Dead Drop: August 18

Noun.

  1. A location to secretly pass information without a face-to-face meeting.

Each week we hope to give our readers tidbits of gossip from the world of national security and intelligence. The Dead Drop is a source of fun or intriguing news you can't get anywhere else.

Got a tip for us? Email us at thedeaddrop@thecipherbrief.com and share the scoop. We promise to protect our sources and methods.


Below is our recent intelligence collection:

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS: Senior administration officials appearing on the Sunday shows this past weekend let it be known that nuclear war between the U.S. and Korea is not immediately at hand.  The bad news is that nuclear war among senior administration officials may be.  CIA Director Mike Pompeo said on CBS’s Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday that “There’s nothing imminent today.”  National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on NBC’s Meet the Press, “We’re not closer to war than a week ago but we are closer to war than we were a decade ago.” But when McMaster was asked by Chuck Todd if he could exist peacefully with White House counselor Steve Bannon, McMaster ducked the question – three times.  Meanwhile Bannon’s former outfit, Breitbart News, keeps running items with titles like,  “EXCLUSIVE – Terrorism Expert: H.R. McMaster is Endangering U.S. National Security.” There were multiple reports that the feud between Bannon and McMaster is about to go thermonuclearBannon supporters were spreading rumors…that other Bannon supporters were spreading rumors…that McMaster is a lush.  One account suggested the General downs two martinis and/or a bottle of wine with every meal. Only Ulysses S. Grant and Winston S. Churchill have demonstrated an ability to handle major national security challenges on liquid diets like that.  Somehow, we think these rumors are – as some would call it – “fake news.”

MUSICAL CHAIRS: Two weeks ago, The Dead Drop mentioned rumors that CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s name kept coming up as a possible replacement for McMaster at the White House – and we added that Pompeo has been making it clear that he already has his dream job in Langley. We continue to hear, however, that the speculation continues – especially if McMaster and Bannon end up taking each other out in Mutually Assured Destruction.   Tea leave readers noticed that in his Sunday show appearances last week – Pompeo’s remarks ventured into policy territory – an area that most previously CIA Directors avoided like the plague.  We understand that Pompeo’s strong opinions on policy matters – expressed in near-daily visits with the Commander in Chief, have endeared him to Trump.  While we hear Pompeo remains popular among his workforce, some in the Intelligence Community speculate that if he were summoned to take up residence down the hall from the Oval Office, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  The IC would have a fan in the national security adviser’s office, the thinking goes, and some believe that the President would have a hard time getting another political appointee cleared by the Senate as CIA Director.  That might open a path for a career intelligence official – perhaps even the first woman CIA Director such as current deputy Gina Haspel or possibly newly confirmed Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon.

THE DEVIL, YOU SAY: A group of former CIA, NSA, and FBI officials who call themselves “Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity” (VIPS) was first assembled to attack the Bush ’43 administration and their old organizations.  Now they have come up with a new report which will endear them to the Trump administration while once again attacking the expertise of the intelligence community.  VIPS says the Russians didn’t hack the DNC servers – that too much info was extracted too quickly – so it must have been an inside job. “Guccifer 2.0” the hacker attributed to the break-in of DNC computers, they say, is just an invention to pin the blame on the Russians.  Unfortunately for VIPS, cyber security experts will considerably more current expertise, like John Hultquist of FireEye who told The Hill, “In short, the theory is flawed.” Adding, “The author of the (VIPS) report didn’t consider a number of scenarios and breezed right past others. It completely ignores all the evidence that contradicts its claims.” An article in New York Magazine called the  VIPS theory “too incoherent to even debunk.”

WE HAVE FOUND THE ENEMY: There is a new book out by fallen former Bill Clinton Svengali Dick Morris (and Morris’ wife Eileen McGann) called Rogue Spooks: The Intelligence War on Donald Trump. According to Paul Bedard in The Washington Examiner, the book claims that “liberal intelligence agents have teamed with ‘friendly’ reporters to destroy the Trump presidency with leaks.”  Yeah, those wily agents are probably hypnotizing people like Steven Bannon and Anthony Scaramucci and making them cold call reporters and say stupid things.

POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting /weird stuff we discovered:

  • The Good Old Days: According to Muckrock, apparently back in 1984 the CIA was running out of enemies to spy on – at least that is what you might surmise when you hear that the Agency asked its psychic viewers to look back in time to what was happening on Mars in “approximately 1 million years B.C.”  That “approximately” is important – because you wouldn’t want your psychic to get too literal and skip over events on Mars from 999,999 B.C.
  • Cooking the Intelligence: Deadline Hollywood reports that ABC Signature (the cable/digital version of ABC Studios) is working on an hour-long “comedic dramedy” about Julia Child’s exploits in the CIA.  Child didn’t really work for the CIA – she was with the OSS in WWII – but the series producer’s recipe calls for Julia being brought back into service as an undercover operative.
  • Spy Advice for Authors: The Dead Drop stumbled across a notice (for those of you near St Augustine, FL) of an upcoming event where 30-year-CIA vet T. L. Williams advises aspiring thriller authors on how to write about tradecraft. The St Augustine Record says Williams’ latest novel is Zero Day: China’s Cyber Wars. The paper says the CIA was so concerned about William’s knowledge of sensitive stuff, they spent “months” vetting the manuscript.  From what we hear, any novel making it through the publication review process in less than a year these days is a rarity.

NETWORK NEWS: Not a day goes by when members of The Cipher Brief Network aren’t making news.  Here are just a few examples from this week:

  • CBS News’s Face the Nation loaded up on CIA Directors this past Sunday, having on the program current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, former Director Leon Panetta, former Acting Director (and TCB Network member) Michael Morell – and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius – who writes books about CIA Directors.
  • Time Magazine put together a video on the threat of North Korea featuring the voice of Admiral Jim Stavridis, who laments that President Trump and Kim Jong-un are “getting themselves in an upward spiral of rhetoric that could spiral into actual conflict.”
  • Former CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen , was on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 expressing displeasure at the way President Trump has talked about the Russians expelling U.S. officials from diplomatic facilities in Moscow, saying the POTUS’s comments “betrays a lack of understanding of how valuable our officers and diplomats are in these embassies abroad, particularly in a place like Moscow.”

WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND? (Our contributors tell us about what they’re currently reading)

Ret. Adm. Jon Greenert, former Chief of Naval Operations:

“I just finished William J. Perry’s My Journey at The Nuclear Brink, and it is excellent. He’s “been there done that.” And I am reading David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter about the Korean War. Fascinating, perhaps the most authoritative, and a great read about “how the hell did we get here anyway.”

SECURITY QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

“What about Afghanistan today? Are we winning? What exactly is “victory” in Afghanistan? Are we just going to be in Afghanistan forever spending $50 billion a year? Are we going to be doing the “nation building” role forever, lest Afghanistan slip back into being a hot bed of terrorism? Does anyone have any plan other than to keep doing what we have been doing for the last 16 years, spending untold billions in blood and treasure every year because no one can articulate anything else we might do instead?”

-Kevin Hulbert, former senior intelligence officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations 

Got an inside scoop to share?  Drop us a note at:thedeaddrop@thecipherbrief.com.  And don’t worry, who you are will remain a tightly held secret.