The Soufan Group Morning Brief

WEDNESDAY, May 03, 2017

In his first public testimony since March, FBI Director James Comey is expected to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Lawmakers have previously questioned Comey's judgment on investigations into both Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and Russian meddling in the presidential election. In March, Comey acknowledged that the FBI had opened an investigation in the summer of 2016 investigation regarding potential Russian meddling in the presidential election and the possible involvement of associates of Donald Trump.  New York Times , USA Today

In related news, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates plans to tell a Senate panel next week that she strongly warned the White House about former national security adviser Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired in February. According to Yates' reported testimony, which would contradict the administration’s account, she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was lying when he denied in public and private that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia in conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Yates, who was fired by the administration in January for refusing to enforce Trump’s travel ban executive order, warned that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to being compromised by Russia. CNN, The Hill
Washington Post: Full Public FBI Reveal is Rare for Trump-Russia Type Probes
NPR: Clinton Blames 2016 Loss On Comey Letter, Russian Interference — And Herself
Fox News: Carter Page, Former Trump Adviser, Says He’s Cooperating with Senate Russian Probe
The National Security Agency collected more than 151 million records about Americans’ phone calls in 2016 through a new system that Congress created to end the agency’s once-secret program that collected domestic calling records in bulk. An annual surveillance review published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the records were collected even though the NSA obtained court orders to use the system on only 42 terrorism suspects in 2016. Under the old system, the NSA collected potentially “billions of records per day,” according to a 2014 study. That program came to light via the 2013 leaks by the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden. Congress enacted the USA Freedom Act two years later to end bulk collection but preserve the program’s analytical abilities. New York Times,

The NSA also agreed to almost 2,000 requests from government officials to reveal the identities of U.S. persons caught up in foreign surveillance. That number is up from 2015, when only 654 were granted. President Trump accused former National Security Advisor Susan Rice last month of improperly unmasking American citizens in an effort to implicate members of his campaign during probes into Russian meddling in the election. Rice denied those allegations. Senator Lindsey Graham said he wants Rice to testify next week before his subcommittee on the issue. The Hill, CNN

The House of Representatives passed legislation by a special majority vote on Tuesday that would support the Trump administration's calls for a tougher approach to the North Korean regime. The sanctions would increase North Korea's financial isolation by targeting countries engaged in arms trade with North Korea, prohibiting goods produced by North Korean forced labor, and sanctioning foreign employers who use forced labor from North Korea and contribute billions of dollars to the regime. The bill would also require the Trump administration to determine within 90 days whether the government of North Korea should be redesignated as a state sponsor of terrorism. The House action follows increasing tension with Pyongyang amid North Korean missile tests and Trump’s call for a more aggressive security posture, as well as a statement by Trump that he would be willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Voice of America, USAToday
Vox: 9 Questions About North Korea You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask
The Hill: Madeleine Albright: Trump Shouldn't Meet With Kim Jong Un

Pace of operations wearing on U.S. special forces: U.S. special forces are increasingly being called upon to help combat a growing variety of threats from state and nonstate actors at a pace that Pentagon officials fear may not be sustainable. "We've been operating at such a high op-tempo for the last decade-plus," Acting Assistant Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Theresa Whelan said. "That has impacted readiness and it's also impacted the development of the force for the future. And as the threats grow, this is only going to get worse," she added. Voice of America

Second guilty plea for man who voiced support for ISIS: Sebastian Gregerson, a Detroit man accused of amassing weapons and expressing support for ISIS, has pleaded guilty to a gun crime in a separate case. The plea comes weeks after Gregerson pleaded guilty to possessing unregistered destructive devices. Gregerson had met with an undercover FBI operative and traded a handgun for grenade parts. Associated Press

In their first publicly announced conversation since the United States launched strikes against Syria last month, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed working together to broker a ceasefire in Syria in a phone call Tuesday. Tensions rose between the United States and Russia following the U.S. attack on the Shayrat air base in Syria in retaliation for a chemical attack.

The White House said in a statement that Trump and Putin discussed the need to “end the violence” in Syria and discussed Trump's proposal to create safe zones. The two leaders also discussed terrorism in the Middle East and the dangers of the North Korean nuclear program, the White House said. The possibility of organizing a personal meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg in July was also on the table. New York Times, Washington Post, CNN
Washington Post: ISIS Attack on Displaced in Syria Kills Nearly 40

ISIS car bomb targets NATO convoy: A suicide bomber rammed a car filled with explosives into an armored NATO convoy in Kabul Wednesday morning, killing eight Afghan civilians and wounding 28 others, including three coalition soldiers. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened next to the U.S. embassy. Washington Post, Reuters, BBC News

Alarm in Washington as Saudi attack on port appears imminent: A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers urged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday in a letter to reconsider his support for a seemingly imminent assault by a Saudi-led coalition on the crucial Yemeni port city of Hodeida. It comes on the heels of another letter signed by  by 55 legislators to President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions insisting that any direct U.S. involvement in Yemen be brought before Congress for authorization. Saudi fighter jets dropped leaflets over Houthi-controlled Hodeida in recent days warning its hundreds of thousands of residents of an impending offensive. Washington Post

Libya rivals meet in Abu Dhabi: Libya's eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar met the head of its UN-backed government, Fayez al-Serraj, in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday for the first time in a 16-month standoff. Serraj and Haftar were reportedly scheduled to meet in Cairo in February, but the meeting did not take place. "It was agreed to open permanent channels of communication and to form two working groups to complete an agreement on the details of the formation of a government and the military arrangements between officers from all regions," a source close to Haftar said. Reuters

Malian soldiers killed in military convoy ambush: At least eight Malian soldiers were killed in an ambush on a military convoy in the country's west-central region on Tuesday. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but rebel groups - some linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb - have stepped up a series of attacks in recent months in a campaign against the Malian government and its international allies. Al Jazeera

Five men were detained and weapons seized in anti-terrorist operations across France on Tuesday as the country prepares for a tense presidential runoff, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. The raids took place in towns near the cities of Rouen and Lille in northern France and in Roanne in the central part of the country. It was not clear whether the arrests were linked in any way to the presidential campaign or Sunday’s runoff election. France is still under a state of emergency after a string of deadly Islamic extremist attacks. The raids come two weeks after an attack on a French policeman on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris that was claimed by ISIS. Washington Post, Deutsche Welle

“Cufflink terrorist” Samata Ullah jailed for eight years: Samata Ullah, from Cardiff, Wales, who used a USB cufflink to store extremist data, has been jailed for eight years. Ullah admitted to being a member of ISIS as well as undergoing terrorist training, preparing terrorist acts, and possessing articles for terrorist purposes. In the court hearing in London, the prosecutors claimed he had advised others not to store incriminating information on computers and recommended using USB sticks to keep it away from “the prying eyes of authorities.” The Guardian, BBC News

Dialogue with Iran impossible, Saudi prince says: Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview with Saudi media Tuesday that there is no space for dialogue with rival Iran due to its Shiite ambitions “to control the Islamic world.” New York Times, Washington Post

Putin, Erdogan to meet: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan are set to meet for the first time since March in Sochi. Tensions have quieted since Turkey shot down a Russian military jet over the Turkish-Syrian border in late 2015, but their relationship has still not fully recovered. Deutsche Welle, Voice of America

North Korea says American was detained for attempted subversion: North Korea said on Wednesday that an American man it had detained in late April, the third U.S. citizen being held by Pyongyang, was intercepted for attempting to commit “hostile acts.” The man, identified last month as Kim Sang Dok, was arrested on April 22 at the Pyongyang airport. Reuters

Malaysia arrests two Turks suspected of threatening national security: Malaysian police have arrested two Turks, including the head of an international school, suspected of activities threatening national security, police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said. The men, school head Turgay Karaman and businessman Ihsan Aslan, were arrested on Tuesday under a section of the penal code related to “terrorist acts.” Reuters
How to stop a lone-wolf terrorist? Australia has a plan: “The countless suites of special legislation enacted around the world have helped foil [terror] plots, and certainly increased convictions, but the threat is still evolving,” writes Waleed Aly in the New York Times. “Terrorism has outgrown the ability of law enforcement, and if the state is going to keep up, it will need to incorporate something akin to a pastoral role. That, to be sure, is a radically countercultural approach — something you could hardly imagine hearing from a politician — but it is born of years of research and bitter experience.In Australia’s case, the plan has the advantage of borrowing from Britain’s experience with its Fixated Threat Assessment Center, which has been running since 2006.”

Trump is right. America needs to talk to bad guys — but carefully: “American values tell us to oppose the undemocratic policies of these leaders and their blood-stained brethren, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But our interests tell us to avoid war and seek agreements where possible,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post.  “The problem is that beyond the ‘why can’t we all get along better?’ bromides, Trump doesn’t offer clear ideas for easing the underlying tensions. Suppose all the bad guys came to the bargaining table and said, okay, let’s deal. Trump is still so low on the learning curve (and his administration so pathetically understaffed) that I’m not sure he would know what to answer.”

The Arab prince standing up to Trump: “At a time when the issue seems to be taking a back seat everywhere, Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein of Jordan, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has excoriated Western politicians for their xenophobia and requested an investigation into allegations of torture in Bahrain — even as the United States announced it is lifting human rights restrictions on arm sales to the kingdom,” writes Kim Ghattas in Foreign Policy. “Zeid, a former UN peacekeeper in the Balkans and Jordanian ambassador to Washington and an expert of international justice who played a central role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, is now regularly taking on the populists and demagogues who increasingly dominate the world stage.”

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For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The U.S. Role as a Combat Buffer in Syria

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