The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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FRIDAY, APRIL 7, 2017
DOZENS OF U.S. CRUISE MISSILES HIT SYRIAN AIR BASE

The U.S. military launched nearly 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles against a Syrian air base, the first time a U.S. military operation deliberately targeted the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. President Trump said Thursday night at Mar-a-lago, where he is meeting with the Chinese premier, that the United States had carried out a missile strike in Syria in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack this week. That chemical attack killed more than 80 civilians.

“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” Mr. Trump said at his estate in Florida. “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

British, French and German officials all came out with swift statements of support for the air strikes, noting that President Bashar al-Assad’s government was to blame for the escalation. But Russia and Iran loudly denounced the move. Russia also suspended a key U.S.-Russian agreement on coordinating air operations over Syria in response to the strikes. “The Russian President considers the American strikes on Syria aggression against a sovereign government in violation of the norms of international rights and under a contrived pretext,” the Kremlin said.

Syrian officials also denounced the strikes, calling them a “blatant aggression” that killed six people, wounded several others and caused “significant material damage.” Los Angeles Times, NBC News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Related:
Lawfare: What Was the Legal Basis for the U.S. Strikes Against Syria?
Wall Street Journal: U.S. Allies Back Airstrikes Against Syria
New York Times: Transcript and Video of Trump’s Remarks
SENATE EXPECTED TO CONFIRM GORSUCH FOR SUPREME COURT
The Senate is set to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on Friday, restoring the court to its full 9 members. If confirmed, Gorsuch would likely join the other justices on April 17 for their final seating of the 2016-17 session. Senate Republicans successfully killed the 60-vote threshold for the filibuster to proceed with Supreme Court nominees on Thursday after a standoff with Democrats. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

NUNES RECUSES HIMSELF FROM HOUSE PANEL’S RUSSIA PROBE
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has stepped aside temporarily from the committee’s probe into Russian interference in the presidential election, as House investigators look into ethics charges against him over whether he improperly disclosed classified information. Washington Post, NBC News

TRUMP KICKS OFF TWO-DAY SUMMIT WITH CHINA’S XI IN FLORIDA
Chinese President Xi Jinping urged cooperation with the United States on trade and investment on Thursday, inviting President Donald Trump to visit China in a cordial start to their first meeting during a two-day summit at Trump’s Mar-a-lago estate in Florida. The leaders shared a dinner Thursday night with top Trump aides. North Korea and trade are expected to be at the top of the agenda for Friday’s meetings. Washington Post, Reuters, Guardian
Related:
New Yorker: Can Trump Match Xi Jinping’s Game?

REPORT: CIA KNEW ABOUT RUSSIAN EFFORT TO HELP TRUMP LAST SUMMER
The CIA told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump’s victory months later. Then CIA Director John Brennan grew so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress. But top counterparts at the FBI continued to believe through last fall that Russia’s cyberattacks were aimed primarily at disrupting America’s political system, and not at getting Trump elected. New York Times

TWITTER SUES TO KEEP IDENTITY OF TRUMP CRITIC A SECRET
Twitter filed suit against the government on Thursday in an effort block an order from the Department of Homeland Security that demands the company reveal the user of an account who has been critical of the Trump administration's immigration policies. Tweets from the account -- @ALT_uscis -- indicate that it is run by someone who is an employee of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services division of Homeland Security. Washington Post


AMERICAN EDITOR OF ISIS MAGAZINE IS DEAD
ISIS revealed this week that the Boston-raised computer scientist who left for Syria and edited ISIS’s English-language propaganda magazines is dead. Ahmad Abousamra, a 35-year-old dual U.S. and Syrian citizen, was killed in Syria earlier this year, according to an ISIS eulogy in the magazine he helped create this week. Daily Beast, CNN, Reuters


RUSSIAN AUTHORITIES DISARM BOMB IN ST. PETERSBURG AND ARREST 8
Russian security services disarmed an explosive device and detained eight people on Thursday, an operation they said was connected to the St. Petersburg metro blast that killed 14 people on Monday. Russian authorities said the explosive device, found in an apartment in St. Petersburg, was identical to the one the suspected suicide bomber, Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, planted at the Vosstaniya Square station before he blew himself up near another station. The bomb at the Vosstaniya Square station was disarmed by a security officer before it could detonate. It remains unclear whether Dzhalilov acted alone or in concert with others. New York Times, BBC News
TOP OP-EDS
The fight against ISIS after the Syrian air strikes: “The U.S. hand in negotiations over the fate of Bashar al-Assad is now strengthened” after striking a Syrian air base, writes Andrew Exum in The Atlantic. But “the fight against ISIS just got harder.”

Steve Bannon is losing to the globalists: “The real import of Bannon’s departure from the N.S.C. goes beyond personalities and palace intrigue,” writes John Cassidy in the New Yorker. “It confirms a trend we’ve seen developing for weeks now: the Trump Administration’s globalists, such as Kushner and Cohn, are growing in influence, while the nationalists—led by Bannon—are on the defensive.”

Two very different views of terrorism and what to do about them: “Does the public want fewer government initiatives aimed at fighting terrorism, or more?” asked Daniel Gerstein in The National Interest. “The answer could lie in individual perceptions of risk and how much inconvenience people are willing to accept in the name of public safety. The type of attack involved could also play a role in influencing public reaction.”
 
EDITOR'S PICK
New York Times Magazine: The Professor and the Jihadi

SOUFAN GROUP
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