The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Tens of thousands of ISIS files that include personal information of over 22,000 ISIS members and recruits from 51 different countries were given to Sky News by a disillusioned member of the extremist group. The documents had been stolen from the head of ISIS’s internal security police. ISIS reportedly required new members to fill out a 23-question form before they were inducted into the group that included names, addresses, nationalities, telephone numbers, and family members. Other questions ask about previous fighting experience, route of entry into the caliphate, blood type, special skills, level of obedience, and whether the applicant is willing to become a suicide bomber. Sky News, NBC News

The Times of India: 23 questions asked to prospective jihadis upon entrance into ISIS

ISIS chemical weapons: An ISIS detainee held at a temporary facility in Erbil, Iraq has provided information about the group’s use of chemical weapons. Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, a former Iraqi biological and chemical weapons expert who had worked under Saddam Hussein, provided details about how ISIS had used a powder form of mustard gas inside artillery shells. Al-Afari is the individual captured last month by U.S. special forces that was described as a “significant” ISIS operative. New York Times, CNN, ABC News

Newsweek: US Special Forces Capture ISIS Chemical Weapons Chief
Christian Science Monitor: What is the ISIS top chemical weapons engineer telling the US?
Washington Post: What tiny Denmark is doing to fight the Islamic State in Syria
On Wednesday, a jury found U.S Air Force veteran Tairod Pugh guilty of providing material support to ISIS and of obstruction of justice. It is the first time a jury has convicted an American charged with supporting ISIS. Pugh was accused of traveling to Turkey with the intention of crossing the border with Syria to join the extremist group. Prosecutors said he had watched ISIS propaganda including beheadings, crucifixions, and other gruesome acts and had drafted a letter to his wife saying he would “use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic State.” Pugh’s defense team argued that although he was an obvious ISIS sympathizer, his intentions of joining the group were only fantasies. He faces up to 35 years in prison. New York Times, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Newsday

Gitmo: All 11 of Massachusetts’ congressional representatives support President Obama’s push to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. In a survey conducted by the Associated Press, the Bay State representatives, all of whom are Democrats, expressed their support of the President’s plan to close the facility. Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) said that “the facility's continued existence has long been a rallying cry for terrorist organizations around the world, inspiring extremists to threaten the United States, our interests and our allies.” Associated Press

The Hill: Republicans move to oppose closing Gitmo

Drones: The U.S. military has used drones to conduct surveillance over U.S. soil for non-military missions, according to the Pentagon Inspector General. A report released to the public under a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU said that less than 20 drone flights took place between 2006 and 2015, all of which have complied with the law. USA Today, The Hill

Apple v. FBI: Attorney General Loretta Lynch insists that the government is not seeking a “back door” to Apple’s encryption technology. Speaking in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Lynch said that the government does “not want a back door into Apple or anyone else’s technology. What we are asking for is for Apple to comply with a valid court order” in the case of unlocking an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. The Hill

Wall Street Journal: Americans Divided Over Apple’s Phone Privacy Fight, WSJ/NBC Poll Shows

U.S. Special Operations Forces conducted a joint U.S.-Somali helicopter raid against al-Shabab in Somalia on Tuesday killing at least 19 fighters, according to defense officials. A Pentagon spokesperson said that the U.S. forces only played an advisory role in the operation and did join Somali troops in attacking the objective. New York Times, Washington Post

CNN: Somali source: U.S. attack killed 2 high-level Al-Shabaab figures

Yemen: Saudi Arabia began direct peace talks with Houthi Rebels in Yemen on Wednesday near the Saudi-Yemeni border. Houthi spokesperson Mohammed al-Shire’i said that “the talks focus on ways of ending the war and starting an immediate cease-fire.” Wall Street Journal

BBC News: Yemen conflict: Saudis in prisoner swap with Houthi rebels

Syria: On Wednesday, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he expects “substantive, deeper” peace talks to begin next Monday between the opposition leadership and the Syrian government. Although there have been repeated violations in the U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire, de Mistura said that there has been “quite a sustained reduction of violence” in the conflict. Reuters, BBC News, Washington Post

Italy: Italian police arrested a Somali asylum seeker suspected of inciting jihad and planning a terrorist attack on a train station in Rome on Wednesday. The 22-year-old man is reportedly an imam and was arrested at a migrant reception center in the southern town of Campomarino on the Adriatic coast. Financial Times, Reuters

European Union: The EU Parliament is expected to vote today on a resolution that condemns “the torture and assassination” of an Italian student in Egypt. The resolution reportedly describes a trend of “torture, death in custody, and enforced disappearances across Egypt” and calls for the release of unlawfully detained journalists and human rights activists in the country. The Intercept
Intel Whistle-Blowers Fear Government Won't Protect Them: “Nearly three years after Edward Snowden bypassed the intelligence community's own process for reporting wrongdoing...the system for protecting whistle-blowers inside the national security state remains broken,” writes Eli Lake on Bloomberg View. “Whistle-blowers are often too intimidated to take their case to the inspectors general and Congress.”

Reminder: You Should Care About Mass Surveillance, Even if You’ve Done Nothing Wrong: “A government’s abuse of surveillance to intimidate and discredit law-abiding citizens isn’t something that happens only in places like Russia,” writes John Reed on Just Security. “Within living memory in the US alone, one can recall Nixon’s enemies, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI files on everyone who may have posed a threat to his power, COINTELPRO, and more specifically, that program’s use of surveillance to assist in attempt to ruin Martin Luther King Jr.”

Time for a new Sykes-Picot Agreement to fix the Middle East: “The only answer left, the one not yet tried, is to negotiate a comprehensive resolution that addresses all of the issues, borders and struggles now underway...“it will mean giving Islamic State a seat at the table, as the British were forced to do with the Irish Republican Army in the 1990s to resolve the “troubles” in Northern Ireland,” writes Peter Van Buren on “One, by definition, must negotiate peace with one’s enemies. That is why, in part, the current ceasefire in Syria, which excluded Islamic State, has little chance of achieving any long-term progress.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Islamic State’s Savagery in Yemen

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