The Soufan Group Morning Brief


MONDAY, MAY 16, 2016

On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that it had included a provision in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that would allow Guantanamo detainees to plead guilty to criminal charges in civilian court via video teleconference. The bill also authorizes such detainees who plead guilty over teleconference to be transferred to other countries to serve their sentences. The bill allows for the temporary transfer of detainees to American for emergency medical treatment. New York Times, The Hill

On May 6, President Obama passed George W. Bush as the longest wartime president in American history. If the United States remains in combat in Afghanistan or Iraq and Syria until the end of his second term, he Obama will be the first president ever to complete two full terms while at war. However, Obama is leaving far fewer troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than he inherited when coming into office, reducing the total number of troops from a combined 200,000 to 4,087 in Iraq and 9,800 in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Obama has approved strikes against terrorist groups in seven countries including, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. New York Times

Counterterrorism vs. conventional war: Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley warned that the U.S. military’s increasing focus on counterterrorism and irregular warfare is taking away from its ability to fight a conventional-style war. Milley told reporters that “today, a major in the Army knows nothing but fighting terrorists and guerrillas, because he came into the Army after 9/11...But as we get into the higher-end threats, our skills have atrophied over 15 years.” New York Times

Torture report: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against releasing the full contents of the so-called “Senate Torture Report,” which details the CIA’s post 9/11 interrogation and detention program. A three-judge panel unanimously ruled on Friday to reject a lawsuit brought by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that the report is a congressional rather than executive branch document. Judge Harry Edwards wrote that “the Senate [Intelligence] Committee’s intent to retain control of the Full Report is clear. The Full Report therefore remains a congressional document that is not subject to disclosure under FOIA.”Reuters, ABC News, Politico

NYPD: On Sunday, The New York Police Department conducted a high-scale simulated attack at a school in Brooklyn. The exercise aimed to test the NYPD’s Critical Response Command, Strategic Response Group, Emergency Service Unit, the New York Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Service. The drills involved simulated active shooters, explosive devices, and drone-delivered chemical weapons. Wall Street Journal

Counterterrorism in Space: Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week that the newly established Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center will prepare not only for potential conflicts with other countries, but will participate in counterterrorism efforts as well. Carter did not elaborate on how the Center would contribute to counterterrorism but other defense officials have previously said that “violent extremist organizations” have accessed space-based technologies to encrypt their communications. Washington Post

Racial profiling: A Chinese-American hydrologist who was accused of spying for China has filed a discrimination complaint against the Commerce Department. Sherry Chen, who worked for the National Weather Service’s Ohio River Forecast Center, was charged in January 2015 with misusing a federal dams database and with lying about her communications with a Chinese official. Although the Justice Department later dropped the charges against Chen, the Commerce Department did not allow her to return to her job. Wall Street Journal

On Friday, the Belgian government said it was expanding its airstrike operations into Syria. Belgium has been a member of the U.S. coalition against ISIS for nearly two years, but had previously limited its operations to targets within Iraq. New York Times

New York Times: Al Qaeda Turns to Syria, With a Plan to Challenge ISIS
Reuters: Islamic State on the defensive, territory shrinking in Syria and Iraq: U.S. official
CNN: ISIS claims responsibility for attack on Baghdad gas plant

Nigeria: The Obama administration plans to sell the Nigerian government up to 12 light attack aircraft to help the country in its fight against Boko Haram. However, the pending sale of the Super Tucano aircraft, which are designed for counterinsurgency operations, requires congressional approval. Less than two years ago, the Obama administration had previously blocked the sale of American-made attack helicopters to Nigeria over human rights concerns. New York Times

Yemen: An ISIS suicide bomber killed at least 25 police recruits at a police compound in the southern city of Mukalla on Sunday. The attack targeted new recruits as they lined up to register to become part of the police force. Reuters

South Africa: A tip from a CIA agent allegedly led to Nelson Mandela’s 1962 arrest and imprisonment, according to a former CIA operative. Donald Rickard acknowledged that he tipped off South African police to Mandela’s whereabouts, as Mandela was considered to be “completely under the control of the Soviet Union” and “the world’s most dangerous communist outside of the Soviet Union.” Guardian, ABC News

United Kingdom: 25-year-old Junead Khan was sentenced to life in prison for plotting an attack on U.S. personnel at the Lakenheath air base in eastern England. His uncle, Shazib Khan was also found guilty of preparing to leave the country to fight alongside ISIS. BBC News, Washington Post
Obama’s minimalist Mideast muddle: “The Obama administration, for its part, has embraced the “keep out” imperative...The problem with this minimalist approach is that it has obstructed the emergence of a genuinely workable consensus about the future of the two countries,” writes Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post. “Though the U.S.-orchestrated military campaign could, within the next year or so, effectively destroy the Islamic State by recapturing Mosul and Raqqa, there’s no realistic plan for the borders of political structures that would replace it.”

Rethinking Refugees: “The bigger, longer-term issue, however, remains that of integration. The lack of integration of refugees and minority communities can lead to radicalization, offering the Islamic State and other groups a potential pool of shooters and suicide bombers. Moreover, it enables suspects from these communities to hide from law enforcement,” writes Daniel Byman on Lawfare. “Indeed, given the better U.S. track record on integration and skilled law enforcement services, it is sensible to argue that the United States should be taking even more refugees, rather than relying on Germany and a few other countries to salve the West’s overall conscience.”

Ted Cruz: The Mullahs and Their Missiles: “Enough. The mullahs’ policy is, by their own admission, unchanged. It is the same one that inspired the so-called revolutionaries of 1979 to take 52 Americans as hostages for 444 days, and motivated murderous attacks on Israelis and Americans from Buenos Aires to Beirut to Baghdad over the subsequent decades,” writes Ted Cruz in The New York Times. “The only thing that is changing now is the potential scale of this violence, as they seek to replace truck bombs and roadside explosive devices with the most destructive weapons on the planet and the means to deliver them.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: On the Front Lines of Terror

Join the Center on National Security on Wednesday, June 1 for a discussion with Director Karen J. Greenberg, author of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State. To RSVP click here

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