The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Amid a highly contentious debate over the fate of young immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States as children, a federal judge in California issued a nationwide injunction late Tuesday ordering the Trump administration to start the DACA program back up again.

Saying the decision to kill it was improper, Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco wrote that the administration must “maintain the DACA program on a nationwide basis” as the legal challenge to the president’s decision goes forward. President Trump moved to end the DACA program in September, saying that former President Obama’s actions to offer them the ability to work legally in the U.S. were unconstitutional and an overreach of executive power.

Democrat and Republican lawmakers are currently sparring over how to provide relief for about 800,000 immigrants who could face deportation when the program ends on March 5. Trump met with lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon in a remarkable, hour-long televised meeting to begin negotiations. New York Times, Wall Street Journal
A senior National Security Council official proposed withdrawing some U.S. military forces from Eastern Europe as an overture to Vladimir Putin during the early days of the Trump presidency, the Daily Beast reports. While the proposal was ultimately not adopted, it is the first known case of senior aides to Donald Trump seeking to reposition U.S. military forces to please Putin.

Kevin Harrington, the official who offered the proposal, is a deputy assistant to Trump for strategic planning, and mused in February 2017 about withdrawing U.S. troops close to Russian borders as part of a strategy proposal to “refram[e] our interests within the context of a new relationship with Russia,” according to a source who heard it directly from Harrington. Daily Beast

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, defied her Republican colleagues on Tuesday to unilaterally make public a much-discussed transcript of the committee’s interview with Glenn Simpson, one of the founders of Fusion GPS, which produced a salacious and unsubstantiated dossier outlining a Russian effort to aid the Trump campaign.

Simpson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee for 10 hours in August, and told lawmakers that it was British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s idea to contact the FBI because he was concerned that Trump was being blackmailed by Russia. Simpson also said that Steele told him that the FBI had “other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source,” someone “inside the Trump organization.” New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal
Politico: Trump Lawyer Sues Fusion GPS, BuzzFeed Over Steele Dossier

By the end of this week, President Trump is expected to once again keep the Iran nuclear deal alive by waiving U.S. sanctions on the Iranian government that were suspended when the agreement was made. But amid the debate in Washington over Trump’s fitness for office, and the president’s well-known pique at doing what is expected, no one is quite sure what he will do as the Friday deadline approaches.

This will be the first time the president is faced with the decision since announcing his new Iran strategy in dramatic fashion last October -- when he threatened to terminate the deal unless Congress made some “fixes.” Politico, ABC News

The Trump administration has delayed a decision over whether to prosecute a suspected Qaeda operative, a case that represented an early test of President Trump’s promise to resume sending prisoners to Guantánamo. The prisoner, a Sudanese citizen known as Abu Khaybar, has been held in Yemen for more than a year by the United Arab Emirates. Federal authorities in Brooklyn have built a criminal case against Khaybar, and Emirati officials had agreed to hand him over for federal prosecution.

But last month, top administration officials decided not to immediately bring Khaybar to the United States, a decision that effectively leaves his case in limbo and raises questions about what will happen to him. New York Times

FBI chief: Encryption is ‘major public safety issue’: FBI Director Christopher Wray renewed a call on Tuesday for tech companies to help law enforcement officials gain access to encrypted smartphones, describing it as a “major public safety issue.” Wray, speaking in New York at Fordham University’s International Conference on Cyber Security, said the bureau was unable to gain access to the content of 7,775 devices in fiscal 2017 — more than half of all the smartphones it tried to crack in that time period — despite having a warrant from a judge. Washington Post, NBC News

Bannon out at Breitbart: Steve Bannon stepped down on Tuesday from his post as executive chairman of Breitbart News, after angering his now-estranged financial patron and Breitbart investor, Rebekah Mercer. Bannon has remained unable to quell the furor over remarks attributed to him in a new book in which he questions President Trump’s mental fitness and disparages his son Donald Trump Jr. New York Times

Possible death penalty: The Justice Department is considering seeking the death penalty for Sayfullo Saipov, who is accused of killing eight people by driving a truck down a Manhattan bike path last November. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to approve more death penalty cases, having described the death penalty as “value tool” in deterring and punishing “heinous crimes.” Wall Street Journal

Guantanamo recordings: A government filing at Guantanamo confirms for the first time that  court stenographers create and maintain audio recordings of Guantanamo’s war court proceedings, reports the Miami Herald.

South Korea’s leader on Wednesday acknowledged policy differences with his U.S. ally in their approach to North Korea, but credited President Donald Trump for helping bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

A day after senior officials from the two Koreas met, President Moon Jae-in expressed “guarded optimism,” and called for further inter-Korean dialogue during next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. Wall Street Journal

At the same time as North and South have made tentative diplomatic moves, U.S. officials are reportedly debating whether it’s possible to mount a limited military strike against North Korean sites without igniting an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula -- what’s known as a “bloody nose” strategy. Wall Street Journal

A series of mysterious attacks against the main Russian military base in Syria, including one conducted by a swarm of armed miniature drones, has exposed Russia’s continued vulnerability in the country. The attacks have also spurred a flurry of questions over who may be responsible.

In the most recent and unusual of the attacks, more than a dozen armed drones descended from an unknown location onto Russia’s vast Hmeimim air base in northwestern Latakia province, the headquarters of Russia’s military operations in Syria, and on the nearby Russian naval base at Tartus.
Russia said that it shot down seven of the 13 drones and used electronic countermeasures to safely bring down the other six. The drone attack came less than a week after two Russian servicemen were killed in a sustained mortar assault on the same base. Washington Post
Iran’s protests and the myth of benign silence: “When protesters in the Middle East take to the streets against their regimes, the United States finds itself in a dilemma,” writes Shadi Hamid in The Atlantic. “The so-called ‘kiss of death,’ where overt American support taints the very protestors the United States hopes to help, invariably comes up. But if America will be blamed for the unrest anyway, why not speak up?”

The only force that can beat climate change is the U.S. Army: “America’s military is the only institution that can break the partisan deadlock on the worst threat the nation faces,” writes Anatol Lieven in Foreign Policy.

Saudis watch Iran protests intently: “Saudi Arabia is following the unrest in Iran with intense interest, hoping it will force its regional rival to turn inward,” said Bruce Riedel in Al Monitor. “The Saudis have little capacity to influence Iranian domestic developments, however, and share many of the same problems as Tehran. The Iranian question is unlikely to help resolve Riyadh’s biggest foreign policy challenge: the expensive quagmire in Yemen that is only getting worse.”

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

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