The Soufan Group Morning Brief



After a meeting at CIA headquarters on Wednesday, President Obama said that the United States has made significant gains against ISIS, reducing its number of fighters to the lowest level in two years and heavily restricting its sources of financing. Obama added that although ISIS has “the ability to inflict horrific violence,” “we have momentum, and we intend to keep that momentum.” Obama is set to travel to Saudi Arabia next week to coordinate U.S. efforts against ISIS with Gulf leaders. New York Times, CNN, NBC News

Reuters: U.S. Military Confirms It Is Using Cyber Capabilities Against ISIS
The Hill: Pentagon: ISIS fight enters 'phase two'
New York Times: In Photos, ISIS Shows How Brussels Terror Originated in Syria
ABC News: ISIS Names Brussels Attackers

The U.S. Intelligence Community is considering dropping its lowest level of classification, known as “confidential,” according to a memo from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper wrote that the change could promote government transparency by “focusing personnel more directly on only marking items that would cause significant and demonstrable harm to national security if improperly released.” ABC News, NBC News

Encryption: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R., N.C.) and Vice Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) released a draft version of the committee’s encryption bill on Wednesday. The bill would require companies to provide “technical assistance” to government investigations following the issuance of a warrant to obtain access to encrypted data. Wall Street Journal, NBC News

New York Times: F.B.I. Tried to Defeat Encryption 10 Years Ago, Files Show
The Hill: Senate Dem vows to filibuster encryption bill
Wall Street Journal: No Warrant Required for Phone Location Records, Court Rules

Gitmo: Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would require the Pentagon to make public information about Guantanamo Bay detainees slated for transfer to another country. The proposed legislation would require information to be released to the public at least 21 days before the detainee’s transfer. The information would include the detainee’s name, their “risk profile,” and a summary of the agreement with the host country. The Hill

Torture: On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry responded to Donald Trump’s pro-torture rhetoric, affirming that “the United States is opposed to the use of torture in any form at any time by any government or non-state actor.” Speaking at the unveiling of the State Department’s annual human rights report, Kerry sought to remove even a “scintilla of doubt” about American values in response to public statements made by “others” in the past months. Kerry added that human rights abuses by authoritarian governments contributed to the rise of terrorist groups over the last year. Politico, Associated Press, Washington Post

Syria held parliamentary elections on Wednesday, while peace talks between the government and opposition leaders continued in Geneva. The elections were viewed by many critics as a sham, with Syrian state media promulgating propaganda showing President Bashar al-Assad casting his “fair” vote. The decision to hold elections signals Assad’s unwillingness to step down from power, a key demand of the Syrian opposition. NPR, Washington Post

New York Times: Senate Votes to Ban Imports of Syrian Art and Antiquities

Afghanistan: On Wednesday, acting Afghan Defense Minister Masoom Stanikzai warned that Al Qaeda is “very active” and a “big threat” in the country. Major General Jeff Buchanan, who serves as Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, also said that the military is revising its estimates of the number of Al Qaeda operatives based in Afghanistan. CNN, Long War Journal

European Union: EU privacy regulators called for changes to the new EU-U.S. “Privacy Shield” agreement, raising concerns that the deal may later be challenged in court. The group of regulators, representing national data-protection authorities from EU member states, said that the agreement should include clearer and precise limits on how U.S. surveillance agencies collect EU citizens’ personal information. Wall Street Journal, Politico

UN Peacekeeping: During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Senators threatened to cut funding for UN Peacekeeping Operations due to allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers stationed in the Central African Republic and Congo. Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) called UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s leadership “inept” in addressing the issue of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers. New York Times, Reuters

Sweden: Swedish authorities arrested a 25-year-old Turkish national wanted by German police on suspicions of terrorism at the Stockholm airport on Wednesday. German prosecutors were seeking the man, who reportedly is a senior member of the Kurdish group PKK, in connection with terror-linked crimes dating from 2014. Reuters, Associated Press
We can — and must — save Tunisia from its troubling recent descent: “The real issue is not the overall amount of support, which while falling short of the mark has not been insignificant,” write William J. Burns and Marwan Muasher in The Washington Post. “The real issue is the mismatch between the support Tunisia has received and its real needs.”

Europe’s Joint-Smoking, Gay-Club Hopping Terrorists: “The Abdeslam brothers, with their sudden escalation from dancing in nightclubs to killing in them over the course of a few months, seem to challenge this picture,” writes Simon Cottee on Foreign Policy. “They also raise a deeper and more troubling question for those seeking to understand the genesis of terrorist acts: What if they were not “radicalized” and underwent no dramatic metamorphosis at all?”

What does "nuclear terrorism" really mean?: “ ‘Nuclear terrorism’ can refer to several possible occurrences, all of which are best avoided. But if you’re the glass-half-full type, you may take some solace in knowing that the most dire scenario is also the least probable,” writes Elisabeth Eaves in The Bulletin. “Here is what nuclear terrorism most likely won’t look like: A self-styled Islamic State caliph successfully launching a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead at Washington, incinerating millions of people in a giant mushroom cloud.”

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

The Center on National Security at Fordham Law will host a full-day conference “Hindsight: Reflections on 15 years of The War On Terror” on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. The event is currently full. If you would like to be added to the waitlist please send an email here.

Fordham Law School will host the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals for an Outreach Argument and Q&A: “United States v. Staff Sergeant Charles D. Buford Jr.” on Friday, April 15, 2016. To RSVP, click here.

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