The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 2, 2017
FRIDAY, JUNE 2, 2017

Russia President Vladimir Putin shifted away from previous blanket denials and suggested on Thursday that “patriotically minded” private Russian hackers could have been involved in cyberattacks last year that meddled in the U.S. presidential election.
While he continued to deny that the Kremlin had any role in the meddling, Putin said that hackers “are like artists” who choose their targets depending how they feel “when they wake up in the morning.” Any such attacks, he added, could not alter the result of elections in Europe, America or elsewhere. He also lamented what he described as “Russo-phobic hysteria” in the U.S. that makes it “somewhat inconvenient to work with one another or even to talk,” adding that “someday this will have to stop.”
Analysts said Putin seemed to be setting up a pre-emptive defense and leaving himself room for verbal maneuvering amid multiple investigations in the U.S. into Russian meddling, including one by the FBI. CNN, Washington Post, New York Times
Yahoo News reports that in the early weeks of the Trump administration, former Obama administration officials and State Department staffers “fought an intense, behind-the-scenes battle to head off efforts by incoming officials to normalize relations with Russia. Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.”
Dan Fried, a veteran State Department official who served as chief U.S. coordinator for sanctions policy until February, said in the first few weeks of the Trump administration that he received several “panicky” calls from U.S. government officials who told him they had been directed to develop a sanctions-lifting package and imploring him, “Please, my God, can’t you stop this?” Yahoo News
Washington Post: Explanations for Kushner’s Meeting with Head of Kremlin-Linked Bank Don’t Add Up
A chorus of world leaders criticized President Donald Trump’s decision on Thursday to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate change accord. The announcement drew swift and sharp condemnation from foreign leaders in Germany, France, Japan, and others, as well as top environmentalists and corporate titans, who decried the exit as an irresponsible abdication of American leadership in the face of irrefutable scientific evidence.
Analysts said the decision also creates a global leadership vacuum that presents ripe opportunities to allies and adversaries alike to reorder the world’s power structure. The decision is perhaps the greatest strategic gift to the Chinese, who are eager to fill the void that Washington is leaving around the world on everything from setting the rules of trade and environmental standards to financing the infrastructure projects that give Beijing vast influence. Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal  
Washington Post: Inside Trump’s Climate Decision: After Fiery Debate, He ‘Stayed Where He’s Always Been’
Michael D’Andrea, who is known inside the CIA by nicknames like “Dark Prince” and “Ayatollah Mike” for overseeing the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the U.S. drone strike campaign that killed thousands of Islamist militants and hundreds of civilians, has been given the job of running the CIA’s Iran operations, reports the New York Times. The appointment is the first major sign that the Trump administration is invoking the hard line the president took against Iran during his campaign. D’Andrea remains undercover. The New York Times named him because his identity was previously published in news reports, and because he is leading an important new administration initiative against Iran. New York Times
U.S. intelligence officials say Moscow’s espionage ground game is growing stronger and more brazen than ever, sparking concern across the American intelligence community, reports Politico. Officials are scrambling to figure out how to contain a sophisticated intelligence network that’s festered and strengthened at home after years’ worth of inattention. In one example cited by Politico, intelligence officials say that Russian diplomats, widely assumed to be intelligence operatives, were going missing last year, eventually turn up in odd places, often in middle-of-nowhere USA. Several seemed to be mapping U.S. telecommunications infrastructure. Politico
Retired military officials urge Supreme Court to hear Guantanamo case: A dozen retired admirals and generals, including the Marine who opened the Guantánamo prison, are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the Saudi accused of orchestrating the USS Cole bombing who argues the military commissions that seek his execution are illegitimate. Miami Herald
Night court at Guantanamo?: In a first, military judges have double-booked the Guantanamo base’s lone maximum-security courtroom on 39 separate days next year, begging the question: Is the crude war court compound capable of holding night court? Miami Herald
McMaster’s former colleagues say he should retire: A growing cadre of former military officers who served with Trump National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster are quietly calling for him to retire from service, worried the embattled Trump administration is tarnishing the U.S. military’s reputation. Daily Beast
Travel ban to SCOTUS: The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to allow the president’s revised travel ban that blocks entry from six Muslim-majority countries to go into effect. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals last month affirmed a lower court’s decision to block the ban, ruling that the executive order “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.” CNN
Democrats accuse Nunes of violating recusal: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee accused Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) of violating the terms of his recusal from the Russia investigation this week, by issuing three subpoenas without consulting other members of the committee. The subpoenas concern alleged “unmasking” by Obama officials and a committee aide suggested this week that they were “unrelated” to the Russian probe. The aide also said that Nunes had never formally recused himself, only temporarily stepped aside. Politico, CNN  

Thousands of angry Afghans protested on Friday over the lack of security in Kabul, as government troops opened fire with bullets and tear gas and chased them through the streets with armored cars and water cannons. Protesters demonstrated near the site of Wednesday’s massive bombing that killed scores of people in the heart of the capital’s supposedly secure diplomatic quarter. Enraged over the massive loss of life, people called for the execution of President Ashfraf Ghani, even burning him in effigy. Washington Post
Foreign Policy: Afghanistan Blames Pakistan for Planning Deadly Kabul Attack

Philippine police say 36 people suffocated to death from smoke inhalation inside a Manila casino early Friday, after a gunman burst into the building, set fire to gambling tables, and stuffed a bag with casino chips -- all in an apparent robbery. The gunman was later found dead in an apparent suicide in a hotel room at the resort complex.
The incident, just after midnight local time, sparked concerns that a terrorist attack was under way. As President Trump was beginning his Rose Garden remarks on withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord, he referred to the incident as a “terrorist attack.” Trump said the U.S. was closely monitoring the situation, adding “it’s really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected.” New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Daily Beast
China’s new cybersecurity law: A new cybersecurity law that Beijing says is designed to prevent cyberattacks and terrorism went into effect in China this week, but foreign companies say they know very little about how the law might work in practice. New York Times, Lawfare
Would impeachment cover Trump’s impairment of national security? “It is up to Congress to decide whether Trump has evidenced a pattern of behavior that can be identified as favoring Russian interests over our own,” writes Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post. “If it determines this is what is/has been occurring, impeachment would be an altogether appropriate response.”
What does Russia think of all this? ‘Washington has gone crazy’: “When Russian officials and analysts here talk about the U.S. investigation of their alleged hacking of the 2016 campaign, two themes predominate: They’re flattered that their country is seen as such a powerful threat, and they’re amazed that the United States is so preoccupied with the scandal,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post.
We need to think harder about terrorism and gender. ISIS is. “Was the Manchester attack explicitly an attack on girls and women — on female culture?” ask Heather Hulburt and Jacqueline O’Neill in “Too often, the topic of gender, as it relates to terrorism, is treated as superfluous — a nice-to-have extra. But our adversaries are exploiting gender dynamics in very sophisticated ways, and counterterrorism needs to catch up.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief: A Deadly and Confusing Attack in Manila

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