The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 29, 2017
The Morning Brief will be off tomorrow and next week, returning Monday, July 10. Have a great 4th of July!


The State Department has issued new guidelines to embassies and consulates around the world on how officials should enforce a limited travel ban against foreign visitors from six predominantly Muslim countries—Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Enforcement of the guidelines will begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday. The rollout of the measures follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday to allow parts of the Trump administration’s revised travel ban to move forward. The court is preparing to hear arguments in October on the scope of presidential power over border security and immigration.

The Supreme Court said the travel ban could not be imposed on anyone who had “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” but the meaning of a bona fide relationship was not clearly defined. According to a diplomatic cable sent to U.S. embassies, existing visas will be respected, but new applicants from the six countries must prove a relationship with a “close family” already in the U.S.

In the cable, the Trump administration defines “close family” as “a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, whether whole or half. This includes step relationships.” This does not include “grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancés and any other ‘extended’ family members.” Travelers with business or professional ties from the countries must also show a relationship that is “formal [and] documented” and not based on an intent to evade the ban. The criteria will apply to all refugees currently awaiting approval for admission to the U.S. ABC News, Bloomberg, CNN, New York Times
Reuters: Revived U.S. Travel Ban Sows Confusion, Anger in Middle East
New York Times: The Supreme Court Partially Allowed Trump’s Travel Ban. Who Is Still Barred?

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and committee member Lindsey Graham are asking the FBI and the Department of Justice to turn over copies of any surveillance requests made as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a letter sent Wednesday, the senators asked top law enforcement officials for any drafts or completed surveillance requests submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval, and any response from the court, which is tasked with reviewing government requests to spy on suspected foreign agents. Their letter cites a report in The Guardian that the FBI applied for warrants last summer to monitor four members of the Trump campaign but that the surveillance court turned down the application. The committee, which has oversight of the Department of Justice, has asked for the materials by July 11th. ABC News, Politico, The Hill
Politico: Midterms Loom Over Mueller’s Russia Probe

Amid a series of escalating attacks using NSA cyber weapons stolen from its arsenal, there is growing concern that United States intelligence agencies have created digital weapons that they cannot keep safe from adversaries or disable once they fall into the wrong hands. Calls increased on Wednesday for the agency to address its role in the latest international cyberattack that took place on Tuesday, which was similar to a recent ransomware assault linked to leaked NSA hacking tools.

In a letter to NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) urged the agency to deploy a “kill switch” to shut down the ransomware – if one exists – and warned that it could open up the floodgates for a series of cyberattacks based on leaked NSA hacking tools. NSA Spokesman Michael Anton said the Trump administration “is committed to responsibly balancing national security interests and public safety and security,” but declined to comment “on the origin of any of the code making up this malware.” New York Times, The Hill
New York Times: Mystery of Motive for a Ransomware Attack: Money, Mayhem or a Message?

Pentagon won’t seek death penalty against Hambali: Pentagon prosecutors do not intend to seek the death penalty at the proposed war crimes trial of Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, who allegedly planned the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali and the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta. Hambali, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2006, was notified last week that prosecutors are preparing to try him before a military commission at the U.S. base in Cuba on a number of terrorism charges. A Pentagon legal official known as the convening authority must still approve the charges before the case can proceed to an arraignment. Chief defense counsel Marine Corps Brig. Gen. John Baker said he was notified that prosecutors do not intend to seek the death penalty even though some of the charges are potentially capital offenses. Miami Herald, Associated Press

Trump team postpones legal complaint against Comey:
President Donald Trump’s personal lawyers are postponing filing complaints with the Department of Justice and Senate Judiciary Committee related to former FBI Director James Comey’s admission that he leaked details of his conversations with the president to reporters. The decision was reportedly made to give Special Counsel Robert Mueller space to continue his investigation into Russian election interference without distraction. The president’s lawyers still intend to file a complaint at some point, a person familiar with the matter said. Bloomberg, The Hill

Trump's legal team approached former Mueller chief of staff to join: President Donald Trump’s lawyers approached Daniel Levin, a former chief of staff to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to join the president’s personal legal team amid the growing probe into his campaign’s potential ties with Russia. Levin has spoken to members of Trump’s defense team on several occasions but has not officially signed on, according to people familiar with the talks. Politico

Trump nominee who wrote Bush-era torture memos is scrutinized: President Trump’s nominee for general counsel of the Transportation Department, Steven G. Bradbury, is coming under fire from Democrats and human rights advocates for his role in providing legal blessing for waterboarding and other torture techniques used by the CIA on terrorism suspects during George W. Bush's administration. Democrats grilled Bradbury about interrogation memos he wrote as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during Bush's second term at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. New York Times

FBI agent charged with lying about Oregon standoff shooting: A member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team involved in a deadly confrontation last year with a prominent anti-government protester in Oregon has been indicted on charges of lying and obstruction. Joseph Astarita was accused of trying to cover up the firing of gunshots in the effort to arrest Robert Finicum, known as LaVoy, who was killed during a standoff in January 2016. When Finicum attempted to flee the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge, he was shot by state troopers after it appeared he tried to reach for a gun. Local investigators determined that the shooting was justified but suspected that one of the FBI agents had tried to cover up whether Finicum had fired any shots. The authorities said the only person who could have fired the shots—based on an analysis of surveillance videos and photographs—was an FBI agent. The indictment is a blow to the FBI elite team’s reputation, which the bureau has described as unparalleled in its law enforcement capabilities. New York Times, Washington Post

Revised U.S. military options for North Korea have been prepared and are ready to be presented to President Donald Trump, according to U.S. military officials. The options, which include a military response, will be presented to Trump if Pyongyang conducts an underground nuclear or ballistic missile test that indicates the regime has made significant progress towards developing a weapon that could attack the U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster also confirmed publicly on Wednesday that military options had been prepared. CNN

On Wednesday, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN Kim In Ryong warned the U.S. that his country will keep building up its nuclear arsenal regardless of sanctions, pressure, or military attack. He told the UN Security Council that North Korea and the U.S.came closer to the brink of nuclear war than ever before when the U.S. military held what he called its largest-ever “aggressive” maneuvers with South Korea in April and May. Washington Post

Congress, meanwhile, plans to take up new legislation to implement a ban on travel to North Korea by U.S. citizens following the death of Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned by North Korea for 17 months. The House foreign affairs committee will mark up a bipartisan bill that would reportedly outlaw most U.S. travel to North Korea for five years. The legislation would ban tourism travel altogether and require U.S. citizens who do visit the country to get a license from the Treasury Department. CNN

Russia is accusing Washington of preparing a “provocation” in Syria that would be blamed on the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Moscow has received information that Syrian rebels have already fabricated video material to accuse Damascus of a chemical attack. On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei said Moscow will respond “in proportion” if the U.S. takes military action to prevent what Washington says could be a chemical attack by Syrian government forces. Associated Press, Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that the Syrian government appeared so far to have heeded a warning from Washington not to carry out a chemical weapons attack. He declined to say whether “potential preparations” by the Assad government to use chemical weapons had ended, but he repeatedly pointed to the fact that no such attack had occurred in the two days following the warning to Damascus. New York Times

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Service Committee called on Wednesday for new measures to counter adversarial Russian actions abroad, including the establishment of new offensive ground-based missile program, a prohibition on the Defense Department using a Russian company’s computer software, and a requirement that the Pentagon report to lawmakers about Russian hybrid warfare. Washington Post

Turkey to retaliate against Kurdish YPG fire from Syria: Turkey will retaliate against any cross-border gunfire from the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Thursday. His comments came after Turkish artillery destroyed YPG targets when the group's fighters opened fire on Turkey-backed forces in northern Syria on Tuesday night. Reuters

Europe seeks U.S. leadership in Afghanistan: European allies will tell U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Thursday they are willing to help step up NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, but only if the U.S. is clear on its strategy. The United States wants to send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Other NATO members may send around 1,200 additional troops. NATO diplomats said they are waiting for clarity from Mattis, who will address NATO defense ministers later on Thursday, partly because many allies depend on U.S. equipment to be able to carry out their training. Reuters

President Trump to attend Paris July 14 celebrations: President Donald Trump will travel to France for Bastille Day military celebrations on July 14, President Emmanuel Macron's office said on Wednesday, in a sign the allies are seeking to bolster ties. “The two leaders will further build on the strong counter-terrorism cooperation and economic partnership between the two countries,” the White House said in a statement. Macron appears to be broadly aligning his foreign policy with U.S. priorities of tackling terrorism while seeking improved ties with Russia. After the U.S., France is the biggest contributor to the coalition fighting ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria. Reuters

McMaster defends Trump’s approach with allies as “tough love:” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster defended President Trump’s strained relations with America’s European allies Wednesday as “tough love” that is making the NATO alliance “stronger.” McMaster dismissed suggestions that Trump should take action to calm allies who are worried about Russian aggression. “The president’s already doing it,” he said, pointing to more than $1 billion that the United States has spent in recent months to bolster NATO forces on the fringes of Europe. Washington Post
Republicans are risking becoming the party of Putin: Increasingly sophisticated Russian influence and cyberoperations threaten Americans’ ability to choose their own leaders. This isn’t hyperbole; in fact, it’s hard to overstate just how serious this issue is,” Evan McMullin writes in the Washington Post. “These dangerous trends impair the nation’s will to protect itself, and they are entirely the result of Republican leadership’s failure to oppose Trump from the beginning. Republican voters had long held a healthy distrust of Putin, but Trump’s persistent affinity for Moscow and other Republican leaders’ silence are changing Republican voters’ minds, now making it politically costly for GOP leaders to defend the nation from this foreign adversary.”

Is It Time to Reassess the U.S.-South Korea Alliance? “The arguments for maintaining a strong South Korean alliance rest on its deterrent effect against North Korea...Yet even if Trump has decided to embrace the South Korean alliance, there are numerous reasons to be worried about the liabilities that come with it,” Michael Auslin writes in The Atlantic. “North Korea, to be clear, poses no existential threat to the United States. This is not the Cold War; Pyongyang is not Moscow. Accepting Mutual Assured Destruction with the Soviets may have seemed the only way to ensure the ultimate survival of the West; that is not the case with North Korea. Putting America’s cities in the bull’s eye of nuclear nations for anything less than a truly existential threat would be foolish.”

A test case for Guantanamo’s new convening authority: “The problem now facing the military commission’s Convening Authority is broader than what to do about the individual case of Hambali,”  Ryan Goodman and Steve Vladeck write in Just Security. “Of course, if the government eventually prevails in its argument that the Guantanamo commissions may constitutionally try offenses (and theories of liability) not recognized by international law, then it may follow that there’s no legal problem with this use of the negligence standard. But it’s hardly obvious that it will prevail, and it’s even less clear why the government would have any incentive to take such a potentially fatal risk in a case with as high a profile as Hambali’s.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Travel Ban 3.0

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