The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Former national security adviser Michael Flynn did not properly disclose payments from Russia and may have broken the law as a result when applying for a security clearance, House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings said Tuesday.

“As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else. And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate. And there are repercussions for the violation of law,” Chaffetz said. A lawyer for Flynn said yesterday Flynn had notified the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Flynn once led, that he was taking a 2015 trip to Russia, during which he made a speech in return for $45,000 from the Kremlin-backed news network RT. CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal

This week, the White House denied a request from the House Oversight Committee for more information on payments that Flynn received from foreign governments, including from RT and other Russian firms. The Trump administration said relevant documents are not in possession of the White House because they involved Flynn’s activity prior to President Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Other documents sought by the committee, from after Jan. 20, involve sensitive information, the White House said. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday that “to ask for every call or contact that a national security adviser made is pretty outlandish, if you will.” The Hill
President Donald Trump told aides to add criticism to a State Department letter last week that declared Iran in compliance with a landmark nuclear deal, according to reports. The final version of the letter to Congress highlighted Iran’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, reflecting Trump’s intervention after the president read a draft letter that he found too soft on Tehran. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also sharply criticized the nuclear deal at a State Department appearance last week -- comments that reportedly came at Trump’s request. Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal

South Dakota man charged under state terror laws: A Sioux Falls man has been charged with making a terror threat under state law after he was escorted out of an anti-Islam event, where he’d appeared with a legal firearm on his hip and attempted to live stream speeches online. He went live on Facebook from his car moments later, where he held up firearms and boxes of ammunition while saying “be scared” and “be f***ing terrified.” Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Outgoing CIA lawyer worries about cyber: The CIA’s top lawyer, Caroline Krass, is stepping down after three years, and at an event at Georgetown University Law School this week, she said the most challenging threat the United States faces comes from cyberspace. “I think the hardest [legal questions] were those that surrounded cyber,” Krass said. “It’s an evolving area of the law, trying to determine answers to questions like what constitutes a use of force…what are the measures to combat such a use of force?” Foreign Policy

A website that has previously carried Al Qaeda messages issued a claim of responsibility for the recent subway bombing in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday, and suggested the attack was carried out on the orders of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. But experts urged caution because the site is not normally used for al Qaeda’s messages about attacks elsewhere in the world, and a previously unknown group, called the Imam Shamil Battalion, claimed responsibility. BBC News, New York Times

U.S. officials say they are “deeply concerned” after Turkey carried out a series of airstrikes on Tuesday against U.S. allies fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. American officials said Turkey had informed the U.S. less than an hour in advance that it intended to carry out the bombing raids on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria and Iraq. American officials said that they had asked Turkey not to proceed without proper coordination, but that the request was ignored. CNN, New York Times

Humanitarian officials say that strict British and U.S. counterterrorism laws are discouraging aid organizations from delivering vital emergency assistance to millions of people facing starvation and fatal diseases in drought-hit Somalia. The officials say the laws, which target any individual or organization found to have materially assisted a terrorist group, exert a “chilling effect” on assistance in areas of Somalia controlled by Islamic militants from al Shabaab. Somalia is currently facing the worst drought in 40 years, with some 6 million people threatened with famine. Guardian

Syrian gas attack: French investigators say that samples from a deadly sarin attack in Syria bear “the signature” of President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program. Washington Post

Spain arrests 9 in connection with Brussels attacks: Nine men were arrested on Tuesday in a series of early morning raids in and around Barcelona, in connection with the March 2016 terrorist attacks in Brussels. New York Times

An American businesswoman from Houston was secretly sentenced to three and half years in prison in China on spying charges on Tuesday. Phan Phan-Gillis was sentenced more than  two years after Chinese security officers spirited her away and 20 or more years after the alleged espionage was said to have taken place. The court ordered her deported but it is unclear whether she will serve her sentence before being expelled from the country. New York Times, Houston Chronicle

France: The CEO of Lafarge, the world’s largest cement maker, will resign after the firm admitted to making payments to armed groups in Syria to keep a factory there in operation. CNN, New York Times
Mattis and Trump: the odd couple that works: “Traveling with Mattis last week in the Middle East, I had a chance to watch the delicate balancing act between a media-obsessed White House and a national-security leadership that mostly would be happy to stay out of the news,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post.

U.S.-supported government in Yemen has ties to al Qaeda: “In their fight against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and its Saudi backers, have worked with local actors with suspected ties to al Qaeda,” writes Kate Brannen in “Sometimes this means the targets being tracked by the US are actually cutting deals and getting their hands on weapons thanks to connections they have with the Hadi government and the Saudi-led coalition, to which the U.S. provides support.”

The Taliban ‘cultural weapon’ driving U.S. and Afghan forces apart: “There has been little study of the causes or consequences of insider attacks, which threaten to undo the fitful military progress made after nearly 16 years of Afghan war,” writes Javid Ahmad in the Washington Post. “In a new study, I find that insider attacks have increasingly become the preferred war-fighting tactic of the Taliban, a group that well understands how to apply limited resources for maximum effect.”

At 100 days, Trump’s no stooge or fascist: “Now that we are approaching the 100-day mark, it's worth noting that the president is defying the expectations of his resistance,” writes Eli Lake in “And while there is plenty to oppose in Trump's young presidency, he is neither the Siberian Candidate nor the second coming of Mussolini.”

Assange on the Trump administration’s attacks on Wikileaks: “When the director of the CIA, an unelected public servant, publicly demonizes a publisher such as WikiLeaks as a ‘fraud,’ ‘coward’ and ‘enemy,’ it puts all journalists on notice, or should,” writes Julian Assange in the Washington Post

From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State
with Ali Soufan and Lawrence Wright
Tuesday, May 2
Fordham Law School
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: North Korea Takes Center Stage

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