The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, May 24, 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May elevated Britain’s alert level to its highest rating, “critical,” on Tuesday and deployed hundreds of military troops to work with police guarding key sites, over fears that another terrorist attack was imminent.
The announcement came as police identified the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded scores of others at the Manchester Arena on Monday night. Salman Abedi was a 22-year-old Briton whose parents had emigrated from Libya; he grew up in Manchester not far from the arena. Abedi was known to the security services but was not part of any active investigation or regarded as a high risk. Police confirmed the 22-year-old’s identity after officials in the United States passed it to news reporters, apparently against the wishes of the British police and security services. Guardian, BBC News, Wall Street Journal
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on Tuesday. British police have not commented on the Islamist extremist group’s assertion, and U.S. officials cautioned they hadn’t verified any connection between Islamic State and the attack. New York Times
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Wednesday it was “likely” that Abedi was not acting alone. Abedi reportedly returned to the UK from a trip to Libya in recent days, and may have traveled to Syria. The BBC security correspondent suggested Wednesday that the security services believe he was a “mule” using a device built by someone else. Rudd did not provide details on possible associates, but she told the BBC that security services — which had been aware of Abedi “up to a point” before the bombing — were focusing on his visits to Libya, at least one of which was very recent. A series of arrests since the Monday night attack have included Abedi’s brother, police said. Washington Post, New York Times, Independent, NBC News
Rudd confirmed that Abedi’s name had first been leaked by U.S. officials. Asked by the BBC if she would look again at information sharing with other countries, she said: “Yes, quite frankly. The British police have been very clear that they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity, the element of surprise.” She said that it was “irritating if it gets released from other sources and I have been very clear with our friends that should not happen again.” BBC News
Guardian: U.S. Leak of Manchester Attacker’s Name Strikes New Blow to Intelligence Sharing
Latest updates: Guardian, BBC News
Former CIA Director John Brennan told lawmakers on Tuesday that the CIA alerted the FBI to a troubling pattern of contacts between Russian officials and associates of the Trump campaign last year. In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Brennan said he grew increasingly concerned by a series of suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and Trump’s associates. “I know what the Russians try to do,”Brennan said. “They try to suborn individuals and try to get individuals, including U.S. individuals, to act on their behalf, wittingly or unwittingly.”
His remarks were the fullest public account to date of the origins of the FBI investigation that continues to shadow the Trump administration. Brennan said that when he left his post in January, “I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf.”
But “it should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 presidential election process,” Brennan said. Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Lawfare: Takeaways from Brennan’s Testimony
A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a high-profile challenge to the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance of internet communications as they enter or exit the United States. The ruling, by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, reversed a federal District Court judge’s decision to throw out the case. The district judge had ruled that the plaintiffs — including the Wikimedia Foundation, which publishes the Wikipedia online encyclopedia — lacked standing to sue because they could not prove that their messages had been intercepted, and therefore did not reach the legal merits of the lawsuit. But the three-judge appeals panel ruled unanimously that Wikimedia engages in so many internet communications with people around the world that it was essentially certain some of those messages had been caught up in the NSA’s system.
The ruling is significant because it increases the chances that the Supreme Court may someday scrutinize whether the NSA’s so-called upstream system for internet surveillance complies with Fourth Amendment privacy rights. New York Times, Washington Post
Fox News on Tuesday retracted a story linking the murder of a Democratic National Committee staff member with the email hacks that aided President Trump’s campaign, effectively quashing a conspiracy theory that had taken hold across the right-wing news media. But in a schism between the news operation and one of the network’s top stars, the conservative commentator Sean Hannity remained defiant on Tuesday. “These are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask,” Mr. Hannity said on his radio show, shortly after Fox News announced its mistake. “All you in the liberal media — I am not or I retracted nothing.” New York Times
Washington Post: We’re Seth Rich’s Parents. Stop Politicizing His Murder.
Apple and national security letters: Apple saw a spike in government requests for data relating to national security in the second half of 2016, according to a report released by the technology giant. In the six months ended December 2016, the Cupertino-based firm received 5,999 government requests. This was up from the 2,999 it got in the first half of 2016. CNBC

American Special Operations forces conducted a new ground raid against al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch early on Tuesday, killing seven suspected militants, military officials said. Targeting a cluster of buildings in central Marib province that were thought to be used as a base of operations and to plan attacks abroad, the U.S. forces, led by a team of Navy SEALS, clashed with fighters of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and then called in a gunship for reinforcement. It was also the second known counterterrorism operation involving American air and ground forces in Yemen since Donald Trump was sworn in as president. As many as 14 AQAP militants were killed in a U.S. commando raid on Jan. 29, an operation in which a U.S. Navy SEAL also died. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal
Coalition airstrikes against ISIS: The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS has increased the number of bombs dropped on the militant group in Iraq and Syria by about 50 percent this year. A total of 14,192 rockets, bombs and other munitions were dropped in the first four months of this year, up from 9,442 during the same period in 2016, according to the latest monthly statistics from U.S. Air Forces Central Command. USA Today
ISIS’s ‘minister of war’ reportedly killed: The Syrian army said on Wednesday it had killed Islamic State’s “minister of war,” among other senior figures in the group, in operations east of the northern city of Aleppo. Reuters
Trump administration divided over adding troops in Afghanistan: The Pentagon, which is pushing to reinforce the Afghan army with up to 5,000 more American troops, had expected President Trump to make a decision on a deployment before a NATO summit on Thursday, in order to lay down a marker for the other alliance members. But now the president’s decision has been delayed, administration officials said, after an intense debate erupted in the West Wing over the wisdom of pouring more soldiers into a 16-year-old conflict. New York Times
ISIS and the end of lone-wolf terrorism: “The Islamic State hasn’t unleashed lone-wolf terrorism; instead, its unique manipulation of modern communications technologies portends the end of lone-wolf terrorism,” write Jen Easterly and Joshua Geltzer in Foreign Policy. “Understanding that claim requires understanding how the Islamic State has revolutionized terrorist recruitment, radicalization, and mobilization in our digital age. It also requires understanding why certain individuals are susceptible to this messaging — perhaps precisely because the Islamic State holds out the promise of no longer being alone.”
What Manchester shows us about how the terrorism danger has evolved: “Terrorist groups themselves have changed, altering the nature of the threat they pose,” writes Daniel Byman in Lawfare. “Some of these dangers concern the groups and their ideology, while others emanate from how they recruit, act, and thrive. Similarly, the U.S. and European response to terrorism has evolved, both for better and for worse.”
ISIS has a strategy to create a media frenzy: “ISIS has a media strategy, and unfortunately, it is aimed exactly at generating endless news coverage,” writes Zeynep Tufekci in “And again and again, we are playing into their game, on their terms.”
How terrorists learn: “Those who predicted the decline of jihadism in 2011 missed several things,” writes Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in The Atlantic. “Most important, perhaps, is the sheer innovativeness and adaptability of major jihadist groups. For jihadist organizations, the ability to innovate is a necessity, not a luxury.”

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