The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Senators Release Bill to Update AUMF

A bipartisan group of senators on Monday released a proposal that seeks to modernize a 2001 law underpinning the war on terrorism, in what would be the first update of U.S. war powers in 16 years. The new bill aims to replace the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). That law was passed shortly after 9/11 and has provided legal justification for nearly two decades of military action against numerous terrorist groups across more than a dozen countries.

Republicans Bob Corker, Todd Young, and Jeff Flake joined with Democrats Tim Kaine, Chris Coons, and Bill Nelson to introduce the legislation. The senators say the bill is needed to strengthen congressional oversight of the fight against terrorism and modernize the law. The revised AUMF would apply only to the war on terror and would have no bearing on legal authorities for strikes such as the one carried out over the weekend against Syria. It stipulates that the president must notify Congress about any new forces he designates as falling under the auspices of the AUMF within 48 hours of engaging them in hostilities. Congress would then have a 60-day window to object.

“For too long, Congress has given Presidents a blank check to wage war,” Kaine said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the legislation. “Our proposal finally repeals those authorizations and makes Congress do its job by weighing in on where, when, and with who we are at war.” Wall Street Journal, Washington Post


How Trump can actually reach ‘mission accomplished’ in Syria: “The U.S. has to find the balance in Syria between limited hard power (small numbers of ground troops, special forces, offensive cyber, long-range precision strikes) and soft power (diplomacy, economic incentives, coalition-building to share costs, strategic messaging),” James Stavridis writes in Bloomberg. “A pair of well-executed air strikes is a long, long way from ‘mission accomplished.’ We’ve got more work to do in Syria.”

Corker’s proposal hands Trump a dangerous, open-ended war authorization: “What the U.S. Congress is now poised to consider is a war authorization that would, at best, replicate and potentially aggravate the problems of the existing AUMFs, undermining both the laws of war and international human rights law. It would represent Congress giving a new stamp of approval to the administration’s already dramatically stepped-up use of lethal force,” Daphne Eviatar writes in Just Security. “With reports of civilian casualties and unlawful killings mounting, and with little official acknowledgment or effective investigation of alleged violations, this sends the wrong message to the White House.”

What U.S. generals get wrong about Afghanistan: “The escalation in U.S. air operations has not rid the country of groups linked to Islamic State or persuaded the Taliban to ‘reconcile,’” Patricia Gossman writes in Reuters. “Instead it may have helped spur a tit-for-tat cycle of retaliation.”

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President Donald Trump on Monday put the brakes on a preliminary plan to impose additional economic sanctions on Russia, walking back a Sunday announcement by Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley that a new round of sanctions was imminent.

Preparations to punish Russia anew for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government over an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria caused tensions at the White House. Haley had said on “Face the Nation” with CBS News that sanctions on Russian companies behind the equipment related to the attack would be announced Monday by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But Trump conferred with his national security advisers later Sunday and told them he was upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them, according to several people familiar with the plan.

Administration officials said the economic sanctions were under serious consideration, along with other measures that could be taken against Russia, but said Trump had not given final authorization to implement them. Administration officials said Monday it was unlikely Trump would approve any additional sanctions without another triggering event by Russia, describing the strategy as being in a holding pattern. The White House publicly characterized Haley’s announcement on Sunday as a misstatement. Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters

The FBI sought a search warrant for the email account of former CIA and NSA chief General Michael Hayden in 2012, according to a newly unsealed court filing. The warrant application was part of a broader Obama-era investigation into a leak of classified information to the press. Another official later pleaded guilty in connection to the disclosure.

The search warrant application filed in November 2012 shows the bureau suspected Hayden of being a source for a June 1, 2012, New York Times article about the Stuxnet computer virus malware crafted to sabotage an element of Iran’s nuclear program in 2010. The article, written by reporter David Sanger, confirmed suspicions that the U.S. was partly responsible for the attack, which the story said was part of a top secret American-Israeli program called Olympic Games. The 2012 application does not state whether the warrant was granted. Hayden’s name and email address are redacted from the unsealed filing, but the case is captioned with Hayden’s AOL email address. The Daily Beast

White House cybersecurity official to return to the NSA: Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity coordinator, has announced he will return to the NSA. Joyce’s announced departure comes on the heels of the resignation of White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert and a number of other NSC officials, following the appointment of John Bolton as President Trump’s new National Security Advisor. Joyce, who was detailed to the White House from the NSA at the start of the Trump administration, has served more than 25 years at the spy agency. Reuters, Washington Post

Senate Democrats seek more public information on CIA nominee: Three Democratic senators are asking the CIA to publicly disclose more information on President Donald Trump's nominee to head the agency as uncertain confirmation proceedings gear up. Much of the information pertaining to Gina Haspel, a career intelligence officer who is currently the Deputy Director at the CIA, is classified. A letter written by three members of the Senate Intelligence Committee — Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — asks current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to declassify more information, noting that four previous requests have gone unfulfilled. NBC News

Federal judge denies Trump's bid to review records seized in FBI raid: A federal judge dealt a legal setback to President Trump on Monday, denying his bid to review records seized in an FBI search of his personal attorney's home and office before federal prosecutors review them. U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood issued the ruling after lawyers for President Trump, the Department of Justice, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, and the Trump Organization squared off in a high-stakes clash over who should be able to see records seized last week in an FBI raid on Cohen’s home, hotel room, and offices. USA Today


The Trump administration is seeking to assemble an Arab force to replace the U.S. military contingent in Syria and help stabilize the northeastern part of the country after the defeat of ISIS, U.S. officials said Monday. The initiative comes as the administration has asked Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE to contribute billions of dollars to help restore stability to northern Syria. It wants Arab nations to send troops as well, officials said. President Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton recently called Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s acting intelligence chief, to see if Cairo would contribute to the effort, officials said.

The mission of the regional force would be to work with the local Kurdish and Arab fighters the U.S. has been supporting against ISIS, as well as and preclude Iranian-backed forces from moving into former ISIS territory, according to U.S. officials. Wall Street Journal

The international chemical weapons watchdog that sent a fact-finding team to Syria said Monday that Syrian and Russian officials blocked efforts to reach the site where government forces allegedly used chemical weapons against civilians. A team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Damascus on Saturday and met with government officials to work out a plan for deployment to Douma. But 48 hours later, they were prevented from reaching the site due to “pending security issues.” In London, Prime Minister Theresa May accused Syria, supported by Russia, of trying to conceal details of the attack in Douma. Later on Monday, Russia said the chemical weapons inspectors a will be permitted to Douma on Wednesday. New York Times, USA Today, BBC News

Iraqi women and children with suspected links to ISIS are being denied humanitarian aid and prevented from returning to their homes, and the women are subjected to sexual violence in displacement camps, Amnesty International said Tuesday. The rights group said its latest report is based on 92 interviews with women in eight camps for displaced Iraqis in the provinces of Nineveh and Salaheddin, north of Baghdad. The report details the predicament of thousands of families left to fend for themselves after male relatives were killed, arbitrarily arrested, or forcibly disappeared while fleeing ISIS-held areas in and around the northern city of Mosul. Associated Press
New York Times: A 10-Minute Trial, a Death Sentence: Iraqi Justice for ISIS Suspects

In October, a group of American soldiers rushed to reach a spot in Niger after intelligence officials intercepted a signal from the cellphone of a terrorist known as Doundoun Cheffou. He wasn’t there, but hours later four of the Americans were killed in an ambush that remains under investigation. This month, Nigerien forces apprehended a man who matches the description of Cheffou, a senior lieutenant of a former affiliate of Al Qaeda that pledged allegiance to ISIS, known as Islamic State of the Greater Sahara. The Nigerien authorities are working to verify his identity. The man suspected of being Cheffou was reportedly seized during an army patrol two weeks ago near the Mali border. New York Times

The U.S. and Britain on Monday alleged that Russian government-backed hackers had infected computer routers around the world in a cyber espionage campaign that targeted government agencies, businesses, and critical infrastructure operators. U.S. and British officials told reporters in a conference call that they planned to issue a joint alert on the attacks, which were part of a cyber espionage campaign that could be leveraged in the future to launch offensive attacks.

The U.S. and UK have previously blamed Russia for major cyberattacks that created disruption worldwide. But they portrayed this as far more serious because of the potential to undermine infrastructure. Millions of machines had been targeted in a “sustained” campaign and officials admitted they still did not know the extent to which the system had been compromised.

Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity coordinator who is about to depart for the NSA, set out a range of actions the U.S. could take against Russia, including as fresh sanctions and indictments as well as retaliating with its own offensive cyber capabilities. “We are pushing back and we are pushing back hard,” he said. Reuters, The Guardian
BBC News: Could Russia and the West Be Heading for Cyber-War?
New York Times: U.S. and UK Warn of Cybersecurity Threat From Russia

EU to give judges power to seize terror suspect emails and texts: The European Commission on Tuesday will propose giving national judges the extraterritorial power to order companies to hand over “e-evidence” held in servers in another EU country or outside of the bloc. The warrants would be used for investigations into terror offenses and other serious crime. Under the new law, tech companies would be expected to hand over the information within 10 days of receiving a warrant, known as a “European Production Order,” or in as little as six hours “in emergency cases.” Financial Times


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

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