YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: Cast members of the hit TV series “Homeland” appeared at the National Press Club on April 23 along with former CIA and NSA Director General Michael Hayden to talk, among other things, about the difficulty of making a fictional television show while keeping up with real-world events. The session was sponsored by the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy and International Security at George Mason University. According to AP, Homeland cast members discussed their annual “spy camps” where they meet current and former intelligence operatives to get a better feel for the characters they play. Mandy Patinkin, who plays “Saul Berenson” on the show, said, “I was looking for the heartbeat of these individuals, who they are as human beings. I wanted to know how they prayed and how they dealt with terror in their own lives when they lose someone they’re close to, when they are afraid, when they are faced with danger in the Oval Office. Who do they talk to when they are afraid? What do they do when they’re afraid? I was looking for their human nature.” Claire Danes, star of the show, added: “I was overwhelmed by that experience. I was really struck by the sincerity of their patriotism and the level of their devotion and I was very humbled by that; I was very moved by that. I don’t think I’ve encountered that so directly before and that has always stayed with me.” Not everyone they met was quite so impressive, however. Patinkin talked about a video conference call they had with leaker and fugitive Edward Snowden. Snowden, he said, “was the least interesting person who ever came through the door. I’m all for the truth. A lie is a cancer to my soul. But that guy was just proselytizing his manifesto.”
SPEAKING OF SNOWDEN: Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center spoke at the Aspen Center on April 18th and said that the damage from Snowden’s leaks continues to grow. According to the Washington Free Beacon, Evanina said: “This past year we had more international Snowden-related documents and breaches than ever, but probably 98 percent of them were in Der Spiegel or the Guardian,” he said. “Very few of these issues have been picked up by U.S. media. But our assessment is they are more damaging now.”
I’LL SEE YOUR LETTER AND RAISE YOU A LETTER: In the March 30th edition of The Dead Drop, we mentioned a letter from disgruntled ex-government officials opposing Gina Haspel’s nomination to be CIA director. Then in the April 13th edition, we reflected on a letter to the Hill from 53 high-ranking former officials supporting her. That missive was signed by 8 former CIA directors or acting directors, a couple ex-Secretaries of State and some senior retired military officers. Not to be outdone, on Monday April 23, another letter bearing the names of 109 retired military flag and general officers opposing Haspel was released by a PR firm working on behalf of “Human Rights First.” Intelligence veterans supporting Haspel, however, point to what they say are multiple factual errors in the latest letter. They include assertions that Haspel was involved in “illegal and unethical conduct” – ignoring that the interrogation program was authorized by President George W. Bush, deemed legal by the Bush Department of Justice, and extensively investigated by the Obama Department of Justice – no fan of the interrogation program – which nonetheless did not find it illegal. The latest letter criticized Haspel for her involvement in the tape destruction issue, yet ignored a 2011 accountability inquiry, conducted by then-Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell which exonerated her of any wrongdoing in the matter. (The Obama DOJ also did not find fault with her regarding the tapes.) The Human Rights First-sponsored letter also cites former CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo as saying Haspel had once overseen “the CIA’s entire interrogation program,” an interpretation that Rizzo says is incorrect. The Cipher Brief was invited to join a conference call on the day the letter was released to hear from some of the organizers. On the call, a group representative was heard repeatedly referring to Haspel as “Haskell.”
FAKE RESORT: A recent BBC story tells the fascinating tale of a Red Sea diving resort set up on the edge of the Sudanese desert nearly 50 years ago. Ostensibly a holiday destination, advertisements invited tourists to enjoy “some of the best, clearest water in the world” and “breathtaking view of the heavens, aflame with millions of stars.” But Arous Village actually was a secret facility operated by the Mossad to help Ethiopian Jews make their way to Israel. The story is soon to be a Hollywood movie called “Red Sea Diving Resort” (which sounds like a pretty clunky title to us). Mossad agents set up the place using false identities posing as Swiss businessmen.
UNDERCOVER OF DARKNESS: There are quite a few former intelligence officials currently running for elective office. The cachet of being an ex-CIA officer (or other intelligence operative) can be a valuable credential on a candidate’s resume. On April 21, Newsweek carried a report about one such Agency alumni, Scott Uehlinger, who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania. Newsweek notes that usually the details of a former intelligence official’s career are shrouded in secrecy – but the magazine has found several other former CIA operatives willing to take anonymous shots at Uehlinger. One claimed that Uehlinger got in trouble for commingling personal and operational fund to finance his own wedding to a Moldovan woman. Uehlinger pushed back saying that his wedding was “part of an operation.”
POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting /weird stuff we discovered:
- Unbelievable Defense: Gilberto Nunez, an upstate New York dentist, was acquitted for killing his lover’s husband but convicted for possessing forged documents which claimed that he was a CIA officer. According to the Albany Times Union, the dentist appealed his conviction. While admitting the fake credentials were on his computer, he said his claim of being part of the CIA was so absurd that “no reasonable person would perceive them to be authentic.” The appeals court disagreed. The story gets a bit complex after that. It seems Nunez dated a woman for a while who subsequently reunited with her estranged husband. The woman then started received emails telling her that her husband was having an affair and offering to have the CIA investigate him. We didn’t know that was part of the Agency’s services. The husband later died and significant amounts of midazolam, a sedative used by dentists, was found in his system. Apparently, there was insufficient evidence to connect Nunez with the death.
- May the Space Force Not Be with You: The Trump administration is considering establishing a semi-autonomous entity called the “Space Force” or “Space Corps” to take charge of military action on the final frontier. The folks at com have obtained copies of emails from Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, who doesn’t like the idea. In one email, Wilson says that she and other Air Force leaders are “serious as a heart attack about space.” She apparently disagrees with House Armed Services Committee member Mike Rogers, R, Ala., who says: “The Air Force is as fast as a herd of turtles as far as space is concerned.” Credit both sides of the argument at least for deploying entertaining rhetoric.
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:
- I Heard it on the Gold Mine: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN that Trump’s reported use of a personal cellphone presents a potential “gold mine” for U.S. adversaries collecting intelligence from the calls unless the phone is encrypted.
- Successful Manipulation: Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin was on MSNBC Sunday April 22, saying he is “quite confident” that North Korea has been studying Trump in anticipation of a possible upcoming summit meeting. McLaughlin said they “understand he likes to claim credit for success,” noting that Kim has given Trump “something he can crow about,” which might translate into “successful manipulation of the president.”
- Prioritizing the Urgent: The Atlantic’s May issue has a lengthy story about “The Hardest Job in the World” – the presidency. Former Obama counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco described some of the challenges of the job. “The urgent should not crowd out the important,” she said. “But sometimes you don’t get to the important. Your day is spent just trying to prioritize the urgent. Which urgent first?”
- KJU EMP? E1, 2 &3: Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander retired Admiral James Stavridis had a column in Bloomberg Quint on Wednesday describing the scary impact a North Korea electromagnetic pulse attack might have on the U.S. power grid. Stavridis describes the effect of three successive shocks, dubbed E1, E2 and E3, might have – and why the potential threat increases the importance of making progress on the negotiating table with Kim Jong Un.
WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND? (Our contributors tell us about what they’re currently reading)
“Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership” by GEN Martin Dempsey, USA (Ret) and Ori Brafman, is a quickly readable, compelling rationale why effective leading and learning in today’s information-intensive environment must be a team sport. Moving a step beyond lessons from popular leadership books of the past several years, “Radical Inclusion” asserts that decentralization of hierarchal structures is not enough. Describing the modern information environment as having a “Digital Echo,” where facts are filtered and distorted, the authors explain how today’s leaders need to compete for their teams’ trust and confidence, make sense of disparate data, counter manipulation and bias, and take charge of an event’s narrative by “Listening, Amplifying and Including” inputs from those closest to ground truth. Dempsey and Brafman’s track record of successfully leading diverse organizations provides them standing to endorse such practices as an effective framework for organizational buy-in, participation with a purpose, and more efficient enduring solutions to complex leadership problems. Highly recommended for government and corporate leaders. – Rear Admiral Paul Becker, USN (Ret), former Director of Intelligence (J2) for the Joint Chiefs of Staff