Dead Drop June 10

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DON’T THEY KNOW THERE ARE RECORDINGS?  About a month ago, The Dead Drop pointed out a slip of the lip made at a Josh Earnest White House press briefing where the Obama spox (that’s inside the beltway speak for spokesperson, BTW) was asked by Kevin Corke of Fox News, “Can you state categorically that no senior official in this administration has ever lied publicly about any aspect of the Iran nuclear deal?” Josh replied earnestly, “No, Kevin,” by which we are sure he meant: “Yes, Kevin.” This weekend we learned that the White House transcript from that briefing omits the words, “No, Kevin.”  The official excuse is that that part of the exchange was inaudible – and they said they have no plans to fix the transcript. This revelation comes on the heels of the State Department’s Rosemary Woods-ing an 8-minute exchange in one of their briefings. Earnest said on Monday that it was “not fair” to compare the two incidents. Do both matters make the administration communication teams look bad?  “No, Kevin,” by which we mean, “Yes.”

SPEAKING OF RECORDINGS: Tuesday was kind of a mixed bag for retired General and former CIA Director David Petraeus.  On the plus side – it was reported that day that Senator Mark Kirk (R, IL) plans to write in the General’s name on November’s presidential ballot.  OK, it is just one vote – but how many sitting Senators have endorsed YOU for President?  But on the downside – Politico reported that an affidavit unsealed on Tuesday reveals the FBI had “two audio recordings in which the retired four-star Army general briefed reporters about matters authorities believed were top secret.”  The FBI found the recordings during its investigation of whether Petraeus provided his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with classified information.  Petraeus has already been sentenced on misdemeanor charges for less-than-sterling handling of classified info in the Broadwell case, so the latest information will have no practical impact on him.  It might be used by Hillary Clinton supporters, however, to draw a bigger distinction between her email woes and Petraeus’s past troubles.

SNOWDEN JOB: Edward Snowden is in the news.  Still.  This week The Cipher Brief ran two stories related to him (one on how his impact is fading, and another fact-checking some of his claims). But at about the same time, Vice News came out with a story purporting to show that Snowden DID try to raise with his bosses his concerns about privacy etc. while still a contractor working for NSA. Lawfare responded with a rebuttal calling Vice’s claims, “fantasy.” The Dead Drop wonders – for a guy supposedly so smart – and one who managed to steal “the largest collection of classified documents in NSA history” – how come Snowden couldn’t manage to make off with any of the emails, letters, notes etc. he claims he sent to prove that he tried to work within the system?

N – B – See You Later: About six weeks ago word went out that highly-respected, long-time NBC Chief Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski will be retiring at the end of this year.  And late last week NBC announced that they have hired Bloomberg correspondent Hans Nichols to eventually fill the Pentagon slot.  “Mik” has had a couple tours of duty in the Pentagon (broken up by a stint at the White House).  He first joined NBC in 1985, which (judging from the pictures) was right about the time Hans Nichols was born.

The Americans, Reviewed by Michael Sulick

Season 4, The Finale

Spoiler alert: Stop reading now if you don’t want to know (yet) what happened in the most recent episode of the FX series, The Americans

The Jennings and their colleague William were blissfully unaware of the danger they faced at the end of the last episode, when the FBI pinpointed William as the Soviet mole in the U.S. biowarfare program. In this episode, the season finale, the FBI launches massive surveillance on William as he brings a vial of the Lassa virus to Philip. William spots the surveillance and runs but is surrounded. Just as FBI agents are about to seize William, he breaks the vial and jams it into his hand, infecting himself with the deadly virus. He warns the FBI agents, and they whisk him away to a biological treatment facility. Fortunately, viewers are spared the more revolting stage of William’s agony, the “oozing of the body from all its orifices,” which he has so graphically described in the past.

FBI agent Stan and his partner stand watch from an enclosed gallery above their dying prisoner, hoping to glean some hints about his Soviet handlers. Slightly delirious, William lets slip a comment about a married couple with two children but otherwise reveals nothing.

His KGB colleagues, however, don’t know that. The Jennings and their handler Gabriel obviously grow concerned that William has failed to show for primary and alternate meetings. Gabriel is convinced William, who was already reluctant to pass the virus to his KGB masters, has been caught by the FBI and may be pressured to talk.

Mystery initially shrouds a new character introduced in the finale. Mikhail Semenov is a Soviet veteran of Afghanistan, his mental state under evaluation for commitment to a psychiatric facility because of his anti-Soviet behavior. Thanks to powerful connections, however, Mikhail is freed and visits his grandfather who provides him a package his mother left him prior to her arrest. The package is chock full of Soviet and foreign currencies and passports. Mikhail asks about his father and is determined to find him. The mystery is revealed – all Mikhail knows is that his father is a travel agent in the U.S., undoubtedly our own Soviet illegal Philip Jennings.

As expected, the season finale ends with a cliffhanger. Gabriel is convinced William’s arrest poses grave danger to the Jennings, and he thinks they should abandon the U.S. immediately –- but tells them it’s their decision. 

Next season: Despite the cliffhanger, it’s difficult to believe the Jennings will leave the U.S. The network has already announced The Americans will run another two season and scenes of the Jennings shuffling papers in Moscow Center will hardly capture viewer interest.

Paige, on her own initiative, may also be drawn more into the Soviet espionage web. In a mother-daughter scene in the finale, Elizabeth snuggles up with Paige in bed, where her daughter asks if she could learn how to defend herself. Next season we may see the teenager crushing some assailants with KGB martial arts techniques like her mother did or fending off suitors. Speaking of suitors, Paige is growing more passionate with the neighbor’s son Matt, while she also elicits information from him about his FBI dad Stan.

And the newest twist – Philip’s son Mikhail will surely wind up on the Jennings’ doorstep. The illegals already have enough problems with their two children.

Then there’s Pastor Tim and his wife, who has just given birth to a daughter. They’re too preoccupied with parenting now to worry about the Soviet illegals in their midst –- but that can’t last forever.

Nailed it: The FBI’s surveillance of William is classic, deploying multiple cars and agents, constant radio communications, directing agents not to follow too closely so they won’t be spotted, and dispatching “feet,” i.e., surveillants leaving their cars and pursuing their target on foot. Stan, however, is forced to make a crucial decision -– order surveillance to keep their distance and risk losing William or simply take him before he eludes them. Stan decides to capture William and thus misses the chance to arrest another Soviet intelligence officer meeting the target. Philip, pacing nervously at the meeting site, goes unnoticed and will live another day -– or even two more seasons of the show.

Nailed it: Mikhail Semenov is evaluated for commitment to a “psikhushka,” an ironic diminutive in Russian for a mental institution. The Soviets, in fact, abused psychiatry by confining regime opponents and dissidents to institutions. In the regime’s twisted logic, anyone who disagreed with the Soviet system must be insane.

Nailed it, but not quite: As a result of William’s arrest, the FBI summons the KGB rezident to advise him he is persona non grata in the U.S. Mutual expulsions are common after spy arrests; the expulsion of a KGB rezident, however, raises the bar but is not without precedent. After the arrest of CIA officer Aldrich Ames in 1994, the KGB rezident was expelled and the Russians reciprocated. Official expulsions, however, are usually done in diplomatic channels so the Soviet ambassador would be summoned to the State Department, not the rezident meeting the FBI.

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