Dead Drop: September 2

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PRETTY DARN BAD COVERAGE: We told you a couple weeks ago about the CIA’s plan to release a whole bunch of previously highly classified Presidential Daily Briefs. They did so at an event at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, CA on August 24.  Approximately 2500 documents totaling around 28,000 pages of material was released. By most accounts the release provided some fascinating insights into the Agency’s hits and misses when briefing Presidents Nixon and Ford. For example, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz says the documents show the agency missed signs of the coming Yom Kippur War. But if you were relying on the New York Times or Washington Post for your news – you are probably unaware of the documents’ release.  Neither paper appears to have done its own reporting on the release – and relied solely on a perfunctory Associate Press item.  The networks were not much better.  CNN did post on its website an article by Tim Naftali which points out that the CIA regularly told Nixon what he didn’t want to hear – that the war in Vietnam was going badly.  But the intelligence community’s attempt at openness was largely rewarded by silence.  So, The Dead Drop has a tip for them for the next time they want to get something out.  We recommend skipping the public press events and simply putting the documents on a thumb drive and anonymously mailing them to the media.  If the news organizations think they documents were stolen rather than released – they’ll probably give ‘em greater play.

WALKING THE REDS CARPET:  Speaking of stolen secrets, last week me mentioned the trailer for the upcoming Oliver Stone movie “Snowden.” Now we read that there will be a special screening of the film around the country on September 14th which will be followed by a live satellite interview of Edward Snowden by Stone.  Snowden will be appearing from Moscow where he is currently enjoying the hospitality and gratitude of the Putin government.

SPEAKING OF SNOWDEN: A self-confessed ‘regular’ Dead Drop reader recently wrote to us after we posted a piece about a string of characters that Snowden recently tweeted and our insinuation that it was ‘gibberish’.  ‘I assume you were being flippant,’ writes the reader.  ‘because the string of characters is hexadecimal code and it’s somewhat unlikely that a random string that long would include only hexadecimal characters.  Obviously it means nothing intelligible, but I suggest that it might be the public half of a symmetric key cipher.  Why would Snowden be sharing the shared half of a symmetric key cipher over a public medium?  Obviously, I’m speculating here, but perhaps it’s the only way he can communicate with the other party without revealing their identify.  And we all know that Snowden has (or at least has claimed to have) a large number of unreleased documents, which he obviously does not have in his personal possession.  You can see where this leads.  I have no proof of any of this, other than the usual circumstances.’  What do you think?   (Thanks, Michael Bradley) 

QUANTICO V. LANGLEY: Season one of ABC TV’s show “Quantico” was all about some FBI recruits in training where one of them is suspected of being a terrorist.  The show did well enough to be brought back for season two – but apparently there was not enough tension between the FBI and the terrorists, so the producers have made a change.  In season two, star Priyanka Chopra has turned in her Special Agent badge and joined the other side.  No, not the terrorists – the CIA. According to published reports, the series (which returns on September 25)  will highlight tension between the Bureau and the Agency. Showrunner Josh Safran says: “It unfolds slowly, and it is not somebody on the run. … The CIA is about intelligence. It’s about how are you cultivating and using intelligence, which is a slower boil.”  We are not sure how often FBI Special Agents have switched sides permanently – but there is a long-established program for the two agencies to temporarily swap personnel.  Within the CIA this is known at the “hostage exchange program.”

THIRD RATE BURGLARY: While we are talking about CIA/FBI cooperation — there is an interesting story first reported this week on Fox News about a newly released  CIA document from the mid-70s called “Working Draft – CIA Watergate History.” It is a “working draft” because the author, a member of the CIA Inspector General’s staff apparently, died in December 1974 and it went unfinished.  (Conspiracy theorists, on your mark, get set….)  But from the material that has just been made available in response to a lawsuit from Judicial Watch, Fox says it is clear that the CIA withheld some of what it knew about the Watergate burglars including the fact that one of them Eugenio R. Martinez, who had known previous Agency connections, was still on the CIA’s payroll (at $100 a month) at the time of the break-in.  It suggests that Martinez was keeping his Agency handlers briefed on the activities of the burglars in the lead up to the crime.

ZEROS FOR HEROS: Hollywood’s seemingly never ending fascination with the world of intelligence is on display in another pilot that ABC has reportedly picked up for network broadcast.  According to Deadline Hollywood, “Unit Zero” will be a “dramedy” –  about a “brilliant, but unassuming CIA engineer and single mom” played by Toni Collette, who “leads a team of CIA underlings who are thrust into the field as first time spies. Each week, this team of zeroes races against the clock to gather intelligence and solve cases of national security. And they succeed partly because no one in their right mind would ever suspect they were spies.”