Friday, June 8, 2018

Former Senate Intelligence Aide Indicted in DOJ Leak Case

A former Senate Intelligence Committee aide was arrested on Thursday in an investigation of classified information leaks. The former aide, James A. Wolfe, 57, was charged with lying repeatedly to investigators about his contacts with three reporters. Wolfe allegedly lied to the FBI in December about his communications with three reporters through encrypted messaging applications. He also is accused of lying about giving two reporters non-public information about committee business.

Wolfe, who was the Intelligence Committee’s director of security, is slated to appear before a federal judge on Friday in Washington. In his role with the committee, Wolfe was responsible for safeguarding classified and other sensitive information shared with lawmakers. He stopped performing committee work in December and retired in May.

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate panel indicated late Thursday that they were made aware of the federal investigation in late 2017. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) said in a joint statement that they “have fully cooperated” with the FBI and DOJ. They also said that the Senate panel “has made certain official records available to the Justice Department” through the Senate Legal Counsel.

The development in the case comes after The New York Times reported Thursday that the DOJ seized phone and email records from national security reporter Ali Watkins, who was previously in a three-year relationship with Wolfe. FBI agents reportedly contacted Watkins about her relationship with Wolfe as part of a probe into unauthorized leaks. New York Times, The Hill


The West still isn’t prepared to stop Russia meddling in our elections: “Foreign interference is a relatively low-cost affair in terms of human or financial resources needed. Yet it brings the almost guaranteed advantage of undermining confidence in our legitimate institutions, something non-democratic regimes like Russia relish in,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Michael Chertoff write in Politico. “Worryingly, Western governments are still fighting the last war: They’re stuck in the blunt 2016 lexis of ‘fake news,’ while current trends indicate that Russia and similar adversaries are sharpening their toolkit.”

What happens in the Gulf doesn’t stay in the Gulf: “Not all of Somalia’s challenges can be laid at the Gulf’s doorstep. For years, the Gulf monarchies’ aid and investment has been a lifeline for many Somalis,” Robert Malley writes in The Atlantic. “But rivalries among Gulf powers—which are increasingly on display in the fraught jockeying for influence around the Red Sea and in the Horn of Africa—have brought a dangerous new twist to Somalia’s instability.”

Will Pakistan mend its ways on terror? “It is high time that Pakistan ended its long-running dependency on militants to sustain its foreign policy in the region,” Ahmed Rashid writes in BBC. “Islamist extremists have been threatening Pakistan for years. Western pressure has not worked and some diplomats hope China can play a more assertive role in getting Pakistan to comply.”

The future is African — and the United States is not prepared: “By 2050, one in every four humans will be African. At the end of the century, nearly 40 percent of the world’s population will be African,” Salih Booker and Ari Rickman write in the Washington Post. “Yet, instead of preparing to build a relationship that can grow with the continent, based upon diplomatic cooperation, the United States is doubling down on more than a decade of reliance on its military as the primary vehicle of engaging with Africa. The consequences, as one might expect, are overwhelmingly negative.”

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A new report as part of an investigation by Senate Republicans alleges that top officials in the Obama administration secretly authorized Iran to convert assets to the U.S. dollar, even after the officials repeatedly assured Congress that no such financial transactions would take place under the 2015 nuclear deal.  The report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations revealed that under President Barack Obama, the Treasury Department issued a license in February 2016 that would have allowed Iran to convert $5.7 billion it held at a bank in Oman, Bank Muscat, from Omani rials into euros by exchanging them first into U.S. dollars. Officials at Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control asked two U.S. banks to work as intermediaries and execute the transaction, but they declined, citing concern over potential regulatory backlash and harm to their reputations.

Treasury officials concluded that the license to Bank Muscat was legal. But the Republican report argues that in pushing for the license to go forward, Obama officials were violating financial and oil-related sanctions imposed on Iran stemming from the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and trying to give Iran access to the U.S. financial system. The license issued to Bank Muscat also stood in contrast to public statements from the Obama White House, the Treasury, and the State Department that denied that the administration was considering allowing Iran access to the U.S. financial system.

Former Obama administration officials said the decision to grant the license was made in line with the spirit of the nuclear deal, which included allowing Iran to regain access to foreign reserves that had been off-limits because of sanctions. CNN, The Hill, NBC News

Federal judge sides with Philadelphia in ‘sanctuary city’ immigration fight: A federal judge has ruled that Attorney General Jeff Sessions cannot withhold federal funds from Philadelphia over the city’s “sanctuary” policies, which bar local law enforcement from sharing residents’ immigration status with the federal government. U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson said in his ruling Wednesday that the conditions the federal government placed on the city in order to receive the funding are unconstitutional, “arbitrary and capricious.” He also wrote that Philadelphia’s policies are reasonable and appropriate. Philadelphia has said it will turn over immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement only if the agency has a warrant signed by a judge.

Several other “sanctuary cities” have opted to limit cooperation with government enforcement of immigration law. The Justice Department has threatened to cut off millions of dollars in federal grants to cities if they don’t meet certain criteria for cooperating with immigration officials. Philadelphia’s attorneys had argued the move is unconstitutional and that it harms residents. CBS News

U.S. military plans for future at Guantanamo: President Trump’s order in January to keep Guantanamo open and allow the Pentagon to bring new prisoners there is prompting military officials to consider a future for the facility that the Obama administration sought to close. “We’ve got to plan for the long term,” Army Col. Stephen Gabavics, commander of the guard force, told reporters this week. “We ultimately have to plan for whether or not they are going to be here for the rest of their lives,” he said of the 40 detainees at Guantanamo. “I have all sorts of structures that I have been neglecting or just getting by with that now I've got to replace,” said Adm. John Ring, the commander of the task force that runs the jail. Officials at Guantanamo said they could take in about 40 more male detainees without any changes to staff levels. No such request has come from the administration, Ring said, but he added that he has been asked “some hypothetical questions” about capacity. Associated Press


The U.S. hopes to one day normalize relations with North Korea, President Trump said Thursday, adding that he will invite North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the U.S. if the planned June 12 summit goes well. Trump signaled that a grand bargain to reverse decades of enmity is not on the table for his meeting with Kim in Singapore, but he sounded upbeat as he described the North Korean leader as sincere about remaking the future for his impoverished country. “We would certainly like to see normalization, yes,” Trump said after two hours of White House meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “We could sign an agreement, as you know that would be a first step … That’s probably the easy part. The hard part remains after that,” he added.
Bloomberg: Mystery CIA Agent Cast Into Spotlight as Korea Summit Looms
NBC News: U.S. Officials Prepare to Thwart Chinese Spying at Singapore Summit
New York Times: North Korea Razes Missile Test Facility Ahead of Meeting With Trump

Southeast Asia concerned about ISIS expansion: After ISIS’ collapse in Iraq and Syria, governments in Southeast Asia fear that their part of the world may become the extremists’ new area of growth. Southeast Asian nations are sidelining old rivalries and cooperating in order to prevent ISIS’ expansion in the region. This includes a boost in intelligence sharing and joint maritime and air patrols in the Sulu Sea, where Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia meet. In addition to concerns about the Sulu Sea area, the historic hotbed of Islamic militancy, regional officials increasingly worry that the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh may create another extremist hot spot on the coast of Andaman Sea. Wall Street Journal

UN warns attack on Yemen port threatens civilians: The UN is warning that a military attack or siege by Yemeni pro-government forces supported by a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition on the port city of Hodeida will impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. The UN Human Coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande says Friday humanitarian agencies in Yemen “fear, in a prolonged worst case, that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything— even their lives” in and around Hodeida. Associated Press

The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, announced it will remove 71 of its international staff from Yemen, citing a series of incidents and threats by groups trying to turn the organization into a pawn in the three-year civil war. The Guardian

U.S. airstrike kills four ISIS members in Libya: The U.S. military carried out its first airstrike in Libya since March, killing four ISIS members following months in which the extremist group reasserted itself with a series of lethal attacks across the country. U.S. military officials said the airstrike on Wednesday hit ISIS members in the town of Bani Walid, about 90 miles southeast of the country’s capital of Tripoli. The group’s presence there demonstrates their resilience nearly two years after a U.S.-backed military campaign ousted it from the city of Sirte. Wall Street Journal

Airstrike on rebel-held northwestern Syrian village kills dozens: Warplanes attacked a rebel-held northwestern village in Syria, killing at least 35 people and wounding dozens more in one of the deadliest incidents in Idlib province this year, a Syrian war monitor and paramedics said Friday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrike was carried out by Russian warplanes. USA Today


Stockholm truck attacker jailed for life: An Uzbek man who drove a stolen truck into a crowd in Stockholm in April 2017, killing five people and wounding 14 others, was convicted Thursday of terror-related murder and given a life sentence. Rakmat Akilov, who was charged with terror-related murder in January, said he wanted to punish Sweden for joining a coalition fighting against ISIS. Judge Ragnar Palmkvist said Akilov was the only suspect in the attack. He was found guilty of five counts of terror-related murder, 119 counts of attempted murder, and 24 of endangering the life of others. Akilov arrived in Sweden in 2014 and applied for asylum, claiming he had been persecuted. His application was rejected and he was ordered to leave Sweden in December 2016. Associated Press, BBC News

Brussels terror suspect to be extradited to France: Osama Krayem, a terror suspect detained in Belgium over his role in the 2016 Brussels bombings, will be extradited to France and questioned regarding his involvement in the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Krayem, a 25-year-old Swedish national with Syrian roots, is suspected of belonging to the terrorist cell behind the Paris and Brussels terror attacks and faces charges of “criminal conspiracy in connection with a terrorist enterprise” and “complicity to murder.” Politico

Australia jails man over Malaysia Airlines plane bomb threat: A Sri Lankan man who threatened to detonate a bomb on a Malaysia Airlines plane has been jailed in Australia. Manodh Marks, 26, forced Kuala Lumpur-bound jet MH128 to turn back to Melbourne in May of last year after he tried to access the cockpit. It is the first time Australia has jailed a person for attempting to take control of an aircraft. Marks, who pleaded guilty in a Melbourne court, will be deported after serving a maximum sentence of 12 years, judge Michael McInerney told the County Court of Victoria on Thursday. BBC News, TIME

Europe asks U.S. for exemption from sanctions on Iran: In a letter to senior Trump administration officials, European foreign and finance leaders this week tacitly acknowledged that their efforts to preserve the West’s nuclear deal with Iran were failing. In the letter, sent on Monday to the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the European leaders cited “security interests” in requesting that companies in Europe be granted an exemption from U.S. sanctions that would be imposed as a result of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the pact. New York Times

UN report says Saudi Arabia crushing dissent through counter-terrorism law: Saudi Arabia is misusing its broad anti-terrorism law to silence peaceful dissent and deny freedom of expression, imprisoning critics and allegedly subjecting some of them to torture, according to a UN report. The report by UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson said the definition of terrorism in Saudi laws enacted in 2014 was “objectionably broad,” He called on Saudi authorities to bring the law in line with international norms, to halt “barbaric and public” executions, and to investigate allegations of the torture of detainees. Reuters

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
International Law: A Casualty in the War on Terror?

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Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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