The Soufan Group Morning Breif


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WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2017
TRUMP ISSUES DIRE WARNING TO NORTH KOREA IN U.N. ADDRESS

President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the U.S. has to defend itself or its allies against the Pyongyang regime, delivering the dire warning Tuesday during his first address to the U.N. General Assembly.

“No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles,” Trump said, adding that denuclearization is the “only acceptable future” for Kim Jong Un’s regime. “‘Rocket Man’ is on a suicide mission, not only for himself but for his regime,” he added, using a nickname for Kim he first applied in a Twitter message over the weekend.

Many assembled diplomats found Trump’s stance on North Korea alarming. “There was visible shock in the room,” one diplomat said. A U.N. official said, “He used the U.N.’s platform to declare war on North Korea.” The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, was openly critical of Trump’s remarks. “We never talk about destroying another country, but bringing peace,” she said.

Trump also denounced the nuclear agreement with Iran as “an embarrassment” that he may abandon. “The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Trump said. “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

Trump has until Oct. 15 to certify whether Iran is complying with the agreement, which he has done twice so far since taking office. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post
Related:
Politico: Anxious World Leaders Lobby Trump on Iran Nuclear Deal

Trump’s view of sovereignty: The president also sketched out a view of sovereignty that represents a radical departure from that of past U.S. presidents. He offered a strikingly selective definition, threatening to act aggressively against countries like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, whose policies he opposes, yet saying almost nothing about Russia, which seized territory from its neighbor Ukraine. “I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first,” Trump declared. New York Times
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TWITTER SUSPENDS 300K TERROR-LINKED ACCOUNTS
Twitter has suspended nearly 300,000 terror-related accounts globally in the first six months of this year, according to its latest transparency report, almost all of which were spotted by its spam-fighting artificial intelligence tools.

The extremism-identifying technology is part of a major effort by the social network to push back against widespread criticism by U.S. and European governments that it is not doing enough to disrupt such propaganda. The social network also said government data requests continued to increase, and that it provided authorities with data on roughly 3,900 accounts from January to June. Financial Times, Bloomberg

REPORT: MUELLER TEAM’S FOCUS ON MANAFORT SPANS 11 YEARS
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is reaching back more than a decade in its investigation of Paul Manafort, a sign of the pressure Mueller is placing on President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman. The FBI’s warrant for a July search of Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia, home said the investigation centered on possible crimes committed as far back as January 2006, a source told CNN. The broad time frame is the latest indication that Mueller’s team is going well beyond Russian meddling during the campaign as part of its investigation of Trump campaign associates. CNN
Related:
Foreign Policy: Manafort Scoops Raise New Questions About the Russia Investigation
Washington Post: Why the Wiretap Against Manafort Is a Big Deal

TRUMP ADMIN. REJECTS STUDY SHOWING ECONOMIC BENEFIT OF REFUGEES
Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

The issue has sparked intense debate within the White House as opponents of the refugee program, led by Trump’s chief policy adviser, Stephen Miller, assert that continuing to welcome refugees is too costly and raises concerns about terrorism. New York Times

Mueller questions Rosenstein: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has questioned Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as it probes the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. It is not clear exactly when the conversation took place, or how long it lasted. Associated Press

Senate cancels meeting with Trump lawyer Cohen: The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday abruptly postponed an interview with President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, shortly after the publication of his opening statement, which asserted his innocence and defended the president.

The committee shut down the closed-door hearing, accusing Mr. Cohen of “releasing a public statement” despite “requests that he refrain from public comment,” and invited Cohen back to an open session on Oct. 25. Cohen has reportedly accepted. New York Times, NBC News

Veteran suicide rates: Veterans Affairs released a press release on Friday after 5pm on the results of a study showing that veterans are about 20 percent more likely than nonveterans to kill themselves.  The suicide rate for female veterans is 250 percent higher than that for female non-vets. Foreign Policy


U.S.-BACKED FORCES TAKE 90 PERCENT OF RAQQA FROM ISIS
A Syrian monitoring group says ISIS has lost control of up to 90 per cent of its de facto capital Raqqa following a series of successful operations by US-backed forces. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday almost all of the city was now held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

In a statement, the U.S.-backed SDF said it had opened a new front against ISIS on the northern edge of Raqqa, describing this as “a feature of the final stages of the Euphrates Wrath campaign, which is nearing its end.” Independent, Reuters


THREE MORE ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH PARSONS GREEN BOMBING
UK police have arrested three more men in connection with the attack on the Parsons Green Tube station last week, bringing the total in custody to five. A 25-year-old was detained in Newport, Wales, on Tuesday, and two others, a 48-year-old man and a 30-year-old man, were arrested on Wednesday, also in Newport.

Those arrests followed two others on Saturday, one of an 18-year-old in Dover as he was about to board a ferry to France, and the other of Yahyah Farroukh, 21, in Hounslow, west London.

Police are investigating whether the 18-year-old refugee suspected of planting a bomb on a London subway car practiced building the device in a shed in his foster home’s backyard in London. BBC News, Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, Guardian

SNAPCHAT REMOVES AL JAZEERA CHANNEL FROM APP IN SAUDI ARABIA
Snap, which owns the social media app Snapchat, said on Sunday that it has complied with a request from the Saudi Arabian government to block access to Al Jazeera news articles and videos on the app to residents in the country. The news comes as the kingdom continues a wide-ranging crackdown against perceived opponents of the policies of the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. This month, more than a dozen people have been held in custody, including prominent Islamic clerics, academics, a poet, an economist, a journalist, the head of a youth organization, at least two women and one prince, a son of a former king. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

FIRST REFUGEES FROM AUSTRALIA GET APPROVAL FOR U.S.
The first refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centers will soon arrive in the U.S. under a resettlement deal that President Trump blasted as “dumb,” before his administration reluctantly agreed to honor it.

Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said about 50 refugees from Australian-backed detention camps in the South Pacific nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru would receive confirmation letters under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program in coming days. Wall Street Journal

Online content blocking rule proposed in UK: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May will on Wednesday put pressure on internet companies to go “further and faster” in stopping the spread of terrorist material, proposing a new target for extremist content to be removed within two hours of going online. Financial Times
TOP OP-EDS
Why ISIS is so good at branding its failures as successes: “When you think about terrorist attacks the way the Islamic State does, even blatant technical failure can become strategic success,” said Charlie Winter and Haroro Ingraham in The Atlantic. “It’s all about how shrewdly you brand an attack after the fact—and how willing the media is to buy into your narrative….At 8 o’clock on Friday -- 12 hours after the bomb in Parsons Green in London partly detonated—ISIS adopted the attack as one of its own. Its media officials had recognized that, without much effort, they could shift the discourse surrounding the attack and spin its failure into success.”

The lessons of Barcelona: “I was given a complicated task by Artis International, the group researching violent conflict to which I belong: find radicalized people in the Barcelona area, conduct interviews, surveys, and psychology experiments with them, and then get them in and out of a brain scanner in order to run neuroscience experiments on them,” writes Nafees Hamid in the New York Review of Books. “My time in Barcelona taught me one thing: radicalization is a local phenomenon. It happens on soccer fields, in parks and cafes. Local authorities cannot investigate every person, but if someone is already suspected, the local officials should know about it. Equipping them to solve local problems—and avoiding the distraction of easy, unhelpful generalizations about immigrant or local communities—is the best way to thwart the jihadists’ international aims.”

The Electoral College is a national security threat: “Hamilton and his colleagues never could have envisioned a year like 2016, when an enemy state—Russia—was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness,” write Matthew Olsen and Benjamin Haas in Politico. “But it’s clear the national security rationale for the Electoral College is outdated and therefore it should be retired. Simply put, it enables foreign powers to more easily pierce the very shield Hamilton imagined it would be.”

The worst first year of foreign policy ever: “Studies my colleagues and I have conducted at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center demonstrate that administrations typically flounder during their first year,” writes Melvyn Leffler in Foreign Policy. “But it’s important to first understand that Trump isn’t just repeating all the early errors that beleaguered his predecessors — he is magnifying them in unprecedented fashion.”
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