The Soufan Group Morning Brief


FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2016

More than 50 State Department officials signed an internal memo critical of U.S. policy in Syria and called for “targeted military strikes” against the Syrian government in response to its continued violation of a ceasefire and targeting of civilians. The “dissent channel cable” was signed by 51 State Department officers involved with Syria policy. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters

The House of Representatives voted against an amendment to the 2017 annual defense bill on Thursday that would have set new limits on government surveillance powers. The amendment would have prohibited the government from requiring tech companies to build “backdoors” into their encryption technologies. Washington Post, The Hill

CIA Inspector General: President Obama nominated Shirley Woodward as the next Inspector General of the CIA. If confirmed by the Senate, Woodward, a former CIA officer and longtime lawyer, will fill the position left empty since David Buckley stepped down in January 2015. The Hill

Countering violent extremism: The House of Representatives re-approved a set of three counterterrorism bills on Thursday in response to the Orlando shooting. The measures would allow Homeland Security to provide training to counter violent extremism, use testimonials of former violent extremists to curb terrorist recruitment efforts, and establish a board to coordinate the Department’s efforts to combat terrorism. The Hill, USA TODAY

Drones: The rate of CIA drone strikes has significantly decreased over the last year as the Obama administration begins to shift responsibility for lethal counterterrorism operations to the Pentagon, according to U.S. officials. The CIA has carried out seven drone strikes in 2016, a rate lower than in any year since 2007. Washington Post

Wall Street Journal: Obama’s Drone Revamp Gives Military Bigger Responsibility, Keeps CIA Role

Long Island: Edward Perkowski, 29, of Mount Sinai was arrested on Thursday on weapons charges after police found assault rifles, bomb-making manuals, and over $40,000 in Nazi paraphernalia in his home. Suffolk County police commissioner Timothy Sini said that “today’s search warrant might have prevented a deadly, violent incident, like the one we recently saw in Orlando.” New York Times

In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, CIA Director John Brennan said that ISIS is still “a formidable, resilient and largely cohesive enemy,” despite recent U.S.-backed military campaigns against its territory over the last three weeks. Brennan told the Senate panel that “despite all of our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.” In response to questions about the use of torture during interrogations, Brennan said that as long as he is Director of the CIA, he has “no intention of bringing such a program back and would not engage in [enhanced interrogation techniques] such as waterboarding and other things — ever,”  Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Foreign Policy

Daily Beast: CIA Chief John Brennan Gives War on ISIS an ‘F’
New York Times: Fighting ISIS With an Algorithm, Physicists Try to Predict Attacks

Afghanistan: The Taliban controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, according to recent UN estimates. The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan Army Gen. John Nicholson has submitted his first three-month assessment of the situation in the country to the Pentagon. AP

Syria: Russia carried out airstrikes against U.S.-backed rebel forces on Thursday in southern Syria. The rebels were reportedly fighting against ISIS near the city of al-Tanf. Reuters

United Kingdom: A member of British Parliament was shot and killed outside a library in northern England on Thursday. Jo Cox, 41, considered a rising star in the opposition Labour Party, was shot in Birstall, a city southeast of Leeds. Thomas Mair, 52, was arrested by British police for allegedly shooting Cox. Police have not established a motive, but the Southern Poverty Law Center reported Thursday that Mair was a “dedicated supporter” of the Northern Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization. The killing comes one week before a referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union; Cox supported Britain’s continued membership. New York Times

Egypt: A search team recovered the cockpit voice recorder, or “black box” from EgyptAir Flight 804 on Thursday, according to Egyptian officials. Investigators will try to extract information from the device in the coming days to determine the cause of the crash. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

Brazil: A former Guantanamo Bay prisoner transferred from the military prison to Uruguay in 2014 has disappeared, according to U.S. officials. Syrian national Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab is believed to have secretly traveled to Brazil without documents. Washington Pos
The N.R.A.’s Complicity in Terrorism: “Few places on earth make it easier than the United States for a terrorist to buy assault weapons to mow down scores of people in a matter of minutes...And all this is made vastly easier by a gun lobby that has blocked sensible safety measures at every turn, and by members of Congress who seem to pledge greater allegiance to the firearms industry than to their own constituencies. There is a word for their role in this form of terrorism: complicity,” writes The New York Times in an editorial. What can be done? “First, support reasonable efforts to close the so-called terror gap, which would make it harder for suspected terrorists to get their hands on a gun. Other effective measures include universal background checks to intercept people who are legally barred from gun ownership, like those convicted of domestic abuse and the mentally ill; and limits on magazine capacity.”

Washington’s War on the Islamic State Is Only Making It Stronger: “The Islamic State’s international appeal has become untethered from its military performance on the ground,” writes Hassan Hassan on Foreign Policy. “The war against the Islamic State is heading in two directions. The group is clearly weakened on the ground, but the nature of the losses it is suffering has strengthened its legitimacy among certain segments of the Sunni world.”

Egypt and Hamas—Cooperation in the Works?: “Egypt, which enjoys friendly relations with both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, understands that it must normalize relations with Hamas to be able to act as a mediator between the three parties, writes Omar Shaban at the Middle East Institute. “The Egyptian government, which has yet to achieve convincing results in the fight against terrorist groups in Sinai, is also in need of Hamas’ cooperation in this area.”

WNYC: The Challenge of Fighting Terrorism Online

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

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