The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19, 2017
AIRCRAFT CARRIER WASN’T SAILING TO NORTH KOREA, AS U.S. SUGGESTED

The Navy confirmed Tuesday that it didn’t send one of its aircraft carriers directly toward North Korea amid growing tensions with Pyongyang, despite representations by President Donald Trump and his top defense advisers that it was on its way. “We’re sending an armada,” Trump said to Fox News last Tuesday afternoon.

In fact, the Carl Vinson and the three other warships in its strike force were that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula.

The story appears to be one of “mixed and contradictory messages that the Navy appeared to notice in the past week, but made no strenuous moves to correct,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times reports that White House officials said that they had been relying on guidance from the Defense Department, where officials described a glitch-ridden sequence of events, “from an ill-timed announcement of the deployment by the military’s Pacific Command to a partially erroneous explanation by the defense secretary, Jim Mattis — all of which perpetuated the false narrative that a flotilla was racing toward the waters off North Korea.” Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post
Related:
Washington Post: The White House’s Misleading Statements about Trump’s ‘Armada’ Heading to North Korea
Bloomberg: North Korea Snubbed Chinese Diplomats
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION SAYS IRAN COMPLYING WITH NUCLEAR DEAL
The Trump administration has notified Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, and says the U.S. has extended the sanctions relief given to the Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic program. But a in letter sent late Tuesday to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration has undertaken a full review of the agreement, arguing that the country remains a sponsor of terrorism. Los Angeles Times, CNN, NBC News

KELLY: TERROR RISK AS HIGH AS IT WAS ON 9/11
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Tuesday that the risk of a terror attack on the United States is “as threatening today” as it was on 9/11. “The threat to our nation and our American way of life has not diminished,” Kelly said during a speech at George Washington University. “In fact, the threat has metastasized and decentralized, and the risk is as threatening today as it was that September morning almost 16 years ago.” According to Kelly, the FBI currently has open terrorism investigations in all 50 states, and since 2013, there have been 37 ISIS-linked plots to attack the US.
Law enforcement agencies have investigated 36 cases of homegrown terrorism over the last 12 months, illustrating what Kelly called an “unprecedented spike” in a type of violence that is “notoriously difficult to predict and control.” CNN

Mixed messages on Russia: Contradictory statements by President Trump and members of his administration about Russia have created confusion about the administration’s posture toward Moscow and have put senior officials in the awkward position of having to explain why Trump has yet to echo any of their harsh words. Washington Post

Bomb plotter gets life: Harlem Suarez, a 25-year-old Florida man convicted of buying a bomb and plotting to blow up a Florida Keys beach in allegiance to ISIS, has been sentenced to life in prison. In July 2015, Suarez met with undercover federal agents he believed were ISIS sympathizers and purchased a backpack bomb. He was convicted in January. Miami Herald, Fox News

Terror plea: Terrence McNeil, a 24-year-old Akron, Ohio, man has agreed to serve 15 to 20 years in federal prison as part of a plea deal made on Tuesday. McNeil pleaded guilty to federal terrorism-related charges for posting files on his social-media pages in 2015 that contained the names and addresses of people believed to be members of the military. Included in the files were messages encouraging others to kill those people, according to the FBI. Cleveland.com


MARSEILLE TERROR PLOT FOILED BY POLICE AHEAD OF FRENCH ELECTION
Police in Marseille, France, have seized guns and bomb-making materials after arresting two men suspected of planning an “imminent and violent attack” days before the first round on Sunday of the country’s fiercely contested presidential election. The French interior minister, Matthias Fekl, said the two men, who were detained at different addresses in the southern port city, were French nationals aged 24 and 30. Home-made explosives and an ISIS flag were found in the home of one of the men, and Paris prosecutors said on Tuesday evening that the two men had been known to the police. Security has been stepped up around political rallies and meetings amid heightened fears of an attack. Financial Times, Guardian, Politico

MATTIS VISITS SAUDI ARABIA
Pentagon chief James Mattis arrived Tuesday in Saudi Arabia at the start of a five-nation tour of the Middle East and North Africa aimed at pressing for a political settlement of the war in Yemen and solidifying counterterrorism efforts with American allies in the region. Wall Street Journal
Related:
Wall Street Journal: Saudi-Led Antiterror Coalition Sharpens Its Focus

Afghanistan: American military officials have not been forthcoming with details about the Mother of All Bomb’s damage in Afghanistan, reports the New York Times. “But one voice has been filling the information vacuum in the region: Islamic State radio.” New York Times
 
TOP OP-EDS
Trump’s ‘madman theory’ isn’t strategic unpredictability, it’s just crazy: “On the campaign trail, the media loved Donald Trump’s unpredictability,” write Dani Nedal and Daniel Nexon in Foreign Policy. “What would the wacky candidate do next? But in foreign policy, unpredictability isn’t a strength. For a great power such as America, it’s a recipe for instability, confusion, and self-inflicted harm to U.S. interests abroad.”

Afghanistan: Making it worse: “With no apparent strategy behind it, the [“Mother of all Bombs”] bombing in Afghanistan appears merely to intensify the dramatic militarization of US foreign policy we have already seen in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia,” writes Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books.

Behold the master conspirator: “If the House Intelligence Committee wishes to continue its descent into circushood, by all means accommodate Carter Page—now styling himself a pro-Russia “dissident” whom the Obama administration sought to persecute—and his desire “eagerly” to testify,” writes Holman Jenkins Jr. in the Wall Street Journal. “Then again, the committee might resume its original mission of investigating Russia’s shambolic propaganda efforts in the U.S. election, rather than peddling conspiracy theories about minor members of the Trump entourage.”
EDITOR'S PICK

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For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Oklahoma City Bombing 22 Years Later




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