The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2017
NORTH KOREA HINTS AT DEVELOPMENT OF MORE ADVANCED BALLISTIC MISSILES

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered more solid-fuel rocket engines, state media reported on Wednesday, as he pursues nuclear and missile programs amid a standoff with Washington. Kim gave the order during a visit to the Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defense Science, according to the Pyongyang’s state media. The report lacked the traditionally robust threats against the United States after weeks of heightened tensions between the two countries. New York Times, Reuters

The report came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to make a peace overture to North Korea, welcoming what he called recent restraint shown by Pyongyang. “I think it is worth noting, we have had no missile launches or provocative acts on the part of, or provocative actions, on the part of North Korea since the UN Security Council resolution” sanctioning Pyongyang on August 5, Tillerson said. “I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has demonstrated restraint...perhaps we are seeing a pathway in the near future to having some dialogue.” CNN

Also on Tuesday, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions targeting Chinese and Russian entities that help fund and facilitate North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The sanctions against 10 companies and six individuals are designed to disrupt economic ties that have allowed Pyongyang to continue funding its missile and nuclear program. They marked the fifth and largest set of U.S. sanctions related to North Korea this year. Washington Post
Related:
NBC News: Did Owner of Million-Dollar U.S. Home Help North Korea Evade Sanctions?

U.S. NAVY RELIEVES ADMIRAL OF COMMAND AFTER COLLISIONS
The U.S. Navy on Wednesday said it had removed 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin after a series of collisions involving its warships in Asia and the deaths of several sailors. His removal comes after a collision between a guided-missile destroyer and a merchant vessel east of Singapore and Malaysia on Monday, the fourth major incident in the U.S. Pacific Fleet this year. A statement from the 7th fleet said Aucoin, who had commanded the fleet since September 2015, was relieved “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command.” The Navy is preparing to conduct a rare suspension of ship operations worldwide in the next week to review safety and operational procedures. Navy officials are also investigating the role that training, manning, and crew communications may have played in the collisions. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN
Related:
New York Times: Naval Collision Adds to Fears About U.S. Decline in Asia

Founder of firm tied to Trump dossier speaks to Senate committee: Glenn Simpson, the former journalist who helped compile the Russia dossier with allegations of collusion by President Donald Trump’s top aides, spoke with staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday for more than 10 hours. Simpson’s firm Fusion GPS hired a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, to compile the dossier, which alleges that Trump had a long-running relationship with Russia and that the Kremlin holds compromising material on him. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) subpoenaed Simpson last month after Simpson refused to testify before the committee, but he dropped the subpoena after Simpson agreed to speak privately with committee staff. “Mr. Simpson told Congress the truth and cleared the record on many matters of interest to congressional investigators,” Simpson’s attorney said. Associated Press, CNN, NPR

New legislation says no U.S.-Russia cyber unit without notifying Congress: Under new legislation advancing in Congress, President Trump would be required to notify U.S. lawmakers before creating a joint U.S.-Russia cyber security unit, an idea that has drawn criticism across the political spectrum. The proposal, if it became law, would be the latest in a series of maneuvers by Congress to either limit the president’s authority on Russia matters or rebuke his attempts to warm relations with Moscow. A provision contained in the annual Intelligence Authorization Act and passed by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee would require the Trump administration to provide Congress with a report describing what intelligence would be shared with Russia, any counterintelligence concerns, and how those concerns would be addressed. Reuters

Sept. 11 trial stumbles on documents so secret the judge can’t see them: In a new episode at the opening of a weeklong pretrial hearing in the case against five men accused of conspiring in the 9/11 attacks, defense lawyers have written a legal brief based on documents from the prosecution that are so secret the judge cannot see them. Connell appeared to be asking the judge to call certain witnesses on the question of when the war on terror began, as well as experts to testify on the reliability of post-torture interrogations in a bid to disqualify any confessions his client, Ammar al Baluchi, made to FBI agents soon after he arrived at Guantanamo in 2006. Prosecutors who provided Connell with the material in trial preparation were trying to figure out if the judge and his security staff need a security clearance to see it. Miami Herald

McConnell privately doubts if Trump can save presidency: The relationship between President Trump and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises. New York Times, CNN

Trump defends Charlottesville response at rally: At a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, President Trump accused the news media of misrepresenting what he insisted was a prompt, unequivocal condemnation of bigotry and hatred in the wake of deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Va. Police used pepper spray to disperse crowds after protesters threw rocks and bottles outside the convention center where Trump spoke, police said. James Clapper, a former director of U.S. national intelligence, called Trump’s speech “downright scary and disturbing.” He told CNN, “I really question his ability to be - his fitness to be - in this office, and I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it.” New York Times, Reuters, CNN


TILLERSON SAYS TRUMP’S STRATEGY WILL TURN THE TIDE IN AFGHANISTAN
President Donald Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan will alter the dynamics in the war there, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. He said Trump’s strategy empowers American military commanders to make decisions based on conditions on the ground, rather than on local politics or other factors. “We believe that we can turn the tide of what has been a losing battle over the last year and a half or so, and at least stabilize the situation and hopefully start seeing some battlefield victories,” he said. Yet Tillerson played down Trump’s promise that the U.S. will “win” in Afghanistan. Speaking to the Taliban, he said, “You will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you.” Washington PostVoice of America
Related:
ABC News: Trump’s Afghanistan Plan has Mixed Implications, Experts Say
CNN: Trump’s Afghanistan Policy: The View from Islamabad
PBS Newshour: How the World is Reacting to Trump’s Speech on Afghanistan
New York Times: What an Afghanistan Victory Looks Like Under the Trump Plan
New York Times: How Much of Afghanistan Do the Taliban Control After 16 Years of War With the U.S.?

Mattis visits Iraq amid push to rout ISIS: U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in an unannounced visit to Iraq on Tuesday that significant progress has been made in ousting ISIS from the country. “Cities have been liberated, people freed from ISIS,” Mattis said. “They have been shown to be unable to stand up to our team in combat and they have not retaken one inch of ground that they’ve lost.” His remarks came as the Iraqi army, backed by U.S. airstrikes and special operations forces, fought through ISIS defenses in a push to reclaim Tal Afar, the militants’ last major stronghold in northern Iraq. Voice of America, LA Times, CNN

While in Iraq, Mattis asked the president of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region to postpone a referendum next month on Kurdish independence. His meeting with President Massoud Barzani was part of a broader push by U.S. officials to head off what they fear may be a new period of political instability as Iraq. New York Times

UNICEF reports rise in use of ‘human bombs’ by Boko Haram: There has been a four-fold increase in the number of children used as human bombs by Boko Haram militants in north-east Nigeria this year, according to a UNICEF report. UNICEF said 83 children were forced to go on suicide missions this year, 55 of whom were girls under the age of 15. The agency noted that most of the attacks are on so-called soft targets, such as markets, schools, universities, and displacement camps. UNICEF calls the use of children as human bombs an atrocity and says they are above all victims and not perpetrators. Voice of America, BBC News

YouTube removes videos showing atrocities in Syria: In an effort to purge extremist propaganda from its platform, YouTube has removed thousands of videos that could be used to document atrocities in Syria, potentially jeopardizing future war crimes prosecutions. An unspecified number of videos and some YouTube channels were deleted in recent weeks after the company put in place new technology to automatically flag and remove content that potentially breaches its guidelines. Reuters


BARCELONA SUSPECT SAYS TERRORIST CELL PLANNED TO BOMB MONUMENTS
The terrorist cell in Spain responsible for two deadly attacks last week was planning a much more lethal, more dramatic act, according to a Spanish court official. The cell was reportedly planning to explode huge bombs at monuments in the center of the city. Mohamed Houli Chemlal, who police say is one of the surviving members of the cell, told a court in Madrid that the cell was assembling bombs in a safe house under the guidance of their imam, who told them he planned to blow himself up during the attack. The imam appears to have recruited the cell members from the Moroccan immigrant community in the mountain town of Ripoll, north of Barcelona. Washington Post

Judge Fernando Andreu on Tuesday charged two of four suspects in the attacks with terrorism offenses on Tuesday. Andreu charged Houli Chemlal and Driss Oukabir with belonging to a terrorist organization, terrorism-related murder, and possession of explosives. He extended the detention and investigation of another suspect and released a fourth while requiring him to report weekly to the authorities and remain in Spain while the investigation continues. New York Times
Related:
Buzzfeed: A Terrorism Plot Like Barcelona Requires A Leader. So Who Was It?

Ukrainian cyber security firm warns of possible new attacks: Ukrainian cyber security firm ISSP said Tuesday it may have detected a new computer virus distribution campaign, after security services said Ukraine could face cyber attacks similar to those which knocked out global systems in June. The attack, dubbed NotPetya, took down many Ukrainian government agencies and businesses before spreading rapidly through corporate networks of multinationals with operations or suppliers in eastern Europe. ISPP said that, as with NotPetya, the new malware seemed to originate in accounting software and could be intended to take down networks when Ukraine celebrates its Independence Day on August 24. Reuters

Bahrain rights groups accuse National Security Agency of torture: Three Bahraini human rights groups accused the monarchy’s National Security Agency on Tuesday of systematic use of torture. The Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights, and Salam for Democracy and Human Rights accused the agency of employing excessive force from its predecessor agency’s founding in 1966 to the present. The rights organizations recommended that the agency be relegated to gathering intelligence and be stripped of a role in arrests and law enforcement. A Bahraini security adviser said the government took allegations of wrongdoing seriously and would investigate any violations. Reuters
TOP OP-EDS
Back to nation-building in Afghanistan. Good: “The United States really has no alternatives. It is willing neither to abandon Afghanistan, that way allowing it once again to become a safe haven for transnational terrorists, nor to put the entire combat mission on the backs of United States forces, an effort that would call for the deployment of hundreds of thousands of troops,” Max Boot writes in the New York Times. “The only conceivable path to success lies in fostering stable and effective institutions of government that can police their own territory with diminishing amounts of outside assistance. In other words, nation-building.”

What if President Trump orders Secretary of Defense Mattis to do something deeply unwise? “To say that the Secretary of Defense and his subordinates have a legal duty to comply with presidential orders is not to say that they should do so. It just means that the law of the chain of command requires them to, and they have to be prepared to accept the consequences of defiance,” Sarah Grant and Jack Goldsmith write in Lawfare. “But having an elected President as Commander-in-Chief, and strict adherence to the chain of command, are core elements of civilian control of the military that serve other very important values in the normal course of events. The current conundrum highlights again how very deeply our system of government depends on the People electing a President who is generally reasonable, prudent, and responsible.”

What the West got wrong in Syria: “By branding the rule of President Assad as illegitimate, Western countries may have been morally just, but they thereby prematurely blocked any opportunity they might have had to play a constructive role in finding a political solution to the crisis,” Nikolaos van Dam writes in Foreign Policy. “The question was: What should have priority — being morally correct or helping find a solution?”

Was I right to pull the plug on a Nazi website? “When standing up to government requests or angry Twitter demands to silence unpopular speech, it was powerful to be able to say we’d never terminated a customer due to political pressure. I’m not sure we can say that anymore,” Matthew Prince writes in the Wall Street Journal. “Did we meet the standard of due process in this case? I worry we didn’t. And at some level I’m not sure we ever could. It doesn’t sit right to have a private company, invisible but ubiquitous, making editorial decisions about what can and cannot be online.”
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