The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

North Korea Threatens to Abandon Trump-Kim Summit

North Korea is rapidly moving the goal posts for next month’s summit between leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump, saying the United States must stop insisting it “unilaterally” abandon its nuclear program and stop talking about a Libya-style solution to the standoff.

The latest warning, delivered by former North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan on Wednesday, fits Pyongyang’s well-established pattern of raising the stakes in negotiations by threatening to walk out.

This comes just hours after the North Korean regime cast doubt on the planned summit by protesting joint air force drills taking place in South Korea, saying they were ruining the diplomatic mood.

If the Trump administration approaches the summit “with sincerity” for improved relations, “it will receive a deserved response from us,” Kim Gye Gwan, now vice foreign minister, said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday.

“However, if the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” he said. He also questioned the sequencing of denuclearization first, compensation second. Washington Post, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Guardian
New York Times: North Korea’s About-Face? It’s a Return to Form


Contain Iran? Trump should copy Reagan. “Rolling back an aggressive rival seems impossible, until someone dares to try it,” said David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “Think back to the Ronald Reagan presidency, when policymakers considered the once-unthinkable possibility that America and its allies could dislodge the Soviets from the Third World and, eventually, from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union itself. After a decade of challenge, Soviet power was gone.”

The intel community’s transparency report raises more questions than it answers: “The dramatic increase in the government’s collection and searches of Americans’ communications data that is detailed in the report raises serious questions about whether the intelligence community is adhering to Congress’ intent when it passed these laws, or if its interpretations of what surveillance the laws authorize is overly aggressive,” writes Robyn Greene in

Netanyahu needs conflict to survive: “Netanyahu has mastered the use of crises to shore up his support,” said Dahlia Scheindlin in Foreign Policy. “The more Israel’s prime minister escalates tensions, the more his popularity grows.”

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation suspects that a former Central Intelligence Agency employee separately charged with possessing child pornography had a role in the unauthorized release of a trove of CIA hacking tools to the WikiLeaks website last year, according to a January court transcript.

The 8,000-plus pages of documents that WikiLeaks obtained in March 2017 detailed how the CIA breaks into computers, smartphones, messaging applications and TV sets. The disclosure constituted one of the largest breaches of classified information in the agency’s history.

Investigators initially focused on outside contractors at the spy agency. They haven’t publicly charged anyone with the disclosures.

Joshua Schulte was charged in August by federal prosecutors in Manhattan with receiving, possessing and transporting child pornography. The FBI executed a search warrant on his New York residence on March 15, 2017, one week after WikiLeaks released the first of the CIA documents, and found the pornographic videos, according to initial charges filed against Schulte. He has pleaded not guilty to the pornography charges.

At a Jan. 8 court hearing in Manhattan, one of his then-lawyers said in court that the FBI had initially sought the warrant because it believed Schulte was involved in the WikiLeaks breach. Schulte held various positions within the CIA over the six years he worked there, including as a technical development officer. Assistant United States attorney Matthew J. Laroche said that “the government immediately had enough evidence” to make Schulte a target of the investigation. But he has yet to be charged in connection with the leaks.

In September, Mr. Schulte was released on the condition that he not leave New York City, where he lived with a cousin, and keep off computers. He was jailed in December after prosecutors found evidence that he had violated those rules, and he has been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan since then. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Politico, Washington Post

The Justice Department and the F.B.I. are investigating Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct political data firm, and have sought to question former employees and banks that handled its business. Prosecutors have questioned potential witnesses in recent weeks, telling them that there is an open investigation into Cambridge Analytica — which worked on President Trump’s election and other Republican campaigns in 2016 — and “associated U.S. persons.” But the prosecutors provided few other details, and the inquiry appears to be in its early stages. New York Times

The White House National Security Council is ending the role of cyber coordinator. The internal announcement said the elimination of the cyber role, just weeks into the tenure of national security adviser John Bolton, was part of an effort to “streamline authority for National Security Council Senior Directors.”

The announcement said the cyber coordinator job would end as Rob Joyce, the latest to hold the post, returned to the National Security Agency.

“With our two Senior Directors for Cybersecurity, cyber coordination is already a core capability,” the announcement read. “Eliminating another layer of bureaucracy delivers greater ‘decision, activity, secrecy and despatch (sic)’ as Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist Number 70.” CNN

President Donald Trump and his legal team are planning to use the one-year anniversary this week of Robert Mueller’s appointment to ratchet up pressure on the special counsel to close his investigation.

Trump and his lawyers are trying to set up the milestone on Thursday as a turning point in their campaign to end Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling and obstruction of justice, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, said Tuesday. While he isn’t threatening specific actions, Giuliani said they haven’t ruled out additional steps if Mueller doesn’t heed their calls. Bloomberg, Politico
New York Times: Tantalizing Testimony from a Top Trump Aide Sets Off Search for Proof

Federal judge rejects Manafort’s bid to dismiss Mueller charges: A federal judge on Tuesday rejected an attempt by Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, to get an indictment against him dismissed by claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was flawed. U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Mueller’s prosecution of the longtime political consultant on charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent for Ukraine was “squarely” within the special counsel’s authority. Politico

Haspel likely headed for confirmation: Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, appeared on Tuesday to have secured the votes to be confirmed after she declared that the agency should not have undertaken its interrogation program in which Qaeda detainees were tortured after the Sept. 11 attacks. She had refused to condemn the program at her confirmation hearing last week. New York Times

Facebook increases spending on wiping out bad actors, hate speech: The annual budget for some of Facebook’s content-review teams has ballooned by hundreds of millions of dollars for 2018, reports the Wall Street Journal. Much of the additional outlay goes to hiring thousands of new content moderators, they said. Facebook says it is hiring 10,000 people—including staffers and contractors—by the end of the year to work on safety and security issues including content review, roughly doubling the total in place this past fall. Wall Street Journal

Massachusetts man to plead guilty to terror charges: A Western Massachusetts man in his 20s will plead guilty to federal charges stemming from his alleged plot to attack a state university with guns and explosives on behalf of the Islamic State terrorist group. Alexander Ciccolo will enter his plea on May 21, according to legal filings. He’s charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, after telling a cooperating witness that he planned to attack two bars and a police station in another state with pressure cooker bombs. Boston Globe


The Taliban claimed to have captured the capital of the western province of Farah on Tuesday, while government officials and their American military backers vowed that the authorities would quickly oust insurgents from the city, the first to be overrun by the militants in two years.

Only the provincial governor’s compound remained in government hands after a long day of fighting, which continued into the night. Gov. Basir Salangi fled the city after the insurgent attack began around 2 a.m., but he remained in Farah Province at a military base a few miles from the city.

The fighting was part of a recent increase in the tempo of attacks by the insurgents, since their announcement of a spring offensive late in April and their explicit rejection of Afghan government peace initiatives. New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post
Bloomberg: Costly Helicopter Rides for U.S. Officials Show Afghanistan’s Security Decline
Wall Street Journal: Green Berets Brace for ISIS Offensive in Afghanistan


Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5 million into a secret intelligence budget that protected the WikiLeaks founder while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin. Other guests included hackers, activists, lawyers and journalists.

In addition, the documents showed the way in which the relationship between Assange and his hosts deteriorated over time. In an extraordinary breach of diplomatic protocol, Assange managed to compromise the communications system within the embassy and had his own satellite internet access, according to documents and a source who wished to remain anonymous. By penetrating the embassy’s firewall, Assange was able to access and intercept the official and personal communications of staff, the source claimed. Guardian

A militant attack on a police post extended a deadly wave of Islamic State-linked terrorist strikes in Indonesia on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, after police uncovered a cache of pipe bombs and bomb-making equipment in the country’s second-largest city.

Five assaults on churches and police buildings in the past four days have killed at least 14 security personnel and civilians, making them together Indonesia’s deadliest week since 2005. At least 18 assailants have been killed in the attacks and ensuing police operations, as well as in what appeared to be an additional failed plot when a bomb exploded in an apartment Sunday night. Wall Street Journal

Life demanded in Finland’s first terror trial: A Finnish prosecutor has demanded that a Moroccan asylum-seeker is sentenced to life for two terror-related murders and an attempt to murder eight others during a stabbing attack in southwestern Finland last year. Abderrahman Bouanane, an alleged sympathizer of the Islamic State group, was shot in the thigh by police after the Aug. 18 stabbing rampage in Turku. He has pleaded guilty in Finland’s first terror trial, but denies he intended to commit a terrorist act as prosecutors allege. Associated Press


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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