The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2018
MATTIS FIRES TWO TOP GUANTANAMO OFFICIALS

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Monday fired the top official overseeing the trials of the five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks and other alleged war criminals held at Guantanamo. It was not immediately known what caused Mattis to dismiss Harvey Rishikof, an attorney with experience in national security law who was named convening authority for military commissions on April 3.

Gary Brown, the legal adviser for military commissions, also lost his Pentagon job. He was temporarily replaced by two lawyers from his staff. Mattis has appointed Jim Coyne, who currently serves as the general counsel at the Defense Logistics Agency, as the acting convening authority.

The decision had no impact on ongoing war court proceedings, the Department of Defense said. An unnamed senior defense official told CNN that Mattis fired the two officials over a “loss of confidence.” Rishikof has been responsible for several recent controversial decisions, including suspending the contempt of court sentence of the chief defense counsel, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker. Without explanation, his office also rejected a proposed charge sheet for three former CIA captives held here on suspicion of plotting terror attacks in Southeast Asia, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing.

Less than a week ago, President Trump signed an executive order formally rescinding Obama’s closure order for the Guantanamo prison. Miami Herald, CNN
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SUPER BOWL SECURITY DOCUMENTS LEFT ON PLANE
Copies of sensitive Department of Homeland Security documents critiquing the response to a simulated anthrax attack on Super Bowl Sunday were left in the seat back of a plane by a reporter, according to CNN. The documents, marked “For Official Use Only” and “important for national security.” were accompanied by the travel itinerary and boarding pass of the government scientist in charge of BioWatch, the DHS program that conducted the anthrax drills in preparation for Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. CNN

HOUSE PANEL UNANIMOUSLY BACKS RELEASE OF DEMOCRATS’ FBI MEMO
The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously Monday in favor of publicly releasing a classified memo that Democrats say undermines allegations by President Donald Trump and his allies that the FBI abused its spying powers while investigating his campaign. Trump has five days to review the request to release the memo, which was written by committee Democrats. Politico

On Monday, Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, conceded that the FBI disclosed the political origins of the dossier that the bureau cited in a FISA application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in a footnote in the application, undermining a key argument of the GOP memo released Friday. “A footnote saying something may be political is a far cry from letting the American people know that the Democrats and the Hillary campaign paid for dirt that the FBI then used to get a warrant on an American citizen to spy on another campaign,” Nunes said. The Week, Politico
Related:
New York Times: The Times Asks Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to Unseal Documents on Surveillance of Carter Page

TRUMP’S LAWYERS WANT HIM TO REFUSE INTERVIEW WITH MUELLER
Lawyers for President Trump have advised him against sitting down for a wide-ranging interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, reports the New York Times, raising the specter of a months-long court battle over whether the president must answer questions under oath. New York Times
Related:
Wired: Mueller’s Investigation Is Larger -- and Further Along -- Than You Think

Draft DHS report calls for long-term surveillance of Muslim immigrants: A Department of Homeland Security draft report from late January calls on authorities to continuously vet Sunni Muslim immigrants deemed to have “at-risk” demographic profiles. The draft looks at 25 terrorist attacks in the U.S. between October 2001 and December 2017 and concludes there would be “great value” for the U.S. “to continuously evaluate persons of interest” and suggests that immigrants be tracked on a “long-term basis.” Foreign Policy

Moussaoui sues Trump over ‘mental torture’: Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in the U.S. in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, is suing President Trump over conditions at a federal prison where he alleges he experiences “psychological torture” while kept in total isolation. Associated Press


REPORT: SOME 300 AMERICANS HAVE TRIED TO JOIN ISIS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA
An estimated 300 Americans attempted to join the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria, including a small number who rose to senior positions, according the report released Monday by George Washington University's Program on Extremism. So far, 12 of those Americans have returned home. None has carried out an attack on U.S. soil.

“I think what we were struck with was the few numbers of returnees that we saw,” Seamus Hughes, one of the report’s authors, told NPR. “There was always concern that this wave of what the FBI would call ‘the terrorist diaspora’ would come back. In many ways it's just a trickle right now.” NPR

SYRIA’S IDLIB PROVINCE POUNDED BY AIRSTRIKES
Two hospitals were bombed out of service and several others damaged in 24 hours of airstrikes on an already hard-hit area of Syria, as the last pockets of rebel resistance in the long-running war find themselves increasingly cornered.

The attacks on the northwest province of Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in Syria, included a chlorine chemical attack on Sunday night on the town of Saraqeb that wounded more than a dozen people, according to local activists and rescue workers. Video posted online showed victims who were suffocating being stripped of their clothes and doused with water.

The onslaught — which began late Sunday and targeted multiple towns and cities — appeared to be in retaliation for the rebel downing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet on Saturday. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

ISIS, AL QAEDA SUPPORT FUEL ATTACKS IN WEST AFRICA
Islamist militant groups in West Africa’s Sahel region are using increased support from al-Qaeda and Islamic State and enhanced cooperation among themselves to carry out more sophisticated and deadly attacks, the chief of United Nations mission in Mali has said.

“When we examine the explosives, the types of mines, shells and weapons they use, our experts tell us that a fairly advanced level of expertise is required that they didn’t have before,” the UN special representative in Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, told Bloomberg in an interview in the capital, Bamako. Bloomberg


PENCE DOESN’T RULE OUT MEETING WITH NORTH KOREANS AT OLYMPICS
Vice President Pence refused to rule out the possibility of meeting with North Korea during his five-day trip to Asia this week. Asked to respond to comments Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made earlier Monday in Peru, in which he seemed to allow for a potential meeting between Pence and representatives from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime, Pence similarly did not reject a possible meeting.
“With regard to any interaction with the North Korean delegation, I have not requested a meeting,” Pence said, during a refueling stop in Anchorage. “But we’ll see what happens.” Washington Post, New York Times

RUSSIA, U.S. MEET NUCLEAR-REDUCTION TARGETS UNDER TREATY
The U.S. and Russia said they have fulfilled obligations under a 2010 treaty to reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads, meeting the requirement by a Monday deadline. The two governments made the declaration despite worsening relations, but still face the task of renewing the pact when it expires in three years amid a dispute over another weapons agreement. Wall Street Journal
Related:
New York Times: To Counter Russia, U.S. Signals Nuclear Arms Are Back in a Big Way
TOP OP-EDS
FBI messages show the bureau’s real reaction to Comey’s firing: More than 100 pages of FOIAed internal FBI messages sent after Trump fired James Comey show a “reaction of ‘shock’ and ‘profound sadness’ at the removal of a beloved figure to whom the workforce was deeply attached,” said Nora Ellingsen, Quinta Jurecic, Sabrina McCubbin, Shannon Togawa Mercer, and Benjamin Wittes in Lawfare. “It also shows that no aspect of the White House’s statements about the bureau were accurate—and, indeed, that the White House engendered at least some resentment among the rank and file for whom it purported to speak.”

Congress must avoid an ‘America First’ police on artificial intelligence: “National competitiveness, while important, is not and should not be the end-all be-all when it comes to crafting policy,” write Kyle Evanoff and Megan Roberts in The Hill. “The reasons for this are simple: Artificial intelligence’s effects will extend well beyond American borders, and happenings abroad will affect domestic life and U.S. foreign policy in pronounced ways.”

China’s surveillance state should scare everyone: “The country is perfecting a vast network of digital espionage as a means of social control—with implications for democracies worldwide,” write Anna Mitchell and Larry Diamond in The Atlantic.
EDITOR'S PICK
 
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