March 18

| anonymous

FIVE YEAR TENURE? The Dead Drop hears that CIA Director John Brennan has recommended legislation that would establish a fixed, five-year tenure for CIA Director. This is not unprecedented — after all — as a result of legislation that kicked in a while back, the FBI Director gets to keep that job for a decade. (Although in the Bureau’s case — the legislation was intended to prevent Directors from staying in the job for 48 years as J. Edgar Hoover did).

The argument for a fixed time in office for CIA is that it removes uncertainty and takes away the possibility that the job would be considered a prize to be offered by a victorious presidential candidate.  We assume any such change would go into effect with the NEXT Director.  The Cipher Brief asked Agency spokesmen for details on the proposal, but they declined to comment.

EMAIL CALL: Apparently Bernie Sanders isn’t the only one sick and tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s damn email.  Last week, six senior Democrat legislators wrote to the Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community and State Department saying that they had serious questions about how the matter was being handled, hinting of an “anti-Clinton” bias and partisan leaks.  The letter, first reported by Politico, contains a baker’s dozen list of questions for the IGs – the last of which is a demand that the IGs explain the process they used to answer the first 12 questions concerning the email matter.  Politico notes that oddly, both the IGs who received the “anti-Clinton bias” accusation – are Obama administration appointees.

Meanwhile, at one of the many recent Democrat debates, moderator Jorge Ramos asked Secretary Clinton if she would drop out of the presidential race if indicted over the email matter.  Clinton said she would not dignify the question with a response.  On CNN, former NBC correspondent David Gregory said it was “fair” for Clinton to not answer the question.  WMAL-radio subsequently pointed out that Gregory forgot to mention this his wife, attorney Beth Wilkinson, represents three top former Clinton staffers in the ongoing email investigation.  You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

SPACE CADET: The Dead Drop’s sources tell us that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is considering making another “counter-intuitive pick” on an upcoming senior officer assignment. The job is Chief of Staff of the Air Force – and the potential candidate is General John Hyten, currently head of the Air Force Space Command.  Hyten’s uniform sports a “Master Space Operations Badge” and “Master Cyberspace Operator Badge” – but no aviator wings.  His nomination could come as a shock to the fighter-pilot dominated Air Force.  The Dead Drop hears that many senior USAF folks consider Hyten to be “too cerebral” and “way too brainy” – which, in the past, would have been the kiss of death. But Carter likes him – and shares some Harvard connections – so ya never know.

SHOCK AND AWE: Showbiz blog “Deadline Hollywood” reports that Rob Reiner is set to direct a film for Castle Rock Entertainment entitled “Shock and Awe,” calling it a “politically-charged project” which “centers around a group of journalists who asked the tough questions about Saddam Hussein’s “alleged” weapons of mass destruction. Deadline says the film has been in development for a number of years and is now scheduled for production later this year.  But another Tinseltown blog we never heard of (Hollywood in Toto) suggests that Reiner might be a “meathead” since filmmakers have cranked out a long list of Iraq-war movies – almost all of which have tanked. The Dead Drop hears that the film will be loosely based on the exploits of a reporting team (reporters Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel and editor John Walcott) from the now-defunct Knight Ridder news organization.

THE AMERICANS: – The popular television drama returned on the FX network this week. It centers around two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American couple living in Northern Virginia.  In previous seasons, their kids were unaware that mom and dad are Ruskies…and just for fun, their neighbor is an FBI agent specializing in counterintelligence.  The Dead Drop plans to summarize each week’s episode and offer a view of what the show got right – and wrong.  SPOILER ALERT…if you don’t want to know what happened…read no further.

Season 4, Episode 1:

The new season of The Americans opens with two crises facing Soviet illegals Philip and Elizabeth Jennings from last year’s show. The first is the impact of Philip’s murder of an FBI official to protect his source, FBI secretary Marta, and the second involves the consequences of the Jennings’ revelation to their daughter Paige about their true profession and Russian nationality. If that wasn’t enough to stress these two overworked spies, the couple is also given a new assignment to meet a U.S. Government bio-warfare specialist who is ready to pass a sample of a toxic pathogen developed by the Department of Defense.

Nailed it:   Every intelligence officer eventually faces the issue that the Jennings does with their daughter. CIA officers wrestle to find the right moment to tell their children about their real jobs. The moment is infinitely more difficult for Russian illegals in the U.S. who reveal not only that they’re spies but are really citizens of a country that is the main adversary of the one where the children have been reared. The revelation is even more complicated by the KGB’s expectation that the children will follow their footsteps into intelligence work.

In some actual cases, the children readily agreed to work for the KGB. Rudolf Herrmann, a Soviet illegal caught by the FBI, revealed his identity to his son, who then agreed to join the KGB. The Soviets funded his college education, first in Canada and then in the US, where he assessed potential recruits among his fellow students. A married couple among the illegals arrested in 2010 reportedly admitted their double life to their son, a student at George Washington University, who saluted “Mother Russia” and agreed to be trained by Russian intelligence. The fictional Paige Jennings does just the opposite, which thickens the already juicy plot possibilities.  If she had decided otherwise, imagine her in a drab gray uniform studying microdots at the KGB’s Red Banner Academy, a scene that would droop the eyelids of even the most loyal fans of the show.

Nailed it: During the couple’s first attempt to contact the bio-warfare source, Philip doesn’t see surveillance but has a “gut feeling” it’s there and aborts the operation. In reality, intelligence officers experience these same reactions, a sinking pit in the stomach, hairs twitching on the neck, some vague disquiet, and also abort. Philip later learns from his FBI mole there was no surveillance, but, whether right or not, it’s still better to err on the side of caution.

Failed it: Philip and Elizabeth left a trail of murder and mayhem behind them in previous seasons that could have compromised their meticulously developed cover legends and jeopardized their mission. While the Soviets certainly assassinated some of their adversaries, the executions were not carried out by deeply placed illegals whose primary mission was establishing long term, low profile cover and collecting secrets. Those pesky homicide investigations after a murder just don’t help illegals maintain the low profile essential to spying without arousing suspicion. 

Murdering an FBI official is even more implausible. According to an unwritten rule during the Cold War and after, the superpower services refrained from assassinating each other’s officers – and the KGB adhered to the rule out of fear of retaliation. Besides, the KGB would have undoubtedly judged that Philip’s elaborate stratagem to kill an FBI agent and thus divert attention from his mole could have backfired badly. If a spy inside the FBI was involved, agents would have conducted an exhaustive investigation that might have uncovered the ruse and lead to his source, Marta.

Failed it: The Jennings’ handler Gabriel saw evidence of surveillance while trying to meet the KGB’s hot bio-weapons source, so he tasks Philip and Elizabeth to meet him. So, if one illegal has spotted surveillance while trying to contact an agent, let’s send out two more who can be compromised. Difficult to believe that the large KGB contingent in the Soviet embassy couldn’t spring free one of their diplomatically covered officers to meet the spy, rather than jeopardize two top illegals.

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