The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

CIA Director Pompeo Met With Kim Jong Un in North Korea

CIA Director Mike Pompeo made a top-secret trip to North Korea this month to meet with the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, on behalf of the Trump administration. The clandestine mission came soon after Pompeo was nominated to be President Donald Trump's next secretary of state. The meeting to prepare for direct talks between President Trump and Kim took place around April 1, officials said.

Earlier on Tuesday, speaking ahead of bilateral meetings in Florida with Prime Minister of Japan, Trump confirmed that U.S. officials had held direct talks with the North Korean government at “extremely high levels.” Trump said he would sit down with Kim in early June, if not sooner. U.S. officials said North Korea is among the topics that will dominate the two-day summit with Abe and his delegation. CNN, NBC News, Washington Post

Also on Tuesday, South Korea said Kim plans to formally announce his willingness to denuclearize North Korea when he meets with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on April 27. The statement is expected to be part of a joint declaration the two leaders will adopt, according to Moon’s chief of staff, Im Jong-seok. He said the joint statement would be broad and fairly “abstract,” because any substantial deal on the North’s nuclear weapons must be struck between Kim and Trump. New York Times
New York Times: CIA Chief’s Meeting With Kim Jong-un Is Latest Step in Winding Path to Talks


Repeal, don’t replace, Trump’s war powers: “The Corker-Kaine resolution won’t bring an end to the Forever War; it will institutionalize it,” Gene Healy and John Glaser write in the New York Times. “Instead of ratifying war powers that three presidents in a row have seized illegally, Congress should repeal — and not replace — the 2001 legislation”

America continues to ignore the risk of election hacking: “Even without foreign interference, elections in recent years have been marred by software glitches, clerical errors, and machine failures that have prevented people from voting, caused long lines at polling places, and prompted some voters to give up and walk away,” Sue Halpern writes in The New Yorker. “If these bugs were to be turned into features and deployed systematically by malicious actors … chaos would ensue.”

Trump’s Syria strategy makes perfect sense: “The strikes in Syria were not inconsequential. The international community successfully used force in a complicated, multisided environment and proved not to be deterred by Russia’s presence in the country,” Aaron Stein writes in Foreign Policy. “However, the use of force to coerce changes in state behavior is a short-term response and won’t achieve any long-term gains unless policies are adopted that fit with the current reality in Syria.”

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The Pentagon has decided to transfer an American citizen who has been detained in Iraq for more than seven months to the custody of another country in several days, according to a partly redacted court filing revealed on Tuesday. The unnamed man, who was captured in September by Syrian opposition fighters and transferred to U.S. custody, is a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen. He is a suspected of being a low-level member of ISIS. Court documents did not indicate whether the prisoner will be moved to Saudi Arabia or another country as part of the plan.

But according to the man’s lead lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz of the ACLU, he does not want to go to the specified country and intends to fight the proposed transfer in court. “The Trump administration has been detaining this American citizen unlawfully for more than seven months, and forcibly rendering him to another country would be an unconscionable violation of his constitutional rights,” Hafetz said in a statement.

Based on a ruling in late December by Judge Tanya Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the military needs to wait at least 72 hours before releasing the prisoner to another country to give lawyers for the prisoner time to challenge the decision. An unnamed senior State Department official said in the court filing that “intensive efforts” led to the plan to transfer the prisoner and said “it is imperative that the transfer occur quickly and smoothly.” A court order delaying or blocking the transfer “would undermine the United States’ credibility with an important foreign partner that has agreed to this request,” the filing added. Judge Chutkan has scheduled a hearing for Thursday morning. Associated Press, New York Times, Wall Street Journal

Trump administration officials faced tough questions on Tuesday from lawmakers who are seeking to end U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen unless its takes “urgent steps” to reduce the enormous toll of human suffering there. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pressed representatives from the Pentagon, State Department, and USAID about the implications of U.S. assistance to the Saudi coalition. While lawmakers argued that the Saudi campaign is fueling suffering that will drive terrorism, administration officials said that countering Iran is essential and that the situation would be worse if the U.S. pulls out. CNN, Washington Post

A former counterterrorism agent at the FBI who gave classified documents to the media in an effort to reveal how the bureau treated minority communities pleaded guilty on Tuesday to the unauthorized disclosure and retention of national defense information. Terry J. Albury, 39, said in a statement that he knew it was illegal but felt he had to act against a culture in the bureau that often treats minority communities with suspicion and disrespect. Under his plea agreement, Albury faces a likely sentence of between 37 and 57 months. New York Times, Associated Press

McConnell dismisses bill that would protect Mueller: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday thwarted a bipartisan effort to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s job, saying he will not hold a floor vote on the legislation even if it is approved next week in the Senate Judiciary Committee. McConnell said the bill is unnecessary because President Trump will not fire Mueller. Last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would make it harder to fire Mueller. CNN, Politico

GOP chairmen extend deadline for DOJ to provide Comey memos: Three Republican lawmakers have agreed to extend their deadline for the Justice Department to hand over copies of former FBI Director James Comey’s memos documenting his interactions with President Trump. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy demanded Friday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein produce the documents by Monday afternoon. A Gowdy aide said Rosenstein contacted them and asked for a few more days to consider their request, and the chairmen agreed. Politico

Jury deliberating case of militiamen accused of plotting to bomb Somalis: Jurors began deliberating Tuesday afternoon in the case against three Kansas militia members accused of scheming to bomb a mosque and apartment complex housing Somalis. Curtis Allen, Patrick Stein, and Gavin Wright face charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Wright also faces a charge of lying to the FBI. “Their ultimate goal was to wake people up and to slaughter every man, woman and child in the building,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mattivi said in closing argument on Tuesday. Defense attorneys have said their clients were entrapped by the federal government. Associated Press, The Guardian

Woman tried to get into CIA headquarters with loaded gun: A woman drove to the entrance of the CIA headquarters with a loaded gun, a passport, and $100,000 in cash Friday afternoon, according to law enforcement. Beth Huth had her first appearance in federal court on Tuesday on a charge of possessing a weapon on an agency installation. An affidavit says Huth arrived at the main entrance of the compound Friday and communicated nonverbally. When asked if she had anything illegal in the vehicle, Huth nodded and reached for a handbag. An officer told her to stop and write what she was searching for. She wrote “GUN.”  The officer also found directions from Ohio to “Langley, McLean, Virginia” in her car. Washington Post

Guantanamo installs new commander: Navy Rear Adm. John Ring, a former commander of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, became the 18th commander of Guantanamo prison operations on Tuesday, taking charge of a 1,700-member military and civilian staff responsible for 41 captives. Ring replaced Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, who took over in April 2017, in a ceremony that was closed to non-military media coverage. Miami Herald


Saudi Arabia said it is in discussions with the U.S. about sending troops to Syria as the Trump administration seeks ways to stabilize the country’s northeast while winding down its own military presence. Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the deliberations are “ongoing” on what type of force needs to remain in eastern Syria and where that force would come from.

“We are in discussions with the U.S. and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis about sending forces into Syria,” he said, adding that the offer to send troops had been made previously under the Obama administration but ultimately was not accepted.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, one idea that is currently being discussed within the National Security Council is to offer the Saudis major non-NATO status if they were to come through with forces and funding for a presence in Syria. Designating Saudi Arabia a major non-NATO ally would formally acknowledge their standing as a strategic military partner with the U.S. Washington Post, CNN

Microsoft, Facebook, and more than 30 other global technology companies on Tuesday announced a joint pledge not to assist any government in offensive cyber attacks. The Cybersecurity Tech Accord, which vows to protect all customers from attacks regardless of geopolitical or criminal motive, follows a year that saw an unprecedented level of destructive cyber attacks, including the global WannaCry worm and the devastating NotPetya attack.

“We’re living amidst a generation of new weapons, and where cyberspace has become the new battlefield,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said on Tuesday. Smith, who led efforts to organize the alliance, said the devastating cyber attacks in 2017 demonstrated the need for the technology sector to “take a principled path toward more effective steps to work together and defend customers around the world.” It was not clear whether any companies would change their existing policies as a result of joining the accord. The list of companies does not include any from Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea, which are widely viewed as the most active countries in launching destructive cyber attacks against their foes. Reuters

UK says nerve agent that poisoned spy was in liquid form: The nerve agent used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was delivered in liquid form, British officials said Tuesday, as they revealed it will take months to clean up the toxic trail the poison left around the city of Salisbury. The UK Environment Department said nine sites need “specialist cleaning,” including a restaurant visited by the Skripals on March 4, the day they were found unconscious. About 190 specially trained troops are assisting environmental, health, and defense officials with the cleanup, it said. Associated Press, BBC News

Two members of alleged Sydney airport terrorist plot arrested in Iraq: An ISIS commander suspected of hatching a plan to blow up a flight from Sydney last year and an Australian ISIS fighter allegedly connected to the country's most notorious terror cell have been captured in Iraq. Senior Australian officials confirmed that ISIS commander Tarek Khayat and his Australian relative, Ahmed Merhi, were detained in Iraq earlier this year. Australian police allege Merhi communicated with a homegrown ISIS cell behind several Sydney plots. Associated Press, 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

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