The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, May 23, 2017
TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2017

A suicide bomber killed at least 22 people and injured dozens of others outside a pop concert in Manchester, England, on Monday night, striking the softest of soft targets -- a crowd full of young people and children pouring from the exits at the end of the show, authorities said. The blast happened in the foyer of the Manchester Arena at 22:35 local time, at the end of a concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande. Greater Manchester Police say the explosion is being “treated as a terrorist incident until we have further information.” Children are said to be among the dead. At least 59 people were wounded in the attack, which appears to be the deadliest episode of terrorism in Britain since coordinated attacks on the London public transit network in 2005.

Police said a lone assailant detonated an improvised explosive device as the crowd streamed past. They were trying to determine whether the attacker, who died in the blast and whose nationality they declined to identify, was working on his own or with assistance.

Prime Minister Theresa May was set to meet with the government’s emergency “Cobra” committee on Tuesday morning, and security was heightened around the U.K. In Manchester, extra police were deployed and armed officers patrolled the city. Campaigning for the parliamentary elections set for June 8 has been suspended.

The investigation remains in its early stages, police said. This morning, Manchester police announced that a 23-year-old man had been arrested in connection with the bomb attack. No additional details were available.

In Israel, President Trump expressed “absolute solidarity” with the people of Britain and condemned terrorists as “evil losers.” Trump said, “Our society can have no tolerance for this continuation of bloodshed.” BBC News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Financial Times, Telegraph

Follow the latest updates: BBC News, Guardian

Los Angeles Times: Manchester Attack Points to Vulnerabilities Even at Venues with High Security, Counterterrorism Experts Say
The Washington Post reported late Monday that President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the NSA, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election. Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate. Trump’s conversation with Rogers was documented contemporaneously in an internal memo written by a senior NSA official, according to the officials that spoke anonymously with the Post. It is unclear if the request to Coats was similarly documented.

Senior intelligence officials saw the March requests as a threat to the independence of U.S. spy agencies, which are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues. “The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation,” a former senior intelligence official said of the request to Coats. Washington Post

Coats and Rogers are expected to testify today before the House Armed Services Committee on separate matters. New York Times

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said Monday he would refuse to cooperate with a congressional subpoena, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination and setting off a legal showdown with Congress in its investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee must now meet to vote and decide whether to hold Flynn in contempt or accept his attempt to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

House Democrat alleges new evidence of Flynn lies: Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, cited a previously undisclosed document on Monday alleging that Flynn had “lied” to Pentagon investigators about his income from companies in Russia and contacts with officials there when he applied for a renewal of his top-secret security clearance last year. The letter said Flynn told security-clearance investigators in March 2016 “that he was paid by ‘U.S. companies’ when he traveled to Moscow” for a gala hosted by Russian state-owned media company RT and told investigators that “he has not received any benefit from a foreign country.” New York Times

Guantanamo TV series: Filmmaker Oliver Stone will direct a scripted TV series about the Guantanamo prison. Weinstein Television announced Monday at the Cannes Film Festival that it has acquired “Guantánamo,” a series that plans to peer into “the darkest corners” of the detention center. Associated Press

After meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday, President Trump said he will “do everything” to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace. Trump has made progress on a landmark Middle East peace deal a key foreign policy goal, indicating after he arrived in Israel on Monday that he sees an agreement with the Palestinians as integral to a new regional alignment.
“On those issues, there is a strong consensus among the nations of the world — including many in the Muslim world,” Trump said Monday. “I was deeply encouraged by my conversations with Muslim world leaders in Saudi Arabia, including King Salman, who I spoke to at great length. King Salman feels very strongly and, I can tell you, would love to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians.”

But after visits to holy sites and a dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Monday night, neither Trump nor Netanyahu publicly cited any concrete steps in pursuing a peace agreement. Trump did not formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as some Israeli officials hoped he would do since he has shelved his promise to move the American Embassy here from Tel Aviv. Nor did he publicly press Israel to curb settlement construction in the West Bank as Palestinians hoped. New York Times, BBC News, Associated Press

There are now hard links connecting a group of North Korean hackers that experts call the Lazarus Group to the ransomware known as WannaCry, according to researchers at the security company Symantec. In a blog post late Monday, Symantec said the WannaCry ransomware carried “strong links” to Lazarus, a group security experts suspect was behind the theft of $81 million last year from the Bangladesh central bank and a 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment. U.S. government officials have said Lazarus works at the behest of Pyongyang. Symantec’s new analysis showed “substantial commonalities” with prior Lazarus attacks and WannaCry’s tools and techniques, as well as network infrastructure used in the attack. That makes it “highly likely that Lazarus was behind the spread of Wannacry,” Symantec said. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

Chinese paper applauds anti-spy efforts: An influential state-run newspaper applauded China’s anti-espionage efforts on Monday after The New York Times said China had killed or imprisoned up to 20 CIA sources, hobbling U.S. spying operations in a massive intelligence breach. China killed at least a dozen people providing information to the CIA between 2010 and 2012, dismantling a network that was years in the making, the New York Times reported on Saturday. Global Times, published by China’s official People's Daily, said in an editorial in its Chinese and English-language editions that, if true, it was a victory for China. Reuters

Pakistan investigates army critics online: Pakistan has begun a crackdown on online criticism of its military, with up to 200 social media accounts under investigation. Reuters, Engadget
What defenders of Trump’s right to fire Comey are missing: “The question isn’t whether a president can directly control the bureau,” writes David Frum in The Atlantic. “it’s whether other institutions, and the public, are going to let him get away with it.”

Trump and ‘radical Islamic terrorism’: “President  Trump used to revel in his frequent and forceful use of the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ in describing extremist groups in the Middle East and South Asia,” said Kristine Phillips in the Washington Post. “Then he went to Saudi Arabia, one of the United States' strongest allies in the Middle East.”

5 reasons Trump should send more troops to Afghanistan: When I was the Supreme Allied Commander at NATO for global operations, I had strategic responsibility for the fighting in Afghanistan and a total NATO force of over 150,000,” writes James Stavridis in Time. “As we downsized our presence considerably around the time I left command in 2013, the number we all agreed as a sustaining force was roughly 20,000. That number remains roughly correct, but the overall force level for several years has not met the 20,000 goal — today we have fewer than 14,000. With an additional 3-5,000 requested by General Mick Nicholson — the current 4-star commander and a superb, experienced hand — we have a reasonable shot at stemming the increasing momentum of the Taliban and achieving a better outcome.”

Saudis trumpet Trump: “The House of Saud played Donald Trump like a fiddle on his historic visit to the kingdom, showering him in ceremony and accolades that pandered to his scandal-wracked administration's need for diversion from its own self-imposed mistakes,” writes Bruce Riedel in Al-Monitor. “For the Saudis, it was also a diversion from their own blunders, especially the expensive and endless quagmire they created in Yemen….The long-term danger for the Saudis is that they are now tied to the fate of a mercurial and unpredictable US president.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Manchester Suicide Attack

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