The Soufan Group Morning Brief

MONDAY, MAY 01, 2017
The National Security Agency said on Friday that it is halting one of the most controversial practices of its warrantless surveillance program, and will no longer collect Americans’ emails and text messages exchanged with people overseas that mention identifying terms for foreigners whom the agency is spying on. “This change ends a practice that allowed Americans’ communications to be collected without a warrant merely for mentioning a foreign target,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said.

The agency reportedly agreed to end the “about the target” surveillance collection in order to win approval from a federal court to continue a major surveillance program known as “Section 702” of FISA. Section 702 sunsets on Dec. 31, 2017, and allows the NSA to gather emails, phone calls, text messages, and other electronic communications from U.S. telecommunications and internet providers that could contain foreign intelligence. New York Times, Washington Post, The Daily Beast

At JustSecurity, Julian Sanchez writes that “civil libertarians should surely welcome this announcement, but a few caveats are in order. First, it is entirely possible that the change is driven in significant part by the broader post-Snowden adoption of STARTTLS encryption of communications between e-mail servers. That is, it is quite plausible that a large and growing percentage of transiting e-mail traffic is simply no longer visible to NSA, and must be accessed “downstream” at the e-mail server itself, rendering this form of collection less worth picking fights with the FISC over.  Second, to the extent the traffic remains visible to NSA, they may simply have decided that it is easier to do the same “about” scans outside the borders of the United States, beyond the purview of either FISA or the FISC.” JustSecurity
Lawfare: Can NSA Drop “About” Collection Without Gutting “To/From” Collection?
Sebastian Gorka, a national security advisor to President Donald Trump and former national security editor at Breitbart, is likely to be moved out of the White House in the coming weeks for a different role, according to senior administration officials. Gorka had reportedly been a member of a White House team called the Strategic Initiatives Group, which worked on issues of national security and strategy. One official said that while it is possible Gorka will take another job in the administration, it is more likely he will leave altogether due to recent controversies. Gorka has been accused of having links to far-right groups in Europe, and critics say his hard-line views on Islam are tantamount to Islamophobia. New York Times, CNN, The Daily Beast, The Hill

Justice names new acting head of division overseeing Russia probe: The Justice Department has named federal prosecutor Dana Boente as the new acting head of its national security division, which is tasked with overseeing an investigation into potential ties between Russia and President Trump’s campaign. Boente, a longtime federal prosecutor, briefly became acting attorney general earlier this year when President Trump fired Sally Yates. In the latest role, he succeeds Mary McCord, who resigned effective May 1. Associated Press, Politico, The Hill.

White House considering David Clarke for DHS post: The White House is considering David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County, for Assistant Secretary at the Office of Partnership and Engagement at the Department of Homeland Security. Politico

Trump invites Philippine leader Duterte to the White House: In a call over the weekend, President Donald Trump invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to the White House. Two senior officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were caught off guard by the invitation, to raise objections internally. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

Mattis a key voice on national security issues: Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has become one of Trump’s most influential advisers and a commanding voice on foreign policy issues, reports the Washington Post, with one key aide remarking that Mattis is a “favorite of the president.” Washington Post

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen will not seek reelection: Republican representative from Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first woman to chair the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, will retire next year rather than seek reelection. Washington Post, Politico, NPR

At least 352 civilians have been killed in U.S.-led strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria since 2014, the Pentagon said in a statement on Sunday. “Although the coalition takes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimizes the risk of civilian casualties, in some incidents casualties are unavoidable,” the military’s Combined Joint Task Force for the operation against ISIS said. The death tally by the U.S. military is often lower than those by outside groups. Reuters, ABC News, The Hill

North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday in defiance of international pressure. The test failed, marking the second consecutive failure in the past two weeks. The missile blew up over land in North Korean territory, said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command.

The test followed warnings by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences.” On Sunday, President Trump said he would not rule out the use of military force against North Korea in an interview on CBS's “Face the Nation.” New York Times, Reuters, CNN
Wall Street Journal: National Security Chief Tells South Korea U.S. Will Pay for Defense System

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened further military action against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Tensions rose over the weekend along the Turkish-Syrian border as both Turkey and the United States moved armored vehicles to the region.

“Unfortunately ... the presence of an American flag along with the [insignia] of a terror organisation called YPG in a convoy has seriously saddened us,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. Washington Post, Al Jazeera
AFP: Erdogan sees “New Page” in Turkey-U.S. Ties Under Trump.
BBC News: ISIS driven back in Syria’s Tabqa, U.S.-backed fighters say.

Al Qaeda leader says group fought alongside U.S.-backed forces: The leader of Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen said that his militants have fought alongside Yemeni government factions that are supported by the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition. Associated Press

Afghan deaths soar to highest on record: Afghanistan’s security forces experienced “shockingly high” casualties in 2016, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a report. The 16-year conflict also continues to displace record numbers of civilians.Washington Post, Bloomberg

Turkey blocks Wikipedia as national security threat: Turkey blocked Wikipedia on Saturday, citing a law that allows it to ban access to websites deemed obscene or a threat to national security. Later in the day, Turkish authorities said they had fired more than 3,900 civil servants and military and security personnel. Washington Post, The Guardian, New York Times

Iran acknowledges discussing detained dual U.S. nationals: Iran has acknowledged discussing detained dual U.S.-Iranian nationals with the U.S., saying there have been “positive results” for prisoner trades in the past. Associated Press

Italy fears ISIS fighters entering Europe: Italian investigators believe that a number of ISIS fighters from Libya have entered Europe by infiltrating a scheme designed to give hospital treatment to wounded Libyan government soldiers. The Guardian

Women arrested in UK on terrorism suspicions: A woman shot during a counter-terrorism operation in north London last week has been arrested after being discharged from the hospital. Three teenage women were also arrested in connection with Thursday’s counter-terrorism raid. BBC News, The Guardian

Russian authorities detain dozens: Russian authorities have detained dozens of protesters at rallies demanding that President Vladimir Putin should not seek re-election next year. Protests in Moscow over the weekend, held under the slogan “We’re sick of him,” were organized by the Open Russia movement founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. BBC News, Reuters

Russia flaunts Arctic expansion: Russia has been showing off its growing military presence in the Arctic over the past two months, even inviting foreign journalists on a rare tour of one of its bases in the region. Russia recently launched a major effort to build up its military presence in the Arctic, constructing a string of new bases and building up its communications infrastructure along its northern coast. ABC News
Protests in Russia’s provinces: “The world took notice last month, when, unexpectedly, large-scale anti-corruption protests organized by opposition leader Alexei Navalny rocked cities across Russia, leading to hundreds of arrests, including of many young people. The protests were widely seen as the first real challenge to the Kremlin in Russia in years,” writes Amie Ferris-Rotman in Foreign Policy. “But it is the ongoing protests in President Vladimir Putin’s traditional heartland — places like Gukovo and elsewhere — which may be the better measure of how deep current discontent runs in Russia.”

Rouhani’s path to a second term: “Whomever the vote comes down to [in Iran], the main issue in this election remains the state of the economy,” writes Kevin Lim in Foreign Affairs. “It is hardly a matter of controversy that the Supreme Leader holds the final word on security and foreign policy. But Iran’s history since the late 1980s suggests that the electorate’s choice of president can significantly influence domestic life and Iran’s relations with the world.”

The North Korea nightmare continues: “What happens if a North Korean missile test goes wrong, and say crashes on South Korean or Japanese territory? What happens if innocent civilians are killed?” asks Harry J. Kazianis in The National Interest. “While sanctions won’t solve the problem entirely, or erase the nuclear knowledge from the minds of North Korea’s scientists, such measures could greatly slow the rate of technological development and raise the costs of such work for Pyongyang.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Iran’s Presidential Election Takes Shape

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