The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Washington Post reported Monday evening that President Trump personally dictated a statement in which Donald Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016. The statement, issued to the New York Times and prepared aboard Air Force One while Trump was flying home from the G-20 summit in Germany on July 8, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.” The claims were later shown to be misleading.

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy. As special counsel Robert Mueller looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup. Washington Post
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd will pile pressure on U.S. tech companies to remove more online terrorist content during a meeting in Silicon Valley on Tuesday. Rudd is travelling to the U.S. to take part in the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which was set up by tech giants including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google. She will call on the companies to take collective action to tackle online extremism. CNET, Independent
Washington Post: Sheryl Sandberg: WhatsApp Encryption Actually Helps Governments Combat Terrorism

Amazon under investigation for selling goods to Iranian embassy: is under federal investigation for possibly violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, the online giant said last week in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company says it sold and delivered about $34,000 worth of products — including books, software, consumer electronics, musical instruments and jewelry — to an Iranian embassy, as well as to others with links to the Iranian government, between January 2012 and June 2017. Washington Post

Guantanamo cuts its video feed: In a war court first, the Pentagon on Monday did not transmit a video feed of pretrial proceedings in the USS Cole case to the United States. Lead case prosecutor Mark Miller told the judge that the official overseeing military commissions pulled the plug on Monday’s secure transmission to U.S. viewing sites for the press and public at a savings of “some $60,000.” Miami Herald

Stolen emails from the Hotmail account of the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, appear to show that the UAE sought to be the location for the Taliban embassy in 2011. In their long-running rivalry, the United Arab Emirates has often accused its neighbor Qatar of abetting Islamist militants, citing as one prime example the 2013 opening of a Taliban embassy in the Qatari capital, Doha. New York Times

Building ties with D.C. think tank: The hacked Otaiba emails also show the UAE building close ties with the Center for New American Security, an influential national security think tank founded in 2007 by alumni from the Clinton administration. One email contains an invoice, dated July 12, 2016, billing the UAE embassy $250,000 for a paper on the legal regime governing the export of military-grade drones. It was signed by Michele Flournoy, a senior Pentagon official under President Barack Obama; Hillary Clinton was widely expected to name Flournoy as her secretary of defense. The Intercept

The men arrested for allegedly plotting to take down a commercial airliner with a bomb and possible toxic poison were talking to foreign fighters in Syria in communications that were picked up by allied intelligence agencies, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. British and U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly fed the information to Australia, triggering police to bring forward a planned operation by launching dramatic raids in the Sydney suburbs and arresting four men -- two fathers and their adult sons -- this past weekend.

The men, named in media reports as father and son Khaled and Mahmoud Khayat, and Khaled and Abdul Merhi, also had personal links to ISIS. Khaled Khayat’s brother is believed to be a senior Isis figure, while the other two men are related to Ahmed Merhi, an Australian known to have traveled to Syria in 2014 to fight for ISIS. Sydney Morning Herald, ABC

‘Pipe bomber’ allowed on UK flight: A man who tried to smuggle a pipe bomb onto a flight from Manchester to Italy was able to board another plane two days later, a UK court heard this week.
Nadeem Muhammad, 43, was searched as he attempted to board a flight to Bergamo on 30 January. Security officers found the device, made from batteries, tape, a marker pen and pins, in the zip lining of a small green suitcase he was carrying. A trial in Manchester on Monday was told that Muhammad had intended to detonate the device on the Ryanair flight. Airport security swabbed the confiscated device but found no trace of explosives, so concluded it was not dangerous. Muhammad was questioned by police and said the device could have been put into his bag by somebody else, possibly his wife. He missed his flight, but was not arrested, and was able to board another flight to Italy a few days later on 5 February. Guardian

Tony Blair prosecution blocked: A bid to prosecute former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair over the Iraq War was blocked this week by Britain’s High Court. BBC News

Iraq’s Sadr visits Saudi Arabia: Iraq’s influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials. Al Jazeera
My party is in denial about Donald Trump: “If this was our Faustian bargain, then it was not worth it,” writes Republican Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) in Politico Magazine. “If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?”

How the Trump administration broke the State Department: “Veterans of the U.S. diplomatic corps say the expanding front office is part of an unprecedented assault on the State Department: A hostile White House is slashing its budget, the rank and file are cut off from a detached leader, and morale has plunged to historic lows,” write Robbie Gramer, Dan De Luce, and Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy. “They say President Donald Trump and his administration dismiss, undermine, or don’t bother to understand the work they perform and that the legacy of decades of American diplomacy is at risk.”

If Putin wanted to step up his fight with the U.S., you’d know it: “Despite demands this weekend that the U.S. drastically cut its diplomatic staff in Russia, Vladimir Putin is not really behaving like a man who has entirely given up on a relationship with America,” writes Dmitri Trenin in Foreign Policy. “His moves this past weekend were deliberate, rather than spontaneous, acts of anger. Putin has made a point of targeting the U.S. government, rather than American business interests in Russia.”

Trump was right to cancel the arms-for-rebels program: “In this case, there’s no evidence that President Trump was acting under the thrall of Vladimir Putin,” writes Matt Purple in the Los Angeles Times. “More likely the president axed the CIA initiative because — as many of us have been warning since long before Russia sent its military to Syria — it wasn’t working. Additionally, it constituted an unwise intervention in the Syrian civil war, which holds little interest and no good options for the United States.”

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

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