REDACT-ULOUS: Last Saturday afternoon, the Trump administration authorized House Democrats to release their rebuttal memo to the House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., “DOJ is being mean to Carter Page!” memo. By now, just about everyone has weighed in on which party’s memo proved everything you thought all along. Verdicts ranged from President Donald Trump’s “a nothing” to “devastating,” according to Vox. Here at The Dead Drop, we won’t rehash the pros and cons – but what caught our eye was a discussion of the apparently sloppy redactions to the Dem memo. There are whole threads of conversations in the Twittersphere with people noting that, because the document was created with a non-fixed-width font, it is possible to figure out which words were likely present in some of the blacked-out spaces. For example, the document says: “The FBI had already opened sub-inquiries into (blacked out) individuals linked to the Trump campaign: (long blacked-out section) and former campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page.” The number of sub-inquiries (based on spacing and the hint of an “r” at the end of the redaction) appear to be “four.” It is harder to come up with the names blacked out – but the long expanse for three names could be caused by the inclusion of something like: “George Papadopoulos.”
PRESIDENTIAL PERSONNEL: Axios broke the news over the weekend that Trump is pushing for John Dunkin, the pilot of Trump’s personal airplane, to be made head of the FAA. That got us thinking. The president has told us that he hires “the best people.” So, who else might be hanging around from his past life who might be pressed into government service? It is not hard to make your mind wander – after all, an administration that (at least for a while) made a 29-year-old former fashion publicist the White House Communications Director and that made Omarosa Manigault an assistant to the president, might do anything. We asked around for suggestions. One government veteran suggested that the president’s barber be made Director of the Office of Management and Budget – since he or she is skilled at covering up big deficits. The chief engineer at Trump Tower might be in line for NASA administrator. After all, we know the elevators there work well, and the escalators always bring important passengers down safely. Who is your unlikely nominee for high office? Send suggestions to TheDeadDrop@theCipherBrief.com or TheCipherBrief@protonmail.com.
TO DM ME, OR NOT DM ME, THAT IS THE QUESTION: The Daily Beast reported recently that multiple sources say that Republicans on the House intelligence committee have shot down Democrat requests to subpoena Twitter to obtain direct messages between Donald Trump associates. We’re guessing Special Counsel Robert Mueller is not so reticent about asking for the DMs. Of course, it is quite a stretch to imagine that people would be dumb enough to incriminate themselves in direct messages…. Ah, never mind.
THE ASSAULT ON INTELLIGENCE: Politico was first to report that Penguin Random House has moved up the sale date for Gen. Mike Hayden’s new book to May 1. Called “The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies,” advance publicity says the book talks about fundamental changes in the world, and this country, and “shows us what they are, reveals how crippled we’ve become in our capacity to address them, and points toward a series of effective responses. Because when we lose our intelligence, literally and figuratively, democracy dies.”
POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting/weird stuff we discovered:
- Dopey Theory: Several obscure websites have carried an identical article by someone named “Rick Sterling,” which heavily hints that the Russian athletes who failed anti-doping tests at the recently concluded Pyeongchang Winter Olympics were victims of CIA dirty tricks. The author says: “It is well documented the CIA carries out murders, coups and major sabotage.” Sterling apparently believes, therefore, that the agency would spend its time undermining two Russian athletes because of the acute embarrassment that would be caused, for example, when the Mixed Curling Bronze Medal winner had to give up his third-place award.
- Never Would Have Figured That Out On Our Own: The folks at com continue to mine the CIA’s formerly-classified archives. This week, they uncovered documents, originally from the U.S. Army, that give VERY specific instructions on how to eat some of their long-term survival rations. For example: “Dessert (Candy) 1. Suck on small piece. Dissolve in mouth.”
- Grave Report: The good news for veterans living in western New York is that they are going to get their own national cemetery. The bad news – at least for the folks at the OSS Society – is that the place will not bear the name of General “Wild Bill” Donovan as previously thought. According to the Buffalo News, Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, had strongly supported the naming proposition and OSS admirers were, for a while, confident of success. But it turns out the Veterans Administration decided it would be more appropriate to name the place the “Western New York National Cemetery.” Now that they mention it, we don’t recall any cemeteries named in honor of a single person – no matter how distinguished. (The OSS Society writes in to protest that there *are* cemeteries named in honor of a single person. “The Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery was named for the former congressman in 2002. There are cemeteries named after Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, and a World War I general,” OSS Society President Charles Pinck emailed Friday morning.)
- Strictly From Hungary: OK, we admit we were a little behind and had not yet had time to read the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s “State of the Nation” address from about 10 days ago. But one of our readers has done so. It was pointed out to us that in his remarks, Orbán claims that there are “NATO reports” saying that by the year 2020 “sixty million people will have set off for Europe.” That is a pretty alarming figure – and as near as our source can figure – it’s a little off. While refugee and migration figures in Europe are dramatic, with a spike of more than a million refugees arriving in 2015, numbers last year were less than 15,000. It turns out, the PM’s startling figure apparently comes from a 2004 UN document, which speculated that some 60 million may eventually move from the desertified areas of sub-Saharan Africa towards Northern Africa and Europe by the year 2020. But the trend is going that way yet.
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:
- Convergence theory: Former CIA and NSA Director Gen. Mike Hayden was on Politico’s “Off Message” podcast. Speaking of the Russia-election meddling investigation, Hayden says that he isn’t sure there was collusion…but sees a “convergence” between Team Putin and Trump.
- Generation XI – Retired Adm. Jim Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, writing in Bloomberg View, explains the implications of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s moves that will allow him to remain in office indefinitely.
- Moscow Messing Around More than Meddling: Former Assistant Attorney General John Carlin has a piece in Politico.com saying that the Kremlin’s online activities are much more than just election meddling and argues that the U.S. needs to fight back.
WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND? (Our contributors tell us about what they’re currently reading) “I have been reading Tim Shipman’s ‘All Out War,’ a vivid account of the run-up to and outcome of the Brexit vote here in 2016. Or how an issue that no one in Britain cared very much about in 2015 has come to dominate the UK political landscape. Moral: no democracy should ever, under any circumstances, on any issue, allow a referendum. Maybe I’m just a bad loser.”
– Nick Fishwick, Former Senior Member of the British Foreign Office