand a recount, as provisional results indicated the narrowest of victories for the “yes” campaign. With nearly 99 percent of votes counted on Sunday night, supporters of the proposal to grant Erdogan sweeping new powers had 51.3 percent of votes cast, and opponents had 48.7 percent. If allowed to stand, the results dramatically tighten Erdogan’s grip on the country, and will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system. CNN, New York Times

GERMAN POLICE SAY DORTMUND ATTACKERS WANTED TO INCITE BACKLASH AGAINST MUSLIMS
Investigators in Germany say there is “significant doubt” that Tuesday’s attack on the Borussia Dortmund soccer team bus was the work of radical Islamists. They say letters found at the scene may be an attempt to trick people into thinking there was an Islamist motive. Police said military-grade explosives were used to target the bus of the city’s football team, and that believe that these were planted by members of the far right rather than by Islamists. BBC News, The Times

United Kingdom: A three-month-old baby was called in by American consular officials for a U.S. visa interview after his grandfather mistakenly described him as a terrorist on a visa form. Independent

Pakistan: Pakistan’s decision to execute Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian naval officer who was sentenced to death on charges of spying for India by a secret military court, has ratcheted up tensions with India, which has called the accusations ridiculous. But analysts say the decision could also be a move by the Pakistani military to weaken the prime minister. Washington Post
TOP OP-EDS
Just what is Trump trying to do in Syria? “One week after President Donald Trump’s cruise-missile strike against Syria, one fact stands out above all others: The White House and secretary of state are inexplicably incapable of conveying American intentions to friends, foes, the American public and all other concerned parties,” write Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon in Politico Magazine.

Beyond the origins of totalitarianism: “Although the United States stood out for [Hannah] Arendt as a beacon of hope, she saw vulnerabilities in American-style democracy as well, many of them apparent at the moment of birth,” writes Karen Greenberg in The New Republic. “Chief among them was the possibility of an alienated citizenry.”

Why the ‘mother of all bombs’ and why now? “The dropping of a "mother of all bombs" Thursday by the United States on an ISIS cave and bunker complex in Achin district in eastern Afghanistan should be understood as part of an effort to reverse a war that is not going well for the Afghan government and, by extension, the United States,” writes Peter Bergen in CNN.com.

After ISIS, the U.S. military could help keep Iraq stable: “Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called on the U.S. to deepen cooperation with Baghdad under the 2008 U.S.-Iraqi Strategic Framework Agreement. That makes sense,” writes James Jeffrey in the Wall Street Journal. “America has expended incalculable resources in Iraq, intervening militarily four times since 1990. Iraq is worth the effort.”
EDITOR'S PICK

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For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Never-Ending Nightmare for Syrian Civilians




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