The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 21, 2017
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21, 2017
SAUDI ARABIA REWRITES SUCCESSION PLAN

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman elevated his 31-year-old son on Wednesday to become crown prince, ousting his nephew in a surprise shake-up in the royal succession line that could have deep ramifications for the oil-rich monarchy and the broader Middle East.
 
In a series of royal decrees, the king essentially stripped Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, from his position as second in line to the throne. Nayef had been a powerful figure who as interior minister oversaw the kingdom’s security and counterterrorism operations. He was relieved of all his positions.
 
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the new crown prince, will also become the kingdom’s deputy prime minister while retaining his control of the Defense Ministry and other portfolios. Known by initials MbS, he is seen as the architect of Saudi Arabia’s attempt to overhaul the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy and carve out a more muscular foreign policy in a volatile region. As defense minister, he had primary responsibility for the kingdom’s military intervention in Yemen. He has taken a hard line on Iran, saying in a television interview last month that dialogue with the Shiite power was impossible because it sought to take control of the Islamic world.
 
MbS’s swift rise had led many Saudi watchers to suspect that his father wanted to make him the next king. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times
 
State Department rebukes Saudi Arabia and UAE: The State Department issued an unusual public warning to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday over a diplomatic rift with fellow U.S. ally Qatar, and suggested that the Saudis may have provoked a crisis and drawn in the United States on false pretenses. Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the administration was “mystified” that — two weeks after announcing a diplomatic and economic embargo against Qatar over alleged support for terrorism — Saudi Arabia and the UAE have not publicly detailed their complaints. “The more that time goes by, the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Nauert said. Washington Post
SENATORS WRESTLE WITH UPDATING AUMF ON TERROR GROUPS
In a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, senators from both parties agreed that it was long past time for Congress to enact a new law authorizing the evolving war against Islamist terrorist groups, while also raising questions about the legal basis for the Trump administration’s escalating direct military confrontations with Syrian government forces. But it was clear that vast policy disagreements that have thwarted previous efforts to update the 9/11 AUMF remain. New York Times, Reuters
Related:
The Atlantic: Will Congress Cede Its War-Making Authority to Trump?
 
TRUMP SIGNALS SHIFTING APPROACH TO NORTH KOREA AFTER WARMIER’S DEATH
In the wake of the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier following his 17-month detention in North Korea, President Trump on Tuesday appeared to lose faith in China’s ability to pressure Pyongyang, and his spokesman said the White House is “moving further away” from direct engagement with the Hermit Kingdom. “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out,” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “At least I know China tried!”
 
The statements threw into question the administration’s strategy to contain the North Korea’s growing nuclear threat. The administration is considering banning travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea, among other moves. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are scheduled to meet with Chinese officials in Washington to resume economic and security-related talks that began in April during a trip by the Chinese delegation to Mar-a-lago. Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune
Related:
New York Times: North Korea Accuses U.S. of ‘Mugging’ Its Diplomats in New York
 
Flynn cooperating with the FBI? Earlier this week, two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee posited that foreign national security adviser Michael Flynn was already cooperating with Robert Mueller’s investigation. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse laid out a detailed, if highly speculative, analysis, including the fact that investigators have Flynn with a false felony statement and he is arguably behaving as a cooperating witness might behave. Slate
Related:
New York Times: Despite Concerns about Blackmail, Flynn Heard CIA Secrets
 
Americans’ fears about national security growing: A new Unisys Security Index poll finds that national security is the top security concern for Americans, overtaking financial security. The Hill
 
Accused Chelsea bomber: Lawyers for accused Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahimi urged a federal judge on Tuesday to limit testimony about his alleged terrorist motives and keep the government from calling an expert to testify about Osama bin Laden and ISIS at the New Jersey man’s scheduled October trial. Newsday
 

TALIBAN KILL 8 GUARDS WORKING AT U.S. BASE
Taliban gunmen opened fire on Afghan security guards in the country's northern Parwan province late Monday, killing at least eight guards. The guards were attacked while they were on their way to work at Bagram airfield, the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan. Associated Press
Related:
New York Times: Afghan Government Quietly Aids Breakaway Taliban Faction
 
PENTAGON CONFIRMS DEATH OF ISIS CLERIC IN SYRIA
The Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed that the U.S.-led coalition in Syria killed Turki al-Bin'ali, a top ISIS cleric, in an airstrike last month. The self-proclaimed “Grand Mufti” was killed in an airstrike on May 31 in Mayadeen, Syria. The Hill
 
U.S. SHOOTS DOWN IRANIAN-MADE DRONE OVER SYRIA
U.S. forces in southern Syria have shot down an Iranian-made armed drone in the second such incident in 12 days, in a further sign that Washington and Tehran’s agendas are colliding along the Syrian-Iraqi desert. A U.S. F-15 fighter jet opened fire on the drone in the early afternoon because it was approaching a U.S. outpost near al-Tanf where US advisors were training an anti-ISIS local militia. Guardian
 
ISIS-LINKED MILITANTS STORM NEW VILLAGE IN THE PHILIPPINES
Militants linked with ISIS stormed a village and may have taken hostages in an elementary school in the restive southern Philippines on Wednesday, according to the military. The village is about 50 miles south of where government forces have been waging an urban war against Islamic militants for more than a month. Wall Street Journal, New York Times
 

BOMB DETONATED IN BRUSSELS TRAIN STATION
A man detonated a bomb in the Brussels Central train station on Tuesday, officials said, leading the police and military to evacuate a popular tourist area of the Belgian capital months after coordinated terrorist attacks in the city killed more than 30 people. A platform worker at the station said that before the blast, he heard a man shout “Allahu akbar” and saw him try to enter an office with a rolling suitcase before detonating the device at another location. A spokesman for Belgium’s federal prosecutor later told reporters that the man had been shot by soldiers patrolling the station and that the government considered the botched attack a “terrorist act.” The man shot dead was a Moroccan national who was reportedly known to police. USA Today, New York Times, BBC News
 
CANADA PROPOSES OVERHAUL TO ITS NATIONAL SECURITY LAWS
Canada has introduced extensive security legislation that includes the creation of a "super" national security review body. Following up on campaign promises, the Liberals say its proposed overhaul of national security laws will shed light and oversight on the activities of the country's spy agencies. Critics say that does not go far enough in keeping people safe or protecting the privacy of Canadians. BBC News, CBC News
 
Brazil’s top spy exposes CIA officer: The office of Gen. Sérgio Westphalen Etchegoyen, Brazil’s top intelligence official, casually mentioned the identity of a CIA official in the capital, Brasília, by name and described the official’s position as the CIA “chief” in the capital in a publicly available agenda of the spymaster’s meetings on June 9. The naming of a CIA official in that manner breaks strict protocols intended to protect the identities of intelligence agents. New York Times
TOP OP-EDS
London and the clash of the extremists: “The violence ISIS carries out in the West provides fodder for anti-Muslim attackers,” writes J.M. Berger in The Atlantic, “and violence against Muslims feeds back into the ISIS narrative.”
 
Trump is on a collision course with Iran: “In a confusing landscape, the administration must leave little doubt about its objectives and priorities—otherwise, Iran may well extend its reach in Syria, a successor to ISIS may emerge in time and Qatar will keep playing a double game,” writes Dennis Ross in Politico Magazine. “Sometimes, clarity can have a power all its own.”
 
Trump’s Afghanistan policy is clever and unwise: “Politically, outsourcing the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is clever, even brilliant -- in the short run,” writes Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com. “It insulates Trump from criticism if the move fails, and allows him to take credit if by some chance the troops bring greater stability. In the long run, however, there’s a serious flaw in putting the Pentagon in charge of troop numbers.”
 
Why the U.S. needs foreign law enforcement to succeed against ISIS: “As the U.S. government looks towards annihilating the Islamic State globally, not just in Syria and Iraq, it would do well to consider how it can reinforce the law-enforcement and judicial capabilities of partner countries,” writes Kim Cragin in Lawfare.
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