The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 28, 2017

Computer systems from Ukraine to the United States were struck on Tuesday in an international cyberattack that was similar to a recent ransomware assault linked to leaked NSA hacking tools. Hundreds of companies and institutions were affected, including the drug company Merck, the Russian oil-giant Rosneft, and the Ukrainian system that monitors radiation at Chernobyl. Most of the infections on Tuesday were in Ukraine, with Russia the next hardest hit. Researchers were still investigating late on Tuesday the source of the outbreak, which like the WannaCry attacks in May locked digital files and demanded payment for them to be returned.

The new attack used the same NSA hacking tool, Eternal Blue, that was used in the WannaCry episode, as well as two other methods to promote its spread, according to researchers at the computer security company Symantec. The National Security Agency has not acknowledged its tools were used in WannaCry or other attacks. But computer security specialists are demanding that the agency help the rest of the world defend against the weapons it created. Wall Street Journal, Politico, NPR, Washington Post
A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on whether to grant permanent authority for Section 702, a contested surveillance program, grew heated at times on Tuesday, as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asked a panel of intelligence officials whether his communications had ever been swept up when he was talking to a foreign leader abroad. “Am I entitled to know?” he demanded. “Am I entitled to know if my communications were collected?” The officials — from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the National Security Agency, the FBI and the Justice Department — struggled to answer the senators’ questions, in some cases saying they could better reply in a classified session before the same panel on Wednesday. Washington Post

Intelligence officials did cite a number of newly declassified examples of the program’s supposed effectiveness, including the fact that it was used to help Turkey find the suspect in a terrorist attack at an Istanbul nightclub on Dec. 31 that killed 39 people and wounded dozens more. New York Times

A North Carolina man who pleaded guilty last year to plotting to shoot hundreds of people on behalf of ISIS received a life sentence Tuesday in a case that prosecutors say illustrates the dangers of Americans radicalized through social media. Justin Nojan Sullivan, 21, received the sentence in federal court in Asheville; prosecutors said he planned to attack a nightclub or concert and film it for distribution on terrorist sites. Authorities also said Sullivan became radicalized after watching ISIS beheading videos online and that he admitted to having frequent contact online with a prominent ISIS recruiter and propagandist in Syria, the now-dead Junaid Hussain. Sullivan also faces a state murder charge after authorities say he took a rifle from his father's gun cabinet and killed a 74-year-old neighbor with it in December 2014. He took the man's money to use for his terror plot, according to court documents. CBS News, The Hill, Charlotte Observer

Prosecutors appeal terror suspect’s release: Federal prosecutors have filed an emergency appeal hoping to halt the release of Jamshid Muhtorov, an Uzbek terror suspect who has been held for five years pending trial. He was due to be released to home detention this week following a ruling last week by a federal judge, who ruled that Muhtorov’s right to a speedy trial had been violated. Reuters, Denver Post

Reality Winner appears in court: Reality Winner, the young intelligence industry contractor accused of leaking a top-secret report to journalists, made her second appearance in federal court on Tuesday, as a judge set her trial for the fall. Winner, 23, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of “willful retention and transmission of national defense information.” Prosecutors disclosed in recent court papers that authorities have seized other classified information from Winner beyond what she allegedly revealed to the news media about Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election system. The prosecutors haven’t said why the information is classified or whether Winner was authorized to have access to it as part of her job. Atlanta Journal Constitution, NBC News

Manafort registers as foreign agent: President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort registered Tuesday as an agent of a foreign government, acknowledging for the first time that a small part of his lobbying work for Ukraine’s former president was aimed at influencing U.S. policy makers and journalists. Wall Street Journal

SCOTUS to consider dispute over Iranian antiquities in terror case: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up a long running legal battle over a claim by victims of terrorism to Iranian antiquities held in a Chicago museum. NBC News

The U.S. military stepped up preparations on Tuesday for a possible strike against the Syrian regime after Washington said it picked up signs that President Bashar al-Assad was preparing to use chemical weapons again. The White House issued an unusual public statement on Monday night warning Syria that it would ‘pay a heavy price’ for another chemical weapons attack similar to the one in April that killed dozens. U.S. officials said Tuesday they had new intelligence showing the Syrian regime had moved a warplane into a shelter associated with chemical weapons at the Shayrat airfield. That airfield was bombed by the U.S. in April after the U.S. said was used to launch the earlier chemical weapons attack. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

An airstrike in eastern Syria destroyed a house that ISIS militants had turned into a prison, killing dozens of people, Syrian activists said Tuesday, and they blamed the military coalition led by the United States for the attack. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike early Monday had killed at least 42 civilian prisoners, 15 ISIS guards and an unknown number of ISIS members who had been locked up, presumably for running afoul of the group. New York Times

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is making a quiet appeal to Iran’s leaders to release an elderly American citizen detained on what the U.S. claims are trumped up charges of espionage, reports Foreign Policy. Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister and U.N. refugee chief, wrote a highly confidential letter a week ago to the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, to ask for the release on humanitarian grounds of Baquer Namazi, an 81-year-old retired UNICEF official. Foreign Policy

One of the terrorists who carried out the London Bridge and Borough Market attacks earlier this month lied about his age and gave a false name in order to get into the UK. Rachid Redouane, 30, used the alias Rachid Elkhdar and told authorities he was five years younger than he was. The details emerged at the opening of inquests into the deaths of Redouane, Khuram Shazad Butt, 27, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, who killed eight people on the night of June 3. Guardian

China’s new spying law: A new, hastily passed spying law goes into effect in China today. The National Intelligence Law gives authorities sweeping powers to monitor and investigate foreign and domestic individuals and institutions. It allows Chinese intelligence agencies to search premises, seize property, and mobilize individuals or organizations to carry out espionage. It also gives intelligence agencies legal ground to carry out their work both in and outside China. Quartz

Mossad fund to acquire spying tech: Israel’s Mossad is launching an investment fund for start-ups developing “groundbreaking” technologies that could be used by the spy agency. The new fund, called Libertad, is offering grants of up to $570,000 per project for new technologies in fields like robotics and encryption. Associated Press, Reuters
A way out of the Qatar mess: “The dangerous dispute between Qatar and other Arab gulf states, chiefly Saudi Arabia, has gone on for three weeks, diverting attention from fighting the Islamic State and other serious challenges,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “Senator Bob Corker now suggests a way to end the impasse and force some sort of reconciliation: halt arms sales throughout the region.”

Is al Qaeda in decline?: “Al Qaeda’s power and influence have fallen considerably from its peak in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, but several well-respected analysts suggest the group remains strong and may resurge,” writes Daniel Byman in Lawfare. “Yet there is also good reason to be optimistic that Al Qaeda’s decline is for real and might even be permanent.”

American incompetence and weakness are Putin’s greatest assets: “Vladimir Putin has been incredibly fortunate to butt up against the most unworthy of adversaries: Clinton, Obama, and Donald Trump are the gifts that just kept on giving,” writes David French in National Review. “In the long history of foreign-intelligence operations, has greater disruption ever been achieved for less effort? Russia, a much weaker military and economic power, threw the politics of the world’s most powerful nation into bitter chaos merely by hacking into poorly protected e-mail accounts and boosting ‘fake news’ into social-media feeds.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Rising Tensions Between China and the U.S.

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