The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 7, 2017

Teams of gunmen hit two highly symbolic sites in the Iranian capital of Tehran on Wednesday, opening fire with automatic weapons and detonating suicide vests in the parliament and at the revered tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the assault, the likes of which are rare in Iran’s highly secure capital. The state news agency IRNA said at least 12 people have been killed and at least 30 people wounded. A third attack was foiled, Iran's Intelligence Ministry said. By afternoon, parliament was still in lockdown with some of the attackers still battling police. Washington Post, CNN, BBC News
Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told associates in March that President Trump asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe, according to the Washington Post. Coats reportedly said that on March 22, less than a week after he was confirmed, Trump asked him and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to stay in the room after a meeting. Trump then began complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it and suggested Coats intervene. A day or two later, the president followed up with a phone call and asked Coats to issue a public statement denying the existence of any evidence of coordination between his campaign and the Russian government. Coats reportedly viewed both requests as inappropriate.
Coats is scheduled to testify today before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where lawmakers are likely to press him for information about his interactions with the president regarding the FBI investigation. Washington Post
Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign in recent weeks as he told President Trump he needed the freedom to do his job, according to the New York Times. The president turned down the offer, but on Tuesday, the White House declined to say whether Trump still had confidence in his attorney general. Reports this week have suggested that a rift between the two men has grown since the attorney general recused himself from any Russia-related investigations conducted by the Justice Department. Trump has reportedly fumed to allies and advisers ever since, suggesting that Sessions’s decision was needless. This week, the president tweeted repeated criticisms of the way the Justice Department handled the revised travel ban. New York Times
President Trump has become consumed with cable TV news coverage of James Comey’s upcoming testimony, and White House officials tell the Washington Post that Trump, seething over his stalled agenda, “is keen to be a participant rather than just another viewer, including the possibility of taking to Twitter to offer acerbic commentary during the hearing.” “He’s infuriated at a deep-gut, personal level that the elite media has tolerated [the Russia story] and praised Comey,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich said. “He’s not going to let some guy like that smear him without punching him as hard as he can.” Washington Post
All eyes will be on Comey’s highly anticipated testimony on Thursday. Analysts who have studied Comey’s career expect he will tell the tale in a way that draws clear moral lines through what might otherwise be murky legal matters. “James Comey has the quiet confidence and a track record of knowing how to dominate, how to direct the story,” said Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University. “He trusts his conscience, and he’s not afraid to stand up to people who he thinks are wrong,” she said. “It’s where he sees morality intersect with the law.” In this case, she said, his answers could help the public understand that attempts to interfere with the justice system are wrong. “This is a moment in history to say that the attack on the justice system stops here,” she said. Washington Post
New York Times: Comey Told Sessions: Don’t Leave Me Alone with the President
Reality Winner: The New York Times examines the trail of clues that led authorities to 25-year-old Reality Winner, the government contractor accused of leaking a top-secret NSA document to The Intercept. New York Times  
Flynn documents: President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn handed over more than 600 pages of documents to the Senate intelligence committee. The source says the documents are mostly business records, but they also include some personal documents “based on the narrowed requests from the committee.” CNN
Clapper: Watergate ‘pales’ in comparison to Russia scandal: The former director of national intelligence James Clapper told Australia’s National Press club on Wednesday that events in Washington now are more serious than the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, and that it is imperative investigators get to the bottom of the Trump administration’s links with the Putin regime. “I think you compare the two, that Watergate pales, really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now,” he said. Guardian
Top CIA lawyer: The Senate has confirmed Trump’s pick for top CIA lawyer. Courtney Simmons Elwood was a former Supreme Court clerk and lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration. Associated Press

The Pentagon said on Tuesday that “hundreds” of U.S. troops were involved in the military campaign that began this week to recapture the city of Raqqa, which ISIS has used as its de facto capital since 2014. Kurdish-led militants began laying the groundwork for the ­offensive in November, edging through the surrounding province and cutting supply lines into the city. But a showdown for the city itself will prove a major test for the U.S.-led coalition, with the potential for high civilian casualties.

“The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult,” Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the coalition’s commanding general, said in a statement. In northeastern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group dominated by Syrian Kurdish militants, announced that a “great battle” had begun. Department of Defense spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said that the United States will use AH-64 Apache helicopters and Marine Corps artillery to support Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a group of Kurdish and Arab fighters — as they attempt to retake Raqqa.
The Hill, Washington Post

President Trump thrust himself into a bitter Persian Gulf dispute on Tuesday, taking credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate its smaller neighbor, Qatar, and rattling his national security staff by upending a critical American strategic relationship. In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Trump said his call for an end to the financing of radical groups had prompted Saudi Arabia and four other countries to act this week against Qatar, the tiny, energy-rich emirate that is home to two major American command posts. “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” he wrote. “Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”
He added: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Trump’s tweets contrasted sharply with statements by top aides. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, while visiting Australia on Monday, offered to mediate the dispute and said dialogue was essential. The U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, said in a Twitter message Monday that the emirate has taken positive steps to confront terrorist financing, and praised its role in the coalition against ISIS. Key lawmakers appeared stunned at the president’s flippant approach to a growing Middle East crisis and even the Pentagon said it couldn’t explain the president’s comments. The Hill
Financial Times: The $1 Billion Hostage Deal that Enraged Qatar’s Gulf Rivals
The Atlantic: Did Russian Hackers Attack Qatar?
Security authorities had been warned about at least two of the attackers involved in last weekend’s London assault, but weren’t actively monitoring them before the attack, exposing the difficulty national security services have keeping tabs on extremists and communicating with their foreign counterparts.

It was reported Wednesday that British police ran a security check on Youssef Zaghba — a 22-year-old dual Italian-Moroccan citizen identified as the third London attacker — in January when he passed through London’s Stansted Airport, according to two Italian security officials. That check would have revealed that Zaghba had been stopped by Italian police a year earlier at Bologna Airport and investigated for terrorism related charges. In Bologna he told Italian authorities: “
I’m going to be a terrorist.” Italian officials have also said that they notified their British counterparts about concerns they had about Zaghba’s radicalization and travel. Politico, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Telegraph
New York Times: Terrorists Deliver Their Message with Lethal Simplicity
Guardian: May: I’ll Rip Up Human Rights Laws that Impede New Terror Legislation
Lawfare: What to Watch Post-London
Paris attack: An assailant wielding a hammer attacked Paris police guarding Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday, crying “This is for Syria!” before being shot and wounded by officers outside one of France’s most popular tourist sites. Associated Press
The trouble with how liberals talk about terrorism: “In the raw moments after a terrorist attack, people are often looking for recognition of the horror and reassurance that they’ll be kept safe, not to be told that they’re overreacting or to be soothed with unconvincing arguments,” said Uri Friedman in The Atlantic.
Putin’s campaign of personal revenge against the U.S.: “Big events in today’s Russia often aren’t the product of broad strategy, investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov told me recently in Moscow, but rather are ‘tactical moves’ that reflect the personal interests of Vladimir Putin and his all-powerful ‘presidential administration,’” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post.
Congress must reauthorize foreign surveillance: “Congress will hear testimony on Wednesday on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, part of which is set to expire at the end of the year. It will be debating the fate of an authority — the FISA Amendments Act — that has helped thwart terrorist attacks around the world,” writes Thomas Bossert in the New York Times. “Simply put, the use of this authority has helped save lives.”
What Trump can do to fight terrorism: Talk less. “Several counterterrorism experts, including some who worked under President Obama, admitted to me, in private conversations recently, that new approaches to combat extremism are badly needed, and that Trump has a chance to take steps that could prove effective,” writes David Rohde in the New Yorker. “The problem is that, just as in other policy areas, Trump threatens to undermine his own counterterrorism strategy with his bellicose mode of communication.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief.

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