The Soufan Group Morning Brief


President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday revoking his predecessor’s order to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and declaring the prison of 41 captives open to new detainees. At the same time, the order on the topic didn’t rule out the possibility of detainee releases.

“Terrorists are not merely criminals, they are unlawful enemy combatants,” Trump said, using the military’s term for insurgents captured on the battlefield, during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. “When they are captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are,” Trump said, adding “when necessary we must be able to detain and question them.”

The order also gave Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis 90 days to develop a policy “governing transfer of individuals” to the U.S. Navy prison in collaboration with the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Homeland Security, Director of National Intelligence and others.

Practically, not much is expected to change with Trump’s new order, said Lee Wolosky, who was Obama’s special envoy at the State Department for closing Guantanamo. “But as a symbolic matter, it changes a great deal because the two presidents before him were trying to close Guantanamo because they recognized that it was a detriment to our national security,” he said. “Symbolically, it reaffirms his interest in perpetrating a symbol that has greatly damaged the United States.” Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press
Slate: Guantanamo Was Going To Stay Open Whether Trump Demanded It or Not
The Trump administration is searching for a new candidate to be the ambassador to South Korea, after U.S. officials said Tuesday that its previous pick, Victor Cha, is no longer under consideration.

The Trump administration notified the South Korean government in December that Mr. Cha would be its envoy to Seoul, but weeks passed without a formal nomination. The reversal, according to reports, was driven by a disagreement over a “bloody nose” strike against Pyongyang.

Cha, a widely respected former academic and former Bush administration official, said in a Washington Post op-ed Monday that the answer to the “real and unprecedented threats” North Korea presents is not, “as some Trump administration officials have suggested, a preventive military strike.” Wall Street Journal, CNN

The Justice Department and the FBI are bracing on Wednesday for the release of a secret memo that Republicans say shows the agencies abused their authorities to obtain a warrant to spy on a former Trump campaign adviser.

The White House received a copy of the memo on Monday night after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to make the information public. Top lawyers at the White House have reviewed the memo — a three-and-a-half-page document that Democrats contend is misleading.

President Trump is reportedly in favor of releasing the document, telling a GOP lawmaker after the State of the Union that he is “100 percent” behind release. New York Times

Top Justice Department officials made a last-ditch plea Monday to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly about the dangers of publicly releasing a memo alleging abuses by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to people briefed on the meeting. Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned Kelly that the four-page memo prepared by House Republicans could jeopardize classified information and implored the president to reconsider his support for making it public. Washington Post
Daily Beast: House Republicans Use New FBI Investigation to Ignore Concerns about Nunes Memo
The Hill: Ryan Calls for a ‘Cleanse’ of the FBI

Wray: McCabe’s departure was related to IG report: FBI Director Chris Wray made clear in a message sent to all bureau employees on Monday night that Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's decision to step aside was a result of forthcoming information to be detailed in an inspector general report. Wray alluded to having seen aspects of the IG's report into the way the FBI handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server. NBC News

The inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, has been asking witnesses why FBI leadership seemed unwilling to move forward on the examination of emails found on the laptop of former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) until late October — about three weeks after first being alerted to the issue. Washington Post

Trump weighs prosecuting Mueller: NBC News reported Tuesday that President Trump has decided that he must have an alternative strategy that does not involve having Justice Department officials fire Mueller. “I think he’s been convinced that firing Mueller would not only create a firestorm, it would play right into Mueller’s hands,” said a friend, “because it would give Mueller the moral high ground.”

Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team, according to the report.

“Here’s how it would work: ‘We’re sorry, Mr. Mueller, you won’t be able to run the federal grand jury today because he has to go testify to another federal grand jury,’” said one Trump adviser. NBC News

Hawaii alert wasn’t accidental: The Hawaii emergency management services worker who sent a false alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile this month had a long history of poor performance and sent the warning because he thought the state faced an actual threat, officials said on Tuesday. New York Times

Trump expected to name NSA leader: President Donald Trump is expected to pick Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of the Army’s digital warfare branch, to head the National Security Agency. Politico

The UK government’s mass surveillance powers were deemed unlawful on Tuesday in a court ruling that could force changes to the country’s spy laws. Three judges at London’s Court of Appeal found that a sweeping data retention law, which allowed authorities to access people’s phone and email records, was not subject to adequate safeguards. The court ruled that access to the private data “should be restricted to the objective of fighting serious crime”; the court also said that such data should not be turned over to authorities until after a “prior review by a court or an independent administrative body.” Guardian, The Intercept

Russian officials and business executives on Tuesday reacted with anger and ridicule to a Treasury Department list of influential Russians who could face U.S. sanctions for their proximity to the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladi­mir Putin on Tuesday called the list, which includes 114 government officials and 96 business executives, a “hostile act” that would harm U.S.-Russian relations but added that Russia did not have plans to retaliate.

The list, submitted to Congress under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017, was highly anticipated in Russia. Some wealthy business executives were reported to have hired lobbyists in Washington to stay off the list or to have applied for foreign passports to sidestep possible sanctions.

In the end, the list appeared to have been copied and pasted from two sources widely available to the public: the Forbes rankings of the wealthiest Russians and the Kremlin’s directory of officials, which is available on its English-language website. Washington Post, Los Angeles Times
BuzzFeed: Trump Administration Admits It Cribbed from Forbes Magazine to Create ‘Oligarch’ List

CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently met with his Russian counterparts when they traveled to the US, according to US ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman. Russian media is reporting those who met with Pompeo may have included the country’s sanctioned spy chief, Sergey Naryshkin.

Talks between top US and Russian intelligence officials occurred just days before Pompeo once again warned that Russia will attempt to meddle in the 2018 US midterm elections and the Trump administration released a sweeping list of prominent Russian political and business figures in defiance of Moscow. CNN, Daily Beast
There’s no way Mueller will indict Trump: “Mueller will not indict Trump for obstruction of justice or for any other crime. Period. Full stop. End of story. Speculations to the contrary are just fantasy,” said Paul Rosenzweig in The Atlantic. “He won’t do it for the good and sufficient reason that the Department of Justice has a long-standing legal opinion that sitting presidents may not be indicted. But what of the substance of the obstruction charge? Are pundits right that the case against Trump is becoming stronger—even if as a legal matter the president may not be charged? Again, color me skeptical.”

I’m a Republican. Why is my party gaslighting America? “If Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have smoking gun evidence of a deep-state conspiracy that threatens American democracy itself, wouldn’t they be doing more than playing silly hashtag games, such as #ReleasetheMemo?” asked Amanda Carpenter in Politico.

The U.S. list of Russian oligarchs is a disgrace: “The U.S. Treasury Department spent six months compiling lists of Russian political leaders and "oligarchs" as required by last year's sanctions legislation. The end result is a bizarre cut-and-paste job where some of the inclusions, and some of the omissions, make little sense,” said Leonid Bershidsky in
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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