The Soufan Group Morning Brief

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During an appearance on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Sunday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter sought to dispel recent reports that the Pentagon had used various bureaucratic gimmicks or otherwise exhibited “insubordination” to slow Guantanamo’s closure even as he acknowledged that he was opposed to transfers in certain circumstances. “I think on balance it would be a good thing to close Gitmo,” Carter told Zakaria. “But here’s the issue: there are people in Gitmo who are so dangerous that we cannot transfer them to the custody of another government no matter how much we trust that government.” The defense chief noted that he had submitted the Pentagon’s plan for shuttering the detention facility to President Obama and expected it to be submitted to Congress. The U.S. military has transferred 16 individuals, including those previously deemed “too dangerous to release,” out of Guantanamo this month, bringing the detainee population down to 91. The Hill

Miami Herald: Ex-Guantanamo Detainee in Uruguay Released on Domestic Violence
Lawfare: Does Nashiri’s Habeas Petition Sound in Habeas?
The White House announced late last week its intention to create a new government agency—the National Background Investigations Bureau—to process security clearances. While the NBIB will be nested within the Office of Personnel Management, the Defense Department will be responsible for protecting the sensitive information of government applicants and employees. The bureaucratic overhaul comes nearly eight months after OPM disclosed that Chinese hackers gained access to its security-clearance system and stole more than 20 million background-check records. Following the OPM data breach, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have demanded that the federal government use encryption to help ensure personnel records are secure. Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Defense One, The Hill, U.S. News

San Bernardino: San Bernardino shooters Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik may have been attempting to detonate via remote control an improvised explosive device left behind at the Inland Regional Center as they drove around the area after slaughtering 14 of Farook’s co-workers. According to the Associate Press, federal investigators have posited that the husband-and-wife team may have intended to detonate the homemade bomb as emergency responders arrived at the scene, a tactic that would have mirrored an aborted 2012 plot Farook allegedly discussed with Enrique Marquez, a former friend who has been arrested on terrorism, gun, and immigration charges. Law-enforcement officials have neither been able to recover the couple’s missing computer hard drive nor examine their damaged cell phones, limiting further insight into the terrorists’ motivations and intentions. Associated Press

Petraeus: Federal prosecutors decided by early 2014 that former CIA Director David Petraeus had intentionally obstructed the FBI’s investigation into the four-star general’s disclosure of classified information to Paula Broadwell, his mistress and the author of a biography of him. The prosecutors briefed FBI Director James Comey and then-Attorney General Eric Holder on the matter, arguing that Petraeus’ actions warranted two felony charges for lying to the FBI and violating the Espionage Act. DoJ officials worried, however, that they would not be able to secure a conviction and decided not to file the charges, though prosecutors eventually reached a plea agreement with Petraeus. Some at the FBI are reportedly concerned that the lenient deal could complicate their efforts to prosecute those responsible for classified leaks in the future. Washington Post
During the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raised questions Monday night about whether Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State had prepared her for the presidency. “Experience is important, but judgment is also important,” Sanders said. Taking a page from President Obama’s strategy against Clinton in the 2008 primary campaign, he went on to contrast his vote against the Iraq war with hers for it, arguing that she lacked judgment on “the most significant vote and issue regarding foreign policy that we have seen in this country in modern history.” Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Guardian

Politico: Exclusive: Obama on Iowa, Clinton, Sanders, and 2016Defense One: The Obama Doctrine Has No Heir in Hillary Clinton
Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, declared Monday that an initial round of UN-backed peace talks to end the Syrian conflict will go forward in Geneva later this week. The Italian-Swedish envoy is expected to spend the first round of negotiations shuttling between the Assad regime’s representatives and opposition forces as the two sides have not yet agreed to engage in direct talks. In his remarks to reporters, de Mistura made clear that the final goal of the negotiations is a national ceasefire. Syrian rebel groups continue to call for a transitional governing body without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, though the United States no longer appears to be committed to Assad’s immediate departure. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Guardian, Reuters

Foreign Policy: UN Sets New Date for Syria Peace Talks as Rebels Threaten Boycott
The Atlantic: The Doctor Who Kills Doctors
Guardian: Pro-Assad Troops Retake Territory Near Latakia Stronghold
Vice News: Syrian Peace Talks Have Already Been Delayed—But the UN Insists They Will Happen
Bloomberg View: Opposition Says Kerry Threatens Aid in Syrian Peace Effort
Newsweek: Here’s What You Need to Know About the Delayed Syria Peace Talks

Egypt: Egyptian police officers were out in force in Cairo Monday to prevent spontaneous demonstrations in commemoration of the five-year anniversary of the nonviolent overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s longtime dictator, in 2011. Over the last several days, security forces have arrested civil-society activists and Facebook organizers, ensuring that the remnants of the opposition to the Sisi regime could not exploit the anniversary to protest the current government. Since overthrowing democratically-elected Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former general of Mubarak’s, has imprisoned tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members, secular activists, and journalists. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC

Washington Post: Cairo’s Tahrir Square Was Once the Symbol of the Arab Spring. Now It’s Just a Traffic Circle Again.
Reuters: Five Years After Egypt Uprising, Police—Not Activists—Celebrated
Foreign Policy: Egypt’s Silent Anniversary
TIME: These Are the Faces of Egypt’s Revolutionaries
Slate: Cairo Quiet on Anniversary of Uprising

Pakistan: Gen. Raheel Sharif, the powerful head of the Pakistani Army, announced via Twitter Monday that he intends to step down from the military’s top post when his term expires this coming November. In the summer of 2014, Sharif ordered a long-delayed military campaign against anti-state militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, operations that have widely credited with a nationwide reduction in terrorism. Pakistani army chiefs receive three-year appointments. While extensions are constitutional, previous generals’ decisions to remain in the position beyond their initial appointment have engendered controversy given the country’s history with military coups. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s last military dictator, was the army chief when he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Guardian

Huffington Post: Loved or Feared: Pakistan’s Retiring General Sharif
New York Times: China Considers Larger Role in Afghanistan Peace Process
Iran: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Europe on Monday, where he will meet with political and business leaders in Italy and France in a bid to revive the Iranian economy by re-establishing commercial ties and attracting foreign investment. In addition to a joint venture with French car manufacturer Peugeot, Tehran is expected to ink deals that will allow it to revive its aviation, tourism, and shipping industries. Rouhani’s visit comes a little more than a week after the European Union lifted sanctions on Iran and the United States released billions in frozen Iranian assets as part of the implementation of the nuclear agreement Iran reached with world powers last year. Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Reuters

Newsweek: Iranian President Rouhani Visits Italy, France to Boost Economic Ties
Foreign Policy: State Dept. Denies United States and Iran Are Looking to Establish Direct Flights
The New Yorker: Iran Is Back In Business

Europe: Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, held a press conference in Amsterdam on Monday to underscore that the Islamic State maintains the “willingness and capability to carry out further attacks in Europe.” A recent Europol intelligence assessment concluded that ISIS has groomed several highly-trained operatives to carry out mass-casualty attacks reminiscent of the group’s Paris operation. Wainwright’s warning comes days after ISIS released a video that featured the Paris attackers beheading Syrian victims and suggesting that an attack in the United Kingdom was in the offing. Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Associated Press

Wall Street Journal: ISIS Said to Have ‘Industry of Fake Passports’
Reborn Into Terrorism: “High-risk, high-intensity Islamist activism, in other words, seems tailor-made for the needs of criminals and ex-cons, providing them with a supportive community of fellow outsiders, a schedule of work, a positive identity, and the promise of cleansing away past sins,” writes Simon Cottee in The Atlantic. “This is an acute observation, although it’s scarcely surprising that Westernized recruits to ISIS are just as deviant and lawless as their patrons in Syria and Iraq—the true originators of punk jihad… After all, the spiritual founder of ISIS, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was a violent thug both before and after his embrace of Salafi jihadism.”

The War for Islam: “The common refrain in the West is that this is a 14-century-old feud we don’t understand,” writes Vali Nasr in Foreign Policy. “But sectarianism should not be dismissed out of hand as an ancient feud that defies modern logic. The violent paroxysm in today’s Middle East is a modern phenomenon, a product of contemporary politics and priorities. Furthermore, it is playing out not in obscure theological forums, but in the political arena.”

A Rainy Anniversary in Tahrir Square: “In an authoritarian state, you can have repression without active dissent—the relationship between these elements is not necessarily logical or causal,” writes Peter Hessler in The New Yorker. “It’s surprising how little sense of crisis or anger is apparent these days in Egypt, and how little energy seems directed toward political life. For most people, the beginning of the Arab Spring seems far away, and they are much more likely to compare their current situation to the first half of 2013, when Morsi was in power and the country appeared to be much closer to collapse, with repeated shortages in electricity, gasoline, and other basic goods.”
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For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Europe’s Heightened Terror Concerns.
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