The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The United Nations Security Council on Monday ratcheted up sanctions yet again against North Korea, though they fell significantly short of the far-reaching penalties that the Trump administration had demanded just days ago.

The U.S., which drafted the initial resolution, rolled back its initial insistence on a complete oil embargo and asset and travel freezes targeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in an effort to placate China and Russia. Despite the compromises, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said of the adopted resolution: “This will cut deep.”

The resolution targets North Korea’s export economy, sanctioning 90 percent of its annual revenue, diplomats said. It will reduce oil imports by North Korea by 30 percent, placing an annual cap of 2 million barrels on refined petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel and capping crude oil at about 4 million barrels. The U.N. measure also completely bans natural gas imports. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC News
Washington Post: How Russia Quietly Undercuts Sanctions Intended to Stop North Korea’s Nuclear Program
New Yorker: The Risk of Nuclear War with North Korea
New York Times: South Korea Plans ‘Decapitation Unit’ to Try to Scare North Korea’s Leaders
Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, a 31-year-old American citizen, will go to trial in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday on charges that he supported al Qaeda and helped prepare a 2009 car bomb attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. The case hinges partly on fingerprints found on an unexploded bomb.

Most of the charges against Farehk, which include conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, stem from an attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost City, Afghanistan, on Jan. 19, 2009, involving two vehicles rigged with explosives and driven by suicide bombers. An initial blast injured several Afghans, including a pregnant woman, but a much larger bomb failed to go off, sparing the lives of American soldiers.

Forensic technicians in Afghanistan recovered 18 of Farehks’ fingerprints on adhesive packing tape used to bind the explosives on the unexploded bomb, prosecutors said in a court filing.

Born in Houston and raised in Dubai, al Farekh was captured by security forces in Pakistan in 2014. His case has drawn extra attention because of reports American officials had debated whether to try to kill him in a drone strike, a step almost never taken against U.S. citizens. The Obama administration ultimately decided to try for a capture and civilian prosecution instead. Associated Press, Reuters

Guantanamo trials: Sixteen years after 9/11, no one has been brought to trial at Guantanamo Expeditionary Legal Complex. Five defendants sit in a high-security prison nearby, waiting for a court date that is perpetually delayed. Meanwhile, the bill to the U.S. taxpayer has reached an estimated $300 million. “The fact we haven't tried the 9/11 conspirators, who have been in U.S. custody for over a dozen years, continues to do great harm to the victims of 9/11, both those affected directly by the attack and the greater American public as well," said Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham Law’s Center on National Security. NBC News
Vox: Sixteen Years After 9/11, al Qaeda Is Back

Sessions, Coats push for renewal of surveillance law: The nation’s top law enforcement leader and top spy on Monday together urged Senate and House leadership to permanently renew a widely used but controversial U.S. surveillance law scheduled to sunset at the end of the year. “Reauthorizing this critical authority is the top legislative priority of the Department of Justice and the Intelligence Community,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats wrote in a Sept. 7 letter to both Republican and Democratic leaders.

The law — known as Section 702 of a 2008 package of amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) —  is aimed at collecting data on foreign spies, terrorists and other targets. The Hill

Ousted NSC official joins House Intel Cmte. staff: Derek Harvey, a former National Security Council official, forced out by National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in July, is set to join the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The Atlantic

ISIS militants armed with guns and a vehicle bomb attacked Egyptian police forces in the Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 18 civilians and policemen, the interior ministry said, the deadliest assault in months in the restive region. The roadside bomb blew up after intercepting a group of police vehicles west of the city of Al Arish, and an ensuing gunbattle erupted between security forces and the militants. The hourslong clash left three militants dead. Wall Street Journal

A Spanish physiotherapist working at the International Committee of the Red Cross’ rehabilitation center in northern Afghanistan was shot by a patient on Monday. Lorena Enebral Perez, 38, had spent more than a decade helping children, men and women with disabilities learn how to walk again. Shortly after 10 Monday morning, the 21-year-old assailant, who has had polio for most of his life, arrived in a wheelchair, supposedly for another therapy session. Instead he pulled out a Russian pistol and fired one shot. New York Times, Associated Press

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it foiled an Islamic State plot to bomb its defense ministry headquarters and also said it had arrested several people suspected of carrying out espionage in the kingdom on behalf of foreign powers. The would-be bombers were identified as two Yemeni nationals living under aliases in the kingdom who were detained along with two Saudi citizens also suspected of involvement in the attack planned for the capital Riyadh.

In a separate news item, the state news agency quoted a security source saying authorities uncovered “intelligence activities for the benefit of foreign parties” by a group of people it did not name. Reuters

A Turkish court ruled on Monday that five journalists and executives from one of the country’s last dissident newspapers must remain in jail awaiting the outcome of their high-profile trial on charges of aiding terrorism. The five are among 18 defendants from Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest running newspaper and a consistent critic of Turkish governments over the decades. Their trial has become a barometer of the government’s resolve to prosecute its critics despite international condemnation. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

Upset in Moscow local elections: A coalition of liberal opposition parties has won a series of victories in local council elections in central Moscow, beating candidates from Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party. Guardian
How al Qaeda benefits from America’s political divisions: “The principal goal of terrorism is to create and capitalize on disunity within the target society,” writes Ali Soufan in The Atlantic. “Were he alive today, Anwar al-Awlaki would be delighted at the divisions plaguing America. America’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to do a fine job of countering terrorism. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our political leaders, on either side of the aisle. If another 9/11 were to happen today, there exists a serious danger that American politicians would be too busy affixing blame to this or that ethnic group, or arguing over the role played by immigration, to take measured action to deal with the threat.”

The case against the Iran nuclear deal is one big lie: “There’s no reason to trust any of the Trump administration’s criticisms of, or plans for replacing, the JCPOA,” writes Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy.

When it comes to CVE, the U.S. stands to learn a lot from others. Will it? “Given the recent terrorist attacks in Australia, Canada, Britain, and the United States, and concerns about home-grown radicalization and fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, it is no surprise that ‘countering violent extremism’ or CVE featured prominently in this summer’s annual ‘Five Eyes’ gathering of ministers of interior and justice,” writes Eric Rosand in Lawfare. “Let’s hope the U.S. side is serious about wanting to enhance its knowledge here. Unlike most other areas of counterterrorism, the U.S. government is generally near the back of its class on CVE and has few positive lessons and experiences to share.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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