The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 27, 2017
TUESDAY, JUNE 27, 2017

The White House said late Monday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria appeared to be preparing another chemical weapons attack, and warned that he would “pay a heavy price” if one took place. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the Syrian government appeared to be undertaking activities similar to those it made before conducting a chemical-weapons attack in April in Idlib province that killed more than 80 people. The statement offered no supporting evidence or further explanation, and some analysts speculated that the U.S. was attempting to head off such an attack or setting the stage for another missile strike, similar to the one after Syria’s chemical weapons attack in April.

A number of U.S. military and diplomatic officials appeared taken aback by the highly unusual statement. Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements told the Los Angeles Times they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn't appear to be discussed in advance with other national security agencies. Five US defense officials reached by BuzzFeed News said they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from, including one US Central Command official who had “no idea” about its origin.

Other experts noted the unusually public nature of the warning. Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said that he did not recall such a precise, pre-emptive public warning against a foreign government regarding banned weapons “in at least the last 20 years.” More often, such matters are handled in private diplomatic or intelligence communications. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed

On Tuesday, Syria denied the White House allegations that it may be preparing a new chemical attack, insisting again that it has never used such arms. Associated Press
The Supreme Court on Monday permitted a scaled-back version of President Trump’s ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries to take effect, and agreed to hear the case in October, setting up a major test of presidential power. The ban, which is the revised version of an earlier order, seeks to impose a 90-day ban on U.S. entry for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and to suspend temporarily the U.S. program for admitting refugees. The justices said that the ban could be implemented in the months before arguments, but not on anyone who had “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

“The Government’s interest in enforcing [the executive order], and the Executive’s authority to do so, are undoubtedly at their peak when there is no tie between the foreign national and the United States,” the court wrote in the unsigned order. The justices nudged the Trump administration to get on with what it said would be a temporary pause to review vetting procedures. “We fully expect that the relief we grant today will permit the Executive to conclude its internal work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments” within 90 days, the court said.

The decision initially created a good deal of confusion within the government. After the court acted, the Department of Homeland Security initially referred reporters’ questions to the Department of Justice, which referred questions back to DHS.

Trump quickly hailed the court’s decision to hear arguments on the travel ban in October, saying in a formal White House statement, not a tweet — that the justices’ temporary lifting of some of the legal roadblocks to his ban was a “clear victory” for national security. He later tweeted: “Very grateful for the 9-O decision from the U. S. Supreme Court. We must keep America SAFE!” New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg
Associated Press: Judge Suspends All Iraqi Deportations from U.S. for Two Weeks
Economist: The Supreme Court’s Curious Compromise on the Travel Ban
Guardian: Travel Ban Will Kick Off ‘Summer of Litigation,’ Advocates Warn

A federal judge in Denver has ordered that an Uzbek terror suspect who was held without trial for more than five years be released to home detention pending trial. Jamshid Muhtorov could be released as soon as Thursday, following a home inspection. Muhtorov was charged five years ago with providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization called the Islamic Jihad Union. He is reportedly the first defendant to be prosecuted on evidence gathered by a controversial NSA warrantless surveillance program. The judge ruled last week that Muhtorov’s right to a speedy trial had been violated.

During his home detention, Muhtorov must wear an ankle bracelet to monitor his whereabouts. He will not be allowed to keep a job or communicate with witnesses in his case. Denver Post, CNN

Four of the biggest companies in tech are boosting efforts to fight extremism on their platforms.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Microsoft have formed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which was announced on Monday. The group will share technical tools for combating extremist content, such as violent imagery and terrorist propaganda, and commission research to guide future resources. The Verge, CNN

Senator puts arms sales on hold over Qatar feud: Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Monday that he was putting a hold on any future American arms sales to a group of Persian Gulf nations -- including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates -- in a bid to help resolve their diplomatic crisis with Qatar. New York Times

State Dept. trafficking report: Ivanka Trump will join Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday to unveil the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking. Reuters reported this weekend that Tillerson had overruled recommendations from State Department officials and decided to leave Iraq and Myanmar off the child soldiers list. Reuters said the secretary of state also declined a proposal to add Afghanistan to the list. Politico, Reuters

Feds won’t release redacted intel report on Russian election meddling: Court filings show that the Trump administration is refusing to release a redacted version of a key report President Barack Obama received in January on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Politico

Trump’s ISIS news conference: Yesterday marked two weeks since President Donald Trump said he would hold a news conference to detail the latest strategy against ISIS in two weeks. This is the second time the President has missed a deadline he set himself regarding a news conference on the militant group. CNN

DoD program for undocumented soldiers: The Pentagon is considering a plan to cancel enlistment contracts for 1,000 foreign-born recruits without legal immigration status, knowingly exposing them to deportation, according to a Department of Defense memo. Washington Post

Carter Page interviewed by FBI: FBI agents have repeatedly questioned former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page about his contacts with Russians and his interactions with the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the investigation. Over a series of five meetings in March, totaling about 10 hours of questioning, Page repeatedly denied wrongdoing when asked about allegations that he may have acted as a kind of ­go-between for Russia and the Trump campaign. Washington Post, Politico

The Swedish government says Johan Gustafsson, who has been held by al Qaeda in Mali since 2011, has been freed. The 42-year-old was seized by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) along with two other men, one of whom was freed in a dawn raid in 2015. Sweden’s foreign minister said Gustafsson’s release was thanks to “extensive efforts” and cooperation between the Swedish foreign ministry, police and “foreign authorities.” BBC News

The Trump administration is considering taking a harder stance against Pakistan for supporting terrorist groups in Afghanistan. But experts have warned the White House that attempts to strong-arm Islamabad could push it deeper into a growing alliance with China and Russia, and lead to more instability. Guardian

After a visit to the White House Monday by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the White House released a statement saying the two leaders “resolved that India and the US will fight together” against terrorism which they called a “grave challenge to humanity,” pledging to expand the sharing of intelligence and deepen joint counter-terrorism efforts. They also “called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.” BBC News
The world is even less stable than it looks: “I’m normally leery of the pervasive threat inflation that tends to dominate discussions of foreign policy,” writes Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy. “Right now, however, we’re at a moment when I think genuine concern is warranted. This is not to say that we’re on the brink of a major war, let alone a global clash of great powers. But flammable material is accumulating and it is hard to have high confidence in the political leadership in several key countries (including here in the United States).”

Perhaps Gitmo won’t get new detainees after all: “In light of President Trump’s oft-repeated desire to bring new detainees to Guantanamo, Expeditionary Targeting Force’s activities naturally raise the question whether we will soon see an Islamic State detainee brought there,” writes Robert Chesney in Lawfare. “Five months into the new administration, it obviously hasn’t happened yet.  Why not, and what is happening instead?”

How Moscow’s spies keep duping America - over and over again: Former U.S. intelligence agents describe “a consistent pattern: the U.S. engages with Moscow on a tough problem like terrorism, and Russia comes through at first,” writes Kimberly Dozier in The Daily Beast. “After a matter of months, the U.S. finds the cooperation is short-lived or has plenty of strings attached. The moment a disagreement over something like Ukraine or Syria intrudes, everything the Americans have shared with the Russians gets turned into a weapon against them….Such interactions are emblematic of 20 years of U.S. attempts to reach out to Moscow, with the initially Pollyannaish new American administration seeking cooperation, and the Russians using each opportunity to gather intelligence on their enemy to advance their own interests.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The U.S. Warns Syria about Chemical Weapons

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