The Soufan Group Morning Brief



President Donald Trump’s top national security advisers detailed the administration’s strategy for dealing with North Korea in classified briefings on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats laid out a two-pronged plan to increase pressure on North Korea and China to come to the negotiating table while also boosting missile-defense systems to counter North Korea’s growing ballistic missile capabilities.

There was bipartisan consensus that the officials outlined a sensible strategy for dealing with the threat. “Each of them was very professional, very measured in what they were saying and understands the stakes that are at play here,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) said.

“There was really no bluster whatsoever. It’s clear the administration would like some kind of negotiating deal,” Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-NY) said. CNN, Politico

The U.S. also is preparing to respond to North Korea’s latest nuclear test with a new UN Security Council resolution that would impose an oil embargo on North Korea, ban the country’s exports of textiles and the hiring of North Korean laborers abroad, and subject leader Kim Jong Un to an asset freeze and travel ban. China agreed that the UN should take more action against North Korea after its latest nuclear test. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, insisted that it will be impossible to resolve the crisis with sanctions and pressure alone. Reuters, BBC News, CNBC, New York Times

South Korea warned Thursday that it expects North Korea to launch another intercontinental ballistic missile on September 9. “The situation is very grave. It doesn’t seem much time is left before North Korea achieves its complete nuclear armament,” Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said. CNN
Associated Press: Putin, Moon Condemn North Korean Test But Far Apart on Sanctions
Reuters: Putin Thinks North Korea Crisis Will Not Go Nuclear, Diplomacy to Prevail
The Guardian: South Korea Deploys Missile System as U.S. Strengthens North Korea Trade Threat
Washington Post: Trump’s Zigzagging Approach to North Korea Veers Toward Military Options
Voice of America: North Korea Threat: What Options Does the US Have?
The New Yorker: What Would War with North Korea Look Like?

Providing new evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Facebook disclosed on Wednesday that it had uncovered more than $100,000 worth of ads purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin. Most of the 3,000 ads, which sought to target voters, did not refer to particular candidates but instead focused on divisive social issues such as race, gay rights, gun control and immigration, according to Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer. The ads, which ran between June 2015 and May 2017, were linked to some 470 fake accounts and pages the company said it had shut down.

Facebook officials said the fake accounts were created by a Russian company called the Internet Research Agency, which is known for using troll accounts to post on social media and comment on news websites. Facebook staff members on Wednesday briefed the Senate and House intelligence committees, which are investigating the Russian intervention in the election. Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the Facebook disclosure “certainly quantifies the Russian use of at least one social media platform with a level of granularity that we did not have before. I don’t think this is the last word on the matter by Facebook or in terms of our investigation on the social media issue.” New York Times, Washington Post

Donald Trump Jr. to meet with Senate Russia investigators: Donald Trump Jr. is set to meet with Senate Judiciary Committee investigators behind closed doors today to answer questions about his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer. Committee aides said the interview, Trump Jr.’s first with congressional investigators, will be transcribed and could last for much of the day. Democrats led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Wednesday that Trump Jr. had also agreed to testify at a public hearing before the committee and that he would likely be subpoenaed if he did not follow through on the agreement. New York Times, ABC News, CNN

Woman who sought to join ISIS sentenced to eight years: A Philadelphia mother who admitted to plotting to travel to Syria to aid ISIS and spent years spreading the terrorist organization’s message online was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday. Keonna Thomas was arrested in 2015 and pleaded guilty last year to attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group. “I’m not a evil or malicious person,” Thomas said. “I’m just someone who, I guess, at one point, was impressionable.” Associated Press

Explosion at East Chicago post office; FBI investigating: An employee at the East Chicago Post Office was injured Wednesday evening following an explosion inside, authorities said. East Chicago Fire Chief Anthony Serna said he could not confirm whether authorities found additional bombs. The FBI will take the lead of the investigation as it happened at a federal building. Chicago Tribune, CNBC

UN investigators on Wednesday formally accused the Syrian government of using the banned nerve agent sarin in a deadly chemical weapons attack in April that left dozens of civilians dead and hundreds wounded. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the attack was one of more than 20 government assaults involving chemical weapons since March 2013. The panel’s findings are the first authoritative statement to pin responsibility for the April attack unequivocally on the Syrian government.

The UN panel based its conclusion on interviews with 43 victims and witnesses of the attack, logs of aircraft movements, analysis of satellite and photographs, and the findings of a fact-finding mission set up by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The panel also reported on other war crimes committed in Syria from March to July, finding that more than 600,000 people remained cut off from food and medical supplies and were facing indiscriminate bombardment. New York Times, Washington Post

On Thursday, meanwhile, Israeli jets bombed a military base in west Syria amid reports of a strike on a suspected chemical weapons site. The Syrian army said the strike took place near the town of Masyaf and warned against the “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region.” BBC News, Reuters

Hezbollah welcomes Syrian breach of ISIS siege: Hezbollah, whose fighters are among Iranian-backed forces pushing toward the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzour, congratulated Syrian government forces for breaching an ISIS siege on parts of the city. In a statement Wednesday, Hezbollah said the move was a “prelude for the liberation of all remaining Syrian territory.” Backed by Russian airpower, Syrian forces and allied militiamen on Tuesday reached troops in Deir Ezzour, breaking a nearly three-year siege by ISIS. Associated Press

3,500 more U.S. troops headed to Afghanistan, officials say: The U.S. will send an additional 3,500 troops to Afghanistan, officials said Wednesday. The long-expected deployment will bring the total number of American troops in Afghanistan to more than 14,000. Last week, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters that he had signed deployment orders for some of the troops but would not make an announcement on specific numbers until after he briefed Congress. On Wednesday, he and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Washington Post

Taliban attacks U.S. Afghan base in retaliation for leaflets: The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack near Bagram airfield in Afghanistan on Wednesday, saying it was in retaliation for U.S. leaflets that were dropped in Northern Afghanistan on Tuesday that insulted Islam. Six civilians were reportedly injured. CNN, Voice of America, The Guardian

U.S. military says airstrike in Somalia kills three al Shabaab fighters: The U.S. military killed three members of al Shabaab in an airstrike on Tuesday in Somalia. The strike took place west of Mogadishu and involved help from peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia. Meanwhile, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for two attacks on Kenya’s north coast on Wednesday, in which it claimed to have beheaded five Christians. Reuters, Newsweek

India’s army chief warns of war with China and Pakistan: India’s army chief said Wednesday the country should be prepared for a potential two-front war with China and Pakistan. Speaking about a 10-week standoff with the Chinese army in the Himalayas that ended last week, General Bipin Rawat said the situation could gradually snowball into a larger conflict on India’s northern border. He added that Pakistan on the western front could take advantage of such a situation. The Guardian

Two arrested after French counter-terrorism raid near Paris: Two people were arrested after police found products that can be used to make explosives in an apartment south of Paris on Wednesday, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said. A police official said some 100 grams of usable TATP, an unstable explosive, were found in the Villejuif apartment. TATP has been used by militants in several attacks in western Europe in recent years, including in Manchester in May, Brussels in 2016, and Paris in 2015. The police raid followed a tip from a craftsman, Collomb said in a statement. One source said it was a locksmith who saw chemical products and tools when looking into the apartment. Reuters, Associated Press

EU looks to extra spending, diplomacy to bolster cyber security: The European Commission wants to bolster cyber security in the EU by increasing investment in technology, setting stricter consumer safeguards, and stepping up diplomacy to deter attacks by other nations, among other measures. The Commission is due to announce its proposals in a report later this month. It calls a previous 2016 plan to spend 1.8 billion euros by 2020 a “first step” and cites public and private estimates that the impact of cybercrime on the EU rose fivefold between 2013 and 2017 and could rise another four times by 2019. Reuters

EU court rejects Hungary-Slovakia appeal of refugee quotas: The European Union’s top court on Wednesday rejected legal action by Hungary and Slovakia seeking to avoid accepting refugees under an EU-wide plan, a decision viewed as a victory for those countries bearing the greatest burden of Europe’s migrant influx. In a long-awaited test case, the European Court of Justice said it had “dismissed in its entirety the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary.” Hungary called the ruling “outrageous and irresponsible,” while Slovakia said it would accept the verdict even if it still opposes legally-binding EU refugee quotas. Associated Press, New York Times

Indonesian school a launchpad for child fighters in Syria’s ISIS: Indonesia has witnessed a recent resurgence in militancy. Authorities believe ISIS has more than 1,200 followers in the country and that about 500 Indonesians have left to join the group in Syria. Drawing on court documents, registration filings, and interviews with counter-terrorism police and former militants, a Reuters investigation found that at least 12 people from an Islamic border school in Indonesia went to the Middle East to fight for ISIS or attempted to go there between 2013 and 2016. At least another 18 people linked to the school have been convicted, or are now under arrest, for militant plots and attacks in Indonesia, including the three deadliest attacks in the country in the past 20 months. Reuters

Report says Egyptian security forces ‘routinely torture political detainees:’ Egypt’s police and National Security officers are carrying out widespread and systematic torture of political prisoners, which likely amounts to a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday. The report alleges that Egypt’s interior ministry has developed an “assembly line” of abuse to collect information and prepare often-fabricated cases. Officers beat suspects and use electrical shocks and stress positions with “almost total impunity,” Human Rights Watch said. The Egyptian government has denied allegations of widespread and systematic torture, blaming abuses on individuals it says are held accountable. CNN, BBC News
North Korea may already be able to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S.: “I believe that North Korea may have the capability today to successfully conduct a nuclear attack on the United States,” Michael Morell writes in the Washington Post. “If this darkest of scenarios were to play out, the assumption and assessment that North Korea cannot yet threaten us would be a strategic mistake of historic proportions.”

Deep U.S.-Russia malaise calls for a liaison between Trump and Congress: “With both the White House and Congress having a hand on the steering wheel for Russia policy, perspective at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is crucial. Congress must organize itself to be a constructive player, and the Trump administration must acknowledge this reality by reaching out,” Sam Nunn and Ernest J. Moniz write in the Washington Post. “One thing is certain: Inaction and continued dysfunction between the executive and congressional branches of our government will make it even more difficult to put out the intense fires we now face in many parts of the globe.”

A reset for Iran and the United States: “A change in relations between the United States and Iran could only come if there is a reset on both sides. Finding common ground would require direct channels of communication among high-ranking political and military officials,” Hamid Biglari writes in Foreign Affairs. “The United States would need to acknowledge Iran as a regional power with a seat at the table on all issues of regional security and stability, while Iran would need to acknowledge an active U.S. presence in the Middle East aimed at preserving stability.”

Trump’s global democracy retreat: “Dropping the words ‘just’ and ‘democratic’ would be fully consistent with the transactional realism that has characterized Mr. Trump’s rhetoric,” Pippa Norris writes in the New York Times. “But such a shift in United States foreign policy would be a historic mistake, abandoning America’s deepest values, eroding international commitments to human rights, and setting off dismay among friends and joy among foes around the globe. It would be the ultimate symbol of the end of American leadership in the world.”

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

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