The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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TUESDAY, APRIL 25, 2017
U.S. SANCTIONS 271 SYRIANS INVOLVED IN CHEMICAL WEAPONS PROGRAM
The Trump administration on Monday imposed sweeping sanctions on 271 employees of the Syrian government agency involved in developing and producing chemical weapons. Treasury Department officials said the move was in response to the chemical weapons attack in Idlib province earlier this month that killed at least 85 people.

All of those sanctioned, many of whom are mid-level government workers, are listed as working for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, which itself was sanctioned by President George W. Bush in 2005. The actions yesterday freeze the money the individuals have in U.S. financial institutions and discourage others from doing business with them. They were targeted “because they have expertise in chemistry and related fields or have worked in support of chemical weapons programs since at least 2012,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.  Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, BBC News
TRUMP PLANS TO GUT FOREIGN AID
The Trump administration has plans to drastically cut assistance to developing countries and merge the State Department with USAID, according to an internal budget document obtained by Foreign Policy. The detailed 15-page State Department budget document indicates that the departmental overhaul also includes rechanneling funding from development assistance into a program that is tied closely to national security objectives. Foreign Policy

NYPD aids police-business partnerships to combat terror: The NYPD has quietly helped nine other police departments across the country establish private sector partnerships that could alert cops to terror plots. “So if we have a relationship with another department and something happens there, we can pick up the phone and ask: ‘What’s going on there?’” said Chief James Waters, who heads the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau. “And we can also ask the New York question: Will there be a simultaneous attack here? There’s a big value on information and information sharing. Then you decide, ‘Do I need that?’” New York Daily News

Senate Russia investigation staffs up: The Senate Intelligence Committee has hired two new staffers for its investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election, amid grumblings by the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner, that the committee is moving too slowly. CNN

Flynn’s Turkish lobbying linked to Russia: The Turkish man who gave Mike Flynn a $600,000 lobbying deal just before President Donald Trump picked him to be national security adviser has business ties to Russia, Politico reports.

Guantanamo ID: Prosecutors at the Guantanamo war court want Saudi detainee Ahmad al Darbi, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to terror charges, to ID accused al Qaeda commander Abd al Hadi al Iraqi at his eventual war crimes trial to dispel a potential defense theory of mistaken identity. Miami Herald



NORTH KOREA MARKS ANNIVERSARY WITH MASSIVE ARTILLERY DRILL
North Korea marked the 85th anniversary of the army’s founding with a large-scale artillery drill in the country's east Tuesday. There had been fears that Pyongyang would use the opportunity to mount a nuclear test, but the lack of such a test or one for a long-range missile has led to speculation that Kim Jong-un had instead decided to celebrate the anniversary with a large demonstration of conventional weapons. The drills coincided with military maneuvers by the U.S. and South Korea in the Yellow Sea, as well as the arrival of the U.S.S. Michigan, a submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, in the port city of Busan in South Korea. CNN, New York Times

Officials at the Pentagon have reportedly been caught off guard by the Trump administration’s tough talk toward Pyongyang. Daily Beast

On Wednesday afternoon, the entire U.S. Senate will head to the White House for a rare briefing on the situation in North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are all expected to be in attendance. It is rare for the entire Senate to be summoned to the White House for such a briefing. Reuters
Related:
Washington Post: Senate Staff Perplexed by Unusual White House Briefing on North Korea

U.S. GENERAL: RUSSIA SENDING ARMS TO TALIBAN
Gen. John Nicholson, the general in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, appeared to confirm Monday that Russia is sending weapons to the Taliban. When asked by reporters, Nicholson did not dispute claims that the Taliban is receiving weapons and other supplies from the Russians. “We continue to get reports of this assistance,” Nicholson said, speaking to reporters alongside Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “We support anyone who wants to help us advance the reconciliation process, but anyone who arms belligerents who perpetuate attacks like the one we saw two days ago in Mazar-e Sharif is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.” Washington Post, CBS News

Taliban attacks Afghan base where CIA agents were killed: The Taliban has claimed credit for a Monday suicide attack on the U.S. base in Afghanistan where seven CIA employees and contractors were killed in 2009. No U.S. casualties were reported. NBC News

Somali piracy on the upswing: U.S. defense officials are reportedly worried about an uptick in piracy incidents in the waters off Somalia. Wall Street Journal

Pakistan bomb: A roadside bombing targeted a minivan in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region on Tuesday, killing nine people. The breakaway Taliban faction of Jamat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility. Associated Press


MACRON’S CAMPAIGN TARGETED BY HACKERS
The campaign of the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has been targeted by what appear to be the same Russian operatives responsible for hacks of Democratic campaign officials before last year’s U.S. presidential election. Macron is headed into a run-off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on May 7, and the report of hacking has heightened concerns that Russia may turn its playbook on France, in an effort to harm Macron’s candidacy in the final weeks of the campaign. New York Times

Israel charges teen with Jewish center threats: Prosecutors in Tel Aviv have charged an Israeli teenager who is accused of making more than 2,000 threatening calls to Jewish institutions, schools, airports and airlines in the U.S. and elsewhere. The 18-year-old has been charged with thousands of counts of various crimes, including extortion, carrying a weapon, assaulting a police officer, drug trafficking and money laundering, all allegedly conducted over the past two years. A lawyer for the teen has said he has a nonmalignant brain tumor that affects his behavior. Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia ends austerity: Saudi Arabia reversed one of the kingdom’s most contentious austerity measures on Saturday, reinstating benefits to civil servants and military personnel. Financial Times

Duterte referred to ICC: A Filipino lawyer asked the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Monday to charge President Rodrigo Duterte and 11 other Philippine officials with mass murder and crimes against humanity in the killings of thousands of people over three decades. New York Times
TOP OP-EDS
Why you won’t read a full accounting of America’s use of torture anytime soon: “A push to force the federal government to publicly release the full contents of a Senate report on the secret torture and detention of terror suspects ended quietly yesterday with a simple rebuff by the Supreme Court,” writes Scott Shackford in Reason.com.

Bigger than Afghanistan: “Washington has not decided, or even realized that it must decide, whether its goal in Afghanistan is to maintain an open-ended military presence or stabilize the country through a political settlement with the Taliban and its neighbors,” writes Barnett Rubin in War on the Rocks. “Almost everyone in Afghanistan and the region believes the U.S. goal is a long-term military presence rather than the stability of Afghanistan, and acts accordingly. America’s focus on military tactics combined with silence on political objectives reinforces that belief.”

The two faces of Qatar, a dubious U.S. ally: “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited several of America’s Middle Eastern partners last week—including a dubious one. Qatar hosts an important air base but also undermines American security by sponsoring Islamic radicalism,” write Charles Wald and Michael Makovsky in the Wall Street Journal.

Trump and the CIA: “By recognizing the similarities between Trump and Nixon in their outlook toward the CIA, it is possible to make some forecasts about how his relationship with the agency might evolve over the next few years,” write Christopher Moran and Richard Aldrich in Foreign Affairs. “As with Nixon, Trump’s paranoia will undermine personal effectiveness. The strongest parallel between the two men is their inability to command wide loyalty and affection across Washington, focusing instead on a small inner circle of confidants.”
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For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: A Worsening U.S. Quagmire in Afghanistan




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