Dead Drop: May 25

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STANDING UP FOR GINA – For a variety of reasons, Monday’s swearing in ceremony for new CIA Director Gina Haspel was a remarkable affair.  Setting aside, for a moment, the historical import of the first woman to lead the Agency, the event was notable simple for the way it was staged.  According to Dead Drop sources, the Presidential lectern was set up in the hallway steps above the iconic main lobby with its CIA seal and Memorial Wall.  Down the hallway, to the left and right of the lectern, were several hundred seats for distinguished visitors, senior CIA officials, and the like.  Standing in the lobby, in front and below the makeshift stage, were several hundred Agency employees.  Behind the CIA workers, was a platform for the White House press travel pool.  Visitors speculated that the unusual set up was designed both to cram in a large crowd and to avoid repeating the image of the President standing before the Memorial Wall, which resulted in some unfavorable coverage following his January 21, 2017 visit to Langley. The logistics ensured that the press coverage focused only on those on stage – the President, VP, Secretary of State Pompeo and Haspel.  The media were unable to see the invited guests – and were instructed not to take shots of CIA employees before them – some of whom are under cover – as Haspel herself was until about 16 months ago. Observers breathed a sigh of relief when the President largely passed up opportunities to say anything overly political in his remarks (except perhaps when he described House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes as “a very courageous man.”) The day was Haspel’s, however.  The new director was greeted with loud cheers from the Agency employees standing before her.  The Dead Drop hears that a limited number of tickets to the event were offered to the workforce the previous Friday afternoon and were all snapped up within minutes of being made available. One minor glitch, though.  Someone forgot to put in the president’s remarks the words: “Please be seated.”  As a result, the audience members who were lucky enough to have seats and were standing for the national anthem and invocation – were still standing when Trump was introduced – remained standing for the entirety of Trump’s remarks, and the swearing-in by the Veep, and Haspel’s relatively short speech.

SPOTTED AT LANGLEY: In addition to Trump, Pence and Pompeo, there was an unusually large contingent of other senior administration officials present for the swearing-in.  Most of them were out of camera range due to the previously mentioned stagecraft.  But our spies tell us that those in attendance included: Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Education Rick Perry, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, VA Secretary nominee Robert Wilkie, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short and a large contingent of unrecognizable White House staffers.

ODD JOB: The New York Times posted a job announcement last week seeking “an ambitious correspondent to cover the CIA and the nation’s other intelligence agencies.” The job ad requested candidates to “submit a memo outlining their vision for covering the beat…” and adding what “areas of the beat do you consider most important? What should be getting more coverage than it is? What kinds of stories should we avoid? What stories on the beat, beyond The Times’s coverage, do you admire and why? Where could The Times improve?”

C’MON, WE CAN DO IT BETTER:  Speaking of areas where the media could improve, Cipher Brief CEO & Publisher Suzanne Kelly was interviewed on this week’s episode of WTOP’s popular TARGET USA Podcast with JJ Green.  Green apparently interrogated Kelly over why and how she created The Cipher Brief and what constitutes a true expert in national security these days.  We hear Kelly cracked pretty easily under pressure, and gave away some key secrets to how it all started.

TAKING COMMAND OF WHAT, EXACTLY:  Lt. General Scott Miller has been nominated as the next commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, which would make him the 9th U.S. General in 17 years to take the post and the first one appointed under President Trump.  Miller is an interesting pick.  The Wall Street Journal credits him with heading some of America’s most secretive missions that included the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team Six.  With the current U.S. Afghan policy leaning heavily on Special Operations, he may be the right choice at the right time.  Though the Dead Drop spoke with a former Green Beret who suggested ‘If you created a general cloned from the DNA of Patton and Robert E. Lee, you still wouldn’t be able to get results over there.  It’s enough already.’

LOST AND NOT FOUND DEPARTMENT: Last week, The Dead Drop told you about the USAF 91st Security Group which reportedly lost a box of MK19 grenades when they fell out of a moving truck.  These things can happen.  The Air Force, in an abundance of caution, ordered the unit to do a complete inventory of its other weapons, just to make sure nothing else had gone missing.  Oops. According to the website Task and Purpose, the unit now reports that it has also misplaced an M240 machine gun. As far as we know, the 150 ICBMs for which the Missile Wing is responsible, remain in U.S. government possession. Nonetheless, on Tuesday, the Security Group Commander lost something else – his job.

CLEAN UP ON AISLE 17! Appearing on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” program, nationally syndicated radio host Mark Levin suggested that the president should appoint a commission to clean up the agencies within the intelligence community. Levin said “… the president needs to appoint a commission of five or seven people … top-notch men from prior administrations and women and appoint them and say fix the FBI at the top, fix the CIA, fix intelligence agencies. We can’t allow it to happen to another president of the United States. To hell with, sorry Jeff, with Jeff Sessions and all of the other people. The president should take responsibility. You are talking about spies in the Trump administration. You’re talking about a failed FISA court. This is incredible stuff.”

ISN’T THAT SPECIAL? If that commission idea doesn’t fly, a resolution was submitted in the House of Representatives on Tuesday calling for a second special counsel to probe possible misconduct of DOJ, the FBI and the circumstances leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller. Our question is: who’ll investigate the investigators investigating the investigators?

POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting /weird stuff we discovered:

  • Coming to a TV near you – Shock and Awe:  We told you a couple years agoabout a forthcoming movie called “Shock and Awe” directed by Rob Reiner and starring Reiner, Woody Harrelson, and James Marden, playing Knight Ridder newspaper journalists who were among the few media members skeptical about government claims regarding Iraq’s supposed WMD stockpile prior to the 2003 war. The trailer for the film is now out. In what seems backwards from past practice, the flick will start running on DirecTV on June 14 and later will show up in theaters on July 11.
  • Let the games begin: Severaltimes in the past, The Dead Drop has told you about how the CIA uses tabletop games (board games) to help train their analysts. Now comes word in an online publication called “The Verge” that some folks FOIA’d for details about the games and an outfit called Diegetic Games, is putting out a version of one of them for public enjoyment.  Called “CIA: Collect it All,” the game reportedly “demonstrates how different intelligence tactics can be used to address political, economic, and military crises — and how the system often manages to screw it all up.” Hey, if we wanted to learn about all that – we’d just read the newspapers.

WHAT’S ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND?   We at the Dead Drop love to spy into people’s bedrooms.  Don’t worry, we just want to know what your nighttime reading habits are. We’re guessing you might have one or both of the new releases by Cipher Brief Experts.   General Michael V. Hayden’s Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Liesis currently an Amazon #1 release.  Cipher Brief Expert and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s new book Facts and Fears:  Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence was just released this week and is already a best seller on Amazon.  Both books take a hard look at truth versus fiction in the White House.  Ironic, perhaps that President Trump himself might be generating higher book sales for both.  In a Tweet this week, the President said that Clapper as much as admitted that the FBI was spying on the President’s campaign. Turns out, that is a lie.  But no doubt, good for the business of selling books.

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING:  Got any tips for your friendly neighborhood Dead Drop?  Shoot us a note at [email protected].