The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

U.S. Court Upholds Ruling Blocking Transfer of American Detainee

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a judge’s order that had blocked the U.S. military from transferring an American suspected of fighting for the Islamic State in Syria from Iraq to a third country, likely Saudi Arabia. The unidentified man, who holds dual U.S.-Saudi citizenship, was captured in Syria and has been held in Iraq in military custody since September; he was without legal representation until the American Civil Liberties Union intervened on his behalf in U.S. federal court last October.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit split 2-1 in the decision, which endorses a lower-court ruling that the man could not be forcibly sent to a third country, which has not been publicly identified but is believed to be Saudi Arabia.

The panel’s majority and dissenting opinions were not immediately released, pending a review for sensitive information. A formal judgment that the court filed in the case, however, shows that the D.C. Circuit judges split along ideological lines. Judges Sri Srinivasan and Robert Wilkins, both appointees of President Barack Obama, voted to prevent the transfer. Judge Karen Henderson, a George H.W. Bush
appointee, dissented.

The prisoner’s ACLU lawyers argued that it was unconstitutional to transfer him without some sort of treaty or standing diplomatic agreement. “The appeals court’s judgment vindicates due process, limits on executive authority and the protection of an American’s constitutional rights,” Jonathan Hafetz, the ACLU attorney who argued the issue before the court on April 27, said in a statement. “The president does not get a blank check to dispose of the liberty of U.S. citizens just because international relations or military actions are involved.” Politico, Reuters, Lawfare


Putin 4.0 offers more of the same: “As the Russian president begins a new term, the reappointment of Prime Minister Medvedev kills any hope of policy surprises,” said Leonid Bershidsky in

Why intelligence pros have swung behind Gina Haspel: “In the tightknit intelligence community, Ms. Haspel is the kind of insider trusted by other insiders,” said Gerald Seib in the Wall Street Journal. “They also see her bond to the intelligence world as a particularly important shield right now. It is also possible that Ms. Haspel, as someone inevitably associated with the history of harsh interrogation, actually may be well positioned to finally close the book on that period.”

Haspel is tainted by her torture involvement. But she understands Russia. “At a time when the United States is transfixed by the investigation into Russia’s covert influence operations in the 2016 presidential campaign, Haspel is probably the senior intelligence officer who best understands the Russia threat,” said David Ignatius in the Washington Post.

The first Saudi-Iranian war will be an even fight: “What happens when the Saudi military's massive budget meets Iran's mastery of asymmetric warfare? Here's a preview,” said Afshon Ostovar in Foreign Policy.

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New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman abruptly resigned Monday night after the New Yorker published an article in which four women alleged he physically abused them.

The women said Schneiderman, the top law enforcement official in New York state and a prominent opponent of President Trump, choked and repeatedly slapped them. In announcing his resignation, Schneiderman said he continued to “strongly contest” the allegations but felt he had to leave office.

Two women described, on the record, patterns of emotional as well as physical abuse. One said Schneiderman warned her he could have her followed and her phones tapped. Both women said he threatened to kill them if they ended their relationships with him, according to the magazine’s story. Schneiderman’s spokesperson told the magazine that he “never made any of these threats.”

Schneiderman’s resignation represented a stunning fall for a politician who had also assumed a prominent role in the #MeToo movement. He presided over efforts for the Weinstein Co. to be acquired and condemned co-founder Harvey Weinstein following allegations that he sexually assaulted women. Since 2017, he had also raised his profile nationally by taking on President Trump’s agenda repeatedly in the courts. He was pushing to change state law so that his office could prosecute Trump’s aides even if the president pardoned them; his resignation makes the status of that effort less certain.

Under New York’s Constitution, Schneiderman’s replacement will be selected by the State Assembly and Senate by joint ballot — effectively placing the decision in the hands of the Assembly. New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Washington Post: Trump’s Long Angry Feud with the NY Attorney General

President Trump is expected to announce Tuesday that he will not continue a waiver of sanctions against Iran, reports the Washington Post, a major step toward ending the nuclear agreement he has called an “insane” deal that “never, ever should have been made.”

Trump tweeted Monday that he would announce his decision at 2 p.m. Tuesday. He is free to reimpose all U.S. sanctions, and even announce new ones. But he is expected to stop short of reneging on the deal altogether. ­Instead, he will address a portion of the wide range of sanctions that were waived when the deal was first implemented, while leaving in limbo other waivers that are due in July.

The affected sanctions, imposed by Congress in 2012, require other countries to reduce Iranian oil imports or risk U.S. sanctions on their banks and their ability to conduct Iran-related financial transactions.

In the 28 months since the arrangement went into effect, international inspectors have said they have found no violations — apart from minor infractions that were quickly rectified.

Under the deal, the restrictions on research and development in Iran’s nuclear program would begin to lift after a decade. After 15 years, Iran would be able to produce as much fuel as it wanted — though never for the purpose of making weapons. Trump has insisted that the “sunset clause” simply put off the day when Iran would become a nuclear-armed state. Washington Post, New York Times, NBC News
New York Times: Opponents of Iran Deal Hired Investigators to Dig Up Dirt on Obama Aide

President Trump signaled Monday that he’s ready to fight for his nominee to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, as she faces a tough Senate grilling at a confirmation hearing on Wednesday. ““My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists,” the president tweeted. “Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!”

On Monday, Haspel met with senators, while the administration said it would share more classified information with lawmakers about her 30+ year career at the agency, much of it undercover. But her nomination will likely hinge on a key period: Haspel’s role in the CIA’s controversial program of detaining and interrogating suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. On Friday, Haspel’s nomination was nearly derailed when she offered to withdraw rather than face a bruising public debate over the program that she feared could damage the agency and her reputation.

A key Democratic senator on the intelligence committee - Sen. Martin Heinrich, of New Mexico - said Monday after meeting with Haspel that he will not vote for her confirmation. "This is about trust, and the public is not being afforded an open and honest debate about the nominee," Heinrich said after the meeting. Washington Post, New York Times, NBC News
CNN: National Security Officials Preparing Contingency Plans if Haspel’s Nomination Fails

Lawyers advising President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation hope to decide whether he should testify by May 17, the one-year anniversary of the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said Monday.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Giuliani said, “every day we swing a little different” on whether to advise Trump to talk to Mueller, though he suggested that recent developments in the probe have made him more leery. Wall Street Journal
Politico: Mueller’s Courtroom Bruises Cheer Trump Team

When at at least five U.S. military wives received death threats from the self-styled CyberCaliphate on the morning of Feb. 10, 2015, the warnings led to days of anguished media coverage of Islamic State militants’ online reach. But an Associated Press investigation has revealed that the women were targeted not by jihadists but by the same Russian hacking group that intervened in the American election and exposed the emails of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta. Associated Press


Hundreds of rebels left the last major besieged opposition enclave in Syria on Monday, with thousands more expected to follow, responding to months of pressure by a Russian-backed government offensive. A first convoy of buses with hundreds of rebels and their families, accompanied by Russian military police, departed from the city of Rastan, starting a week-long evacuation from towns and villages in an enclave between the cities of Homs and Hama. BBC News, Reuters

Nigeria military helps rescue 1,000 Boko Haram hostages: More than 1,000 people, mostly women and children, held captive in northeastern Nigeria by the jihadi group Boko Haram have been rescued, Nigeria’s military said Monday. Associated Press

Al Shabaab kills 9 Kenyan soldiers: Kenya’s president says nine Kenyan soldiers were killed Sunday when extremists attacked their patrol car in neighboring Somalia. Associated Press

The American pastor Turkey accuses of colluding with terrorist groups was remanded in custody after a prolonged second day in court for a trial that is increasing strains between Washington and Ankara.

Ending a 10-hour hearing in Yeni Sakran, a coastal town in western Turkey, the presiding judge on Monday ordered Andrew Brunson to remain behind bars and adjourned the case to July 18. The fate of Brunson, who faces a possible 35 years in prison, has drawn angry reactions from U.S. officials.

Turkish prosecutors allege that the 50-year-old pastor from North Carolina colluded with followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric President Erdogan accuses of fomenting a failed military coup in Turkey in the summer of 2016, as well with Kurdish militants Turkey regards as terrorists.

A “secret” witness testified against the pastor Monday, accusing him of helping Kurdish militants and aiming to create a Christian Kurdish state.
Wall Street Journal, Stars & Stripes


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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