THE NAME GAME: The New York Times made some folks at the CIA unhappy with them (again) last Friday – with a story which purported to name a currently serving undercover officer who the Times says has just been put in charge of Agency operations regarding Iran. Apparently, the Agency asked the NYT not to publish names, but the Gray Lady decided it was OK to do so because the name had previously been reported in the press. By whom? The New York Times among others.
The Times story gave some observers heartburn in other ways too. For example, it claimed that the assignment was the first major sign that the Trump administration was going to take a hard line against Iran. First sign? Hello, they must have missed the new sanctions imposed three weeks after Trump took office and then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn putting the Iranians on notice.
Also – the Times seemed to go out of their way to make the officer (who we will not name here) appear to be generally disliked at the CIA.
The Dead Drop remembers that, using a pseudonym for the official, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell described in his book the person apparently mentioned in the times as: “…the most dedicated officer with whom I have worked at the Agency”
It wasn’t just the NYT that got ahead of its skis. This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal and other media excitedly reported about CIA creating a “new” mission center to focus on Iran. Old Agency hands remember that Porter Goss created an Iran Operations Division in 2004. His successor, General Mike Hayden, collocated analysts with operators there. Under John Brennan the outfit was merged into an overall Middle East Center – and now Director Mike Pompeo has re-established a center with the sole focus on Iran. There is nothing new under the sun.
REALITY BITES: Intelligence veterans tell us to look for an aggressive, renewed effort to clamp down on the number of personnel – especially contractors – who have access to highly classified intelligence. This will follow the news that a 25-year-old contractor improbably named “Reality Winner” was charged with leaking a sensitive intelligence report to “The Intercept” regarding allegations that Russian intelligence tried to access U.S. voting data prior to the presidential election. Reality has pled not guilty to the charges.
NOTHING NEW UNDER THE RISING SUN: The Washington Post on Tuesday provided a timely reminder that damaging leaks are nothing new. This week is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway – a major turning point in World War II in the Pacific. The Post story describes how on June 7, 1942 the Chicago Tribune carried a detailed report on the U.S. victory along with a side story which (correctly) hinted that the U.S. had broken Japanese code enabling the fleet to score its victory at sea. The reporter who wrote the story later said he found the details on a scrap of paper lying around the ship he was embarked on. The Japanese somehow missed the report at the time – perhaps their subscription to the Chicago Tribune had expired.
OK, THIS IS NEW: The news media website Mediaite.com carried an opinion piece this week which disagreed with CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s assertion that there is no “quick fix” to the WikiLeaks problem. The Mediaite Op-Ed says, “We can drone Julian Assange.” Some would say (ok, everyone would say) that firing a hellfire missile into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London would be a bit controversial – but Mediaite quotes someone saying WikiLeaks has been conspiring with folks who commit terrorist acts. Given President Trump’s twitter war against the Mayor of London, blowing up an embassy in that city would add a new chapter to the “special relationship.” Mediaite notes that, according to the BBC, providing security protection for the Ecuadorian Embassy has cost the Brits more than £12 million so far – so there might be some in the UK who wouldn’t mind a less-violent intrusion on their sovereignty.
CUTTING EDGE JOURNALISM: Andre Walker, a London-based columnist for the New York Observer (owned by first son-in-law Jared Kushner) published a piece on Sunday titled, “Today I Offered the Islamic State £50,000 to Kill Me.” Apparently there was some point to the challenge – as pointed as the photo posted on Twitter of Walker, dressed in a morning coat, outside Parliament, wielding a sword. We are not entirely sure what that point is – but will keep you posted.
POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting /weird stuff we discovered:
- I Feel the Need for Speed: Tom Cruise has another aviation movie coming out in September. In this one, however, he is not flying F-14’s as part of Top Gun but instead, in American Made, he portrays a pilot contracted by the CIA to transport drugs for the CIA – and later Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
- Reality Loser: Here is another nugget from “UFOlogist” Steven Greer. According to the website Inquisitr, Greer has a documentary called Unacknowledged, which claims that Marilyn Monroe “was murdered by the CIA after she threatened to leak top-secret information she obtained from her lover, President John F. Kennedy, about the alien UFO that allegedly crashed at a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947.” A CIA spokesperson said, “Such claims are baseless and do not merit serious consideration.” Seriously.
- D-Day – The Lawyer Has Landed: The CIA announced on June 6 that the Senate had confirmed Courtney Simmons Elwood as the Agency’s General Counsel. The President announced his intent to nominate Elwood on March 7.
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:
- Putin Playbook: Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin on MSNBC said on Monday that Vladimir Putin’s reaction to allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election sound like his bogus claims in 2014 that his country had nothing to do with the invasion of Crimea.
- What to Watch Post-London: Former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael Leiter took to the pages of Lawfare to examine what policies might change both here and abroad following the most recent terrorist attack in London.
- Give Me (Civil) Liberties: Bruce Hoffman, writing in The National Interest, explains why ISIS’s method of attack is as simple to execute as it is difficult for the authorities to identify, interdict, and prevent.
- Must SEA TV: Retired Admiral James Stavridis is out with his second new book of 2017. The latest being, Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans. Like the oceans, the Admiral was everywhere – appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and “Evening Lawrence (O’Donnell)”, CNN’s Erin Burnett, Fox and Friends, CNBC’s Squawk Box and more.
WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND? (Our contributors tell us about what they’re currently reading)
John Sipher, former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service:
“I’m re-reading Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible about modern Russia. He is a great storyteller who provides a good sense of the corruption, espionage, and criminality of present day Russia.”
SECURITY QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“ISIS was rocking and rolling in Iraq and Syria. If you believed its ideology, that was the place to go and fight, to get battle-tested. That was great for recruiting. As we started eating away at their Caliphate, as we’ve started kicking ass over there, we knew we’d see more attacks in Europe and the U.S.”
-John Perren, former Assistant Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction at the FBI.
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