The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security on Tuesday released a report attempting to link immigrants to terrorism, presenting statistics showing that 3 out of 4 people convicted of international terrorism charges in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks were born in foreign countries. (*A previous version of the Morning Brief contained a typo suggesting that the figure was “4 out of 4 people.” We apologize for the error.*) Specifically, the report concluded that out of 549 convictions for international terrorism-related charges since Sept. 11, 2001, 254 were not U.S. citizens, 148 received U.S. citizenship through naturalization and 147 were U.S. citizens by birth.

President Trump later tweeted about the report, but left out words like “international” when referring to international terrorism, writing: “New report from DOJ & DHS shows that nearly 3 in 4 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges are foreign-born….we need to keep America safe.”

But experts including Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security, criticized the report’s confusing and misleading metrics. “It’s an awfully thin report for an absolutely important topic,” Greenberg told the Washington Post. “There’s almost no rhyme or reason to the things they choose to include or not include — they don’t explain it.”

The report considers only those incidents motivated by international terrorist groups — so instances of domestic terrorism are not counted. Moreover, individuals captured overseas, extradited and brought to the United States to face trial are included in the same category as people who emigrated to the United States and were charged with terrorism offenses years later.

For example, Ahmed Abu Khattala, convicted in November in connection with the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, is counted in the same category as someone who successfully applied for a visa to enter the United States.

Doing that intentionally confuses the threat of domestic terrorist attack with the number of foreigners, by increasing the number of foreigners,” Greenberg said. Extradited terrorism suspects, for instance, are not immigrants, she said, and should be taken out of the sample. Washington Post, NBC News, Daily Beast, The Intercept, Lawfare
Washington Post: Trump’s False Claim that Alleged Terror Suspect Brought Two Dozen Relatives to U.S.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a 53-year-old former CIA officer suspected by investigators of helping China dismantle U.S.spying operations and identify informants, has been arrested, the Justice Department announced Tuesday. Lee, who left the CIA in 2007, has been living in Hong Kong and working for a well-known auction house. He was apprehended at Kennedy Airport in New York on Monday and charged in federal court in Northern Virginia with the unlawful retention of national defense information.

Beginning in 2010, the CIA began to lose informants in China, according to a report in the New York Times last year. More than a dozen CIA informants were killed or imprisoned by the Chinese government over the next few years, and some intelligence officials believed that a mole inside the CIA was exposing its roster of informants. Others thought that the Chinese government had hacked the CIA’s covert communications used to talk to foreign sources of information, or both.

In court documents, prosecutors allege that in books found in Lee’s luggage in FBI searches in 2012 Lee had written down details about meetings between CIA informants and undercover agents in China, as well as their real names and phone numbers. Why the FBI did not arrest Lee after originally finding the classified material in his notebooks remains unclear. New York Times, NBC News

A hotly debated surveillance bill Tuesday night moved one step closer to a final vote, barely clearing a key procedural Senate hurdle despite bipartisan opposition that nearly scuttled the vote.  Voting stretched more than an hour as senators lobbied key holdouts in dramatic fashion on the Senate floor. In the end, the 60-38 vote to invoke cloture on the legislation — which would extend the powerful spying tools authorized under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — limits debate over the proposal and sets up lawmakers for a final vote Wednesday or Thursday.

The bill passed last week in the House, which first rejected an amendment that would have required government officials to get warrants in most instances to search for Americans’ messages in the program’s repository. Politico, New York Times, Reuters

Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, was subpoenaed last week by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into possible links between Trump’s associates and Russia. The move marked the first time Mueller is known to have used a grand jury subpoena to seek information from a member of Trump’s inner circle.

A second subpoena for Bannon to testify came from a House panel on Tuesday, after Bannon refused to answer a range of questions from investigators during a combative closed-door interview. Bannon’s refusal to answer to questions reportedly frustrated members of both parties who are probing the Trump campaign’s alleged Russia ties. “Only Steve Bannon could unite this committee,” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) told the Washington Post.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said that Bannon’s attorney, William Burck, told the committee that while Bannon himself was willing to speak with lawmakers and investigators, he could not answer questions because the White House told him not to respond. “This was effectively a gag order by the White House preventing this witness from answering almost any question concerning his time in the transition or the administration,” Schiff said. Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal

A newly drafted United States nuclear strategy that has been sent to President Trump for approval would permit the use of nuclear weapons to respond to a wide range of devastating but non-nuclear attacks on American infrastructure, including what current and former government officials described as the most crippling kind of cyberattacks, reports the New York Times.

For decades, American presidents have threatened “first use” of nuclear weapons against enemies in only very narrow and limited circumstances, such as in response to the use of biological weapons against the United States. But the new Nuclear Posture Review is the first to expand that to include attempts to destroy wide-reaching infrastructure, like a country’s power grid or communications, that would be most vulnerable to cyberweapons. New York Times

South Korea pressed ahead with talks to include its northern neighbor in next month's Winter Olympics Wednesday, but Seoul's allies, including the U.S. and Japan, are voicing concern Pyongyang may be using the talks to buy time to pursue its weapons program. The U.S. military has moved more firepower to the region and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned of complacency at a Tuesday summit in Vancouver where the top diplomats from the United States, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom were in town to discuss North Korea. CNN, USA Today

UK terror trial: An Islamic State-obsessed teacher showed beheading videos to children as young as 11 as he plotted attacks on Parliament, the City, shopping centres and the transport network, a UK court heard this week. Umar Ahmed Haque, 25, is accused of planning to attack civilians at locations including Westfield shopping centre in Stratford and Heathrow airport, and target royal protection officers, police, embassy officials and journalists. Evening Standard, BBC News

Iran protests: Iran this week freed 440 people arrested in Tehran during anti-government protests, amid continuing uncertainty over how many were detained around the country. Reuters
Donald Trump vs. Guantanamo’s forever prisoners: “A new legal challenge represents the sharpest test yet of America’s commitment to its most important founding principles — the guarantee of due process and the right to habeas corpus — at the Guantánamo prison,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “Will we continue to tolerate locking up more than two dozen men there, without charge, forever?”

The Pentagon’s smart plan for preventing an Islamic State comeback: “The Pentagon was right to train and arm Syrian Kurds ahead of the offensive to retake Raqqa,” writes the Chicago Tribune in an editorial. “Syrian Kurdish fighters had amassed an admirable track record against Islamic State across northern Syria. Their deployment as a border security presence makes just as much sense.”

Are Republicans right about the Russia probe? “A careful look at the evidence rebuts the claim that the FBI was misused by Steele and that the bureau’s operations are in disarray,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “The FBI isn’t perfect, and text messages show that some officials favored Clinton (just as others supported Trump). But Republicans delude themselves in claiming that the Russia probe is a partisan concoction. Trump operatives have admitted in plea agreements that they lied to the FBI about their contacts with Russia.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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