The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Thursday, April 5, 2018

CIA Director Nominee Will Explain Role in Torture Program

Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be CIA director, will fully explain her role in the agency’s use of harsh interrogation practices on terror suspects after 9/11, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Wednesday. Haspel currently serves as Deputy CIA Director. In the run-up to her confirmation hearing and a full-Senate vote on her nomination, lawmakers are asking the CIA to declassify information about her more than three-decade career at the CIA.

After Trump nominated Haspel, details were leaked about her time as chief of base of a secret prison in Thailand where terror suspects were waterboarded after 9/11. Haspel also drafted a memo that called for the destruction of 92 videotapes of interrogation sessions. Their destruction, ordered by a higher-ranking CIA official in 2005, prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.

“Gina plans to be totally transparent in regards to this issue. I have looked deeply into this and she will be making that fully available to the relevant (congressional) committees,” Coats told reporters. “We want to declassify as much as possible without jeopardizing someone’s sources and methods.” Associated Press


Why the acquittal of Noor Salman may be a turning point in the ‘War on Terror’: “The difference with the Salman case is not just that she was acquitted on all charges—an important moment in and of itself—but that the results have been accepted with equanimity by a wide spectrum of pundits, politicians, and legal authorities,” Karen J. Greenberg writes in The Nation. “Salman’s acquittal—and more importantly, widespread acceptance of the verdict—signals that the United States may be ready to turn a page in the war on terror. The country may finally be on the path to a renewed trust in the merits of a court system that allows for a verdict of innocence based on the facts, even when it comes to terrorism.”

For Russia, Trump was a vehicle, not a target: “It’s been a year since I testified to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016,” Clint Watts writes in the New York Times. “The revelations from Robert Mueller’s indictments since then have provided so much clarity on how Russia interfered in our democracy—yet Americans seem more confused about the question of possible collusion with Russia.”

The Arab world and the twilight of the Washington Consensus: “Far from making recourse to the IMF only during times of severe economic crisis, Arab capitals’ relationships with the IMF have evolved to near perpetual dependency,” Michael Gordon writes in Real Clear World. “After decades of IMF financing, commitments to reform, and billions of dollars, what have these countries to show? Social indicators such as unemployment, poverty, and income inequality actually worsened in the majority of states that accepted IMF intervention through the 1980s and 1990s.”

Editor's Picks


New York Times: The ISIS Files

Bloomberg: Inside the Google of Counter-Terrorism

Center for Strategic and International Studies: Al Qaeda’s Struggling Campaign in Syria


The White House said on Wednesday that the U.S. is committed to continuing to fight ISIS in Syria, signaling a retreat from comments by President Trump on Tuesday that the 2,000 American forces in Syria should quickly return home from the conflict.

“The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said one day after Trump met with military commanders to discuss the future of the mission. “The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated.” Sanders also told reporters that Trump will not “put an arbitrary timeline” on withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria. New York Times, ABC News

But officials said Trump made it clear that the U.S. will no longer lead stabilization and recovery efforts in formerly ISIS-controlled areas in Syria. The change narrows the scope of U.S. involvement in Syria from the administration’s strategy that was spelled out earlier this year. Regarding when U.S. troops may return home, one senior official said, “it’s months, not years.” Wall Street Journal
New York Times: Pentagon Wades Deeper Into Detainee Operations in Syria

George Nader, a witness who is cooperating in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, has connections to both the Persian Gulf states and Russia, interviews and records show. Nader’s ties to the UAE are well-documented but the extent of his links to Russia had not been previously disclosed. Nader’s dealings with Russia date at least to 2012. In September 2012, he helped broker a controversial $4.2 million deal for the government of Iraq to buy Russian weapons. At the time, he was an informal adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and he accompanied Maliki to Moscow to sign the arms deal at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since then, according to people familiar with his travels, Nader has returned frequently to Russia on behalf of the Emirati government. New York Times

Facebook said on Wednesday that the personal information of up to 87 million people, most of them Americans, may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. The new figure is substantially greater than the previous estimate of how many users’ information Cambridge Analytica harvested, which was more than 50 million. Facebook released the revised figure as part of an extended statement about changes it is making to how it handles personal data. The company said it would start telling users on April 9 about whether their information might have been shared with Cambridge Analytica. New York Times, BBC News

Facebook also said that most of its 2 billion users likely have had their public profiles scraped by outsiders without users’ explicit permission. “Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped,” Facebook said. Washington Post

U.S. plans to sanction Russian oligarchs: The U.S. plans to sanction Russian oligarchs this week under a law targeting Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, in what could be the most aggressive move so far against Russia’s business elite. The sanctions would follow the March 15 decision to sanction 19 people and five entities, including Russian intelligence services, for cyber attacks against the U.S. Those steps were the most significant taken against Moscow since President Trump took office, but his decision at the time not to target oligarchs and government officials close to Russian President Vladimir Putin drew criticism from U.S. lawmakers. Reuters

Judge casts doubt on Manafort case challenging Mueller: The federal judge overseeing the criminal case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Wednesday cast doubt on a lawsuit brought by Manafort challenging the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Manafort’s lawyers have asked the court to bar Mueller from bringing future charges against Manafort, saying a provision authorizing the special counsel to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from” its probe of possible collusion between Trump officials and the Russian government is an abuse of the Justice Department’s legal authority.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson criticized Manafort’s lawyers, saying, “You have to wait until the harm is crystallized,” the judge said. “You’re saying, ‘Stop something’ that I don’t even know is going to happen. I don’t understand what’s left to your case.” CNN, Politico, Washington Post

Google employees urge CEO to pull out of Pentagon project: Thousands of Google employees have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” the letter says. It asks that Google pull out of Project Maven, a Pentagon pilot program, and announce a policy that it will not “ever build warfare technology.” New York Times, Gizmodo


A dispute between the speaker of the Somali Parliament and the country’s president briefly threatened on Wednesday to turn violent. Parliamentary police officers loyal to speaker of the parliament Mohamed Osman Jawari disrupted a no-confidence vote against him early Wednesday. Supporters of the no-confidence motion said the parliamentary police refused to let them inside the building. In response, state security forces loyal to President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo, deployed outside the parliament building. Conflict was avoided, but the dispute highlighted the fragility of the federal government. New York Times

Iraq may operate against ISIS inside Syria: Iraq is reportedly considering carrying out special forces operations against ISIS militants in Syria to stop them infiltrating back into Iraq. While Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in Iraq over ISIS in December, he described the militants’ presence in Syria this week as a real danger. “Our plan is to move from fighting terrorism in Iraq in Iraq to fighting terrorism in the region ... We are not trespassing over our border or attacking neighbouring countries,” he said. Reuters

Russia, Iran, Turkey meet over Syria's future: Russia, Iran, and Turkey on Wednesday concluded high-level talks on Syria with a commitment to achieving a “lasting ceasefire” in the country, even as the future role of U.S. forces in the country remains in doubt. Leaders from the three countries reiterated the need to drive “terrorists” out of Syria, to find a political solution to the conflict, and to provide reconstruction and aid. The U.S. was notably absent from the talks. In remarks at the White House this week, President Donald Trump reiterated his desire to pull U.S. troops from Syria. CNN, Washington Post

Saudis intercepts missile fired by Yemeni Houthi rebels: Saudi air defense forces said Wednesday that they shot down a missile launched by Yemeni rebels at the southern Saudi border city of Jizan. The rebels said the attack was aimed at a Saudi Aramco oil facility in retaliation for heavy Saudi airstrikes. Associated Press

An international chemical weapons watchdog rebuffed Russia’s request on Wednesday to join Britain’s investigation into the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. Russia requested the session of the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to push its repeated rejection of Britain’s allegation that Moscow was behind the poisonings last month. Russia’s proposal for a joint investigation received only six votes, while fifteen countries voted against Moscow and seventeen abstained.

In response to the vote, Russia’s UN ambassador called for an open meeting of the Security Council Thursday. Russia has denied any involvement in the poisoning. In a press conference after the vote, Moscow said it had reason to believe that the incident in Salisbury was a “terrorist attack.”
Associated Press, BBC News

Russia tests missiles in the Baltic Sea: Russia on Wednesday started a live-fire military exercise in the Baltic Sea in a move a top Latvian defense official called a “show of force” only a day after Baltic leaders met with President Donald Trump. The three-day missile test forced a partial shutdown of Latvian civilian airspace and was the first time Russia has tested live munitions in Latvia’s exclusive economic zone. Washington Post

A Conversation With David Phillips & Ahmet Yayla

Moderated By Assaf Moghadam
Monday, April 9, 12:30PM
Fordham Law School

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Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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