The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Defense Lawyers Quit USS Cole Case After Finding Microphone in Meeting Room

Lawyers for the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing quit the capital case in October after discovering a microphone in their client meeting room and were denied the opportunity to either talk about or investigate it, the Miami Herald reported. A 15-page prosecution filing obtained by the Herald is the first authoritative description of the episode that caused three civilian defense attorneys to resign in October from the death-penalty case of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri on ethical grounds.

The prosecution said the listening device that lawyers discovered in an early August inspection of their meeting room was a legacy of past interrogations — and, across 50 days of ostensibly confidential attorney-client meetings, was never turned on. The filing says that after the lawyers quit the case, prison workers “removed flooring, walls, and fixtures” in an attorney-client meeting site exclusively used by Nashiri and his lawyers and confirmed that “legacy microphones” were removed. The court filing is an attempt by prosecutors in the USS Cole case to get the review panel to order a military judge to resume the case.

Rick Kammen, the lead defense lawyer who resigned, said that the prosecution’s filing was “outrageous” and “really grotesque selective declassification.” At the time of the resignations, Kammen said he was only allowed to say that something had occurred that he could not speak about and that he had sought discovery from the judge in order to investigate the episode as well as a hearing. Those requests were denied.

Air Force Col. Vance Spath, the judge in the case, abated the case on February 16, saying he wanted a higher court to clarify his authority as a judge in the war court. Miami Herald, Associated Press, The Hill


Is peace in Afghanistan within reach? “If we assume that the United States will not stay in Afghanistan forever, then there are only two pathways to ensuring that terrorist safe havens are not re-established in Afghanistan,” Anish Goel writes in CNN. “The Afghan government must become strong and stable enough to fully patrol and effectively control the country, thereby preventing safe havens for terrorist groups from forming, or the Taliban must lose interest in establishing these safe havens in the first place. Even after all these years, neither scenario elicits hope.”

Boko Haram has kidnapped more girls. Here’s what we know: “Though the plight of the girls abducted by Boko Haram is wrenching and attention-grabbing, the disproportionate media attention these events receive obscures similar violence against men and boys in the region and distorts our understanding of what roles women and girls play in the conflict,” Hilary Matfess writes in the Washington Post. “Many women have been victims of the insurgency, while some have been complicit in the group’s terrorism.”

The U.S. teeters on the edge of another catastrophic war: “Congress ought to cease its long abdication of its constitutional authority and insist on the total withdrawal of American forces from Syria, ending both the risk to the Americans stationed there and the chance that their presence will lead the United States into a quagmire (as have supposedly limited missions in the past) or a catastrophe that surpasses even the Iraq War and the Vietnam War before it,” Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic.

Baathism caused the chaos in Iraq and Syria: “America’s mistakes in Iraq and perhaps in Syria have been legion, but at the same time we should also realize that the United States, whether at its best, or at its worst like in Iraq, is not omnipotent,” Robert D. Kaplan writes in Foreign Policy. “The dissolution of Iraq was a culmination of sorts: It revealed the utter emptiness of Baathist ideology on the one hand and the end of American imperial-like, unipolar dominance on the other.”

Editor's Picks


The special counsel in the Russian investigation has learned of two conversations in which President Donald Trump asked witnesses about matters discussed with investigators, the New York Times reported on Wednesday. In one episode, the Trump told an aide that the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, should issue a statement denying a January New York Times article, which said McGahn told investigators that Trump once asked him to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump reportedly told the aide, then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, that if McGahn refused to make a statement he could be fired.

In the other episode, Trump asked his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, how his interview had gone with the special counsel’s investigators and whether they had been “nice,” according to two people familiar with the discussion.

Legal experts said Trump’s contact with the McGahn and Priebus most likely did not rise to the level of witness tampering. But witnesses and lawyers who learned about the conversations viewed them as potentially a problem and shared them with Mueller. New York Times, Politico, Reuters

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that American troops in Niger had been authorized to receive imminent-danger pay the day before the commander who oversees military missions in Africa told House lawmakers that the White House had still not approved that request.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said that the decision to include Niger in the list of combat zones where troops receive extra pay was made on Monday — and had not been communicated to General Thomas D. Waldhauser before his testimony the following day. “I don’t believe the approval was processed quickly enough to make it before Gen. Waldhauser’s hearing,” a spokeswoman Major Sheryll Klinkel said in an email.

During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Waldhauser said the request for danger pay for forces deployed to Niger was submitted “a while back.”  He declined to answer questions about an investigation into the Oct. 4 ambush near the Niger-Mali border that killed four American soldiers and five Nigeriens. New York Times

The Trump administration is considering appointing an outside expert as a special envoy to deal with North Korea alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson if talks advance to a serious stage, according to an administration official. There is an ongoing debate in the Trump administration as to North Korea’s intentions and whether possible talks could lead to serious steps toward denuclearization. Meanwhile, the State Department’s roster of senior diplomats dealing with and experienced on North Korea is seriously depleted. The top diplomat dealing with North Korea, Joseph Yun, is departing his post this week and the U.S. has been without a permanent ambassador to Seoul since Trump took office. CNN
The Atlantic: Trump Barely Has Anyone to Talk to North Korea

Sentencing for Ohio man who tried to help ISIS: An Ohio man convicted of trying to help ISIS is scheduled to be sentenced in April. Aaron Daniels pleaded guilty last July to a charge accusing him of trying to travel to Libya to join the group. Authorities allege Daniels wired $250 to an ISIS operative in January 2016 and told an undercover informant that he was interested in traveling to commit violence overseas. Associated Press

Huntsville terror suspect to plead guilty in federal court: A man from Huntsville, Alabama, accused of planning a terrorist attack in Madison County last June will plead guilty to a federal terrorism charge. Aziz Sayyed, 22, will enter a guilty plea to a charge of attempting to provide support to ISIS, according to court records. Sayyed’s attorney Bruce Gardner said the plea deal with federal prosecutors includes a recommendation to the court for a 15-year prison sentence. WHNT

FBI director talks cyber threats: In a speech on cyber security at Boston College on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the U.S. is facing the threat of digital warfare “from all sides.” He said the U.S. is worried “about a wider range of threat actors, from multi-national cyber syndicates and insider threats to hacktivists,” as well as wider range of means of attacks. Boston Globe


Syrian government forces seized vast swaths of territory in opposition-held Eastern Ghouta near Damascus on Wednesday, effectively dividing the besieged enclave in two and further squeezing rebels and tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside. The government, determined to wrestle Eastern Ghouta from the control of Syrian rebels, has resorted to extreme levels of shelling and bombardment to clear the way for its troops to advance on the ground. Hundreds have been killed in the past two weeks, including dozens on reported Wednesday. Associated Press, BBC News

A rare humanitarian aid convoy made it to Eastern Ghouta on Monday but was forced to cut short its mission amid severe bombardment by the government. An aid convoy planned for Thursday was postponed. The UN repeated calls to the Syrian government for a ceasefire in order to facilitate the delivery of aid to Eastern Ghouta. Reuters

ICRC says it has more access to detained ISIS families: The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday it had “increasingly cooperative” access to families of suspected ISIS militants whose safety in detention has been a focus of concern for foreign aid agencies. More than 1,000 wives and children have been held in Iraq since the defeat of ISIS there in August 2017. Some of the women have been put on trial for joining ISIS. Reuters

Afghanistan drone strike kills 20 Pakistani Taliban, officials say: A suspected U.S. drone strike on a training camp in an isolated part of Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar on Wednesday killed more than 20 Pakistani Taliban preparing to launch suicide attacks in Pakistan, officials said. Two Pakistani intelligence officials said the attack killed at least two senior figures in the movement. Reuters

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were deliberately poisoned by a nerve agent in England over the weekend, British police said Wednesday. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters that police were treating Sunday’s incident as “attempted murder by a nerve agent.” He declined to elaborate on the specific substance that was believed to have been used. A police officer who was one of the first to arrive on the scene also has fallen ill and is in serious condition at a hospital, Rowley added.

Also on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned that Britain would “respond robustly” if the attack was found to be the work of a foreign power.
CNN, New York Times
Bloomberg: Russian spy was poisoned by nerve agent, UK police say

UK terror-related arrests rose to record high in 2017: The number of people arrested for terrorism-related offenses in Britain rose by 58 percent in 2017. Data from the Home Office published on Thursday showed that there were 412 terror-related arrests in 2017, compared to 261 such arrests in 2016. Only a third of the arrests resulted in a criminal charge, and not all charges were for terror-related offenses. Of the 110 people charged with terror offenses in 2017, 29 been prosecuted and convicted.
The Guardian, Independent

German far-right terror group members jailed for attacks: A German court on Wednesday sentenced eight Germans to between four and ten years in prison for forming a far-right terrorist organization, attempted murder, and carrying out bomb attacks on asylum-seeker facilities and left-wing political targets. The Dresden regional court said in its verdict that all seven men and one woman, aged between 20 and 40, were guilty of forming the so-called terrorist “Freital Group,” named after a Dresden suburb that has seen a number of anti-refugee protests and attacks. Prosecutors said the group’s members attempted to create a “climate of fear” with a series of attacks on political opponents and refugees in 2015. The group modified pyrotechnics purchased in neighboring Czech Republic to use in explosives attacks. Associated Press, BBC News

Iranian woman who removed headscarf jailed for two years: An Iranian woman who publicly removed her veil in protest against Iran’s compulsory headscarf law has been sentenced to two years in prison, the judiciary said on Wednesday. More than 30 Iranian women have been arrested since the end of December for publically removing their veils in defiance of the law. The Guardian


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.