The Soufan Group Morning Brief


In a move widely seen as a demotion, chief strategist Stephen Bannon was removed by President Trump Wednesday from his seat on the National Security Council’s cabinet-level principals meeting. Bannon’s elevation to the council, over military and intelligence officials, was controversial when it was announced in January; critics feared that his presence would politicize foreign policy and national security discussions.

Bannon reportedly resisted the move and threatened to quit if it went forward. His allies in the White House spent the day denying that Bannon had been demoted and insisting that he had been put on the NSC to watch over former national security adviser Michael Flynn and to “de-operationalize” the council. “That job is done,” said one official.

The decision was widely seen as a victory for Trump’s new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who has clashed with Bannon over personnel decisions and who chafed at his presence on the council. New York Times, Politico, Bloomberg, Washington Post
CNN: With Bannon Out, the White House Gets Serious About National Security
New York Times: Bannon Is Out. But Did McMaster Win?
President Trump warned on Wednesday that he would not tolerate the “heinous” chemical weapons attack in Syria, saying “it crossed a lot of lines for me.” Days after his administration insisted that removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be “silly,” Trump suggested that a shift may be coming. “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” he said during a news conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House. The words left diplomats and military officials puzzled as to whether an actual shift in U.S. policy might soon be underway. Washington Post, New York Times
New Yorker: Trump’s Moment of Terrible Truth in Syria
Washington Post: Trump and His ‘America First’ Philosophy Face First Moral Quandary in Syria

Trump suggests Rice committed a crime: In an Oval Office interview Wednesday with the New York times, President Trump asserted that he believes former national security adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime in seeking to learn the identities of Trump associates swept up in surveillance of foreign officials by United States spy agencies. Trump declined to offer evidence for his assertion, saying he would talk more about it “at the right time.” New York Times

Trump-Russia: Three revelations in the past week have raised new questions about the Trump team’s relations with Russian leaders and broadened Congress’s inquiries into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia during the 2016 election: Kushner meeting with the head of Russian bank under sanctions; a major Trump donor conferring with a Putin confidant in the Seychelles; and a Trump adviser interacting with a Russian spy four years ago. CNN

Worn out Secret Service: The security needs of the large and mobile First Family are wearing out the Secret Service. Dozens of agents from New York and field offices across the country are being temporarily pulled off criminal investigations to serve two-week stints protecting members of the Trump family. New York Times

Nevada terrorism charges: An MIT theoretical mathematics graduate has been indicted in Las Vegas on terrorism and unlawful acts related to weapons of mass destruction. Las Vegas Review Journal

FBI and cyber: The FBI is considering whether to relax its requirements for recruits in order to attract top-notch cyber talent. Associated Press

ISIS killed 33 people execution-style in eastern Syria on Wednesday, the largest execution operation carried out by the terrorist organization this year. The news of that massacre came alongside reports that ISIS militants killed 22 in Tikrit on Wednesday, opening fire indiscriminately on a crowd before detonating their explosive vests. CNN, Independent

North Korea hacking: North Korean hackers are growing bolder, and are now linked to attacks on banks in 18 countries. CNN
The silence of Rex Tillerson: “Sooner or later, someone needs to explain what Trump’s foreign policy is,” writes Eliot Cohen in The Atlantic. “But the secretary of state does not seem to understand his job.”

What drives insider attacks in Afghanistan: “The conventional wisdom is that the spate of attacks comes in retaliation for all sorts of personal grievances—a perceived insult, a cultural gaffe—that harden in the minds of certain Afghan forces,” writes Javid Ahmad in Foreign Affairs. But in a recent study, I found a different motivation. Insider attacks have increasingly become the preferred war-fighting tactic of the Taliban.”

Eat your spinach: “Not since the days of Ronald Reagan has Russia played such a prominent role in US political life,” writes Tony Wood in London Review of Books. “All this makes it hard to shake the feeling that we are living through a deranged re-run of the Cold War.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Trump's Revisionist Human Rights Policy

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