Dead Drop: August 5

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MORELL IS WITH HER: Last week The Dead Drop told you that Fran Townsend, the former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, has been hired by CBS News to serve as their “senior national security analyst.” A number of our readers asked: “Hey wait a minute.  Isn’t that Michael Morell’s job?” This week we can tell you that Morell had asked to be relieved of his talking head duties so that he can publicly support a presidential candidate – and boy has he.  The former Acting and Deputy Director of the CIA has a smoking hot OPED in Friday morning’s New York Times in which he lauds Hillary Clinton’s ability to keep the country safe as president and lambasts Donald Trump who he says would be a “poor, even dangerous Commander in Chief.”  What’s more, Morell, who says he is neither a registered Democrat or Republican, says that Trump is already harming national security and is playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands and is “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”

NONE OF THE ABOVE: Other former senior intelligence officials come down differently. There is retired Lt Gen Mike Flynn, of course, the former DIA Director who spoke vigorously on Trump’s behalf at the Republican convention in Cleveland telling the crowd: “Wake up, America! There is no substitute for American leadership and exceptionalism.”  On the other hand, former CIA and NSA Director General Mike Hayden told MSNBC on Tuesday that is it possible he may not vote for President in 2016 given the choices. Former top CIA lawyer John Rizzo told The Daily Caller that he was “not prepared to vote for either candidate” citing Trump’s erratic foreign policy statements and Clinton’s handling of classified information as reasons.

GENERALLY SPEAKING: Blogs and social media were buzzing this week with a debate about whether it is appropriate for retired generals and other senior former U.S. military personnel to engage in politics – and specifically to take on a prominent role such as speaking at a party convention.  The debate was sparked by the speech at the Republican convention by retired Army 3-star Flynn and at the Democrat convention by retired General John Allen (backed by a multi-cultural tableau of former servicemen all in mufti). Some argue that retired officers have the same first amendment rights as the rest of us, and who better to talk about military matters than those who have worn the uniform?  Taking the opposite view was former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marty Dempsey who wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post saying it was a mistake for Flynn and Allen to participate and to be introduced using their titles of “general.”  In making his argument – we noted that Dempsey signed his letter to the Post with HIS title…General.

LESS ASPEN: The just-completed 7th Annual Aspen Security Forum seemed to make fewer headlines this year than in times past – probably because it overlapped with the Democratic National Convention.  But, if you were paying attention, there were some high points in 2016. The 3+-day event features remarks and panels from high-level current and former national security officials, industry leaders, and top print and broadcast journalists. Included this year were sessions with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, DNI Jim Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, top military leaders, and the usual assortment of policy wonks.  The event ended with remarks from Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Clapper urged less “hyperventilation” over reports (which he called a “serious proposition”) that the Russians are messing with the U.S. electoral process – ie: the hack of the DNC computers—an admonishment sure to go unheeded.  Brennan made what organizers called a “rare public address.” Seems to us rarely a week goes by when he is not out in public these days, and we applaud his openness.  He talked about how CIA is working to provide undercover officers with online cover stories so they are not unmasked by an ill-fitting or absent social media presence. A couple top DOD officials canceled at the last minute— were the impending U.S. airstrikes on Libya the reason?  No one would say.

BOURNE FREE: The Cipher Brief, along with sponsors the Cooley Law Firm, Benchmark and MissionLink, brought some evening fun to the festivities in Aspen renting out a local movie theater for a private showing of the new Jason Bourne movie.  The name of the theater (and we are NOT making this up) was the ISIS Metropolitan Theater.

BOURNE AGAIN: Speaking of Bourne, last week The Cipher Brief ran a review of the new movie.  We noticed that Fast Company has an article which praises the flick for its action scenes but casts a wary eye on some of the technology shown in the movie.  Our favorite (mini spoiler alert) is when rogue “agents” hack into the CIA mainframe computer and download all the files on its black operations, which helpfully are all contained in a file called: “Black Operations.”

WHAT WOMEN WANT – FROM THE CIA: The website Muckrock recently ran an article which resulted from a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the CIA asking for Agency recruitment posters (and the underlying memos behind them) aimed at women. It only took the CIA a year to respond – which is lightning fast, we hear.   The Agency’s response included what seemed to be dozens of posters and a four-page memo titled: “CIA Target Segment: Women.”

CHICKEN FEATHERS: Remember when The Dead Drop told you a few weeks ago that the CIA had mysteriously changed contractors for its in-house cafeteria and that the move (and the food) was not going down well with the troops?  The Muckrock story mentioned above led us to another recent Muckrock item that we had somehow missed.  This one is an update on a 2014 story about official complaints from CIA officers about the cafeteria.  Our favorite complaint said: “I returned a piece of chicken because there were feathers on the chicken. I told the person who provided the chicken that there were feathers on the chicken and she said: ‘Doesn’t all chicken have feathers on it.’ I replied, Only live chicken should have feathers.”