Dead Drop: May 4

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INSIDE THE FARADAY CAGE – Friday marked a hugely ceremonial day for Cyber Command as Lieutenant General Paul Nakasone officially became the head of the command – taking over from outgoing Admiral Mike Rogers.  It was a big day for the Cyber Command itself as well, as it was finally elevated to its own combatant command status.  We hear the ceremony – which was overseen by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan – happened inside a Faraday Cage.  If you don’t know what that is – it’s a giant grounded metal screen that surrounded the event, keeping electrostatic and electromagnetic influences at bay. It probably added a nice flair for the massive group of cryptologists who were there as well.  Sources tell us that a lot of the chatter focused on dramatically expanding the scope and scale of capacity for operations.  That, plus the long-anticipated change at the top is bringing an air of hope to the work force, which is eager for leadership that may be a little more inwardly focused than it was under Director Rogers.  The ceremonies took place at the new East Campus, where more than $2B of development money is being spent over the next ten years.  Can you hear me now?

BLAST FROM THE PAST:  On April 27, the House Intelligence Committee (or at least their majority) released its report on Russian meddling (or not) in the 2016 presidential election. The report is long – and many observers found it unconvincing.  But there WAS one interesting revelation which was buried in a footnote.  Daniel Jones, a former staffer of Senator Dianne Feinstein, spearheaded a group in 2017 that spent $50M in an effort to “continue exposing Russian interference.” Jones isn’t actually “named” in the report – since his name was redacted.  But the description in the footnote makes absolutely clear he is the person they are talking about.   If that name sounds familiar, Jones was the lead staffer on Feinstein’s 2014 report on CIA interrogation practices. Coincidentally, it was reported at that time that Jones & company spent about $50M on that investigation as well. By some accounts, it was not money well-spent.  Former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell described the “Feinstein Report” as “..one of the worst pieces of analysis” that he had ever seen in his 33-years in government.  Despite taking years to produce, the SSCI staff failed to interview any CIA officers who had been involved in the interrogation program.  Perhaps the committee will get more for its money this time.  But one intelligence veteran, no fan of President Trump’s, noted that Jones’ private effort to push the collusion narrative is not a good sign. “It just shows how partisan he is and how his work lacks objectivity.  Today, that work is biased against the President and in favor of the Democrats.  During the RDI investigation it was biased against CIA and in favor of the FBI’s view of what occurred post 9/11 with high-level AQ detainees.”

RUSSIA ATTACKS NATO (CAFETERIA):  Putin’s mouthpiece, Sputnik News, served up a story over the weekend headlined: “Forget Russia: NATO Officials Say Bad Canteen Food Among Alliance’s Big Problems.” It is good to know that Sputnik is worried about the quality of the cuisine in Brussels.  According to the article, officials at NATO say the chow at their new $1.23 B headquarters is so bad the caterers “could end up in The Hague.” Sputnik’s source was Politico.eu which quoted an official as saying the cafeteria contractor is “…the Blackwater of the catering world.” Man, that must be some gross grub.

BREAKING (OUT) NEWS:  News organizations such as “Arab News” report that Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani MD credited with (perhaps unwittingly) helping the CIA find Usama bin Laden, may soon be released from prison. The Pakistani publication “The Nation” notes, however,  that our friends at the Russian news agency “Sputnik” say the CIA had planned to break Afridi out of jail.  The headline to the Sputnik piece is: “CIA Fails to Organize Prison Break for Doctor Who Helped Find Bin Laden – Source.” Sputnik might want to stick to cafeteria reviews.

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

  • Who, (Very) Disguised as a Mild Mannered Reporter: The FOIA peeps at Muckrock.com continued their relentless pursuit of documents.  On May 1 they revealed some documents liberated from FBI files via a FOIA lawsuit.  The material includes a screenplay written by some folks in the Church of Scientology. The faux script calls for a character who is a reporter at  a newspaper called: “The Daily Planet.”  It appears from the redactions that the FBI removed the name “Clark Kent” to protect the fictional journalist/super hero.
  • To Have and Withhold: Back in February, the Dead Drop reported on documents filed in a lawsuit in which the CIA argued that it was OK for them to provide sensitive and classified information to some journalists while turning down FOIA requests from other reporters for the same information. This week a Federal judge in New York ruled that the Agency is right. According to McClatchy, Judge Colleen McMahon said: “The Director of Central Intelligence is free to disclose classified information about CIA sources and methods selectively, if he concludes that it is necessary to do so in order to protect those intelligence sources and methods, and no court can second guess his decision.”  The Dead Drop hears that in the emails in question the Agency was responding to reporters who had obtained classified information elsewhere. The CIA was trying (successfully apparently) to make the case why they should not report it.

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:

  • The End of Intelligence: Former CIA and NSA Director General Michael Hayden had an op-ed in the Sunday (April 29th) New York Times that talked about how intelligence agencies are struggling to work in the current “post-truth world.” The column was a prelude to Tuesday’s launch of Hayden’s new book “The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies.” This week Hayden appeared – well, just about everywhere.  From Morning Joe, to CBS This Morning, CNBC, The Hugh Hewitt , and Brian Kilmeade radio shows. Here at The Dead Drop, we have a copy of Hayden’s book – but haven’t had time to read it because we have been so busy watching his media appearances.
  • Rambling Wreck:  Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin told MSNBC that the lengthy House Intelligence Committee report on possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election was “a wreck” and demonstrates a “new level” of partisanship.
  • “Forget the Maine!” Retired Navy four-star Admiral James Stavridis was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe reacting to what the White House says was just a “typo” in a statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders which said Iran “HAS a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.” The administration later corrected that to read “HAD a robust” program.  Stavridis says that “words start wars” and cited the “Remember the Maine” rallying cry which helped launch the Spanish-American war under false pretenses.

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING:  Got any tips for your friendly neighborhood Dead Drop?  Shoot us a note at TheDeadDrop@theCipherBrief.com or TheCipherBrief@protonmail.com.