The Soufan Group Morning Breif



A social media monitoring tool used by the Boston Police Department to identify potential threats collected thousands of social media posts over three years, including the posts of people using the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter, according to a report released Wednesday by the ACLU of Massachusetts. The report, based on documents obtained through a public records request, said that the police department’s use of Geofeedia, a social media intelligence platform, to mine the internet appears to have had little benefit to public safety while unfairly focusing on groups such as Muslims.

Boston police used Geofeedia for two weeks in 2014 and again for more than a year starting in January 2015, according to the documents. The department’s use of the program became public in late 2016 after it solicited bids to spend $1.4 million for other social media monitoring software. Police later dropped those plans amid backlash from groups including the ACLU. The documents show Boston police searched for keywords they identified as ‘‘Islamic extremist terminology,’’ including words like ‘‘ISIS’’ and ‘‘caliphate,’’ as well as Arabic words such as ‘‘ummah,’’ which means ‘‘community.’’

Boston police said the ACLU’s conclusions are misguided and that the program helped police successfully monitor events that could threaten security. ‘‘Our main focus in all of this is public safety, not targeting speech, not targeting people’s political affiliations,’’ said Lt. Det. Michael McCarthy.‘‘And quite frankly, to have the ACLU to even make that insinuation is not only insulting, but it’s completely misinformed.” However, Kade Crockford, co-author of the ACLU report, said, ‘‘The Boston Police Department should never conduct surveillance targeting political speech or religious expression, but that’s exactly what their own records show they did when they used this social media monitoring software.” Associated Press

The U.S. Justice Department announced one of its largest-ever takedowns of a global cyber crime ring on Wednesday, saying it had indicted 36 people accused of trafficking in stolen identities and causing more than $530 million in losses to consumers. The cyber crime network, operating as an online discussion forum known as “Infraud,” ran a sophisticated scheme that facilitated the purchase and sale of Social Security numbers, birthdays, and passwords that had been stolen from around the world. The group worked under the slogan “In Fraud We Trust” and was created in 2010 by Svyatoslav Bondarenko, a 34-year-old Ukrainian. The indictment alleges Bondarenko referred to the online forum as a “comfortable and safe” place to “bring together professional people for who carding and hacking become a lifestyle.”

In addition to facilitating the sale of stolen information, the network also provided an escrow account people could use to launder their proceeds using digital currencies. Of the 36 people indicted, Justice Department officials said that 13 have been arrested in the U.S., Australia, the UK, France, Italy, Kosovo and Serbia. They face charges that include identity theft, bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Rybicki said the indictment “marks a significant step in the battle against transnational cybercrime.” Financial Times, Reuters

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who led the Justice Department under President Obama, said Wednesday he believed Special Counsel Robert Mueller could legally prosecute President Trump on obstruction of justice charges — but that the special counsel would need to build a strong case. Some Trump allies and legal experts say the law prevents the president from being charged with such a crime. Holder disagreed, saying a sitting president is not above the law, based on a legal examination of the issue that was done when he was the deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton. “There are a variety of things that I can think of, technically” that could be used against the president in an obstruction case, he said. Politico

Holder also warned that Trump’s attacks on top officials at the FBI and Justice Department are undermining the credibility of law-enforcement agents investigating and prosecuting criminal cases. Holder said that rank-and-file FBI agents testifying in court cases could face undue skepticism following the scorn aimed at the nation’s top law-enforcement agencies. Wall Street Journal, NBC News

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence vowed tough new sanctions against North Korea and called it the world’s most tyrannical regime on Wednesday, two days before he was due to attend the winter Olympics South Korea, along with two of the North’s most senior officials. Speaking from Tokyo alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Pence said he would soon announce the stepped-up sanctions in an effort to pressure the North to abandon its nuclear and missile programs. “We will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all,” Pence said. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Twitter that the sanctions would be unveiled “in the coming weeks” and urged all countries to fully implement existing UN sanctions.

Pence also did not rule out the prospect of meeting with North Korea officials during the Olympics. “With regard to any interaction with the North Korean delegation, I have not requested a meeting, but we'll see what happens,” Pence said. But North Korean state media reported that Pyongyang has no intention of meeting U.S. officials during the Winter Olympics. Wall Street Journal, CNN, Reuters

Justice Dept. official who helped oversee Clinton, Russia probes steps down: A Justice Department official who helped oversee the probes of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and Russian interference in the 2016 election stepped down this week. David Laufman, became chief of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section in 2014, stepped down as President Trump and his Republican allies have stepped up attacks on the Justice Department, the FBI, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller for their handling of the Russia probe. “It’s tough to leave a mission this compelling and an institution as exceptional as the Department of Justice. But I know that prosecutors and agents will continue to bring to their work precisely what the American people should expect: a fierce and relentless commitment to protect the national security of the United States,” Laufman said. Washington Post

Mattis defends military parade as lawmakers balk: After reports that President Trump ordered the Pentagon to look into staging a military parade, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Wednesday that the Pentagon is preparing options for such an event to send to Trump. Mattis told reporters that the president's respect for the military was apparent in his request of a military parade. “The president’s respect, his fondness for the military I think is reflected in him asking for these options,” he said.

But a number of on Wednesday balked at the potential cost of a military parade. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) called the idea a "fantastic waste of money.” Durbin wrote a letter to Mattis requesting an explanation on how much a military parade would cost taxpayers, which was signed by Democratic Senators Gary Peters of Michigan, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. In remarks to CNN, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said there is nothing wrong with having a parade to celebrate the military, but that a parade to demonstrate military might is “a sign of weakness.” CNN, NBC News

Former USS Nimitz commander to take over prison operations at Guantanamo: The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it is sending a Navy aviator and former commanding officer of the USS Nimitz to run prison operations at Guantanamo. It is not known precisely when Rear Adm. John Clinton Ring will take over from Rear Adm. Edward Cashman. Commanders of the Joint Task Force have in recent years served single year tours of duty at Guantanamo, and Cashman took over in April. The Pentagon has yet to disclose Cashman’s next assignment. Miami Herald

The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria conducted strikes against pro-regime forces in Syria Wednesday. The coalition said the strikes were carried out after as many as 500 fighters allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “initiated an unprovoked attack” against a headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces where coalition advisers were working with U.S.-backed Syrian fighters. “After 20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed within 500 meters of the SDF headquarters location, Syrian Democratic Forces supported by the Coalition targeted the aggressors with a combination of air and artillery strikes,” Col. Thomas Veale said in a statement. Officials also said no Americans were injured or killed in the attack by the pro-regime forces. Reuters, CNN, Associated Press

Syrian state television accused the U.S. of “new aggression” on Thursday after U.S. warplanes bombed pro-government forces. U.S. officials said that the strikes killed more than 100 troops allied with Assad. Politico, Washington Post
NPR: Why Civilians Are Being Targeted in Syria Airstrikes
New York Times: On Northern Syria Front Line, U.S. and Turkey Head Into Tense Face-off
ABC News: More Than 400 Killed in Syrian Airstrikes on Rebel Areas, UN Calls for Ceasefire

The killing last month of a senior Algerian militant by Tunisian special forces soon after he entered the country has raised concern that al Qaeda is trying to regroup in Tunisia following setbacks suffered by ISIS, security sources say. Bilel Kobi, a top aide to the leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was on an apparent mission to reunite splinter groups of al Qaeda fighters in Tunisia. AQIM was the dominant jihadist force in North Africa until 2013 when it fractured as many militants flocked to ISIS as it seized territory in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. But ISIS’s appeal has waned since it lost its territorial strongholds in neighboring Libya as well as in Iraq and Syria, and foreign fighters are returning home or looking for new causes to join.

“Al Qaeda wants to invest in a recent decline of Islamic State to reorganize and re-emerge as it seeks to restructure especially in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia by naming new local leaders on the ground,” a Tunisian security source told Reuters. Tunisia is closely monitoring its border with Algeria. There are indications of AQIM fighters trying to cross into Tunisia as Algeria’s army has cracked down on the group in recent weeks. Reuters
CBS News: Al Qaeda a Greater Threat Than ISIS in Some Places, Experts Warn

Iraq launches new operation against militants in the northeast: The Iraqi army and the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces on Wednesday began a major offensive against armed militants in Iraq’s northeastern region near the border with Iran. Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement the operation was aimed at cracking down on remaining ISIS fighters regrouping in the area. The offensive was launched with air support from the U.S.-led coalition and in close coordination with Kurdistan Region's peshmerga forces. The offensive is the first time that the Iraqi military and Kurdish peshmerga have coordinated attacks on militant groups since the Kurdish independence referendum last year. Voice of America

South Sudan national security agents accused of rape, arbitrary arrests: A new report released by South Sudan’s Human Rights Commission says national security operatives continue to rape women and girls, make arbitrary arrests, and detain people across the country. The 53-page report, released Wednesday, also states that most victims of human rights abuses have no access to justice. The report details human rights violations and atrocities committed by security agents and other armed forces during the past two years. Voice of America

The trial of the surviving suspect from the 2015 ISIS attacks on Paris resumed on Thursday without the suspect Salah Abdeslam, in court. Abdeslam had informed the tribunal that he did not want to attend the hearing, the first since he was initially brought before the court on Monday. If found guilty, Abdeslam and fellow defendant, Tunisian Soufiane Ayari, face up to 40 years in prison for attempted murder in a shootout with Belgian police. The incident took place in March 2016, four months after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people, and just before Abdeslam was arrested in the Brussels Molenbeek district. Associated Press, Voice of America
Wall Street Journal: Brussels Neighborhood Struggles to Break Ties to Terrorism

Finland knife attacker saw himself as ISIS soldier: A Moroccan man who killed two and injured nine with a knife in Finland last August saw himself as a soldier for ISIS and cited U.S.-led air strikes in Syria as one reason for his attack, Finnish police said on Wednesday. Abderrahman Bouanane, who arrived in Finland in 2016 and lived in a reception center before he was denied asylum, admitted to the stabbings. “He saw himself as a fighter, a soldier for ISIS. He would have wanted ISIS to take responsibility for this act, but as we know, that did not happen,” Detective Inspector Olli Toyras said. “Based on the investigation, we can say he acted alone. You could say as a lone wolf.” The police have closed their criminal investigation and a trial is expected to begin by March. Reuters

Briton who fought against ISIS faces terror charge: A British man who fought against ISIS will be charged with a terror offense for attending a place used for terrorist training. Ex-soldier Jim Matthews traveled to Syria and fought with the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG) against the militant group. In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said Matthews was alleged to have attended “a place or places in Iraq and Syria where instruction or training was provided for purposes connected to the commission or preparation of terrorism.” His is believed to be the first charge of its kind in the UK. It is estimated that dozens of Britons have fought as volunteers with the Kurds in Syria since 2015. BBC News

Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, DHS cybersecurity chief says: Russian penetrated the voter registration rolls of multiple states in the 2016 presidential election, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday. Of the 21 states targeted by Russians in the election, several were successfully penetrated, Jeanette Manfra told NBC News. Manfra did not specify which states had been successfully penetrated. The Washington Post previously reported that computer systems in Illinois and Arizona were both successfully penetrated. Manfra’s comments amid recent warnings from U.S. officials that Russian hackers may attempt to influence the 2018 midterm elections. In an interview earlier this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Russia is already trying to interfere in the upcoming congressional elections. In late January, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said he has “every expectation” that Russia will try to target the midterms. NBC News

Putin and Palestinian leader Abbas to discuss new peace talks format: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas plan to discuss a possible new mediation mechanism to replace the Middle East Quartet during a meeting in Sochi on February 12. The Quartet was established in Madrid in 2002 and is composed of the U.S., the UN, the EU and Russia. The Palestinian Authority is reportedly trying to convince Russia to play a more prominent role in Middle East peace talks, after it declared the U.S. unqualified to act as an “honest broker” following President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Reuters, Times of Israel
How to beat Salafi-Jihadi terrorism: “If we seek to inoculate populations more permanently against the virus that is extremism, the international community should work to treat the underlying factors that make its propaganda so appealing to so many,” Ali Soufan writes in Cato Unbound.“Perhaps most fundamentally, we should give people in the Muslim world the tools of critical thinking to resist false narratives and identify true ones. Generations of substandard education have made too many Muslim countries fertile ground for extremist groups whose leaders distort religion, twist the truth into a conspiracy theory, and demand blind obedience to their orders.”

The destabilizing dangers of U.S. counterterrorism in the Sahel: “American counterterrorism policy in the Sahel is based on a dangerously simplistic and security-centric view of threats to regional stability,” Nathaniel K. Powell writes in War on the Rocks. “The Sahel is simply not a vast territory of ‘ungoverned space’ prone to the infiltration of global jihad. Though some armed groups have adopted jihadist ideologies, the proliferation of these groups remains an intensely local phenomenon. The central cause of conflict in most cases is the behavior of state actors, not the spontaneous appearance of foreign jihadists.”

North Korea comes to the Olympics: “No matter who shoulders the blame for the North’s nuclear status and the tensions that have arisen as a result, the fact remains that Pyongyang is a difficult regime to deal with, one that is quick to take offense and doesn’t hesitate to rain artillery fire on the South. Young South Koreans, who have little sense of connection to the North, tend to see only these current realities,” Se-Woong Koo writes in the New York Times. “Moon needs to do a better job explaining why it matters to court Pyongyang at this time. It’s for the safety and well-being of all Koreans, not because of the shared blood between the two countries.”
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