Why Trump should endorse allies’ demands upon terror-cozy Qatar

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Conservative Review, by Jordan Schachtel, June 23, 2017:

The United States should wholeheartedly support Arab states’ attempts to rein in the renegade state of Qatar, as Gulf leaders attempt to cut down on Doha’s out of control terror promoting and jihadi financing policies.

On Thursday, Middle Eastern countries issued a list of 13 demands that need to be met in order to restore relations with Qatar. They have given Qatar 10 days to comply with the ultimatums. The list of demands aligns so well with American nationalist interests that it wouldn’t come as a shock if American officials had a role in drafting the document.

Among the most “America-first” of the 13 mandates include:

1) Dramatically scale down ties with the Iranian regime and expel members of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) from the country.

Iran has long been accused of sowing discord in the Middle East and fanning the flames of war. The regime in Tehran, which considers the United States “The Great Satan,” directly supports terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and has aided attempts to overthrow governments in Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, and elsewhere. The IRGC, which is tasked with exporting Iran’s revolutionary ideology through military force, is heavily involved in the Syrian Civil War, supporting the Assad regime and Russia in committing sectarian war crimes against innocents.

2) Shut down the Turkish military base that is currently under construction in Qatar.

Though a NATO ally, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey continues to trend towards Islamic authoritarianism. In May, bodyguards for the Turkish strongman viciously attacked American citizens protesting outside of the Turkish ambassador’s home in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Turkey supports and aids the global jihadist Muslim Brotherhood network, and U.S.-designated terrorist organizations like Hamas.

3) Eliminate ties for terrorist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and Hamas.

Qatar continues to harbor Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who has endorsed suicide operations against American soldiers. Additionally, there is overwhelming evidence that high-ranking members of the Qatari regime have aided and abetted Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria. Even as the U.S. has recently arrested Hezbollah agents charged with plotting terrorist attacks on American soil, the Emir in Doha considers Hezbollah a “legitimate resistance” movement. Though Qatar claims to be fighting ISIS, U.S. counterterror officials continue to claim that they’re a chief funding resource for the caliphatist[RH1] group.

6) Shut down Al Jazeera and its affiliates.

Al Jazeera is a state-run media agency in Doha that is masquerading as a free media enterprise. The outfit is currently facing a new lawsuit claiming it collaborated directly with the Muslim Brotherhood during Islamist revolts that resulted in the overthrow of the Egyptian government. In 2013, 22 staff members resigned to protest the network’s bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. The news network’s Arabic channel has had a hand in radicalizing its viewership towards Islamist beliefs. A 2015, an Al Jazeera Arabic poll showed 81 percent of respondents supported the Islamic State terror group. Its short-lived American outlet acted as an Islamic blasphemy police, banning words like “terrorist,” “militant,” “Islamist,” and “jihad” from its reporting. After the 9/11 attacks, Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha was decorated with silhouettes glorifying Osama bin Laden.

Since the Arab states’ blockade against Qatar began, American officials have been all over the place on whether the United States supports or disputes the measures.

President Trump — who gave a speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia just prior to the embargo, urging Middle Eastern countries to do more to quash terrorist financing — appears to be supportive of the Arab initiative, labeling Qatar a “funder of terrorism at a very high level.” The president is also considering hosting a “Camp David-style” summit for Arab leaders to explore how to further crack down on Qatar’s terror finance and other terror supporting Middle East entities.

However, the Pentagon under Secretary James Mattis, and the State Department under Rex Tillerson, have acted instead to empower the Qatari monarchy.

The Pentagon recently signed a multi-billion dollar arms deal with Qatar, allowing for the sale of 36 U.S. F-16 fighter jets.

And this week, Tillerson’s State Department commanded Arab allies to rescind demands of Qatar, and immediately end the embargo. The State Department even called into question the overwhelming evidence that Qatar is a financier of international terrorism, and refused to name Qatar as a state-sponsor of terror.

It would be challenging to find a more pro-American document than the list of dictates being offered up by our Middle East allies. The White house has been presented with a historic opportunity to finally quash the rich oil-regime’s support for the world’s worst actors. Squandering that opportunity — when pressure on Qatar is as high as it will ever be — would result in the loss of a much-needed boost to American security interests and global stability.

Jordan Schachtel is the national security correspondent for Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.

Rogue Rex? State Dept demands allies back off terror-linked Qatar

AP

Conservative Review, by Jordan Schachtel, June 21, 2017:

While President Trump appears more than willing to pressure Qatar into dropping its support for terrorist entities, the U.S. State Department has decided to attack American allies in the Middle East, demanding that they immediately cease their embargo against Qatar.

About two weeks ago, several Middle East states decided that they could no longer sit idly by while Qatar continued its cozy relationship with terrorist entities such as Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the terrorist-sponsoring regime in Tehran. They imposed a massive embargo on Qatar and dismissed its diplomats from their nations.

The move came almost immediately following President Trump’s “Drive Them Out” speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which he called upon the Islamic world to do more to hold accountable the nefarious actors inside and outside their nations.

And in a call with Saudi Arabia’s newly installed crown prince Wednesday, the president spoke of the situation in Qatar, prioritizing “cutting off all support for terrorists and extremists,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.

Through his social media accounts, Trump praised the embargo as a necessary reaction and pointed to Qatar’s terror financing.

But on Tuesday, Rex Tillerson’s State Department decided to condemn the embargo, seemingly directly contradicting the president’s stance.

“Now that it has been more than two weeks since the embargo has started, we are mystified that the gulf states have not released to the public nor to the Qataris the details about the claims they are making toward Qatar,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a slap to U.S. regional allies.

She continued: “The more time goes by, the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.”

Nauert then called into question the motives behind the embargo:

“At this point, we are left with one simple question: Were the actions really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were they about the long simmering grievances?”

There is hardly anything “alleged” about Qatar’s support for terror. Qatar has somewhat transparently supported Al Qaeda networks in Syria. World leaders have accused Qatar of funding ISIS. Its chief officials regularly host the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who has publicly called for suicide bombings against American soldiers. Qatar maintains a close relationship with the Iranian regime, which the United States considers the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Lastly, Qatar distributes militant Islamist, anti-U.S. propaganda on its state-run hate network, Al Jazeera.

So why is the State Department taking such a soft approach towards Qatar? The answer may be discovered in Rex Tillerson’s history as chief of ExxonMobil.

Secretary Tillerson, a former oil executive, has long been extremely close with the regime in Doha.

Over the past few years, Tillerson has met personally with Qatar’s leader several times. Less than a week after election day, Tillerson arrived in Doha to discuss ExxonMobil and Qatar. He and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani met again in September 2016 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. They again got together during Tillerson’s February 2016 trip to Doha. They once more met in private in Houston in February 2015. And those are only the meetings between the two that were disclosed to the public.

As ExxonMobil CEO, he sang the praises of Qatar, even as the country supported terror and maintained its vicious human rights record.

“It is evident why Qatar is an example to the world,” Tillerson said at a 2009 energy conference in Qatar, adding, “We must learn from Qatar’s vision and its policies.” A year later, at another Qatar conference, Tillerson praised “Qatar’s visionary leadership” in the energy industry.

Conservative Review reached out to the State Department to try to get to the bottom of the contradiction between the comments coming from President Trump and from Secretary Tillerson.

CR asked whether the State Department considers Qatar to be a state supporter of terrorist organizations. A State Department official pointed to the U.S. State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which does not include Qatar. CR also asked if State wanted Gulf allies to lift their embargo of Qatar immediately. The official referred CR to the transcript from Tuesday’s briefing, in which State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert attacks U.S. allies for imposing the embargo.

Is Rex Tillerson going rogue and defying the agenda of the president? Or has he instead been delegated authority by the president to conduct diplomatic affairs as he sees fit? Regardless of his motives or authority, Tillerson’s State Department is backing away from what could be a seminal moment for real, positive change in the Middle East.

No, Efforts To Designate The Muslim Brotherhood Aren’t Abandoned

A diverse range of voices favors Washington putting the squeeze on the Muslim Brotherhood, despite debates about to how to move forward effectively.

The Federalist, by Kyle Shideler, May 15, 2017:

If we are to believe media reports, the Trump administration has all but abandoned efforts to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. While Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid trumpeted that “American experts who study the Muslim Brotherhood unanimously oppose their designation,” a wide range of opinion on the Islamist group remains, both inside and outside the Beltway.

In fact, a diverse range of voices favors Washington puting the squeeze on the Muslim Brotherhood, even if there are debates about to how to move forward in the most effective manner. Former Ambassador Dennis Ross, co-author of a leading work on the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, the terrorist group Hamas, recently wrote a stinging article targeting the tiny gulf state of Qatar for its role in financing the group. Ross notes,

Few countries have done more to promote the Muslim Brotherhood, including its Palestinian offshoot Hamas, than Qatar. The actions of the Muslim Brotherhood may vary from country to country, but it rationalizes attacks against American forces and interests, rejects the very concept of peace with Israel, and promotes religious intolerance.

Just so. While Ross doesn’t explicitly call for designating the group as a terrorist organization, he does poke holes in the view—prevalent during the Obama administration—that the Brotherhood represents a bulwark against Islamic terrorism rather than a network of support for it. That flawed approach has been the basis for much of the immense bureaucratic opposition from both the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department to designating the Brotherhood.

We’re Already Halfway There

Soon after Trump’s victory late last year, State Department and CIA memos opposing designation were leaked to sympathetic media, and fed into a fierce public relations campaign the Brotherhood funded abroad. An echo chamber of validators amplified these efforts, using self-proclaimed Islamist and counterterror experts whose think tanks receive lavish funding from Gulf States like Qatar.

Yet designating the Brotherhood enjoys a base of broad support among Republicans, from conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz to traditional centrists likes Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, and even a handful of Democrats. Some foreign governments have also supported a designation, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Indeed, elements of the Muslim Brotherhood have already been designated. The effort began in 1993, when President Bill Clinton designated its Palestinian branch—better known as Hamas—as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Then, almost immediately following 9/11, U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Muslim Brotherhood began in earnest. By the end of President Bush’s second term, numerous Brotherhood charities and organizations, both foreign and domestic, had been designated, and others criminally prosecuted for terrorism activity.

Additionally, a number of Brotherhood leaders were personally designated, including Yemeni Brotherhood leader Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani and one of the leaders of the International Muslim Brotherhood organization, Youssef Nada. Most of these designations took place without invoking the Brotherhood’s name, but they were still intentional blows to the group’s terror support network. While the Obama administration reversed some of these designations, others remain.

What the Trump Administration Should Do

Any effective policy to combat the Muslim Brotherhood would involve freeing the Treasury Department to once against begin designating and sanctioning the Muslim Brothers and their various front organizations and branches for terrorism finance and their other illegal activities.

This step can be taken as soon as key nominees are confirmed, a process that Democratic Senators have unfortunately slowed to a crawl. Just this week, Sen. Ron Wyden announced he would block the nomination of Sigal Mandelker to be undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.

In addition to Treasury enforcement action, knowledgeable federal law enforcement officers within the government recognize the nature and threat of the Muslim Brotherhood. These officers investigated Muslim Brotherhood-related cases during the Bush administration, and they understand the role the Muslim Brotherhood plays in terrorism and terror finance.

This includes agents who have dedicated nearly a lifetime of federal service to investigating the Brotherhood’s terror connections. Unfortunately, the Obama administration broke up the taskforce that won key counterterrorism convictions against Brotherhood leaders, meaning some of America’s best experts on the Muslim Brotherhood have been relegated to other tasks. Restoring this taskforce for federal law enforcement is a necessary step, and could be accomplished by the Trump Department of Justice with a modicum of effort.

Perhaps most importantly, the public debate around designating the Muslim Brotherhood deserves transparency. A tranche of Brotherhood documents federal law enforcement captured, while reportedly not classified, have not been made available to the general public. They should be released immediately.

Additionally, the nature of the U.S. government’s policy towards Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood over the past decade deserves clarification. Presidential Study Directive-11, which reportedly deals with U.S. policy towards Islamist movements in the Middle East, and its associated documents should be declassified and made available for examination. Former House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Pete Hokstra made this argument at a hearing in September last year.

As with the documents taken during the raid on Abbottabad when Osama bin Laden was killed, and the so-called “side deals” of the Iran deal, these documents also deserve to see light of day so a reasoned debate can begin over how the U.S. government should best respond to the threat the Muslim Brotherhood poses. These are all actions the Trump administration can begin immediately.

Finally, a role for Congress remains in this debate. Thanks to the leadership of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Cruz, legislation on designation remains before both the House and Senate. Hearings on the Muslim Brotherhood, its role in supporting terrorism, and U.S. policy towards the group are all not only appropriate, but well overdue as a companion to White House efforts.

It’s inaccurate to say no support exists for designating the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is fair to say the window for a successful effort is closing fast. If the Trump administration intends to keep this important part of their broader platform to make America safe again, they need to move swiftly.

Kyle Shideler is the director of the Threat Information Office at the Center for Security Policy. Kyle has worked for several organizations involved with Middle East and terrorism policy since 2006. He is a contributing author to “Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network: America and the West’s Fatal Embrace,” and has written for numerous publications and briefed legislative aides, intelligence, and law enforcement officials and the general public on national security issues.

White House Clearance Process Increasingly Politicized

Ben Rhodes, Michael Flynn / Getty Images

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, May 1, 2017:

Security clearances granting access to state secrets have become increasingly politicized in a bid by opponents to block senior advisers to President Trump from joining the closed White House community of those with access secret intelligence.

In February, intelligence agencies denied a high-level security clearance to Robin Townley, an African affairs specialist and close aide to then-White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The denial of the Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance, the high-level security clearance known as TS/SCI, was widely viewed as a bureaucratic power play by opponents of both Flynn and Townley inside intelligence agencies.

Angelo Codevilla, an intelligence expert, said the denial of clearances was engineered by the CIA and came despite Townley’s holding of the high level clearance for many years when he worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The clearance denial drove Townley out of the White House National Security Council staff.

The apparent motivation was political, as Townley was known inside government as a critic of the current intelligence structure. Townley, like Flynn, advocated for intelligence reforms designed to improve what many critics regard as an outdated system of intelligence agencies.

“The CIA did not want to deal with him,” Codevilla stated. “Hence, it used the power to grant security clearances to tell the president to choose someone acceptable to the agency, though not so much to him.”

Flynn also is under scrutiny from the Pentagon inspector general over foreign payments he received after retiring as an Army three-star general and whether they were reported on security clearance forms.

Several months before Townley’s clearance denial, Democrats on Capitol Hill complained about plans to give high-level security clearances to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner. Both were granted interim TS/SCI clearances and currently are presidential advisers.

The blocking of security clearances under Trump contrasts with the handling of clearances during the Obama administration when a key liberal adviser with a questionable security background was given a high-level clearance.

Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communications under Obama, was denied an interim TS/SCI clearance by the FBI in October 2008, according to an email obtained from John Podesta last year.

The email stated that Rhodes was the only White House official out of 187 prospective White House aides to be denied the interim TS/SCI clearance.

Yet, despite the denial, Rhodes would later be granted access to some of the most secret U.S. intelligence information and emerge as one Obama’s closest aides who boasted of a “mind-meld” with the president on various issues.

Rhodes became one of the most active originators and shapers of key American foreign and national security policies under Obama.

He engineered what he dubbed the “echo chamber” of pliable news reporters and think tank experts who could be relied on to spread White House propaganda, including false and misleading information, to the American public on the Iran nuclear deal in a bid to win congressional backing for the accord.

Two House Republicans asked the FBI in January to investigate how Rhodes was granted access to secrets for eight years after the initial denial of an interim clearance in 2008.

Regarding Ivanka Trump and Kushner, two House Democrats, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) complained on Twitter in November that granting clearances to the couple would be improper and a conflict of interest because they were in business and lacked government experience.

High-level security clearances are granted to White House officials so they can participate in various activities, including policy development work, meetings with the president and senior advisers, working groups, and intelligence briefings.

Most internal meetings are classified and thus a security clearance is required for access. Denying a clearance to an official can be tantamount to firing.

In the White House complex, junior clerical staff members often are granted TS/SCI clearance.

Most jobs inside the White House complex, which includes the executive mansion and the adjacent Eisenhower executive office building, where the National Security Council and other key posts are located, require the TS/SCI clearance. Other clearance levels include Secret and Confidential.

The process for gaining a clearance includes filling out Form SF-86 that requires disclosing details of past employment and finances.

Chinese hackers were able to gain access to millions of the secret and highly sensitive forms during the hack disclosed last year of the Office of Personnel Management. The stolen SF-86s were among some 22 million documents on federal employees stolen and could greatly assist Chinese intelligence agent recruitment and cyber espionage operations.

Ground for clearance denial can include illegal drug use, contacts with foreign governments, or a history of bankruptcy.

The TS/SCI clearance grants a holder access to special intelligence, such as information obtained from foreign recruited agents and electronic communications intelligence.

The clearance also can include signing extensive non-disclosure agreements.

Iran deal architect is now running Tehran policy at the State Department

Conservative Review, by Jordan Schachtel, March 14, 2017:

A trusted Obama aide who once worked for an alleged Iranian regime lobbying group is one of the individuals in charge of Iran policy planning at the State Department under Secretary Rex Tillerson.

Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, the Iran director for former President Obama’s National Security Council (NSC), has burrowed into the government under President Trump. She’s now in charge of Iran and the Persian Gulf region on the policy planning staff at the State Department.

To make matters worse, Nowrouzzadeh is a former employee of the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), a non-profit that is accused of being a lobbying group for the Iranian regime. NIAC’s current president, Trita Parsi, has long held close relationships with top officials in the Tehran dictatorship. In February, a group of over 100 prominent Iranian dissidents called for Congress to investigate NIAC’s ties to the Iranian regime.

One of Nowrouzzadeh’s primary duties under President Obama was to promote initiatives that pushed the Iran deal. As President Obama’s NSC director for Iran, Nowrouzzadeh sat in on high-level briefings along with President Obama, former VP Joe Biden, and former Secretary of State John Kerry, as top White House staff crafted false narratives on the Iran deal to sell to the American public.

According to the head of a state-run Iranian newspaper, Nowrouzzadeh was an essential element to pushing through the Iran deal. Editor-in-Chief Emad Abshenass said that she opened up a direct line of communication with the Iranian president’s brother. “She helped clear a number of contradictions and allowed the entire endeavor to succeed,” Abshenass said of her efforts.

Nowrouzzadeh’s advocacy for President Obama’s directives resulted in an agreement that has done enormous damage to the security interests of the United States and its allies. Iran, the world’s top sponsor of international terrorism, was gifted $150 billion dollars for agreeing to the deal. The deal will not restrict Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In fact, the regime in Tehran may now have the operational capacity to deploy nuclear warheads within the next decade, according to expert estimates.

Towards the end of President Obama’s tenure, Nowrouzzadeh was embedded into the State Department and for a brief time served as its Persian language spokesperson.

In addition to Nowrouzzadeh, several other prominent Obama officials currently serve under Sec Tillerson at the State Department. A former John Kerry apprentice, Michael Ratney, occupies the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio there. Another trusted Obama aide, Yael Lempert, also serves under Tillerson on the same platform.

Why Secretary Tillerson has decided to keep on a chief Obama policy official remains unclear. The State Department did not return multiple requests for comment seeking additional information on Nowrouzzadeh’s role at the government agency.

Robert Spencer video: Why the State Department Swamp Is In Dire Need of Draining

Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer explains some of the key failed policies and analyses that the Trump administration State Department should jettison quickly and decisively.

Are US Intelligence Agencies Withholding Intelligence From President Trump?

Trump leaving the CIA headquarters with Michael Flynn after delivering remarks during a visit in Langley, Virginia, on January 21. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Trump leaving the CIA headquarters with Michael Flynn after delivering remarks during a visit in Langley, Virginia, on January 21. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Center for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz, February 16, 2017:

According to a front page Wall Street Journal article today, U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised.  The Journal story cited former and current intelligence officials.  If true, this would be a dangerous and unprecedented act of defiance by unelected intelligence officers.  The acting Director of National Intelligence denied this report.

I suspect this story is only partly true for several reasons.  While I believe there are a handful of Obama appointees who are making such claims, most intelligence officers would  never do this because they know they work for the president and such behavior would cost them their jobs.  I also question whether any intelligence officials who have had actual contact with the White House did this.  I believe this story is being driven by a blogger and former intelligence officer who, although he has a wide following, has a history of making far-fetched and conspiratorial claims.

What this story does represent is the urgency that the Trump administration get its appointees in place in intelligence agencies to ensure they perform their mission to provide the president with the intelligence he needs to keep our nation safe.  Trump officials also are urgently needed at State and the Pentagon.

Once Trump officials are in place and assert control over the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, CIA, DIA, State and DOD, there should be a sharp reduction in leaks and anti-Trump press stories like today’s Wall Street Journal article.

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