Dead Drop: April 20

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dead drop

CUTTING ROOM FLOOR COMEY: You may have heard that former FBI Director James Comey has a book out. Titled “A Higher Loyalty,” Comey makes no effort to hide the minimal regard in which he holds the current president. He could have called his book, “Fired and Furious.” But lost in the noise about Comey v. Trump were some comments about events in past administrations. One example caught the eye of the folks at Vox, which noted that in a portion of Comey’s ABC News interview, which did not make it into the one-hour special, the former FBI director disagreed with the Obama Justice Department’s handling of ex-CIA Director David Petraeus’s case involving mishandling of classified information. Comey told George Stephanopoulos: “It was not a close call. In fact, I thought David Petraeus should’ve been prosecuted not just for the mishandling of the classified information, but also for lying to the FBI because lying is — strikes at the heart of our rule of law in this country. And in the end, the attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, decided he would be charged only with the misdemeanor mishandling of classified information.”

BITTER NOT SWEETS: If you think watching TV news in the U.S. can be scary these days, cast an eye overseas. President Donald Trump recently tweeted that Russia should “Get ready” because the U.S. would be sending “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles at targets in Syria. According to Vice News, Russian state TV “Vesti 24” then started advising citizens what to stockpile in case of nuclear war. Just in case the audience didn’t get the message, the newscaster stood in front of a photo of a mushroom cloud and ticked off the necessities, advising folks to stow away “fewer sweets and more water.” As far as we can tell, there was no mention of vodka – which would seem to be a top priority.

TGI DJT: For his Showtime series The Circus, John Heilemann engaged in a fascinating (and combative) interview with Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova. At one point, Zakharova said “Thank God” Donald Trump is president of the United States. It was a little unclear if her meaning was that this was a good thing overall – or whether she meant “as opposed to his being president of Russia.” Later in the interview, Heilemann asked her if Vladimir Putin was “laughing his ass off” at the United States. In response, she laughed heartily.

HOME ALONE: Ever since Amb. John Bolton has taken up his duties as National Security Advisor, the White House revolving door has swept out several high-profile staffers. We told you about the sudden departure of Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert on April 10, just after NSC spokesman Michael Anton also made a rapid exit. Now we hear that Rob Joyce, the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator for the last 14 months, will be returning to his home agency, the NSA. No word on who his replacement will be. Back in August, Joyce sat down with Cipher Brief CEO and publisher Suzanne Kelly for a 15-Minutes podcast.

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

  • Spywitness News: Earlier this month, CNBC sent reporter Kate Roger to CIA headquarters to interview Zachary Wyatt, a retired CIA operations officer now working to help recruit new talent, about the kinds of people the Agency is looking for. Rogers noted that folks at Langley say the real CIA is not like the movies – but just like the movies, CNBC still called agency officers “CIA Agents” – which, of course, is a misnomer.
  • Fowling the Cowling: Air Force Times provides an interesting graphic showing the “top 10 birds” responsible for damaging USAF planes from FY95 to FY 16. Our fine feathered friends can cause quite a mess ranging from the snow goose which racked up $9.4 million in wreckage to the Canada goose which caused an amazing $93.8 million in damage over that period.
  • We Solemnly Swear This is True: Unless the Onion has taken control of Air Force Times…we’re told a Tennessee Air National Guard colonel has been demoted and forced to retire for leading a re-enlistment ceremony in which a master sergeant was allowed to recite her oath using a dinosaur puppet on her right hand. The world might not know of this, had someone not posted a video of the event on line. The puppet flapped its jaws while the MSGT repeats the oath. The video was made for her kids who were not in attendance. After studying the video, we would have been more impressed if she had not moved her lips so much.

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

  • Kim See: Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin was on MSNBC’s The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell putting into perspective the breaking news that CIA Director Mike Pompeo has held secret meetings with Kim Jong Un in North Korea.
  • Weak Syria Response: Retired Army General Jack Keane was interviewed on Fox News regarding the Friday-the-13th airstrike against Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile, calling it “weak.” Keane gave the administration credit for taking action and for bringing along a couple allies, but said the attack was not decisive or consequential enough.
  • Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis wrote in Time Magazine about the uncomfortable scene in the White House Cabinet Room when, “surrounded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nation’s four-star combatant commanders,” Trump went on about how the FBI raid on his lawyer’s office was “an attack on our country.”
  • On the run: A HuffPost story about the FBI adding Rafael Caro Quintero, a Mexican drug trafficker, to its most wanted list quotes Mike Vigil, former head of DEA operations, saying he is unconvinced Quintero is back peddling drugs, but that he should be on the list because of his involvement in the 1985 murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena.

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

“The ‘Alexander Hamilton’ biography by Ron Chernow. While the country is certainly in a different place than in was just after the Revolutionary War, I still find it comforting that there have been other times in our history when there has been bitter political partisanship. Somehow, we manage to survive and hopefully emerge stronger.”

Steve Hall, former member, CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service

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