The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, May 30, 2017
TUESDAY, MAY 30, 2017

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this weekend that the U.S. has switched to “annihilation tactics” against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, surrounding fighters instead of moving them from one spot to another. “Our strategy right now is to accelerate the campaign against ISIS. It is a threat to all civilized nations. And the bottom line is we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot,” Mattis said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
“Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa,” Mattis said. “We're not going to allow them to do so. We're going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate."
“Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation,” Mattis said, adding: “We’re not the perfect guys, but we are the good guys. And so we’re doing what we can.” Wall Street Journal, Guardian, CBS News
Wall Street Journal: France’s Special Forces Hunt French Militants Fighting for ISIS
After reports last week that the Russian ambassador to the U.S. told his superiors in Moscow in December that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, had proposed a secret channel for communications and had suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. for those communications, federal and congressional investigators are now examining what Kushner’s motives might have been. Shortly after he proposed the secret channel, Kushner met with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and head of a bank that is under U.S. sanctions. Gorkov has not been known to play diplomatic roles for Putin, raising questions about why he was meeting with Kushner at a crucial moment in the presidential transition. New York Times
New Yorker: How Worried Should Jared Kushner Be?
NBC News: Kushner Met with Russian Banker Who Is Putin Crony, Spy School Grad
U.S. intelligence agencies conducted illegal surveillance on American citizens over a five-year period, a practice that earned them a sharp rebuke from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In a secret ruling dated April 26, the court chastised the NSA’s inspector general and Office of Compliance for Operations for conducting prohibited queries of databases “with much greater frequency than had previously been disclosed to the court.” The judge, Rosemary M. Collyer, described the matter as “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue.” McClatchy
Counterterrorism budget cuts: Bioterrorism experts say they are alarmed at deep cuts in Trump’s proposed budget to biosecurity programs that track and fight deadly pathogens, man-made or natural. New York Times
ISIS trial: A Virginia man is scheduled to go on trial Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, for providing material support to ISIS. Mohamad Khweis, 27, is among a small number of Americans who actually made it to ISIS territory in northern Iraq. He then fled after realizing he had made a mistake. Associated Press

Al Qaeda appears to be signaling the start of a violent new chapter in the group’s history, led by a new bin Laden — one who has vowed to seek revenge for his father’s death, reports the Washington Post. Encouraged by ISIS’s setbacks in Iraq and Syria, al Qaeda is making a play for the allegiance of ISIS’s disaffected followers as well as legions of sympathizers around the world, analysts say. The promotion of Hamza bin Laden, 28, appears to be a key element in a rebranding effort that includes a shift to ISIS-style terrorist attacks against adversaries across the Middle East, Europe and North America. Washington Post
New York Times: A Former FBI Agent on Terrorism Since the Death of Bin Laden
A rapidly growing list of Islamic religious scholars who challenge the Taliban’s ideology have become casualties of the Afghan war, reports the New York Times, with a sustained uptick in assassinations over the past two years. The targeted killings have sown fear among scholars who know that their words at the pulpit could cost them their lives. New York Times
Baghdad bombing at ice cream shop: An ISIS car bomb killed at least 15 people outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad on Monday. Guardian

Britain’s MI5 security service has launched an internal investigation into how it handled intelligence about Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi, who killed 22 people in an attack outside a pop concert last week. Abedi, a 22-year-old Manchester resident of Libyan descent, had previously been flagged by MI5 as a “person of interest.” But Abedi had not been deemed dangerous, so his file was closed and his name was taken off a list of roughly 3,000 people under active investigation. Wall Street Journal, New York Times
German Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Trump last week, saying that Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.” Merkel didn’t mention Trump by name, but said that the days when Europe could completely count on others were “over to a certain extent” and that “I have experienced this in the last few days.”
Speaking at a campaign event in southern Germany, she added “We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.” Washington Post, NBC News, Reuters
Containing ISIS’s online campaigns after Manchester: “There is a fairly simple solution that could severely cripple ISIS’ online recruitment and incitement operations,” writes Michael Smith in Foreign Affairs. “Social media and file-sharing companies could block much of ISIS’ passive and active engagements with would-be terrorists here in the West by allowing only verified account users to access their sites when using VPNs or Tor. Of course, this would elicit a loud outcry among many users—such as activists who depend on VPNs or Tor to shield them from authoritarian governments—but Alphabet, Facebook, and Twitter could easily address this issue by requiring nonverified users who insist upon or need to use a VPN to pay a nominal fee, such as $1.00 per month, through traditional payment methods.”
How and why we should take de-radicalization seriously: “Deradicalization programmes are the cornerstone of counter-terrorism strategies in many countries, yet few have been evaluated for their effectiveness,” said Daniel Koehler in Nature. “Stakeholders must introduce standards to ensure basic elements are in place, such as programme development, staff training, advisory services, and transparency.”
Terrorism is not random: “The Venn-diagram overlap between the world’s Muslims and the world’s terrorists may be small, but it is not trivial, and the confrontation between the Islamic world and the West puts a cold light on areas of concern beyond political violence,” writes Kevin Williamson in National Review. “Even if you set aside the propensity of certain Muslim fanatics to bomb pizza shops and to name public plazas in celebration of fanatics who bomb pizza shops, there’s still a lot of real life as lived in Afghanistan or Egypt that just isn’t going to fly in Chicago. In places such as Minneapolis, we have done a fairly poor job integrating the relatively small number of Muslim immigrants we already have.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Terror Inside the United States

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