The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Former CIA Officer Charged With Spying For China

A former CIA officer suspected of helping China unravel the agency’s spy network in that country was indicted on Tuesday on a charge of conspiring to commit espionage.

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had a top-secret clearance and worked as a field agent for the CIA from 1994 until 2007. He was living in Hong Kong at the time of his arrest, and had apparently been the target of an FBI investigation since 2012, when agents searching a Honolulu hotel room discovered handwritten notes on “asset meeting, operational meeting locations, operational phone numbers, true names of assets, and covert facilities” pertaining to China, according to a court affidavit.

According to prosecutors, two Chinese intelligence officers approached Lee in April 2010 and offered to pay him for information. The intelligence officers “provided Lee with a series of email addresses so that he could communicate covertly with them,” court papers said, and he received instructions from Chinese intelligence officers until at least 2011. Prosecutors say Lee prepared documents in response to the Chinese requests, made unexplained cash deposits, and lied in interviews about his travel to China and actions there. Many in the CIA have long believed that Lee played a role in the exposure and deaths of multiple agency sources in China. New York Times, NPR, Washington Post

The U.S. is exiting the Iranian nuclear accord, President Trump said Tuesday, dismantling his predecessor’s most prominent foreign-policy initiative and bucking the appeals of some of America’s closest allies. Speaking in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, Trump delivered harsh words about the 2015 deal to curb and monitor Iran’s nuclear activity, calling it “horrible,” “one-sided” and “disastrous.” The president said he planned to institute sanctions against Iran. He also said the U.S. would sanction any nation that helps Tehran pursue nuclear weapons, as well as U.S. and foreign companies and banks that continue to do business with the country.

Administration officials said the Iran sanctions suspended under the agreement snapped immediately back into effect, meaning any new contracts and financial deals with Iran are banned. They said businesses and banks have either 90 or 180 days to wind down existing ties, depending on the particular type of transaction.

After Trump’s announcement, the leaders of Britain, France, and Germany issued a joint statement expressing “regret and concern” and pledging their “continuing commitment” to terms of the nuclear deal. “This resolution remains the binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute about the Iranian nuclear program,” the statement said. “We urge all sides to remain committed to its full implementation and to act in a spirit of responsibility.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government remains committed to the nuclear deal despite the U.S. decision to withdraw. Reuters, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
CNN: Trump’s Iran Decision Raises the Stakes on North Korea
Wall Street Journal: Trump’s Iran-Deal Withdrawal Is His Biggest Gamble Yet
New York Times: How Long Would It Take Iran to Build a Nuclear Bomb? It Depends
New York Times: Behind Trump’s Termination of Iran Deal Is Risky Bet That U.S. Can ‘Break the Regime’


What is Kim Jong Un’s game? “Kim’s apparent move to reconcile with his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in, is above all a gambit to get closer to America to keep China in check,” writes Jean-Pierre Cabestan in the New York Times. “He hopes to reduce North Korea’s overarching economic dependence on China and curb Beijing’s aspirations to control the future of the Korean Peninsula.”

I have a few questions for Gina Haspel: “I was abducted from exile in Southeast Asia and secretly jailed in one of Libya’s worst dungeons. But the worst torture of my life wasn’t done to me by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s thugs,” Fatima Boudchar writes in the New York Times. “It was done in Thailand at the hands of the CIA.”

Donald Trump’s shadow war: “The administration has quietly expanded how the U.S. uses military force around the world,” writes Stephen Tankel in Politico Magazine. “The consequences are grave. Why is no one paying attention?”

Iran hawks are the new Iraq hawks: “Many of the assumptions that guided America’s march to conflict in 2003 still dominate American foreign policy today,” writes Peter Beinart in The Atlantic.

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President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. Haspel, currently Deputy Director of the CIA, is expected pledge that she “will not restart” the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program if confirmed to lead the agency, according to excerpts of her remarks released by the agency in advance of the hearing. She will reportedly promise “clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program.”

Haspel is also expected to pledge to cooperate with congressional oversight and to tell lawmakers that “if we can’t share aspects of our secret work with the public, we should do so with their elected representatives.” She will have the opportunity to provide more details about her tenure at the CIA during a closed-door hearing following her public testimony. NBC News, The Hill, Washington Post
New York Times: What to Watch for at the Confirmation Hearing

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks who was captured in March 2003 and tortured by the CIA, asked a military judge at Guantanamo this week for permission to share six paragraphs of information about Gina Haspel with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

On Monday, Mohammed submitted a request to the judge overseeing pretrial hearings in his death penalty case, Army Col. James Pohl. While the file is not public on the commissions docket, said Marine Lt. Col. Derek Poteet, who is helping to defend Mohammed, it consisted of an expedited motion for permission to provide the information to the committee about Haspel. New York Times

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released the unclassified version of its investigation into Russian cyberattacks on digital U.S. voting systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The report finds that Moscow conducted an “unprecedented, coordinated cyber campaign” against U.S. voting infrastructure. Through its investigation, the committee found that Russia-linked hackers were in a position to “alter or delete voter registration data” in a small number of states before the 2016 vote. The committee said it saw no evidence, however, that the hackers had ultimately changed vote tallies or voter registration information.

“These activities began at least as early as 2014, continued through Election Day 2016, and included traditional information-gathering efforts as well as operations likely aimed at preparing to discredit the integrity of the U.S. voting process and election results,” the report says.

The report is the first of four the committee is planning to release as part of its ongoing investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 elections. A final concluding report will be released in the fall that will address the broad themes of the investigation, including allegations of collusion between affiliates of President Trump and Russian officials. The other three reports will address the intelligence committee’s assessment of Russia’s actions and intentions, the conduct of the Obama administration, and hackers’ exploitation of social media. New York Times, The Hill, Washington Post

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have questioned a Russian oligarch about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments his company’s U.S. affiliate made to President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, after the 2016 election. The New York investment firm Columbus Nova paid Cohen $500,000 last year. The firm said it retained Cohen as a consultant.

Columbus Nova has been described in federal regulatory filings as an affiliate of the Renova Group, which was founded by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who is close to Vladimir Putin and was included in a list last month of Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the Trump administration. The company’s confirmation came after Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, circulated a document on Twitter purporting to show a detailed accounting of wire transfers made to Essential Consultants, a company established by Cohen in October 2016, that he said were used to pay off Clifford over an alleged affair with Trump. CNN, NBC News, New York Times
Politico: First Mueller Convict Reports to Prison

Secret intelligence source who aided Mueller probe at center of clash between Nunes and DOJ: Last Wednesday, senior FBI and national intelligence officials relayed an urgent message to the White House: information being sought by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes could endanger a top-secret intelligence source. Top White House officials, with the assent of President Trump, agreed to back the decision to withhold the information. But it is unclear whether Trump was alerted to the fact that information developed by the source had been provided to the Mueller investigation. The debate over the risk to the source is now at the center of a clash between House Republicans and the Justice Department. Washington Post

South Carolina lawmakers delay voting on anti-terrorism bill: South Carolina lawmakers are close to passing anti-terrorism legislation that would allow local law enforcement to investigate and punish acts of terrorism. Members of a state Senate committee delayed voting on a bill on Tuesday that would establish a felony offense for terrorism, intent to commit terrorism, and aiding a terrorist group through financial or material support. A terrorism charge would carry a 30-year sentence. Aiding a terrorist group would carry no more than 20-years. Associated Press


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in North Korea early on Wednesday ahead of a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Pompeo told a senior North Korean official that he hoped to work together to resolve the nuclear standoff, calling his host a “great partner” in laying the foundation for the first summit between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea.

Trump first disclosed the trip during remarks at the White House on his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. Trump said Pompeo’s visit was a sign that “relationships are building” with North Korea and preparations are being made for the summit. The visit comes amid anticipation that Pompeo could secure the release of three U.S. citizens who have been held by the North for more than a year. Wall Street Journal, CNN, NBC News

The general in charge of United States Special Operations forces in Africa has ordered American troops under his watch to “plan missions to stay out of direct combat or do not go,” according to two military officials familiar with the new guidance. The order, issued by Maj. Gen. J. Marcus Hicks, is among several new directives for the commandos in Africa after an October 4 ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers, including two Green Berets. The series of directives, dated May 2, May 4 and May 5, were issued just days before the Pentagon is expected to release the results of an investigation into the soldiers’ deaths outside the western Nigerien village of Tongo Tongo. New York Times

Syria accuses Israel of striking Iran-linked base: Suspected Israeli missiles targeted an Iran-linked army base south of Syria’s capital of Damascus on Tuesday. Syrian state and pro-regime media said the country’s air defenses had downed two Israeli missiles. Photos on social media appeared to show fires in al-Kiswah, an industrial area home to an army base, after it was hit. The purported missile strikes on al-Kiswah come amid heightened tensions in the region and after Israel’s military warned it was on high alert after seeing “irregular activity of Iranian forces” in Syria. Wall Street Journal, BBC New

Al-Qaeda branch threatens attacks on Western companies in Africa: An al-Qaeda affiliate threatened attacks on Western companies’ operations across North and West Africa on Tuesday, calling them “legitimate targets.” Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has launched raids on western companies in the past. “This statement calls to boycott all Western companies and foundations ... that operate in the Islamic Maghreb ... and the countries of the Sahel, and gives a warning to them that they are legitimate target for the mujahideen,” it said. Reuters

Deadly jail riot near Indonesian capital claimed by ISIS: A deadly riot involving terrorism suspects inside a high-security detention center outside Indonesia’s capital stretched into Wednesday evening, officials said. ISIS media claimed its loyalists were holding hostages there. Indonesian police said that five guards and one detainee had been killed in the riot. Gen. Mohammad Iqbal, a National Police spokesman, told reporters that the riot erupted late Tuesday at the detention center. He said at least six detainees were still holed up within the compound.

Even as the riot was unfolding, ISIS’s propaganda arm uploaded videos and photos that the group claimed were from inside the detention center, showing executed hostages and detainees brandishing weapons, raising the black flag of ISIS, and pledging allegiance to the group’s leader. New York Times


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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