The Soufan Group Morning Brief


John O. Brennan, the former director of the CIA, has been named a Distinguished Fellow for global security at the Fordham University School of Law’s Center on National Security.

Brennan, who led the agency from 2013 until January, will take over the new position on Tuesday, participating in the center’s efforts to draw public attention to issues involving national security, foreign policy, governance and the rule of law.

Brennan said that he would also mentor students who are interested in government service and national security. He earned his undergraduate degree, in political science, at Fordham in 1977. New York Times, Fordham Law News

Karen J. Greenberg, the Director of the Center, said she “looks forward to bringing Director Brennan’s expertise and knowledge on some of the most pressing issues of our time to the wider public, and to assisting in his effort to enhance public education.” 
The congressional Russia investigations are entering a new and more serious phase as lawmakers return from the August recess amid fresh revelations about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, Politico reports. In the coming weeks, both intelligence committees are expected to conduct closed-door interviews with high-ranking members of the Trump campaign, and potential witnesses could include Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. The two panels are also looking at possibly holding public hearings this fall.

The return of the congressional Russia probes also means the return of a phenomenon that has reportedly enraged Trump and caused him to lash out at GOP leaders: constant headlines about the latest incremental developments in these sprawling investigations. Politico
Lawfare: How to Read a News Story about an Investigation: Eight Tips on Who Is Saying What

Philadelphia woman faces sentencing this week over plans to join ISIS: Keonna Thomas, a North Philadelphia mother who pleaded guilty last year to a plan that involving abandoning her children and traveling to Syria for an ISIS fighter she married over Skype, faces a sentencing in federal court on Wednesday. Last week, her lawyers wrote in a court filing that she was driven by loneliness and a desperate search for religious structure.

HBO passes on show about Somali immigrants in Minneapolis: HBO says it won’t pick up “Mogadishu, Minnesota,” a proposed series about Somali immigrants. HBO announced its decision Friday. The proposed series directed by Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan shot a pilot episode last year in Minneapolis. At the time, K’naan told The Associated Press he wanted to tell the story of an immigrant trying to adjust in America. Minnesota Public Radio

The Trump Administration, warning that North Korea is “begging for war,” is pressing China and other members of the United Nations Security Council to cut off all oil and other fuels to the country.

The effort, which senior administration officials described as a last best chance to resolve the standoff with the North using sanctions rather than military means, came as South Korean officials said Monday that they had seen evidence that North Korea may be preparing another test, likely of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday, ambassadors from the United States to Japan spoke in increasingly shrill tones, expressing fear and anger after Sunday’s test of a nuclear bomb eight times as large as the device that destroyed Hiroshima at the end of World War II.

“The United States will look at every country that does business with North Korea as a country that is giving aid to their reckless and dangerous nuclear intentions,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

But blacklisting North Korea’s trading partners would almost certainly prove logistically impossible and economically unfeasible, given that China, which holds veto power in the Security Council, accounts for 80% of North Korea’s trade and is also the largest U.S. trading partner.
New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CNN

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that imposing tougher sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear missile programme would be counterproductive and said threats of military action could trigger “a global catastrophe.” Reuters

Scott Atran, a cognitive anthropologist at the University of Michigan and the University of Oxford, and his colleagues spent the past couple of years interviewing captured ISIS fighters, as well as Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members and other front-line fighters battling against ISIS, to better understand what drives anyone to willingly attack and die for a cause.

The researchers discovered that three crucial factors motivate both ISIS fighters and those fighting them: a deep commitment to sacred values, the readiness to forsake family for those values, and the perceived spiritual strength of the group or community that the fighter represents. The findings were published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour on Monday.

“The main thing that really matters to them is what they 'feel in their hearts,' as they themselves put it. Some of these guys are really committed,” Atran said, adding that he found the same characteristics in the Kurdish fighters and others fighting ISIS.

“In our material world, we have underestimated or underplayed the spiritual dimension of human action,” he said. “Doing so runs the risk of leaving ourselves open to people who are motivated by deeper spiritual and sacred values and virtues, and I think that's the greatest danger we face.” CNN, Guardian

The U.S.-led coalition says a convoy of hundreds of ISIS militants and civilians -- part of an evacuation deal struck with Hezbollah a week ago -- is still stranded in government-held territory in Syria after the coalition prevented them from being relocated from the Lebanon-Syria border under a deal with Hezbollah.

The coalition said Monday that it has it has passed a message to the Syrian government through Russia asking it to separate the fighters from civilians. It says it has not taken any action to prevent food and water from being brought to the evacuees. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend says “the Syrian regime is letting women and children suffer in the desert. This situation is completely on them.” Associated Press

Over the weekend, the convoy split up, with six of the 17 buses that originally left the Lebanese border turning back into Syrian-government controlled territory outside Deir Ezzour province. They stopped near the Syrian village of al-Sukhnah, said the coalition, which continues to monitor the 11 stranded buses. The coalition has refused to strike the buses directly because there are women and children on board. But the convoy has drawn into the open other fighters from the extremist group seeking to reach the buses, turning them into easy targets, coalition officials said. Wall Street Journal

U.S.-backed forces in Syria have captured the Old City of Raqqa, the latest milestone in their ongoing assault against the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State’s rapidly shrinking territories, according to a U.S. military statement on Monday.

Kurdish and Arab fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces secured the neighborhood over the weekend after vanquishing a last pocket of resistance in the city’s historic Great Mosque, the statement said. The capture followed a grinding two-month battle for the neighborhood that has proved the toughest challenge yet of a three-month-old offensive for Raqqa, launched in June and still far from over. Washington Post
New York Times: ISIS Is on Its Heels, But Fighting to the Death

Protests erupted Monday among Muslims in Asia, Australia and Russia over a military campaign in Myanmar that has forced tens of thousands of fellow Muslims to flee across the border to Bangladesh. The demonstrations raised the pressure on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is known for embodying her country’s fight for democracy and human rights.

The Rohingya — whom Myanmar characterizes as illegal immigrants even though many have lived there for generations — are denied citizenship and have faced an escalating campaign of violence by security forces and Buddhist groups since 2012.

The latest crackdown began after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, killing 12 police officers. Myanmar authorities and pro-government vigilante groups responded with brutal force, setting fire to Rohingya villages and shooting civilians, according to accounts from human rights groups. Los Angeles Times, New York Times

Iran upholds 10-year prison sentence of American: An Iranian court has upheld the conviction and 10-year jail sentence of a US man accused of spying. Chinese-American Xiyue Wang was imprisoned in July for “collaborating with foreign governments” - a charge he denies. He was arrested while doing research in Iran for a university dissertation. BBC News
I ran Congress’ 9/11 probes. The intel committees can’t handle Russia’s shenanigans: “I oversaw a similarly complex and politically fraught inquiry as co-chairman of the joint congressional inquiry into 9/11, so I know what it takes — as a matter of resources, time, perseverance and, yes, occasional political courage — to run an investigation of this size and importance,” writes Bob Graham in the Chicago Tribune. “And I know this, too: The congressional intelligence committees, as they are constituted today, are not ready for this burden.”

The Russian company that is a danger to our security: “That threat is posed by antivirus and security software products created by Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based company with extensive ties to Russian intelligence,” writes Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in the New York Times. “To close this alarming national security vulnerability, I am advancing bipartisan legislation to prohibit the federal government from using Kaspersky Lab software.”

The next wave of extremists will be green: “We will not easily forgive ourselves if our attention is exclusively occupied by the Islamic State or the far-right when the coming wave of environmental radicalization hits,” writes Jamie Bartlett in Foreign Policy.

Put an end to the crime of torture: “Unless Americans know what actually happened and the consequences that followed, torture is almost guaranteed a rerun,” writes Rob Crawford in the Seattle Times. “President Donald Trump’s threats to bring back torture should be warning enough that we have not put torture behind us.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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