April 1

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THE SIPHER BEEF: The recent column by CIA-veteran John Sipher in The Cipher Brief called “Time for a New CIA?” was critical of Agency Director John Brennan’s recent comments on NPR, denying that the CIA “steals secrets.”  We hear the assertion left lots of current and former Agency members slack-jawed – so much so that both Brennan – and the head of the Directorate of Operations (whose name must not be spoken because it’s classified) sent out separate cables to the workforce reassuring folks that the outfit is still in the same line of work that it was when they joined.  We imagine that’s reassuring news for those who steal the secrets.  The Cipher Brief wasn’t on the distribution list for the cable, (of course) though we have asked Director Brennan for an interview.  Tell us, if the Director had the time to talk to you and answer your questions, what would you ask him?  [email protected].

THE KELLEY FILE: Jill Kelley, sometimes referred to as “the other, other woman” in the David Petraeus affair is out with a new book called: Collateral Damage: Petraeus/Power/Politics and the Abuse of Privacy.  Now, the Dead Drop has a split personality on this.  The personality of part of our editorial staff thinks its just more fodder for the gossip mill and who honestly cares about the scandal anymore?  Another personality says ‘Hey, the story involves sex, power and Generals, what could go wrong?’ That part of the Dead Drop gave the book a quick read and found it’s full of what purports to be verbatim text of emails between Petraeus, Kelley, General John Allen and others.  It also includes the contents of emails it says are between Kelley and Paula Broadwell.  There were couple interesting (though useless) nuggets: Petraeus referred to himself in emails to Kelley as “Malik” – Arabic for “King” and there’s an interesting scene when Petraeus, Kelley and their spouses are dining at the Cosmos club when Petraeus (then CIA director) decides it would be fun to see if they can ditch his security detail. Not something that was likely to endear him to those trying to protect him. Kelley passionately makes the case that she did not have affairs with any of the flag officers the tabloid media connected her with.  What a tabloid buzzkill

411 on 702: One of the fun facts heard at the “Intelligence and National Security in American Society” conference at the University of Texas at Austin this week came from Congressman Michael Conaway of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who told attendees his committee is having a heckuva time getting other members of Congress to show up for briefings about the “Section 702″ program of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which is up for re-authorization this year. Conaway says a lot of members don’t want to know what the program really entails — because the knowledge might force them to change their previously adopted positions. 

ACADEMIA, CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN, and TERRORISM:  The UT- Austin conference was pretty cool, and we’re not just saying that because our CEO led a panel discussion on the media’s role in national security reporting (in which an audience of nearly 100 people said they do not trust the media).  The University runs one of the few programs in intelligence studies, something that people like Admiral Bobby Inman and Intelligence Studies Project Director (and former CIA Officer) Steve Slick appear to be pretty passionate about.   Apparently that interest in studying intelligence stretches all the way to the White House, as the President’s Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco made the trip to Texas to chat with the students and other VIPs present.  The Dead Drop couldn’t help but notice that the President’s top advisor on terrorism was donning red-soled Christian Louboutins.  A smart, fashionable woman charged with keeping terrorists at bay.  There’s something slightly awesome about that.  Since the Dead Drop focuses on gossip, not news, we’re just gonna throw this out there: Hey ‘24’ creators, isn’t is about time for a female Jack Bauer? 

LOADED QUESTIONS: Reuters is out with a new poll which concludes that “nearly two-thirds of Americans believe torture can be justified to extract information from suspected terrorists.” While some commentators seem shocked at the numbers, some Agency alumni are saying imagine what the figures would be like if the poll question was not loaded. The question Reuters posed was: “How do you feel about the use of torture against suspected terrorists?”  Many CIA veterans continue to insist that their enhanced interrogation techniques used in the aftermath of 9/11 did not constitute torture. On the flip side, “Imagine what the results would be,” one former official suggested, “if the loaded question was:  “How do you feel about the use of harsh interrogation techniques that are considered by the Department of Justice to be legal against known terrorists in an effort to stop follow-on attacks?”  We’re not taking sides, just pointing out the power (or not) of a loaded question.

“THE AMERICANS”

The Dead Drop has a big reveal of its own this week for fans of the TV show, “The Americans”. The highly-popular series on FX about Soviet KGB officers posing as an American couple living in Virginia during the Cold War takes it’s best stab at keeping it real each week.  The Cipher Brief’s CEO & Publisher Suzanne Kelly chatted recently with one of the show runners about that… (link).  But our big reveal (drum roll) is the name of our source for that weekly tradecraft critique: Mike Sulick, the former Director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service.  Sulick is not only a member of The Cipher Brief’s network of experts, but when asked about Russia House and the operations crew who staffed it, he gets a big grin and mutters proudly ‘My boys!’ Sulick is no stranger to the writing thing either, being the author of Spying in America and American Spies.  So now that you have the skinny, who better to review the FX program and evaluate their tradecraft?  Spoiler warning:  If you don’t want to know (yet) what happened in this week’s episode – you should stop dead in your tracks now.

“THE AMERICANS”: SEASON 4, EPISODE 3

 “We’re in trouble,” Soviet illegal Elizabeth Jennings tells her husband at the end of the previous episode. The KGB has clearly mastered the art of understatement. Life doesn’t improve this week for the beleaguered illegals as they wrestle with two crises: their daughter Paige’s revelation of their identities to her pastor and passing to Moscow Center the infernal bio-warfare specimen from their source.

The couple tries to reason with Pastor Tim to protect their identities. After all, Elizabeth tells him, we’re just trying “to end the nuclear threat and defuse tensions between our two countries.” Claiming their jobs aren’t much different from his, Elizabeth insists they’re “fighting for equal rights, justice,” but the pastor, aware of Soviet atheism and gulags, isn’t swayed.

At an impasse, Elizabeth insists again to her husband that their only option is the assassination of the pastor and his gossipy wife. Their KGB handler Gabriel informs them the KGB has hatched a plot to rid them of the troublesome pair, and “The Americans” are sent on a family vacation to that most American of tourist sites, Epcot Center, so they will be far away when their colleagues perform the grisly task.

The assassination, however, may have to wait since the bio-warfare operation takes a nasty turn. The Jennings find their Soviet handler Gabriel writhing on the floor of his home, accidentally infected by the toxic agent. They bring their agent, bio-warfare specialist William, to Gabriel’s home and he administers antibiotics to all and quarantines them. It’s a shame how these pesky bio-warfare infections always seem to put a crimp in family getaway plans.

Nailed It: Despite these crises, Elizabeth is still plying her trade and, in order to initiate contact with a target, she attends a session of ladies in training to sell Mary Kay cosmetics. Later she “accidentally” meets the target, a Korean woman, at a supermarket, gains her help knocking on doors to sell the cosmetics, and is then invited to the lady’s home for a family dinner. Along the way, she drops hints of a mysterious family issue, a contrivance that will certainly re-emerge later. These few brief scenes present classic steps in gradually developing a relationship that will be exploited to recruit a target.

Failed it: The illegals’ handling of the bio-warfare operation was implausible from the start because of the many potential pitfalls –- and this is borne out when Gabriel and possibly the Jennings are infected by the deadly specimen.

Failed It: The Jennings’ neighbor, Stan Beeman, appears to be the epitome of the straight-laced, by-the-book FBI counterintelligence agent, but he continues to go rogue. Already in hot water for failing to advise his superior of contact with a Soviet KGB counterpart, Beeman shares his suspicions about Marta with a fellow agent and admits that he is surveilling her. Beeman may be a bit overzealous but it stretches the imagination that he would tell a fellow agent that he’s conducting unauthorized surveillance not only of an American citizen but a fellow FBI officer.

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING:  Got any tips for your friendly neighborhood Dead Drop?  Shoot us a note at [email protected].