The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 5, 2017
MONDAY, JUNE 5, 2017

Following the third deadly terrorist attack Britain has suffered in less than three months, Prime Minister Theresa May vowed this weekend to review her country’s counterterrorism strategy and create tough new cybersecurity laws to address online radicalization. “Since the emergence of the threat from Islamist-inspired terrorism, our country has made significant progress in disrupting plots and protecting the public. But it is time to say enough is enough,” May said on Sunday. She called on tech companies to do more to counter radicalization on their platforms and vowed to work with international allies to “regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism planning.”  Guardian, Independent, Washington Post, Politico, Associated Press
The attack, which killed seven people in the heart of London and was carried out by three knife-wielding men, interrupted the campaigning for UK national elections for a second time, following the deadly Manchester concert attack two weeks ago. ISIS claimed responsibility for the London attack on Sunday, saying in a brief statement published in its official Amaq news agency that the attack was carried out by a “covert unit,” without elaborating. Wall Street Journal
Questions are now being raised about how much British police and the intelligence services knew about the three men who carried out the assault. Reports have emerged that one of the suspects was reported to police and may have previously been confronted by officers. One former friend of one of the attackers said he called police after the man talked about his views of ISIS-inspired terror attacks and that he used to watch clips of the American hate preacher Ahmad Musa Jibril. Another  neighbour also claimed she had contacted police after the suspect tried to convert her children to Islam and radicalize them. Guardian, Telegraph
The identities of the three attackers have not yet been released. A Western security official told the Wall Street Journal at least one of the attackers was born in Pakistan. It wasn’t clear when the man came to the U.K., or whether he had received British nationality. Over the weekend,  seven women and five men were arrested at two addresses in Barking, in east London. With voting in the UK set for Thursday, campaigning will resume on Monday, with security issues likely to take center stage. Wall Street Journal
“Theresa May’s ‘enough is enough’ speech is an attempt to reshape dramatically Britain’s policy to thwart terror after murderous attacks. Mrs. May gave her most explicit pitch today to policing thoughts rather than acts. This is a bad idea. It rests on a strategy to counter ideology rather than one that counters terrorism. It penalises people for holding unspoken beliefs and promotes a form of thoughtcrime.”
New York Times: “These are trying times for Britain. Two grotesque terror attacks within two weeks. An important and unexpectedly close election Thursday on how to exit Europe. The issues involved — stopping terrorism without sacrificing democratic values, ending a long relationship with the least damage to both sides — would be enough for any nation, much less one as emotionally battered as this one.”
Wall Street Journal: “Saturday’s terror attack in the heart of London, Britain’s third murderous assault in 72 days, poses a difficult choice for free societies: Do more to contain this internal Islamist insurgency now, or risk a political backlash that will result in even more draconian limits on civil liberties.”
Financial Times: “There is no doubting the resilience of London or the courage and effectiveness of the UK police and emergency services. They halted Saturday’s attack within eight minutes. Yet the prime minister has reason to argue that the changing nature of the security threat to the UK calls for a reassessment of counter terrorism policy.”
Washington Post: Trump Responds to London Terror by Stoking Fear and Renewing Feud with Mayor
New York Times: After London Attack, Trump Again the Center of Partisan Media Attack
Guardian: Facebook Struggles with ‘Mission Impossible’ to Stop Online Extremism
Congressional officials said on Friday that the Trump administration had begun returning to Congress copies of a 6,700-page Senate report from 2014 about the CIA enhanced interrogation program. The move raises the possibility that most of the copies of the report, five years in the making, could be locked in Senate vaults indefinitely or even destroyed — and increases the risk that future government officials, unable to read the report, will never learn its lessons.
By late Friday, most of the copies known to have been distributed had been returned to the Senate Intelligence Committee, including by the CIA and its inspector general’s office, the director of national intelligence, and the State Department. At least one remains sealed in federal court, while the Justice Department and the Defense Department each retain a copy.
The Trump administration’s decision honors the request of the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, who has portrayed the report as shoddy and excessively critical of the CIA and the administration of President George W. Bush. New York Times, Washington Post
Trump tweets about ‘travel ban’: After trumpeting the importance of his travel ban this weekend in the wake of the London terror attack, President Trump tweeted early Monday that “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C. [Supreme Court].” Just prior to that, he tweeted, “People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” Twitter
New York Times: The Supreme Court’s Options in the Travel Ban Case
Trump national security team blindsided by NATO speech: President Trump reportedly dropped language affirming his support for NATO’s Article V mutual defense pledge from his speech in Europe last week without consulting or even informing his national security team in advance of the change. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had worked in the weeks leading up to the trip to make sure the provision was included in the speech, and thought it was up until Trump began speaking. Politico
Gender transition assistance at Guantanamo? A newly posted Navy doctor who is the senior medical officer at Guantanamo said this weekend that the prison might offer a captive gender transition assistance if asked. “Anything that a detainee requests from a medical standpoint, we will consider,” said the North Carolina-licensed family medicine physician, who goes by Cmdr. SMO 2. “You know, we haven’t gotten there. But it is 2017.” Miami Herald
Shadow National Security Council disbands: Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner’s newly-formed White House Strategic Initiatives Group is no more, senior administration officials tell The Daily Beast, thanks in part to infighting between the co-founders. Critics inside and outside the White House had worried that the SIG—which reported to White House Chief Strategist Bannon, Trump son-in-law and key adviser Kushner, as well as White House chief of staff Reince Priebus—would compete with the National Security Council. Daily Beast

Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed diplomatic and some commercial links with Qatar Monday, a dramatic move that exposed divides among U.S. allies in the Middle East over policy toward Iran and the role of political Islam in the region. The countries accused the tiny Gulf state of backing terrorism and meddling in their affairs. The step marked a sharp escalation of a rift between the countries that surfaced late last month, when Qatar’s state-controlled news agency carried pro-Iranian comments that it later said were the result of a hack.
The stakes of the standoff are high for the Trump administration. Qatar hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, and American aircraft and personnel engaged in the fight against ISIS are stationed there, while Bahrain hosts the Fifth Fleet, one of its largest naval fleets. Saudi Arabia’s move, in lockstep with its closest Arab partners, follows President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh last month, during which he announced arms sales worth almost $110 billion and pledged close cooperation with the country on counterterrorism. Wall Street Journal, BBC News, New York Times, Reuters
ISIS loses key Iraqi town: ISIS has surrendered the key town of Baaj in northwest Iraq, a known hideout of the terrorist group’s leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The town had been under Islamist militants’ control throughout 14 years of war and insurgency. Guardian, Wall Street Journal
Yemen cholera outbreak: Cholera cases in Yemen could quadruple in the next month to 300,000, the regional director of Unicef said Friday, calling the spread of the disease in the war-ravaged country “incredibly dire.” New York Times
Civilian deaths in ISIS fight: The Pentagon acknowledged in a statement Friday that it had killed more than 100 previously unaccounted for civilians in the nearly-three-year-old air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, bringing the admitted total deaths caused by the coalition to 484. Washington Post

The bomber who killed 22 people at a pop concert in Manchester, England, last month had met in Libya with members of an ISIS unit linked to the November 2015 Paris terrorist attack, according to current and retired intelligence officials. The content of the communications between the attacker, Salman Abedi, and the terrorist cell remains unknown. But the possibility that he was directed or enabled by ISIS operatives in Libya, as opposed to Syria, suggests that even as the group’s Middle East base is shrinking, at least one of its remote franchises is developing ways to continue attacks within Europe. New York Times

In an interview with Megyn Kelly, who launched an NBC show this weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin testily rejected the idea that his government had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election — or that he is holding compromising evidence against President Trump. “They have been misled,” Putin responded when Kelly said that American intelligence agencies had concluded that Russia interfered in the campaign with the goal of electing Trump. Putin called Kelly’s questions about the meddling a “load of nonsense,” adding that “Your lives must be so boring,” if Americans are reduced to making up stories about Russia. NBC News, Washington Post
On the other side of terror’s boom: “Combined with President Trump’s tweets blaming some vague but somehow effective notion of political correctness as the reason terrorists can’t be stopped, he and Theresa May both reverted to an exclusive focus on what is called in the crisis management lexicon ‘‘left of boom,’” writes Juliette Kayyem in the New York Times. “The measure of success, in other words, is simply whether or not an attack happened. It’s a simple metric, and surely one that terror organizations want us to adopt. It is a calculation weighted in their favor. Any attack, no matter how successful, is a victory for them and a defeat for us.”
Is Trump fighting terrorism? “It isn’t serious counterterrorism—that is, policy that will diminish the terrorist threat—that he is producing,” writes Daniel Benjamin in Politico. “Instead, Trump’s steps so far seem to be designed to exacerbate the danger and lengthen the life expectancy of jihadism.”
How ISIS got a foothold in the Philippines: “Soon after Duterte became president last year, he set out to destroy Abu Sayyaf in response to a series of beheadings of kidnapping victims,” writes Sidney Jones in New York Times. “In fact, the kidnappers had no links to the Hapilon faction. Partly because of the government’s failure to appreciate this fact, it also failed to see that by then the Islamic State-friendly coalition already extended beyond Abu Sayyaf and that its leaders were driven by ideology rather than profit.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief.

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