The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Monday, February 12, 2018

In Shift, Pence Says U.S. Is Ready for Talks with North Korea

We’re happy to relaunch the Morning Brief today with a new look. In the coming weeks, we will have new features, including "This Week's Good News." Thanks for reading.

In an interview aboard Air Force Two on the way home from the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Vice President Mike Pence told the Washington Post that in his two conversations with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during his trip, the United States and South Korea made progress on a new diplomatic opening that could result in direct talks without preconditions between Washington and Pyongyang. The two countries reportedly agreed on terms for further engagement with North Korea — first by the South Koreans and potentially with the United States soon thereafter.

The frame for the still-nascent diplomatic path forward is this: The United States and its allies will not stop imposing steep and escalating costs on the Kim Jong Un regime until it takes clear steps toward denuclearization. But the Trump administration is now willing to sit down and talk with the regime while that pressure campaign is ongoing.

Pence called it “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time.” That’s an important change from the previous U.S. position, which was to build maximum pressure until Pyongyang made real concessions and only then to engage directly with the regime.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence said. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.” Washington Post, Bloomberg
New York Times: Kim Jong Un’s Sister Turns on the Charm, Taking Pence’s Spotlight
Politico: Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s ‘10-Foot-Tall Baby’


Which is scarier: That Trump doesn’t read his intel briefings, or that Jared Kushner does? “It is hard to tell what should be more worrisome,” writes Karen Tumulty in the Washington Post: “the fact that the commander in chief doesn’t bother to read his daily compilation of the nation’s most urgent intelligence, or the fact that his son-in-law — who has been unable to obtain a security clearance — does.”

When the Islamic State came to Libya: “Since the fall of Qaddafi, the war-torn country’s militias have sought to contain extremism,” writes Frederic Wehrey in The Atlantic. “But at what cost?”

Rob Porter is a national security scandal, too: “For White House and National Security Council staff veterans, the revelation that White House staff secretary Rob Porter did not have a full security clearance raises a number of real questions that must be answered,” writes William Antholis in Politico. “Porter held one of the most important, and underappreciated, positions at the White House. The staff secretary normally is responsible for managing all information that flows to the president—usually including the secrets known to only a small handful of people. The fact that chief of staff John Kelly would not have seen this as a problem is staggering.”

Editor's Picks


Rachel Brand, the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, plans to step down after nine months on the job as the department has been under attack by President Trump. Brand’s profile had risen in part because she is next in the line of succession behind the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing the special counsel’s inquiry into Russian influence in the 2016 election. Walmart said in a statement that Brand would join the company as executive vice president, global governance and corporate secretary. New York Times, NBC News
Washington Post: Here’s How Brand’s Resignation Affects Mueller

Before his sudden firing last week, the Pentagon official who oversaw military commission trials at Guantánamo Bay was exploring potential plea deals to end the long-delayed prosecution of five suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks, a move that would foreclose the possibility of execution. It is not clear whether the settlement talks prompted the Trump administration’s abrupt ouster on Monday of the official, Harvey Rishikof, and Rishikof’s legal adviser, Gary Brown.

But either way, Rishikof’s discussions with defense lawyers about a potential way to bring a swifter end to the Sept. 11 case in a way that could be deemed favorable to the accused appears likely to inject the firings into the already troubled proceedings. New York Times

A tortured al Qaeda terrorist turned prosecution witness is being rewarded with a comfortable cabin-style lockup where he can garden, paint, exercise, learn English by Rosetta Stone, cook meals for his interrogators and attorneys and watch American comedy TV.

In sworn testimony on Saturday Ahmed al Darbi, 42, described morphing from a lying, feces-flinging prisoner with a bad behavior record in the maximum-security Camp Five prison to a cooperating witness now cloistered in Camp Echo, an annex of the prison compound across the street.

Darbi has his own kitchen with a freezer stocked with meat and spices, and other never-before-disclosed perks to pass his time preparing to testify as a witness for the war court prosecutor in two cases, one that seeks the death-penalty. He is scheduled to be sent to a Saudi detention and rehabilitation center in 10 days in exchange for his cooperation, pending final approval by the defense secretary. Miami Herald

Huge boost to Pentagon budget: The budget bill that President Trump signed Friday includes huge spending increases for the military: The Pentagon will get $94 billion more this budget year than last — a 15.5 percent jump - to $700 billion. Next year, the military budget will increase to $716 billion. Associated Press

White House security clearances: Dozens of White House personnel, including Jared Kushner, are still awaiting permanent security clearances and have been operating for months on a temporary status that allows them to handle sensitive information while the FBI probes their backgrounds. NPR, Washington Post

Democratic FISA memo: After President Trump declined on Friday to release a Democratic memo written to rebut a Republican memo alleging abuses of power by the FBI in the FISA process, House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff says he plans to meet with the FBI to hear concerns. The White House said in a letter to the committee that it would not publicize the contents of the Democratic memo “because the Memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.” CNN, CBS News


Israel carried out extensive airstrikes inside Syria on Saturday, targeting what the Israeli military said were air defense batteries and army bases as well as Iranian positions, after one of Israel’s F-16 fighter jets crashed in northern Israel after coming under heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire. The confrontation began when Israel intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone that had penetrated its airspace from Syria. The Israeli military then attacked what it called the command-and-control center from which Iran had launched the drone, at a Syrian air base near Palmyra.

On its way back from the mission, the Israeli jet crashed under fire. It is believed to be the first Israeli plane lost under enemy fire in decades. The airstrikes reportedly killed at least six members of the Syrian military or allied militia members, monitors said.

The events, including Israel’s direct engagement with Iranian forces, threatened to intensify the crisis in Syria and showed the extent to which the country has become a battlefield between Israel and Iran. Washington Post, NPR, Wall Street Journal
CNN: Israel: Iranian Drone Was Based on Captured U.S. Drone

The U.S.-backed military campaign that defeated Islamic State militants in Iraq has resulted in $45.7 billion in damage to the country’s houses, power plants, schools and other civilian infrastructure, according to a new assessment by experts at the World Bank and the Iraqi government. Wall Street Journal



A brazen weekend attack by heavily armed militants who stormed an Indian Army base in the Jammu region killed at least five soldiers and a civilian, army officials said on Sunday. It was one of the deadliest attacks on the army in recent years, and Indian officials quickly blamed a Pakistan-based militant group.

The target of the attack early Saturday was the sprawling base of the army’s 36th Brigade, which houses more than 3,500 troops, including those of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry. Indian officials said the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, led by Maulana Masood Azhar, was behind the attack. New York Times

Egypt kills more than a dozen jihadists in Sinai: Egypt’s army said it has killed at least 12 more suspected fighters and arrested almost 100 in a major military operation launched in the northern Sinai Peninsula. President Abdel Fattah-el Sisi, who is standing for re-election next month, ordered the offensive after Islamic State militants killed at least 311 people in a ruthless gun-and-bomb assault on a mosque in North Sinai on Nov. 24, in Egypt’s deadliest terrorist attack. Soon after, Sisi set a three-month deadline for the army to defeat the militants. The operation began on Friday morning. BBC News, Al Jazeera



For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

Center on National Security
Fordham University School of Law
150 W. 62nd St. 7th Floor
New York, NY 10023 US
Copyright © 2018 Center on National Security, All rights reserved.