The Soufan Group Morning Brief



The Center on National Security at Fordham Law School has released its third report in a series on federal prosecutions of individuals accused of ISIS-related crimes. The American Exception: Terrorism Prosecutions in the United States – The ISIS Cases provides a comprehensive snapshot of ISIS prosecutions and pending ISIS-related cases in the U.S. between March 1, 2014 and August 1, 2017.

The report reveals a number of new trends about the ISIS threat posed within the U.S. since the Center’s last report was published. ISIS cases are more likely to go to trial than federal cases generally, and every case that has been resolved has resulted in conviction. Sentences are comparatively higher in these cases, exceeding the national average by 10 years.

Terrorism defendants are also significantly younger than typical criminal defendants. They are more frequently American citizens, and are less likely to have spent prior time in prison than their criminal justice counterparts overall. Muslim defendants in ISIS-related cases are increasingly more likely to be converts to Islam. In addition, there have been fewer allegations of interfamilial co-conspirators over time, and fewer incidences of romantic ties among and between co-conspirators.

A key finding of the report is that although the federal courts have shown a capacity to handle these terrorism cases, the dispositions of these cases remain markedly different from those of U.S. criminal justice prosecutions overall. The reports finds that federal courts seem to have made an exception—one that maximizes the punitive aspect of criminal justice—for these cases, and continue to do so. The report suggests that it is time to acknowledge that terrorism cases have evolved from the prosecutions of complex, sophisticated, trained networks of individuals towards individual actors in search of purpose and attention. Center on National Security

The Trump administration today is poised to extend sanctions relief to Iran, avoiding imminent action that could derail the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Administration officials say President Trump is ready to extend sanctions waivers to Iran and that no serious alternatives have been presented. But they cautioned that Trump could still change his mind, and they said he remains determined to “decertify” Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal by a separate, mid-October deadline for a broader administration review of Iran policy. That review is likely to lead to the adoption of a harder line, including the imposition of significant new non-nuclear sanctions. Associated Press, NPR

Disarmament experts urged Trump on Wednesday not to unravel the nuclear deal with Iran. In a joint statement, more than 80 experts said the agreement was a “net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.” They said that as a result of the monitoring powers contained in the agreement, Iran’s capability to produce nuclear weapons has been sharply reduced. They also said the agreement made it “very likely that any possible future effort by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, even a clandestine program, would be detected promptly.” New York Times

Former FBI Director James Comey came under attack from the White House for a third successive day on Wednesday. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested during a White House briefing that Comey broke the law when he asked a friend to provide the press with the contents of unclassified memos he had written about his conversations with President Donald Trump.“Leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case regardless of classification violates federal laws including the privacy act, standard FBI employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement that all personnel must sign,” she said. On Tuesday, she suggested that the Justice Department should consider criminally prosecuting Comey. Washington Post, The Hill

The Justice Department, meanwhile, has prevented Senate investigators from interviewing two top FBI officials who could provide first-hand testimony over Comey’s firing in May, a sign that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the firing. “As a threshold matter, the scope of the Committee’s inquiry has not been de-conflicted with Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said Monday. CNN, The Hill

FBI reveals broader use of grand jury subpoenas in Clinton email probe: The FBI revealed Wednesday that it used grand jury subpoenas more broadly than previously known in the course of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email account and server. A top FBI official disclosed in a court filing that grand jury subpoenas were used to try to obtain records not only from Clinton’s account but also from accounts belonging to people she was in contact with. The disclosure comes as Republicans, including President Trump, have publicly renewed doubts about the thoroughness and propriety of the inquiry. Politico

Rice tells investigators she unmasked Trump officials in undisclosed UAE meeting: Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice privately told House Intelligence Committee investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump transition officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates secretly visited New York late last year. The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House. The House panel’s probe has grown to encompass concerns with the unmasking practice, which some committee Republicans consider too permissive for senior officials. Senior officials have the authority to request the unmasking of names if there is a compelling national security reason to do so, and Rice has said that she did not unmask the Trump associates for political purposes. CNN, The Hill, USAToday

Supreme Court rules Trump administration can keep ban on most refugees: The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted the Trump administration’s request to continue to bar most refugees under its travel ban. Without comment, the court blocked a federal appeals court ruling from last week that would have exempted refugees who have a contractual commitment from resettlement organizations. The ruling could affect roughly 24,000 people. The court is expected to take up the legality of the travel ban October 10. CNN

Senate blocks attempt to repeal authorizations for Afghanistan, Iraq wars: The Senate on Wednesday turned back an attempt to repeal the current authority for U.S. military force in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) had offered an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to repeal war authorizations granted in 2001 and 2002. He argued that the authorizations were outdated and that Congress needed to “grab power back” from the executive branch, which he said has been using the war authorizations for “unauthorized, unconstitutional and undeclared war.” Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, rose to speak and warned that the amendment would have “practical and almost immediate consequences” to U.S. service members in the field and could embolden U.S. adversaries. CNBC

Trump blocks Chinese purchase of U.S. company for national security reasons: President Donald Trump blocked a Chinese venture capital fund from purchasing a U.S.-based semiconductor company because of national security concerns, the White House said Wednesday. The president’s order prohibits the acquisition of Lattice Semiconductor Corporation by China Venture Capital Fund Corporation Limited, known as CVCF, which manages industrial investments and venture capital. White House officials said there were concerns about the potential transfer of intellectual property to CVCF, Beijing’s role in supporting the transaction, and the importance of the semiconductor supply chain and Lattice products for the U.S. government. Politico

An ISIS convoy stuck in the middle of the Syrian desert for more than two weeks because of American airstrikes reached eastern Syria late Wednesday night, according to reports from citizen journalist groups in the area. The convoy reached Deir Ezzor, which is held by ISIS, despite vows by the American-led coalition fighting the group that it would not be allowed to do so. The coalition announced last Friday that it was removing surveillance aircraft from the vicinity of the convoy at the request of the Russian authorities, because Russian warplanes were involved in supporting a Syrian Army advance into Deir Ezzor Province.

In a deal brokered by Hezbollah, the nearly 300 lightly armed ISIS militants and and 300 relatives had been allowed to leave an area on the Lebanese-Syrian border in exchange for turning over the bodies of Lebanese soldiers and Hezbollah militants. The transfer marked the first time ISIS publicly agreed to such an evacuation from territory it held. Reuters, New York Times

A North Korean state agency threatened on Thursday to use nuclear weapons to “sink” Japan and reduce the U.S. to “ashes and darkness” for supporting a UN Security Council resolution and sanctions over its latest nuclear test. Japan’s top government spokesman responded, calling the threat “extremely provocative and outrageous.” Regional tensions have rose markedly since Pyongyang conducted its sixth, and by far most powerful, nuclear test on September 3, following a series of missile tests, including one that flew over Japan. In response, the  Security Council voted unanimously on a U.S.-drafted resolution and a new round of sanctions on Monday. Reuters, Associated Press
Associated Press: Mattis’ Message: U.S. is Not Intimidated By North Korea

Al Qaeda warns Myanmar of ‘punishment’ over Rohingya: Al Qaeda militants have called for support for Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, who are facing a security crackdown that has sent about 400,000 of them fleeing to Bangladesh. The exodus of Muslim refugees from Myanmar was sparked by a fierce security response to a series of Rohingya militant attacks on police and army posts in the country’s west on August 25. Al Qaeda warned that Myanmar would face “punishment” for its “crimes.” Reuters

Iran arrests ISIS member, foils attacks: The Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested a member of ISIS and foiled a plan for suicide attacks, a Guards commander said on Wednesday. Col. Amin Yamini did not indicate when the arrest was made but said the attacks were being planned for a Shiite religious holiday that begins next week. The ISIS member arrested was from the Syrian branch of terror group and had planned to organize about 300 people to carry out suicide attacks, Yamini said. On June 7, ISIS attacked the parliament in Tehran and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing 18 people and wounding more than 40. Reuters

Russia on Thursday kicked off the latest iteration of the week-long bilateral war game, Zapad 2017, meant defend against an imaginary invasion from the west, alarming officials across Europe concerned with Russia’s arms buildup. Officials in the Baltics and Poland have voiced alarm that the exercises could be used as a cover for Russian aggression, as happened in 2014 when Moscow staged large-scale exercises to camouflage preparations for its annexation of Crimea and intervention on the side of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. “NATO will be monitoring the exercises closely,” the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said recently.

Military planners in Moscow and Minsk say the basic scenario for the game involves tactical forces from a western alliance infiltrating Russia and Belarus through three fictional countries to carry out “terrorist” attacks. Russian tanks started to move toward Belarus by railway after the alarm was raised and will arrive within 24 hours, Belarusian state news service reported Thursday. Bloomberg, New York Times

The U.S. on Wednesday banned federal agencies from using computer software supplied by Kaspersky Lab because of concerns about the company’s ties to the Kremlin and Russian spy operations. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke directed all U.S. federal agencies and departments to stop using products or services supplied directly or indirectly by the Russian-owned and operated company. The directive gives agencies 30 days to determine whether they are using any Kaspersky products. The software must be removed from all information systems within 90 days. The directive comes amid several investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Associated Press, New York Times

Kaspersky said in a statement that it was disappointed by the directive and insisted “it does not have unethical ties or affiliations with any government, including Russia.” The Russian embassy in New York, meanwhile, said the move would prolong an ongoing diplomatic dispute between the two nations. “These steps can only evoke regrets. They only move back the prospects of bilateral ties recovery.” BBC News
The least bad way for Trump to deal with North Korea: “While openly recognizing North Korea as a nuclear power would cause tremors throughout Asia, Trump ought to do it anyway. As soon as he does, the U.S. can re-focus attention from a denuclearization objective that is increasingly impossible to imagine toward an old-fashioned strategy of deterrence and containment,” Daniel DePetris writes in Reuters. “Conflict management is not the most ideal scenario for U.S. policymakers, but it may be the only prudent choice we have left.”

Who will rule Raqqa after the Islamic State? “Even if the United States isn’t interested in confronting Tehran or Moscow, its interest in preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State isn’t about to fade anytime soon,” Wladimir van Wilgenburg writes in Foreign Policy. “As they sit on the brink of capturing the group’s de facto capital, Kurdish officials believe that they have positioned themselves as Washington’s preferred partner to keep the terrorist organization down for the foreseeable future.”

Pakistan won’t let terrorist organizations contest elections. For now: “In theory, entering electoral politics can have a moderating influence on terrorist organizations and perhaps even create conditions for mainstreaming them,” Stephen Tankel writes in the New York Times. “Wasn’t it preferable, the Pakistani official had asked me, for militants to involve themselves in elections than to continue engaging in terrorism? Of course, it was. Except Pakistan had never forced them to choose between terrorism and politics. Instead, these men and the groups they led have been allowed to ply their terrorist trade while simultaneously increasing their political power.”

The Rohingya tragedy is turning into a global crisis: “What is clear is that Burma’s policies toward its vulnerable Muslim minority are resonating far beyond its own borders. The Rohingya tragedy has been a blot on Burma’s struggling democratic transition for some time,” Christian Caryl writes in the Washington Post. “But now it is poisoning global politics to a degree that we are only beginning to appreciate. The international community needs to take action before it’s too late.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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