The Soufan Group Morning Brief

email : Webview : Morning Brief: United States, United Kingdom Begin Negotiations To Allow Access To Citizens’ Communications
U.S. and British intelligence officials have quietly begun negotiations on an agreement that would allow British intelligence agencies to request digital information, including social media posts and communications from companies such as Google and Facebook as part of counterterrorism investigations. U.K. officials hope to be able to put in place wire taps on U.S. communication firms for cases that involve British citizens. A draft negotiating document was recently finalized, and serves as a starting point for the talks, according to a report on Thursday in the Washington Post. However, the document has not yet been released to the public. U.S. officials are seeking to reduce pressure on U.S. companies facing a “conflict of laws” between the two countries. A formal agreement would have to be approved by Congress with likely amendments to the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. Washington Post
The State Department announced on Thursday that former Secretary of State Colin Powell and aides to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used private email accounts to receive classified information. Two emails sent to Secretary Powell’s account and ten emails sent to Secretary Rice’s aides have been classified as “secret” or “confidential.” As part of an internal review, the State Department is looking closely at how top officials may have used computers outside government networks to communicate sensitive information about U.S. diplomacy and national security. The FBI is currently conducting a separate investigation on Hillary Clinton’s potential mishandling of classified information on a private email server while serving as Secretary of State. The news comes only days before the next Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire, where Clinton is trailing in polls to Bernie Sanders. New York Times, Guardian, Wall Street Journal

The Hill: Reid: Powell, Rice Private Emails Undercut GOP Clinton Probe
Washington Post: Hillary Clinton’s New Unlikely Ally in Email Controversy: Colin Powell
Bloomberg View: Clinton’s Security Clearance Is Under Scrutiny

Gitmo: The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry (R-TX), told the Obama Administration that time is running out to submit a plan to Congress on closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. In a letter to the White House, Thornberry warned that failure to submit a detailed plan for the prison’s closure by a February 23 deadline “would not advance your objective of closing the detention facility at [Guantanamo].” The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Obama Administration to submit a plan to Congress including specific details such as estimated costs for current and future detainees. Wall Street Journal, The Hill

Domestic Extremism: The Department of Justice is debating legal changes to address the growing threat of domestic anti-government extremists alongside its increased efforts to combat ISIS-inspired terrorism. Senior DOJ officials told Reuters that domestic extremist groups present a “clear and present danger.” In its fight against ISIS, law enforcement uses material support of designated terrorist groups in order to arrest and prosecute individuals. Currently no domestic groups carry such designation, and DOJ officials declined to say if they would support a similar domestic extremist law. In the last two years, 27 supporters of anti-government groups and ideologies have been charged with crimes, according to Reuters. Reuters

Newsweek: Right-Wing Extremists are a Bigger Threat to America than ISIS

San Bernardino: The trial of Enrique Marquez, the man who allegedly supplied weapons to the husband and wife who carried out the San Bernardino attacks, was postponed Thursday from February 23 until July 19. U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal approved a request by both the prosecution and defense to delay the trial in order to have more time to examine evidence. The 24-year-old Marquez pleaded not guilty to purchasing two assault rifles used in the December 2 attacks. Marquez, a childhood friend of shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, also allegedly planned a 2011 attack which was never carried out. If convicted, Marquez faces up to 50 years in prison. Reuters, Los Angeles Times
In the final Democratic debate before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary vote, candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders discussed their 2002 Iraq war votes and their credentials to take over as commander in chief. Clinton attacked Sanders for his lack of foreign policy experience, similar to her criticisms of candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries. Sanders conceded that Clinton had more experience, but argued that judgement is more important than experience. He cited his vote against invading Iraq in 2002 as evidence of the difference in their judgement. Clinton responded, “we did differ. A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS.” Clinton’s Senate vote for the war in Iraq drew scrutiny in the 2008 primaries. Washington Post, Politico, Los Angeles Times

The Atlantic: A Debate Between a Hedgehog and a Fox
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia announced that it would consider sending ground troops into Syria in military operations against the Islamic State, as Russian ground troops made further advances on rebel-held territory in Aleppo. A Saudi military spokesperson said that a decision to send forces would have to be approved by coalition leaders in a meeting in Brussels later this month. He did not give details on the number of troops Saudi would be willing to send. New York Times, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal

Washington Post: Syrian Rebels Are Losing Aleppo and Perhaps Also the War
Guardian: Russian Bombs Triggering Mass Aleppo Exodus, Syria Conference Told
Wall Street Journal: Donor Nations Pledge $10.7 Billion for Syria Relief
Bloomberg View: What Syria’s Refugees Need
Vice News: More Than a Million Civilians Are Under Siege in Syria, Mostly by Regime; Report Says

ISIS in Libya: The Obama Administration is facing mounting pressure over a decision about whether to conduct military operations against the Islamic State in Libya. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford have both said some form of military action will be needed against ISIS, which has increased its base of support and controls key territory within the country. Pentagon officials estimated this week that there are between 5,000 and 6,500 Islamic State fighters in Libya, more than double an estimate from last year. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Yahoo News

Wall Street Journal: A Divided Libya Struggles Against Islamic State Attacks
ABC News: Number of ISIS Fighters in Iraq and Syria Drops, Increases in Libya, U.S. Official Says
Huffington Post: What We Know About ISIS in Libya
Washington Post: A Year Ago, ISIS Burned a Jordanian Pilot to Death. His Family Is Still Anguished

Yemen: A suspected U.S. drone strike killed a top al-Qaeda commander in Yemen on Thursday. Jalal Baleedi was believed to have run al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s combat operations in Yemen and had a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. Baleedi may have recently split from al-Qaeda to become head of the ISIS branch in Yemen, according to some analysts. Reuters, The National
Germany: On Thursday, three suspects allegedly linked to the Islamic State were arrested in coordinated police raids in Germany, including an Algerian man at a refugee shelter, who was suspected to be the head of a terrorist cell. The man, who was not identified in accordance with German law, allegedly posed as a refugee upon entering Germany. Authorities claim that he is a member of ISIS and attended a militant training camp in Syria. The three individuals arrested are suspected supporters of ISIS and were allegedly planning an attack. Prosecutors told reporters that the suspects had a “concrete plan” to conduct an attack in Berlin. New York Times, Deutsche Welle, BBC News

France: Approximately 90 jihadists entered France along with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected leader of the November Paris attacks, according to a woman who tipped off police about Abaaoud’s location. In an interview with a French radio station, the woman, who uses the alias ‘Sonia,’ complained that French authorities were not giving her enough protection after coming forward. She described conversations she had with Abaaoud, including details of how he and his team snuck into France from Syria without official documents. Sonia’s story raised further doubts about Europe’s capacity to screen refugees for potential terrorism ties. Wall Street Journal, BBC News, The Telegraph, The Independent

Assange: A UN human rights panel ruled on Thursday that for the past three and a half years Julian Assange faced “arbitrary detention,” as he has been confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the Swedish and U.K. governments to allow Assange free movement and compensate him for his time. The decision is nonbinding and has already been rejected by British and Swedish authorities. Assange had earlier pledged to turn himself in to the British police if the UN panel had ruled against him. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Reuters
How to (Not) End Wars: “While thought to be narrower in scope at its drafting from the original version proposed by the White House, the 2001 [Authorization for the Use of Military Force] has been expanded by the current administration to condone a raft of counterterrorism operations against militants abroad,”
writes Mark Pomerleau in The Hill. “Given the AUMF’s now broad interpretation and scope of operations globally, it is easy to see how concluding a war in today's era might be difficult.”

Assad Has a Clear Plan to Stay in Power. This Is It: “[The Assad regime] has one clear aim, to survive,” writes Faisal Al Yafai in The National. “It knows the best way to survive is to sow chaos among its opponents. In that respect, the regime has shown a more sophisticated understanding of how militant groups operate than some of its opponents.”

The Rise of the American Taliban: “In the strongholds of hard-line Pakistani Islamist thought, they are talking about Donald Trump and laughing,” writes Lawrence Pintak in Foreign Policy. “Then they shake their heads with concern… [He] endangers that fail-safe ‘retreat mechanism’ in U.S.-Pakistani relations.”
Follow us:

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Islamic State’s Spy Problem.

The Center on National Security at Fordham Law will host “A Discussion with Peter Bergen, Author of United States of Jihad” on February 12, 2016. To RSVP, click here.