The Soufan Group Morning Brief


North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan Tuesday—the first Pyongyang has fired over Japan’s main islands since 2009—prompting a fiery response from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“This outrageous action of firing a missile over our country is an unprecedented, grave and serious threat that seriously damages peace and security in the region,” he said. The provocative test was also a direct challenge to President Trump. Just last week, at a political rally in Arizona, Trump suggested that his threat to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea if it endangered the United States was beginning to bear fruit. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, was “starting to respect us,”

The missile passed over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and landed in the Pacific Ocean about 14 minutes after its launch early Tuesday morning, Japan’s chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, splashing down in the Pacific 733 miles east of Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo.

While the missile was still in the air, Japanese authorities sent an alert to northern areas near its path. “A missile has apparently been launched from North Korea. Please take refuge in a sturdy building or underground,” the alert said, by text message, before the missile apparently broke into three pieces and fell into the sea. Authorities also interrupted public television programs to provide live updates and sirens went off in some regions of northern Japan.

The missile appears to have been a Hwasong-12, the inter­mediate-range ballistic missile technically capable of flying 3,000 miles that North Korea has been threatening to launch toward the U.S. territory of Guam. Kim Jong Un has now ordered the launch of 18 missiles this year alone, compared with the 16 missiles his father, Kim Jong Il, fired during 17 years in power. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post

On Tuesday, South Korea’s military dropped eight heavy bombs near its border with North Korea in a show of what local media called “overwhelming force” following Pyongyang’s test. President Moon Jae-in ordered the strike, by four F-15K fighter-bombers, at a firing range in the country’s east to “display a strong capability to punish” North Korea if it were to attack. Independent, CNN
A top executive from Donald Trump’s real estate company emailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s personal spokesman during the U.S. presidential campaign last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow, according to the Washington Post, citing documents submitted to Congress on Monday. The request came in a mid-January 2016 email from Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s closest business advisers, who asked longtime Putin lieutenant Dmitry Peskov for assistance in reviving a deal that Cohen suggested was languishing. Washington Post

In a related story, Felix Sater, a business associate of President Trump, promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of Putin, that he said would help Trump win the presidency. Sater wrote a series of emails to Cohen in which he boasted about his ties to Putin and predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would highlight Trump’s savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.” New York Times
Wall Street Journal: Trump Attorney Says He Discussed Moscow Tower Deal with Trump During Campaign

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to eliminate more than half the U.S. special envoys, including envoys for the Iran nuclear deal, closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, and climate change. Tillerson notified Congress in his a letter on Monday. His letter says 30 of the current 66 envoys or “special representatives” will stay, including envoys for religious freedom, fighting anti-Semitism, and LGBT rights.. The rest of the envoys, their staffs and budgets will be absorbed into other offices or combined with other positions. Associated Press

Trump silent after unusually public rebukes by top aides: President Donald Trump is reportedly not happy with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, for publicly criticizing his response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. But it appears there is little he is planning to do about it, even as he continues to privately stew. Over the weekend, Tillerson suggested that Trump “speaks for himself” rather than for the country’s values in his reaction to Charlottesville. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also counseled U.S. troops to “hold the line until our country gets back to respecting each other” and is able to “get the power of inspiration back.” Politico, Washington Post

Suspect in ‘Jihad Jane’ case pleads not guilty: The first suspected terrorist to be extradited to the United States under President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges. Algeria-born Ali Charaf Damache was charged in 2011 with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and attempted identity theft to facilitate an act of international terrorism. Authorities say he recruited a Pennsylvania woman known as “Jihad Jane” for a 2009 plot to assassinated a Swedish cartoonist. He was extradited from Spain last month. Courthouse News,

Trump’s travel ban in court: All three judges on a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Monday struck a decidedly skeptical tone toward the administration’s efforts to deny grandparents an exemption from President Donald Trump’s travel-ban executive order. Politico

Republican floats measure to kill Mueller probe after six months: Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) has put forward a provision on an upcoming government spending package that would halt funding for Mueller’s probe six months after the amendment’s passage. It also would prohibit Mueller from investigating matters that occurred before June 2015, when Trump launched his presidential campaign. Politico

On Monday, Lebanon began transporting an estimated 400 armed ISIS fighters and their family members from its northern border to the militants’ stronghold in eastern Syria. The militants were transferred as part of a deal between ISIS and its Syrian and Lebanese enemies. Under the agreement, the bodies of eight people believed to be Lebanese soldiers were to be returned, while ISIS militants were to receive 17 air-conditioned buses, 11 ambulances and a free pass through territory held by the Syrian government.

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the Lebanese intelligence chief who was the government’s chief negotiator in trying to win the return of Lebanon’s captured soldiers, defended the arrangement. “The return of Daesh militants in air-conditioned cars to their countries is permissible because Lebanon adheres to the philosophy of a state that does not exact revenge,” he said in a radio interview. New York Times, Reuters

Ten civilians, including three children, were killed in a raid by foreign and Somali forces on a farm in southern Somalia, a deputy governor in the country said Friday. The United States military confirmed that it had supported a counterterrorism operation in the area, and said it would look into the allegations. The deaths raise questions about growing American military involvement in Somalia after President Trump approved expanded operations, often in support of Somali forces, against al Shabab, an extremist group linked to al Qaeda. Associated Press

Suicide bombing in Kabul: A suicide bombing on Tuesday in a busy commercial area in Kabul, near a string of banks and not far from the U.S. Embassy, killed at least five people. CBS News

Iran has dismissed a top U.S. diplomat’s demand for the inspection of Iranian military sites by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, shrugging off comments by America’s ambassador to the U.N. as only a “dream.”

Iran’s government spokesman, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, told reporters that the demand by Ambassador Nikki Haley wasn’t worth any attention. Iran will not accept any inspection of its sites and “especially our military sites.” Associated Press

Penalty for Pakistan’s largest lender: The New York State Department of Financial Services is seeking to fine Habib Bank Ltd, Pakistan’s biggest lender, up to $630 million for “grave” compliance failures relating to anti-money laundering rules and sanctions at its only U.S. branch.

The DFS said in a filing Monday that an investigation had found that HBL held a U.S. clearing account with Saudi’s largest private bank, Al Rajhi, which has been linked in the media and by the U.S. Senate to al Qaeda and the financing of extremism. The regulator also found repeated instances of so-called “wire-stripping,” where a bank deliberately strips out information related to a payment, sometimes to mask suspicious information. If imposed, the penalty on Habib Bank would be the largest-ever faced by a Pakistani financial institution. Reuters

ISIS claims knife attacks in Russia: Russian authorities have been slow to assert that recent knife attacks in the country are the work of terrorists, despite the fact that ISIS has claimed several of the attacks. Wall Street Journal

Indonesia suicide bomber sentence: A Jakarta court has sentenced a female would-be suicide bomber to seven and a half years in prison, prosecutors and her lawyer said, the first time a woman has been convicted in Indonesia for planning such an attack. Dian Yulia Novi, 28, was arrested late last year on suspicion of plotting to blow herself up outside Jakarta’s presidential palace during the changing of the guard. Reuters
The threat of small-dollar terrorism: “The recent ISIS terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils likely cost no more than a few thousand dollars—little more than the cost of renting vehicles and housing and feeding operatives for a few weeks,” writes Peter Harrell in Politico. “Given the small amount of money involved, stopping that financing requires a different strategy than the U.S. and our allies have previously developed.”

Congress needs to open a formal impeachment inquiry: “The evidence of criminality on Trump’s part is little clearer today than it was a day, a week, or a month ago,” write Jane Chong and Benjamin Wittes in Lawfare. “But no conscientious member of the House of Representatives can at this stage fail to share McConnell’s doubts about Trump’s fundamental fitness for office.”

Trump says Pakistan ‘harbors terrorists.’ The real story isn’t so simple. “Yes, Pakistan’s counterterrorism record is frustrating, but Trump’s harsh words are unlikely to have much effect,” writes Peter Henne in the Washington Post. “My research suggests that Pakistan is not following a conscious policy of ‘harboring terrorism.’ Instead, its leaders are constrained by a long and complex history that intertwines Islam and Pakistani security.”

The danger of a jihadist Pakistan: “Just as America must stay engaged in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban and other terrorists from retaking control, it is also imperative to keep Islamabad from falling under the sway of radical Islamicists,” writes John Bolton in the Wall Street Journal. “Hence the danger of inadvertently strengthening their hand by supplying a convenient narrative of overt U.S. dominion. Such a blunder might help Pakistan’s radicals seize power even as the U.S. battles terrorists in Afghanistan.”

Iran is taking over Syria. Can anyone stop it? “Since the civil war began in 2011, the government of Bashar al-Assad has relied on Iran and its proxies like the Lebanese Hezbollah to stay in power,” writes David Lesch in the New York Times. “While Russia, too, has played an important role, Tehran has been the Syrian government’s primary backer. With the end of the war now apparently on the horizon, Iran looks set to be the big winner and in control of Syria’s foreign policy in the future. The results could be truly disastrous.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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