The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2017
ON THE 16TH ANNIVERSARY OF ATTACKS, A QUIETER 9/11 COMMEMORATION

Thousands of 9/11 victims’ relatives, survivors, rescuers and others are expected to gather Monday at the World Trade Center to remember the deadliest terror attack on American soil.

The AP reports that sixteen years later, “the quiet rhythms of commemoration have become customs: a recitation of all the names of the dead, moments of silence and tolling bells, and two powerful light beams that shine through the night.”

President Trump is scheduled to observe a moment of silence at the White House at the time the first airplane hit. The White House said he is to be joined by First Lady Melania Trump.

President Trump also plans to participate in a 9/11 observance at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are hosting a private observance for victims’ relatives there at 9:11 a.m. Monday. After the names are read at that ceremony, there will be a public observance, with a wreath-laying and remarks.

Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke are scheduled to deliver remarks at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Penn. Associated Press, Wall Street Journal
Related:
New York Times editorial: Finding Answers in Ashes 16 Years Later
New Yorker: How Does Terrorism End?

At Guantanamo, weathering Irma and a detainee surgery: Guantánamo Bay Naval Base got through Hurricane Irma “relatively unscathed,” the commander said Saturday, but for a few downed trees and power lines. “So far no damage of any significance has been reported or discovered,” Navy Capt. Dave Culpepper told the roughly 5,500 residents through a midday broadcast on Radio Gitmo. Miami Herald

Last week, as the hurricane approached, the Pentagon scrambled a U.S.-based neurosurgery team to the Navy base at Guantánamo to operate on the spine of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who is awaiting trial on charges he led the al Qaeda army in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. His lawyers say without the surgery, he was at risk of paralysis thanks to a decade-long degenerative disease that had worsened due to his treatment at Guantanamo. Miami Herald
Related:
New Yorker: Another 9/11 Anniversary at Guantanamo, Amid Hurricane Irma
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MUELLER TO INTERVIEW SIX OF TRUMP’S AIDES
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has alerted the White House that his team will probably seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Mueller’s interest in the aides, including trusted adviser Hope Hicks, former press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, reflects how the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president. Washington Post

Al Qaeda suspect expected in court: Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, a reputed al Qaeda member linked to a truck bomb attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, is set to stand trial in Brooklyn Federal Court on Tuesday. Al Farekh is accused of acts such as supporting the terrorist organization, using explosives and plotting to kill Americans. The 31-year-old — born in Houston and raised in Dubai — faces life imprisonment if convicted. New York Daily News


IRAQ HOLDING MORE THAN 1,300 FOREIGN WIVES, CHILDREN OF ISIS FIGHTERS
Iraqi authorities are holding more than 1,300 foreign wives and children of suspected ISIS fighters after government forces expelled the jihadist group from one of its last remaining strongholds in Iraq, Reuters reports.

Most came from Turkey. Many others were from former Soviet states, such as Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Russia, Iraqi army and intelligence officers said. Other Asians and a “very few” French and Germans were also among them. The wives and children are being held at an Iraqi camp south of Mosul, and Iraqi officials say the women and children will not be charged with crimes and will likely be repatriated to their home countries. Most had arrived since Aug. 30, when Iraqi troops drove the Islamic State out of Mosul.

“I want to go back (to France) but don’t know how,” said a French-speaking veiled woman of Chechen origin who said she had lived in Paris before. She said she did not know what had happened to her husband, who had brought her to Iraq when he joined Islamic State. Reuters, Associated Press

INTELLIGENCE HAUL FUELS NEXT PHASES OF FIGHT AGAINST ISIS
Over the past two months, U.S. officials have added thousands of names of known or suspected ISIS operatives to an international watch list used at airports and other border crossings, thanks to the biggest intelligence haul since U.S. forces entered the war in mid-2014. The Interpol database now contains about 19,000 names.

The names and information have come from a vast cache of digital data and other material recovered from bombed-out offices, abandoned laptops and the cellphones of dead fighters in recently liberated areas of Iraq and Syria that ISIS previously held. Los Angeles Times

ISIS in Syria: Syrian government forces and U.S.-backed militias converged on ISIS militants in separate offensives against the militants in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor on Sunday. Reuters

Somalia suicide bomb: A suicide bomber blew himself up near a government office in the central Somali town of Beledweyne on Sunday, killing at least four people. Associated Press

Pakistan sectarian attack: Gunmen shot and killed four Shiite Muslims near Quetta in Baluchistan province in Pakistan on Monday, in an apparent sectarian attack. Associated Press

U.S. denies Iran report of confrontation with vessel: An Iranian military vessel confronted an American warship in the Gulf and warned it to stay away from a damaged Iranian fishing boat, Iranian news reported on Sunday, but the U.S. Navy denied any direct contact with Iranian forces. Reuters

Iranian nuclear inspections: Iran has received nearly two snap nuclear inspections a month and almost double the overall number of visits it had just five years ago, suggesting the value of the deal the U.S. and its allies reached in 2015 to reign in the country’s nuclear program. Bloomberg


U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL TO VOTE ON NORTH KOREA SANCTIONS
The U.N. Security Council is set to vote on Monday on a watered-down U.S.-drafted resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea over its latest nuclear test, but it was unclear whether China and Russia would support the effort.

North Korea said ahead of the vote that the United States will pay a “due price” if the sanctions pass. CNN, Reuters
Related:
Politico: Why North Korea Is a Black Hole for American Spies

TRUMP’S EFFORT TO HEAL SAUDI, QATARI RIFT BACKFIRES
Saudi Arabia on Saturday suspended all contact with Qatar after the first known conversation between leaders of the two countries failed to defuse tensions between the U.S. allies.

Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, on Friday evening spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time since Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries broke diplomatic ties with Qatar in June. The phone call came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump offered to serve as a mediator to help resolve the dispute.

But hopes the phone call marked a turning point in the monthslong diplomatic crisis were quickly dashed, with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry accusing Qatar’s state media of distorting its account of the conversation between Sheikh Tamim and Prince Mohammed. The disagreement was essentially about protocol: Saudi Arabia says the phone conversation was requested by Qatar, not vice versa. Wall Street Journal
TOP OP-EDS
The myth of the ISIS female suicide bomber: “In the historical pantheon of societal folk devils, few figures are as rivetingly transgressive as the ISIS female suicide bomber,” write Simon Cottee and Mia Bloom in The Atlantic. “She is a deviant among deviants, exploding the most elemental code of the jihadist worldview. She is also almost entirely fictitious, conjured up by ISIS’s foes to amplify the group’s demonic extremity and desperate unravelling.”

Sixteen years after 9/11, are we any better fighting terrorism? “Where does the war on terrorism stand under President Trump?” asks Stephen Tankel in Washington Post. “Although Trump has gone out of his way to reverse many of Obama’s policies, he has largely embraced the burden-sharing aspect of his predecessor’s “indirect” approach. Yet, instead of pursuing enduring partnerships, Trump has treated engagements with partners as transactional exchanges.”

How Facebook changed the spy game: “My experience investigating foreign propaganda operations predated the proliferation of social media platforms,” writes Asha Rangappa in Politico. “But understanding how investigations worked before the information explosion is critical to understanding the magnitude of the Russian threat today. It’s clear that our current counterintelligence strategy hasn’t caught up to the age of asymmetrical information warfare. Until it does, we’ll be silently allowing our freedoms to be manipulated to Make Russia Great Again.”

What are impeachable offenses? “Because it has been used so rarely, and because it is a power entrusted to Congress, not the courts, impeachment as a legal process is poorly understood,” write Noah Feldman and Jacob Weisberg in the New York Review of Books. “There are no judicial opinions that create precedents for how and when to proceed with it. Past cases are subject to competing and often contradictory interpretations. Some might even be tempted to argue that because impeachment is ultimately political, it cannot be considered in legal terms at all. That extreme view cannot be right. Impeachment must be a legal procedure because it derives from specific constitutional directives.”
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