The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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THURSDAY, AUGUST 24, 2017
WHITE HOUSE SETS RULES FOR MILITARY TRANSGENDER BAN

The White House is expected to send guidance to the Pentagon in the coming days on how to implement the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people in the military. A White House memo will direct Defense Secretary James Mattis to consider an individual’s ability to deploy as the primary legal means in deciding whether to separate service members from the military. The memo will also direct the Pentagon to deny admittance to transgender individuals and to stop spending on medical treatment regimens for those currently serving, according to U.S. officials familiar with the document. The memo gives Mattis six months to prepare to fully implement the new ban, according to the officials.

The ban on transgender individuals in the military was announced by President Trump in a series of tweets on July 26, and effectively reinstated a ban that had been lifted the year before under former President Barack Obama. “The United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” Trump tweeted. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said afterwards that there would be no practical modifications to Pentagon policies until the White House issued detailed guidance on the implementation of the ban. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Hill
Related:
NPR: Veterans: How Will Trump’s Ban Affect Transgender Troops?

TRUMP AIDE’S EMAIL DRAWS NEW SCRUTINY IN RUSSIA PROBE
Congressional investigators have unearthed a June 2016 email from Trump aide Rick Dearborn that referenced a previously unreported effort to arrange a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Dearborn, now President Trump’s deputy chief of staff, sent a brief email to campaign officials last year relaying information about an individual who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin. The person was only identified in the email as being from “WV,” which one source said was a reference to West Virginia. It was unclear who the individual was, what he or she was seeking, or whether Dearborn acted on the request. Yet the email suggests the Russians may have been looking for another entry point into the Trump campaign. CNN, The Hill
Related:
Newsweek: Trump, Russian Collusion, and Mueller: What Does the Special Counsel Need to Prove?

Congress seeks to implement clearances for state election officials: Congress could authorize top-secret security clearances for each state’s chief election official to help protect voting systems from cyberattacks and other potential meddling. The provision includes language that would require the Director of National Intelligence to set up the clearances for state leaders in its annual bill setting policy for the intelligence community. The provision, part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2018 policy bill for U.S. spy agencies, is one of the first concrete steps that lawmakers have taken to try to defend future elections in the wake of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. It aims to allow federal authorities to share more information more quickly with state officials about threats to their election systems. NPR

Feds ask judge to close courtroom to shield witness in terror trial: Federal authorities want a judge in Massachusetts to partially close the courtroom when a confidential FBI witness testifies this fall against an accused ISIS sympathizer that prosecutors say threatened to behead the witness. Alleged terrorist David Daoud Wright told the witness in 2015 that he would “personally remove his head from his body” if betrayed to police, according to documents filed with the U.S. District Court judge by the FBI. Public disclosure of the witness’ identity, face, or background could jeopardize not only his safety, but that of his family in Yemen, authorities argue. Wright is scheduled to go on trial September 18 on indictments charging him with conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, and obstruction of justice. Boston Herald

Former CIA agent wants to buy Twitter to kick Trump off: A former CIA agent is looking to crowdfund enough money to buy Twitter in order to stop President Donald Trump from using the social media platform. Valerie Plame Wilson launched the fundraiser last week, saying, “if Twitter executives won’t shut down Trump's violence and hate, then it’s up to us.” The GoFundMe page for the fundraiser says that Trump's tweets “damage the country and put people in harm's way.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “[Wilson’s] ridiculous attempt to shut down his first amendment is the only clear violation and expression of hate and intolerance in this equation.” Associated Press


Pakistani premier, military meet to respond to Trump’s criticism: Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is set to meet with Pakistani generals on Thursday to formulate a response to U.S. President Trump’s new policy on Afghanistan. Trump has chastised Pakistan for harboring “agents of chaos” and providing safe havens to militant groups, and the strategy seeks to increase pressure on Islamabad to do more to rein in militants. Pakistani officials bristled at what they said was a lack of respect by Washington for the country’s sacrifices in the fight against militant groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. While Abbasi has not responded yet to Trump’s remarks, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said Washington should not use Pakistan as a “scapegoat” for its failures in Afghanistan. Reuters

Taliban attacks Afghan army convoy: Taliban suicide car bombing struck an Afghan National Army convoy in the southern Helmand province on Wednesday, killing at least seven. The attack, which took place near the police chief’s headquarters, came days after President Donald Trump announced his new strategy for Afghanistan, which involves maintaining a U.S. military presence in the country. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. New York Times, Associated Press

Iraqi forces make gains in ISIS stronghold of Tal Afar: Iraqi forces said Wednesday they had captured two neighborhoods on the edge of the ISIS-held town of Tal Afar. Iraqi units seized the neighborhoods on the western outskirts of the city on what marked the fourth day of the offensive, according to statements from the Iraqi joint operations command. On Tuesday, Iraqi army and counterterrorism units broke into Tal Afar from the east and south. The city is the latest objective in the U.S.-backed war on ISIS following the recapture of Mosul after a nine-month campaign. Deputy commander of the U.S. coalition, British Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, said Iraqi forces are off to a “really positive start” and are “closing the noose” around the militants in Tal Afar. Associated Press, Reuters

New ISIS video appears to show American boy: On Wednesday, ISIS released a new video that appeared to show a child speaking in an American accent to camera about the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. The boy names himself as Yousef and says he is 10-years-old. Speaking in an American accent, he adds that he moved to ISIS-held territory two years ago with his mother and that his father was a U.S. soldier who fought the “mujahideen” in Iraq. In the video, Yousef says the “war has just begun” against U.S.-led coalition forces battling ISIS, and he is seen with an ISIS fighter while bearing what appears to be an automatic weapon. Newsweek, The Daily Beast

As Syria war tightens, U.S. and Russia military hotlines humming: U.S. and Russian military officials have been regularly communicating about Syria even as tensions between the two countries worsen. Some contacts are helping to draw a line on the map that separates U.S.- and Russian-backed forces waging parallel campaigns on Syria's shrinking battlefields. There is also a telephone hotline linking the two countries’ air operations centers. U.S. officials told Reuters that there now are about 10 to 12 calls a day on the hotline, which help separate U.S. and Russian warplanes apart as they support different fighters on the ground. Reuters

North Korea condemns U.S.-South Korea military drills: North Korea on Wednesday strongly condemned ongoing U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises and criticized President Donald Trump just hours after Trump claimed the rogue nation’s leader was “starting to respect us.” While the U.S. and South Korea say the exercises are defensive in nature, Pyongyang state media called the joint drills “too radical and dangerous.” CNN

11 beheaded in attack on Libya checkpoint: At least 11 people were beheaded Wednesday after an attack on a checkpoint controlled by Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar south of Tripoli, a spokesman for his forces said. Colonel Ahmad al-Mesmari blamed ISIS for the attack, although no group has yet claimed responsibility. France24

Anti-Saudi rebel alliance in Yemen teeters on the edge: Tensions have emerged among Yemen’s rebel camp, straining an alliance that has fended off a Saudi-led coalition’s attempt to seize control of the country. Shiite Houthi rebels accused former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose loyalists joined forces with them, of holding secret talks with the United Arab Emirates, a close Saudi ally and member of the coalition. In a televised speech on Wednesday, Saleh denied the charge and rebuked the Houthis for calling his party traitors and urged them to “hold back your crazy people.” Also on Wednesday, Saudi-coalition airstrikes killed at least 35 people in hotel near a Houthi-controlled outpost outside of Sanaa. Bloomberg, Reuters


QATAR RESTORES FULL DIPLOMATIC TIES WITH IRAN
Qatar restored full diplomatic relations with Iran on Thursday, disregarding the demands of Arab nations now locked in a regional dispute with Doha. In announcing its decision, Qatar did not mention the diplomatic crisis that began in June when a coalition of Arab nations ended relations with the country. Cutting ties with Tehran was a key demand issued to Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt in return for lifting a boycott on Doha. There was no immediate reaction from the Arab nations boycotting Qatar after the country’s Foreign Ministry announced its ambassador would return to Tehran. Doha pulled its ambassador in early 2016 after Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric sparked attacks on two Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran, in a move aimed at showing solidarity with the Riyadh. Associated Press, CNN, Al Jazeera

ISIS PRAISES BARCELONA ATTACKS, THREATENS MORE ATTACKS IN SPAIN
In a new propaganda video, ISIS has praised last week’s van attack in Barcelona and called for more attacks in Spain. In the video, an ISIS member described the Barcelona perpetrators as “our brothers” and threatened “Spanish Christians” amid promises to return the country to the “land of the Caliphate.” In the wake of the attack, ISIS’ media wing issued a statement calling the attackers “soldiers of ISIS,” but the group did not explicitly claim responsibility. CNN

Spain, meanwhile, is working to strike a balance between security and freedom after the attacks. The country’s northeastern region of Catalonia will deploy more police, install bollards in Barcelona, and step up security around stations and tourist landmarks. Catalan authorities may also erect some permanent barriers and turn some streets into pedestrian-only thoroughfares. Reuters
Related:
New York Times: How a Shadowy Imam Evaded Scrutiny and Forged the Barcelona Cell

Dutch foil possible attack on tip from Spain: A Spanish man was detained by Dutch police on Wednesday after he was found driving a van with an unspecified number of gas canisters near a Rotterdam venue where a rock concert was canceled due to a threat of a possible attack. Although Spanish police tipped the Dutch to the potential danger, a judicial source in Spain said there was no link to last week’s attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. On Thursday, Rotterdam Police said a second suspect was arrested, but investigators did not say what the connection was between the two men. Police in Amsterdam on Thursday also said they had found a hand grenade in a doorway on Amstel Street, but it was not clear whether that discovery was related to the two arrests. New York Times, Reuters

Man caught with pipe bomb at Manchester airport jailed: A man who tried to smuggle a pipe bomb onto a flight from Manchester to Italy has been sentenced to 18 years in jail. Nadeem Muhammad was found to be carrying a “crude explosive device” that contained gunpowder and batteries inside a marker pen tube when he was searched as he tried to board a flight to Bergamo on January 30. Muhammad denied wrongdoing and said the bomb was planted by someone else. But prosecutors said he planned to detonate the explosive during a flight to Italy. Although the judge in his case said there was no evidence about Muhammad’s specific motivation, he was convicted earlier this month of possessing explosives with intent to endanger life or property. The Guardian, Associated Press

U.S. denies aid to Egypt over human rights record and ties to North Korea: The Trump administration on Tuesday denied Egypt $96 million in aid and delayed $195 million in military funding due to concerns over Egypt’s human rights record and its cozy relationship with North Korea. Analysts said they were surprised by the moves, which followed an Oval Office meeting in April between President Trump and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt during which Trump lavished praise on the Egyptian leader. Successive American administrations have privately raised the issue of North Korea in talks with Cairo, but with little success. Asked if Egypt’s robust relationship with North Korea played a role in Tuesday’s action, a State Department official would say only that issues of concern have been raised with Cairo. Meanwhile, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner met on Wednesday with al-Sisi during a wider trip to the region. New York Times, Reuters
TOP OP-EDS
Good riddance to Steve Bannon: “Mr. Bannon is not the first staffer to believe the White House agenda must mirror his own. But no other aide in memory has had such grandiose or destructive plans for trying to remain in charge after being shown the door,” Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal. “Memo to the White House: The worst way to strengthen a president is publicly to blame his difficulties on allies. The least effective way to pass an agenda is to threaten the president’s party in Congress.”

Why Trump is right to get tough with Pakistan: “President Trump deserves high marks for his new Afghanistan strategy. It is bold, reasoned and offers the prospect of success against the violent Islamist groups of the region. But it will also face opposition in the region,” former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad writes in the New York Times. “The president will have to show an unflagging commitment to the cause and be prepared to respond to moves by adversaries to disrupt his plan.”

What ISIL’s rise in 2014 tells us about Al Qaeda’s potential in Syria today: “Outside observers and foreign policy makers may look at the situation in Syria and see various pieces coming together...That foreign backers of the opposition have abandoned the rebels is sometimes cited as a reason to move ahead with reaching ceasefires without dealing with the essence of the Syrian conflict,” Hassan Hassan writes in The National. “But that is a mistake that has been made in previous conflicts. Officials could present compelling data to demonstrate success in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the U.S. continues to go back to fight another war within long wars.”

Should protesters be classified as terrorists? “Like most Americans, I was disgusted by the appearance of torch marching neo-Nazis in the streets of Charlottesville. I was shocked that so many held such hateful views. Those views can clearly intimidate or scare others,” Jonathan Turley writes in The Hill. “However, if that is the standard for terrorism, the difference between a protester and a terrorist is merely how their speech is interpreted by others.”

Keep the Iran nuclear deal — for now:  “President Donald Trump sounds hellbent to rip up the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by President Barack Obama and international partners...But it’s the wrong move for America’s national security,” the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board writes. “Why? Because even though the accord is not a great deal for the U.S., it is evidently working. Remember, the deal was about one thing only: Blocking Iran from building a nuclear weapon. That’s even more crucial now with another rogue power, North Korea, developing its ability to launch nuclear missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.”
 
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