The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 1, 2017

A political feud erupted on Wednesday over the House Intelligence Committee’s probe of suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Committee aides charged that Republican Chairman David Nunes subpoenaed the CIA, FBI, and NSA without consulting with Democratic members. Nunes publicly recused himself from leading the probe on Russia’s involvement in the election in April.
The subpoenas asked the agencies to provide details of any requests made by Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor under Obama; former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power; and former CIA Director John Brennan to “unmask” names of Trump campaign advisers inadvertently picked up in top-secret foreign communications intercepts. Reuters
The House Committee also issued subpoenas on Wednesday to Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former National Security Advisor, and Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as part of the Russia investigation. Subpoenas were also issued to Flynn Intel Group LLC and Cohen’s firm, Michael D. Cohen & Associates PC. The subpoenas come a day after Flynn told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he would turn over some personal and business documents subpoenaed by the committee by June 6.
The seven requests were the first subpoenas issued by the House committee in the Russia investigation and demonstrated the divide within the committee among Democrats, who are seeking an aggressive investigation into Trump and his associates, and Republicans, are pushing for a probe into possible instances of unmasking. Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Hill, ABC News
The Hill: White House Will Stop Taking Questions about Trump, Russia Investigation
Reuters: Trump Blasts Russia Probe, Touts Ex-Adviser Page Over FBI, CIA

Former FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify as early as next week before the Senate Intelligence Committee that President Donald Trump asked him to back off an investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The testimony would be Comey’s first public appearance following his dismissal by Trump on May 9. Comey has reportedly spoken privately with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to work out the parameters for his testimony. CNN, Wall Street Journal, Reuters
Bloomberg: Russia Probes Intensify Trump Scrutiny as Comey Testimony Nears
Trump administration moves to return Russian compounds in Maryland and New York: The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland that were seized last year. Russian officials were ejected from the compounds in late December over Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians it would consider returning the properties if Moscow would lift its freeze on the construction of a new U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. The U.S. administration has reportedly reversed that position, and dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate. Before making a final decision, the administration is examining possible restrictions on Russian activities at the compounds. Washington Post
Spicer refuses to say Trump's 'covfefe' tweet was a typo: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to call President Donald Trump’s tweet early on Wednesday about “constant negative press covfefe” a typo. “The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant,” Spicer said Wednesday, refusing to elaborate. Politico, ABC News

The Afghan Taliban denied responsibility for a bomb attack in Kabul on Wednesday that killed at least 90 people and wounded more than 350. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the movement’s fighters had no involvement and that it condemned any attacks that caused civilian casualties. However, the Afghan National Directorate of Security blamed the Haqqani wing of the Taliban for the attack. The militant cell has become integrated in the central leadership of the Taliban.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called the attack “cowardly” and “a crime against humanity.” On Thursday, he issued an order for the execution of eleven Taliban and Haqqani terrorist network prisoners in the wake of the attack. Reuters, BBC News, New York Times, India Today
ABC News: A Look at Deadly Afghan Insurgent Attacks in Recent Years
NPR: After Massive Bombing, Looking At The U.S. Strategy In Afghanistan
The Guardian: Why Deadly Kabul Bombing is Crisis for All of Afghanistan
Russia said Thursday it is systematically bombing any ISIS militants attempting to flee Syria’s Raqqa. The Kremlin said it had carried out two such bombing runs in the last week on several convoys leaving Raqqa. “Islamic State’s losses included more than 80 terrorists, 36 vehicles, eight fuel tankers, and 17 pickup trucks mounted with mortars and machine guns,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said.
A U.S.-led coalition is supporting an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias in their campaign to capture Raqqa. On Wednesday, the United States started arming Syrian Kurds with heavy machine guns, antitank weapons, and other arms. But Russia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that U.S.-supported alliance had halted their offensive, leaving gaps on Raqqa's southern edge. Reuters, New York Times
An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition killed Rayan Meshaal, the founder of the ISIS propaganda media outlet Amaq, in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, his brother said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. ISIS often claims responsibility for attacks worldwide through Amaq channels on social media. “I'm pleased to announce the martyrdom of my older brother Baraa Kadek, known as Rayan an airstrike by the coalition,” the post reportedly said. Reuters
Al-Shabaab kills policemen in bomb blast in Kenya: Four police officers and a civilian were killed on Wednesday and two more police are missing after their truck hit a landmine on a road along Kenya's northern coast, a police report said. Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks. The group has claimed responsibility for similar attacks that killed at least 17 police officers in Kenya in recent weeks. Reuters, International Business Times
Philippine soldiers killed in botched anti-ISIS airstrike: Eleven soldiers were killed and seven others injured in what the Philippines government has described as a “friendly fire incident” in Marawi. Two jets were conducting strikes against members of the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS, when one struck members of the 55th Infantry Battalion. CNN

Salman Abedi, the alleged suicide bomber who killed 22 people at a crowded concert hall in Manchester last week, purchased most of the parts used to construct the explosive device himself and appears to have done so alone, according to UK investigators. Greater Manchester Police Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson said investigators have so far found that Abedi worked mostly alone in the four days before the bombing.
Still, police said they could not rule out the possibility that Abedi may have been part of a wider network. “It is vital that we make sure that he is not part of a wider network, and we cannot rule this out yet. There remain a number of things that concern us about his behavior prior to the attack and those of his associates which we need to get to the bottom of,” Jackson said. Washington Post, Voice of America, ABC News
President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the Russian state has never been involved in hacking. Speaking at a meeting with editors of leading international news agencies, he said that some individual “patriotic” hackers could mount attacks,but he insisted that “we don’t engage in that at the state level.” Putin also said that “no hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America.” His comments come amid intensified U.S. investigations into ties between the Kremlin and President Donald Trump’s associates. Associated Press, Washington Post
France issues warning to ISIS recruits: A French government spokesman said Wednesday that French-born jihadis fighting for ISIS who are targeted for assassination deserve their fate. “I say this to all combatants who join [ISIS] and who go abroad to wage war; Waging war means taking risks, and they need to take on board those risks,” Government Spokesman Christophe Castaner said. His comments come after a report earlier this week by the Wall Street Journal on secret French operations to kill French jihadists. The report said French citizens had been killed by Iraqi artillery and ground troops using intelligence supplied by French special forces during the battle to drive ISIS out of Mosul. Reuters, Wall Street Journal
German police say no evidence of ‘terror plot’ by teen asylum seeker: A Syrian teenager arrested on suspicion of planning a terror attack in Berlin on Tuesday has been released after no incriminating evidence was found. Police said he was arrested after a tip-off that he had sent a message to his family saying farewell and that he was joining the “jihad.” German media reports now suggest that the message was mistranslated. BBC

Could ISIS have been averted? “Was it inevitable that President Barack Obama and his successor, President Donald Trump, would have to deal with the Islamic State threat, or could different choices by U.S. policymakers have plausibly resulted in a far less lethal Islamic State?” Peter Feaver asks in Foreign Policy. “The United States is not to blame for the rise of the Islamic State. Nor is the United States all-powerful, capable of preventing any evil in the world. Far from it. But different U.S. policies might have better positioned it in the fight against the Islamic State.”
Allies can’t rely on America like they used to. And not just because of Trump: “Merkel’s comments have highlighted a deeper question: Can a democracy like the United States still make commitments that are likely to outlast the turnover of its leaders? The answer affects U.S. foreign policy not only during the Trump administration, but after Trump is gone,” Kenneth Schultz writes in the Washington Post. “[T]he factors that international relationship scholars identify as sources of continuity in democratic foreign policy are eroding in the United States. Weaker institutional checks on the president and greater distance between the parties mean that bigger swings in American foreign policy are more likely in the future. This is a disturbing development for allies hoping to make long-term defense plans based on expectations of U.S. support.”
A real national security budget will keep the peace: “Viewed from home, the impulse to abandon most stabilization work abroad can seem understandable, if only because the violent collapse of a South Sudan or Somalia may feel too distant to matter...For many Americans, it seems better to deal only with the most urgent crises, sending our forces to surgically clean things up and return home. But a budget that cripples low-cost stabilization of weak states is foolish,” Karl W. Eikenberry writes in USAToday. “U.S. military interventions usually are more protracted and expensive than initially anticipated; and the results since World War II have often been disappointing. If war is the failure of diplomacy (of which USAID’s development assistance is an important component), then a budget that guts our ability to conduct diplomacy will certainly lead to more wars.”
The two Qatars will test Trump's anti-terror plan: “This tiny country has a long history of playing both sides. On the one hand Qatar hosts one of America’s most important military facilities in the region, the Al-Udeid Air Base. And yet at the same time, its neighbors accuse Qatar of running an influence campaign against the U.S. and its allies,” Eli Lake writes in Bloomberg View. “As Muslim leaders gathered in Saudi Arabia this month to meet with Trump, he put the onus on their countries to drive out the extremists who have too often enjoyed safe haven and financing from the Gulf kingdoms. One of the first tests of this new policy will be whether Qatar shows initiative in rooting out the terror supporters inside its own kingdom.”

The Future of Cybersecurity
Celebrating the Launch of the Fordham Center for Cybersecurity
Thursday, June 1
McNally Amphitheatre
140 West 62nd Street

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Playing Politics with Climate Change

Center on National Security
Fordham University School of Law
150 W. 62nd St. 7th Floor
New York, NY 10023 US
Copyright © 2016 Center on National Security, All rights reserved.