The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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TUESDAY, JANUARY 30, 2018
HOUSE PANEL VOTES TO RELEASE CONTROVERSIAL GOP MEMO ON RUSSIA PROBE

The GOP-led House Intelligence Committee voted on party lines on Monday to make public a classified Republican-authored memo that alleges surveillance abuses against an associate of President Donald Trump dating back to the 2016 campaign.

People familiar with the memo, which was drawn from highly classified material and written under the direction of the committee’s chairman, Trump ally Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), say it raises concerns about surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—specifically how Carter Page, a campaign associate of Trump’s, came to be the target of U.S. spying and whether a dossier of salacious and unverified material was used in part to obtain the warrant.

President Trump now has up to five days to review the material and decide whether to keep it secret, though he could agree to the release anytime before that deadline. If he does nothing, the committee can release the memo publicly.

The Intelligence Committee also voted along party lines Monday against releasing a rebuttal memo from the panel’s Democrats. Democrats say the memo is a grossly distorted attack on the Mueller probe, designed to "brainwash" people into erroneous conclusions, in the words of Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of the committee.

Whether the memo shows wrongdoing by the FBI or not, legal experts say the release of such classified surveillance details would be extraordinary on two counts: It could spill extremely sensitive secrets, and it could undermine the secrecy of a pending criminal investigation.

“It’s astonishing,” Orin Kerr, a former prosecutor who is now a law professor at the University of Southern California, told NBC News. “The idea of revealing the contents of a classified briefing to a judge — that can reveal lots of information other than what people are interested in. It would set a very dangerous precedent.”

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Congress last week, warning lawmakers that releasing the memo without giving the Justice Department and the FBI an opportunity to review it “would be extraordinarily reckless,’’ because doing so could harm national security and ongoing investigations. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NBC News
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UNDER PRESSURE, MCCABE ABRUPTLY LEAVES AS FBI’S DEPUTY DIRECTOR
Andrew McCabe abruptly stepped down on Monday as the FBI’s deputy director after months of withering criticism from President Trump, reportedly telling friends he felt pressure from the head of the bureau to leave.

McCabe’s departure had been long anticipated, but the timing caught many in Washington by surprise. It followed what officials described as a private meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray during which Wray expressed concern about the findings of an investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

McCabe had planned to retire in March and use accrued vacation time to reach the date he becomes eligible for full pension benefits. That plan is reportedly unchanged; technically, he will remain an FBI employee for the next several weeks, but he has left the deputy director position and is not expected to return to work. Washington Post, New York Times

NBC News reported Monday that the day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last May, the president called McCabe to complain that Comey had been allowed to fly back from Los Angeles, where he found out he’d been fired from TV reports, to Washington on an FBI plane. According to the report, “McCabe told the president he hadn’t been asked to authorize Comey’s flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it...The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser — an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe’s wife made in 2015. McCabe replied, ‘OK, sir.’ Trump then hung up the phone.” NBC News
Related:
Washington Post: The Rise of David Bowdich, the Former Sniper in Line to Become the FBI’s New Deputy Director

ASSANGE THOUGHT HE WAS MESSAGING SEAN HANNITY, OFFERED ‘NEWS’ ON SEN. WARNER
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange tried to offer “news” about Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, to Fox News commentator Sean Hannity but actually messaged a woman posing as the cable news host.

The Daily Beast reported Monday that Assange direct messaged @SeanHannity_ on Twitter early Saturday morning after the real Hannity’s account was deleted due to a technical snafu by the social media company. However, the @SeanHannity_ account was run by a Texas woman — Hannity’s real account is @SeanHannity.

Assange told the fake Hannity, “You can send me messages on other channels. Have some news about Warner.” Warner is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Daily Beast
 
U.S. TO RESUME ADMITTING REFUGEES FROM 11 COUNTRIES
The Trump administration said Monday it was resuming refugee admissions from 11 countries deemed national-security risks, while adding additional screening measures for them. Senior administration officials said the new vetting would include more independent interviews of refugee applicants and their families, but gave no other details. Wall Street Journal

NSA deletes ‘honesty’ and ‘transparency’ from core values: The National Security Agency has reportedly deleted a number of references to honesty and transparency from its website in an update. Previously, the agency's website contained extensive references to honesty, respect for the law, transparency and integrity as its four core values, as stated in the mission statement. However, The Intercept reported that as of January 12, “honesty” has been removed, replaced by phrases like “commitment to service,” “respect for people” and “accountability.” The Intercept, NBC News

Pentagon reviewing use of fitness trackers: The Pentagon is reviewing policies that allow deployed troops to use activity-measuring devices and fitness apps that rely on GPS tracking, after publication of a digital map online accidentally exposed information that could reveal where American troops are deployed or even precisely where they exercise overseas. Wall Street Journal


PENTAGON RESTRICTS RELEASE OF AFGHANISTAN WAR DATA
The Pentagon has ordered an independent federal auditor to stop providing the public with key information about U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan, accelerating a clampdown on data.

Key indicators that are now being kept secret include figures on the size of the Afghan army and police force and the number of civilian airstrike casualties, the watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, said in its latest quarterly report to Congress on Tuesday. That data now will be made available only to senior U.S. officials in a classified index of the report. Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, NBC News
Related:
Washington Post: String of Deadly Attacks in Afghanistan Exposes Government Weakness, Limits of U.S. Training Effort

SYRIA PEACE TALKS IN SOCHI OFF TO ROCKY START
A Syrian peace conference in Russia got off to a rocky start on Tuesday after some delegates opposed to President Bashar al-Assad refused to leave the airport on arrival. The talks in Sochi are now ongoing without the representation of any major opposition group. Al Jazeera, Reuters

Turkey detains medics for criticizing Syria offensive: Turkish authorities on Tuesday detained senior members of a medical association who have spoken out against Ankara’s military offensive in a Syrian Kurdish enclave. Associated Press, Financial Times

Yemen attack: At least 11 people were killed on Tuesday in a suicide car bomb attack on a checkpoint in southeastern Yemen run by local forces backed by the United Arab Emirates. Reuters


TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DECLINES TO FULLY ENFORCE RUSSIA SANCTIONS
On Monday -- the deadline for the White House to begin enforcement of new Russia sanctions overwhelmingly approved by Congress -- the Trump administration announced that it had decided against imposing any sanctions on countries that buy Russian military equipment, saying that a new law was already deterring billions of dollars in such purchases.

“We estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions” since the enactment of the law in August, said Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman.

Defense deals are often years in the making, so last year’s law, called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, is only just beginning to have an effect, an administration official said. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law in response to intelligence that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. New York Times, Reuters

U.S. RELEASES ‘PUTIN LIST’ OF TOP RUSSIAN OLIGARCHS
The U.S. has released a sweeping list of prominent Russian business and political figures, in defiance of Moscow and implementing a Congressional law designed to punish Russia for election meddling.

The U.S. Treasury list, published shortly before a midnight deadline, includes more than 200 names, including members of the top political administration at the Kremlin, as well as every Russian oligarch with a net worth of $1 billion or more.

Some of those named are already subject to U.S. sanctions. But the administration stopped short of imposing further measures, saying the legislation was already doing its job. The report was “not a sanctions list,” it said. Speculation about who would make the U.S. list was the source of significant anxiety among the Russian elite ahead of its release. CNN, BBC News, USA Today, Wall Street Journal

CIA DIRECTOR: ‘EVERY EXPECTATION’ RUSSIA WILL TRY TO INTERFERE WITH MIDTERMS
CIA Director Mike Pompeo says he has “every expectation” that Russia will try to disrupt midterm elections in November after U.S. intelligence uncovered interference in 2016. In an interview with the BBC, Pompeo was asked about concerns that the Kremlin might try again to influence the outcome of upcoming U.S. polls. He said: “I haven’t seen a significant decrease in their activity.” BBC News

PENTAGON: RUSSIAN JET FLIES WITHIN 5 FEET OF U.S. NAVY PLANE
A Russian Su-27 jet performed an unsafe intercept of a US Navy surveillance plane while it was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea Monday. The American pilots reported that the Russian jet came within 5 feet of the US plane. CNN
TOP OP-EDS
The mystery of McCabe’s exit: “White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president had not played any role in McCabe’s dismissal,” said David Graham in The Atlantic. “This may be true in a narrow sense—Trump may have not ordered his terminal leave—but it’s preposterous in a broader sense.”

The right way to protect Robert Mueller: “Passing legislation to protect the special counsel would be a mistake for several reasons,” writes the Chicago Tribune in an editorial. “The first is that it intrudes on the authority vested in the executive branch by the Constitution, which gives the president responsibility for executing the laws.”

White House 5G folly: “A leaked National Security Council memo proposing to nationalize the embryonic 5G wireless network has generated a public outcry, and the quarter-baked idea shows that government folly knows no party,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “This is a bad enough idea that it needs to be pre-emptively strangled lest it reappear.”

Back into the quagmire: “The good news is that Trump is listening to his military commanders,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. “The bad news is that they’re leading him into disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Syria.”
EDITOR'S PICK
 
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