WHO’S YOUR MCMASTER? Politico had a fascinating scoop this week which asserts that President Trump has overruled a decision by his National Security Advisor, General H.R. McMaster, regarding a key NSC staffer. You will recall when the sweepstakes to replace Mike Flynn at the NSC was underway – one of the issues was, would the new pick be able to select his own staff. White House spokesman Sean Spicer assured everyone that McMaster would have “100% autonomy over who he could hire.” Now, not so much. According to Politico, McMaster wanted to move a 30-year-old former Flynn associate, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, out of the NSC’s intelligence director position – but Cohen-Watnick went around him and appealed to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner – who went to President Trump on the matter. Trump reportedly voted for Cohen-Watnick to stay where he was – probably causing McMaster to wonder what the limits were on his own unlimited power.
MICROWAVE OF THE FUTURE: First, President Trump accused Barack Obama of having tapped his phones at Trump Tower during the presidential campaign. Then the White House refused to provide any substantiation to the claim but asked Congress to investigate. Then presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway came to the President’s defense (sort of) in an interview with the Bergen (NJ) Record, in which she said there are many ways to surveil each other: “You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways.” Conway added that the monitoring could be done with “microwaves that turn into cameras,” adding, “We know this is a fact of modern life.” This alternative fact provided great fodder to late-night TV hosts who mocked the claim. Who might come to Kellyanne’s defense? We offer former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell who was quoted in 2015 as saying, “If you know what I know, you wouldn’t plug your toaster in.”
DEEP STATE: The Dead Drop is not quite sure what to make of all the talk about a “deep state” at play in the government – by some accounts a cabal of government employees loyal to the previous administration and dedicated to trying to undermine the current one. At a recent press briefing, White House spokesman Sean Spicer seemed to endorse the notion saying, “I think that there’s no question when you have eight years of one party in office, there are people who stay in government — and continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration.”
Adding, “So I don’t think it should come as any surprise there are people that burrowed into government during eight years of the last administration and may have believed in that agenda and want to continue to seek it. I don’t think that should come as a surprise.” What DID come as a surprise to us was a follow-on question from a reporter asking if the Director of the CIA or the DNI has a presidential mandate to seek these people out and fire them or purge them from government. Spicer quickly said that that was not part of CIA’s mandate under any circumstances.
DIMBLEBY DO: Former CIA Director John Brennan has been selected to deliver the 2017 “Dimbleby Lecture” – a very British-sounding event which honors the former BBC broadcaster Richard Dimbleby. Brennan is following in the footsteps of the Prince of Wales, Bill Clinton and Christine Lagarde. The speech is to take place in early April.
POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting /weird stuff we discovered:
- TUPAC TOO? If you believe “The Inquisitr,” when not bugging Kellyanne Conway’s microwave, the CIA was busy murdering rapper Tupac Shakur. A new book claims that Tupac was done in by the CIA in a drive-by shooting because authorities “feared he was trying to forge LA street gangs into a unified political force. Yeah, right. The book, Drugs as Weapons Against Us, apparently fingers the Agency for taking out John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, among others.
- ALEXA UNDERCOVER: There is a video making the rounds of someone allegedly asking the Amazon virtual assistant Alexa whether she works for the CIA – and in the video the device just clams up. But the folks at Breitbart did their own test and got a different answer saying, “No, I work for Amazon.”
WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND? (Our contributors tell us about what they’re currently reading)
Richard Boucher, served 32 years at the U.S. Department of State, including roles as Ambassador to Cyprus, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, and Spokesman for six different Secretaries of State:
“I’m reading Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. A reminder that people and social currents in China may decide the future as much as geo-politics.”
SECURITY QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“From my experience, I suspect that this much-reported battle with the IC [Intelligence Community] only goes in one direction. If it is a feud, it is a one-sided feud fueled by the White House. I am certain that people in the IC are just trying to do their jobs and are perplexed by all the noise and commentary about their supposed agenda.”
-John Sipher, former member of CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service and currently Director of Client Services at CrossLead, Inc.
ADVISE AND DISSENT: Got any hot tips or cold cuts you’d like to share? Reach out to us at TheDeadDrop@TheCipherBrief.com.