PUBLIC DIS-SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Intelligence Community insiders tell The Dead Drop they are scratching their heads over a recent comment by former Attorney General Eric Holder. On a podcast hosted by former Obama advisor David Axelrod, released on Memorial Day, Holder said that Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by absconding with – and leaking –truckloads of highly classified documents. Holder said: “We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in.” Oddly, the ex-AG added that Snowden’s actions were “inappropriate and illegal.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked if the President agreed with Holder and replied “I think a careful view of (the President’s) public comments would indicated that he does not.” Apparently that is spokesman speak for, “No.” One former intelligence official asked rhetorically “What kind of signal does it send to future leakers when a former AG calls the most damaging criminal disclosure of classified information in U.S. history – a “public service”?
GENUINE PUBLIC SERVICE: The Hill newspaper reported this week that according to a little-noticed report , the CIA has agreed to document four previously unacknowledged covert actions from the Cold War era in upcoming publications of the HAC. What’s the HAC? The Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation to the Department of State (HAC) oversees the preparation and publication of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series and monitors the declassification and release of Department of State records. No word on exactly what covert actions will be officially acknowledged for the first time – but they should be interesting. In their report, the HAC praised the Department of Energy and National Security Council for their “careful reviews releasing as much historical information as possible.” They say the CIA “has established a rigorous process for review and declassification” (which means they are “coming along” in Diplo-speak), but they said that DOD “remains the weak link” in their declassification efforts.
WHAT REORGANIZATION? AFCEA’S SIGNAL Magazine has an interesting story just out about CIA’s new Directorate of Digital Innovation (DDI) which, along with ten new “Mission Centers,” began operation on October 1 of last year. The Signal article features a lengthy interview with the DDI’s director, Andrew Hallman. The Dead Drop heard of someone who asked an agency insider the other day how the reorganization was going. They were chastised for using that term. “It is not a reorganization! It is a modernization,” they were told. So there.
SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU FORGET THE REAL ELECTION? Alex Gansa, the guy in charge of the hit Showtime TV series Homeland, told EW in an interview recently that the upcoming season six will take place entirely during the period between a fictional presidential election and inauguration day. Homeland will be returning to Showtime on October 2. There are hints that Carrie Mathison will be rejoining the ranks of the CIA for this season and that her boyfriend, Quinn, who was at death’s door at the end of last season, seems to have miraculously survived. Stay tuned.
SOME LIFE: There was a story in the New York Daily News late last week about Monica Perez Jimenez, a former Playboy model who says she was abused as a schoolgirl. Not the kind of stuff The Dead Drop would normally bring to your attention – but in this case the story goes on to say that Monica’s mother, Marita Lorenz, was a “CIA operative” and her father was deposed Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. Apparently mom had quite a life, also hooking up for a while with Fidel Castro. According to the NYDN, the mother’s “life story has been sold to Hollywood as a vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence.”
LICENSE TO STEAL: Reporters and government officials familiar with the Pentagon’s press operations were surprised to see an odd story from the Washington Post Wednesday afternoon. It centered around a DC nanny who had her license plates stolen three times by someone upset that she was using a visitors pass to park her car each day in a crowded Capitol Hill community. A video surveillance camera revealed that the sticky fingered neighborhood grouch turned out to be a well-known senior DOD civilian, Bryan Whitman. The Post says the nanny was actually parking legally, but Whitman apparently had taken it on himself to harass people he thought were not authorized leave their cars on his street. According to the Post, Whitman agreed to a plea deal this week which would lead to dismissal of charges if he pays $1000 in restitution, performs 32 hours of community service, remains out of trouble for ten months, and stays away from the nanny and the woman for whom she works. The Post story notes that Whitman was a long-time DoD media spokesman. Irony alert. The Dead Drop understands that the newspaper missed Whitman’s current Pentagon assignment: from what we hear, he’s now in charge of Community Relations.
The Americans reviewed by Michael Sulick
Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know (yet) what happened in the most recent episode of the FX series, The Americans – stop reading now.
The Americans, Season 4, Episode 12
The illegals’ daughter Paige returns home with her mother visibly shaken after their nasty encounter with two street thugs. Paige just can’t seem to reconcile her parents’ KGB work for world peace with her mother’s swift and brutal thrashing of the attackers. The young girl peppers her mother with the usual questions any child of a Soviet illegal would ask, like have you done this before? Elizabeth Jennings admits she has but merely to protect herself. Elizabeth doesn’t go into details –- otherwise the litany of murder and mayhem she has inflicted during the series would have taken up the rest of the episode. Paige apparently comes to terms with her parents’ work. By the end of the episode, she is eliciting information about their neighbor, FBI agent Stan, from his son who is smitten with her. Seems like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the KGB.
The rest of the episode focuses on the deadly virus sample Moscow Center is eager for their illegals to obtain. Philip Jennings passes his fellow illegal, biowarfare specialist William, the access codes for Level 4 where the toxin is stored (presumably found in computer files filched from Don’s office). William, however, has serious qualms about passing a sample of such destructive power, whose effects he describes in gory physical terms we will spare our readers. Soviet handler Gabriel finally convinces William to obtain the sample after which he can return home to the USSR as a hero, and William agrees.
Everything now seems on track for another resounding KGB success. But wait. Oleg Burov, the KGB officer in the embassy, is experiencing qualms of his own. Tatyana, his lover and fellow KGB officer who runs the biowarfare espionage program, has broken compartmentation and shared tidbits with him. Equally disturbed as William, Burov reveals to his back channel contact FBI agent Stan that the KGB has a source inside one of the contractor companies working on biological weapons. A full court press by the FBI pinpoints William as the source. Stay tuned for next week’s season finale when William’s fate may be decided.
Nailed it: Once Oleg Burov reveals the existence of a spy in a biowarfare laboratory, the FBI launches an intensive investigation that would be conducted in a real life situation. Aware of the KGB’s modus operandi, the Bureau combs records and cemeteries for names of children who died at an early age to discover whose identities may have been assumed by illegals. In this case, they match the names against those of laboratory researchers and pinpoint William. The unrealistic aspect is that the FBI in the show seems to know already their spy is an illegal and not an American citizen recruited by the Soviets, but the demands of TV time in an hour long show with commercials probably dictate this – as well as the record time in which they find the spy.
Nailed it: William, the Soviet illegal inside the biological weapons facility, actually has a real life counterpart from the World War II era. George Koval was born in Sioux City, Iowa to Russian emigres who returned to the USSR during the depression. The baseball-loving, native speaker of American English was educated in the sciences and recruited by Soviet military intelligence, the GRU, which sent him back to the U.S. Koval was inducted into the U.S. Army, studied electrical engineering, and eventually worked inside the top secret Manhattan Project, where he learned about the “polonium initiators” used for chain reactions in the plutonium bomb. He passed the GRU this critical information that eventually accelerated the Soviets’ detonation of its own weapon. He was never caught and escaped to the USSR in 1948. Decades later, in 2007, Vladimir Putin acknowledged this illegal’s contribution and posthumously awarded him the title, “Hero of the Russian Federation.”
Failed it: KGB officer Tatyana, because of her achievements in biowarfare espionage, is assigned as the “rezident,” i.e., the chief, of the KGB in Nairobi. Despite Russia’s annual celebration of Women’s Day, the KGB and its successors were and still are a predominantly male domain. In the 1980s, Tatyana would not have been a KGB operations officer, much less running a sensitive intelligence collection program or heading a KGB overseas facility.
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