The Soufan Group Morning Brief


TUESDAY, JULY 11, 2017

An Army sergeant has been arrested in Hawaii and charged with seeking to provide support to ISIS. Sgt. Ikaika Erik Kang, an air traffic control operator at U.S. Army Pacific Command, was taken into custody Saturday after having been under surveillance for almost a year. Kang allegedly tried to pass along classified military documents to undercover FBI agents whom he believed would give them to ISIS. He is accused of making combat training videos to be used to train ISIS fighters and contributing to the purchase of a drone that he believed would be used by ISIS.

The Army referred Kang to the FBI in August 2016, reporting that he had begun making threatening remarks and pro-ISIS statements as early as 2011. Paul Delacourt, the FBI special agent in charge of the Hawaii bureau, said Kang gave military documents to people he believed would give them to ISIS, but none of them got to the organization. He told reporters the FBI believes Kang was a lone actor and wasn't affiliated with anyone who poses a threat. Kang's court-appointed defense attorney, Birney Bervar, said it appears his client may suffer from service-related mental health issues of which the government was aware but neglected to treat. He said Kang was “a decorated veteran of two deployments” to Iraq and Afghanistan. NBC News, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, that  he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy. The email to Trump Jr. was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. Goldstone’s message, as described to the New York Times by three people with knowledge of the email, indicated that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It did not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign. New York Times, Reuters

Veselnitskaya told NBC News that she did not have any connection to the Kremlin and insists she met with Trump Jr. to press her client’s interest in the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on Russian officials accused of human rights violations — not to hand over information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that,” Veselnitskaya said. She did not name the person who set the meeting up with Trump Jr. The White House on Monday continued to play down the significance of the encounter. White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the meeting between Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort “very short” with “absolutely no follow up.” NBC News, CNN, Washington Post
ABC News: Web of Misstatements Deepen Trump’s Russia Mess
New York Times: How Trump’s ‘Miss Universe’ in Russia Became Ensnared in a Political Inquiry

President Donald Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan. Erik Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen Feinberg, owner of the military contractor DynCorp International, developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the request of White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner. After Trump gave the Pentagon authority to send more American troops to Afghanistan last month, Feinberg, whose name had previously been floated to conduct a review of the nation’s intelligence agencies, met with the president on Afghanistan, and Prince briefed several White House officials, including General McMaster.

On Saturday, Bannon sought out Defense Secretary James Mattis to try to get a hearing for their ideas. Mattis reportedly listened but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading with the National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster. Aides and associates say that while Mattis believes that the concept of relying on private armies in Afghanistan goes too far, he supported using contractors for limited, specific tasks when he led the Pentagon’s Central Command. New York Times

Al-Qaeda supporter pleads guilty to seeking Ohio judge's murder: An Indian citizen, Yahya Farooq Mohammad, pleaded guilty in a U.S. court on Monday to conspiring to aid an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen and attempting to pay an undercover FBI agent $15,000 to murder a U.S. federal judge, authorities said. Mohammad pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Toledo to one count of conspiracy to provide and conceal material support to terrorists and one count of solicitation to commit a crime of violence, the Department of Justice said. Mohammad is expected to be sentenced to approximately 27 years in prison and then deported under the terms of his plea agreement. Mohammad and three co-defendants were charged in 2015 with conspiring to funnel money to a Yemen-based affiliate of al-Qaeda and cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Reuters

Democratic amendment would block Trump-Putin cyber effort: Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced a measure Monday intended to block a potential cyber working group with Russia that was proposed at President Donald Trump's meeting last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act would bar any Pentagon funds from being used to “share intelligence, information, equipment, personnel or facilities” related to any U.S. cyber agreement with Russia. By Monday, Trump appeared to back away from the possibility of a joint cyber group with Russia amid criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Vice President Mike Pence said Monday it likely won't go anywhere. CNN

Comey associate denies leaked memos contained classified information: A close friend to of former FBI Director James Comey denied on Monday that memos Comey gave him detailing his discussions with President Donald Trump contained any classified information. “No [Comey] memos given to me had any classified markings,” said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan who is currently a professor at Columbia Law School. On Sunday, The Hill reported that more than half the memos Comey wrote as recollections of his conversations with President Trump about the Russia investigation “were determined to contain classified information.” On Monday, Trump sent a tweet accusing Comey of breaking the law by leaking classified information. Richman insisted that the disclosure was limited to a single memo that did not contain classified information. According to Steve Vladeck, there is no criminal prohibition against government employees disclosing internal government information. Instead, the question is whether the unauthorized disclosure of such information violated some specific criminal statute, and a memo "that simply memorializes a private conversation with the President" does not do so. ABC News, CNN

Federal government cancels costly, decade-long search for a new FBI headquarters: The federal government is canceling the search for a new FBI headquarters after more than decade-long effort by the bureau to move out of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. The decision follows years of failed attempts by federal officials to persuade Congress to fully back a plan for a campus in the Washington suburbs paid for by trading the Hoover Building to a real estate developer and putting up nearly $2 billion in taxpayer funds to cover the remaining cost. Officials from the General Services Administration said they plan to announce the cancellation in a phone call with bidders and in meetings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Washington Post

Sporadic clashes continued Tuesday in Mosul, a day after Iraq’s prime minister declared “total victory” over ISIS.  The U.S.-led Coalition that provided air and ground support to Iraqi security forces confirmed they had Mosul “firmly under their control” but noted that areas of Mosul’s Old City still had to be cleared of bombs and possible IS fighters in hiding. Mortar shells launched by ISIS landed near Iraqi positions in the city on Monday and heavy gunfire could be heard on the western edge of the Old City. Washington Post

Speaking on the continued threat posed by ISIS in Iraq, the senior U.S. commander in the country, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, urged Iraqis to unite in order to ensure the militant group’s defeat and urged the government in Baghdad to reach out to the Sunni Arab minority. “If we're to keep... ISIS 2.0 from emerging, the Iraqi government is going to have to do something pretty significantly different.” BBC News
New York Times: Iraq Celebrates Victory Over ISIS in Mosul, but Risks Remain
Associated Press: ISIS Built in Staying Power with Global Jihadis

Agreements to de-escalate the fighting in Syria could simplify the conflict and help stabilize the country, but such accords must be an interim measure and avoid partition, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said Monday as peace talks resumed in Geneva. A ceasefire negotiated by the U.S., Russia, and Jordan in southwest Syria over the weekend is holding so far despite some minor breaches. “There is a higher potential than we are seeing in the past for progress” on ending Syria’s civil war, he added. Reuters

While in Turkey on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S is working with Ankara on a possible ceasefire in the north of Syria as well. “We’re making some progress down in Syria. We are hopeful that we can replicate that with Turkey on some areas in the northern part of Syria,” he said. ABC News
Time: Trump and Putin's Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

A British court ruled on Monday that Britain’s extensive sales of arms to Saudi Arabia are legal, rejecting claims by rights groups that the Saudis have violated international law by using the weapons to kill civilians in Yemen’s civil war. Groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Oxfam denounced the ruling, saying the court had ignored evidence that the Saudis have devastated Yemen’s civilian population with indiscriminate attacks. A Saudi-led coalition has waged a war in Yemen since March 2015 in an effort to defeat Houthi insurgents backed by Iran.

A coalition known as the Campaign Against Arms Trade had asked London’s High Court to block licenses for weapons exports to the Saudis. The group, which said it would appeal Monday’s ruling, argues that the sales violate a provision of Britain’s Export Control Act that says no license can be granted if “there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law.” The decision by the court was praised by Prime Minister Theresa May, who told Parliament that the ruling vindicated the government’s position that it strictly enforces the law on arms exports, the British news media reported. New York Times

U.S. military considers ramping up Libya presence: A new diplomatic and military policy for Libya that could significantly expand U.S. involvement in the country could be finalized by the Trump administration in the next few weeks, according to officials. The policy would aim to further the existing U.S. goal of supporting reconciliation between rival factions in eastern and western areas of Libya. The policy could also lead to the eventual re-opening of the U.S. embassy in the country and the establishment of a new intelligence-sharing effort led by U.S. special forces. This is the first time a more permanent U.S. presence is being considered since the closing of the American embassy in Tripoli in 2014 and the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. CNN

North Korea missile lacks re-entry capability, South Korea says: Despite its long range, the North Korean missile fired on July 4 is not capable of a re-entry technology that would allow a nuclear weapon atop the projectile to hit its target, South Korea’s intelligence service said Tuesday. After the test launch last week, North Korean state media said the ballistic missile was equipped with a stable re-entry system, which allows a warhead to survive the heat-intensive process of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. However, South Korea said Pyongyang is not yet capable of re-entry technology. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley aims to put to a vote within weeks a UN Security Council resolution to impose stronger sanctions on North Korea over its long-range ballistic missile test. CNN, Reuters

Russia “ready to expel 30 U.S. diplomats” in sanctions row: Russia is ready to expel about 30 U.S. diplomats and seize U.S. state property in retaliation for U.S. sanctions, Russian officials say. In December, the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two intelligence compounds in response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Moscow said President Donald Trump presented “no plan to resolve the crisis” at a meeting over the weekend with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg. Russia will carry out the threat if no compromise is reached at meeting in St. Petersburg later this month between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, local sources reported. BBC News
The war after the war: “When the dust settles, Washington will confront a Middle East struggling with familiar demons. It will also face its own familiar dilemma: How deeply should it get involved? Allies will plead for it to leap into the fray,” Robert Malley writes in Foreign Policy. “The Trump administration will be tempted to take sides and take the plunge, but it would be a losing bet. The optimal way to secure U.S. interests in a post-Islamic State world is not to join or intensify conflicts over which it has little ultimate say and that would unleash the very chaos and sectarianism from which the terrorist group was born and on which it thrives.”

Trump’s behavior is the biggest threat to U.S. national security: “Trump’s rhetoric has rejected the concept of global community and expressed a strong belief that the United States should seek better deals rather than stronger institutions and systems. It has become clear that Trump’s actions will match his rhetoric,” Larry Summers writes in the Washington Post. “The elephant in the room, however, is the president’s character and likely behavior in the difficult times that come during any presidential term...Trump has yet to experience a period of economic difficulty or international economic crisis. He has not yet had to make a major military decision in a time of crisis. Yet his behavior has been, to put it mildly, erratic.”

How Donald Trump redefined ‘the West:’ What stands out most in Mr. Trump’s [Warsaw] speech is not its oft-quoted illiberalism but its stark pessimism about the future of the West. He was elected on a promise of restoring American triumphalism, but he appears preoccupied by the fear of defeat. What he promised his listeners was not the West’s “victory” but that the West shall never be broken,” Ivan Krastev writes in the New York Times. “But while Mr. Trump is right that we live in a dangerous world and that citizens should be ready to define their way of life, building a new identity of the West around the idea of a fortress under siege is a risky enterprise.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Failing to Secure U.S. Elections

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