AUSTIN POWERS: The Intelligence Studies Project at the University of Texas at Austin is hosting a day-long seminar next week on “Intelligence and National Security in American Society.” The organizers have rounded up an impressive group of current and former officials and observers. The event features a keynote luncheon address by Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Panel discussions during the day will cover things like Executive Branch Oversight, Safeguarding Civil Liberties, The Role of Congress, and the Media’s Responsibilities in National Security Reporting. Congressmen Mike McCaul and Michael Conaway, former Deputy CIA Director Admiral Bobby Inman, and ex-CIA and PFIAB honcho Joan Dempsey are among the players. The Cipher Brief’s CEO and Publisher Suzanne Kelly will moderate the media panel.
WHO’S ADVISING WHOM? The Dead Drop continues to follow the trail of names dribbling out of people advising the remaining presidential candidates on national security. This week Donald Trump backed up his self-proclaimed most important advisor (himself) with the names of a few other folks whose wisdom he says he values. Trump told the Washington Post his team included Walid Phares, former DOD IG Joe Schmitz, retired 3-star General Keith Kellogg and a fellow by the name of George Papadopoulos. According to the Washington Post, Papadopoulos got out of college early in the Obama administration. Although Trump did not mention them to the Post, The Dead Drop hears he is also being advised by former DIA Director LTG Mike Flynn and Carl Higbie, a former enlisted Navy SEAL. Meanwhile, last Friday Ted Cruz announced a couple dozen members of his “national security coalition.” His group is somewhat better known than the Trump crowd – including names like Elliot Abrams, Frank Gaffney, and Michael Ledeen –all of whom first achieved prominence before George Papadopoulos was born. John Kasich has a national security advisory group which includes former National Security Advisor Richard V. Allen, former CIA Executive Director Buzzy Krongard and some Hill alumni like Trent Lott, Pete Hoekstra and others.
Hillary Clinton seems to have more national security advisers than Imelda Marcos had shoes. Clinton’s team includes folks like Leon Panetta, former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Michele Flournoy, Ann Marie Slaughter, and Madeleine Albright. Albright, as far as we know, has not suggested that there is a special place in hell for national security gurus who support Bernie Sanders. Speaking of Sanders – if the Senator has announced a team of national security advisors, we’ve missed it. If you know who is REALLY advising these candidates – drop us a line.
PLAYING DOWN THE FEAR: An editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday bemoaned a recurring theme coming from the White House that we shouldn’t over state this terrorism threat. And indeed, a few hours later, President Obama stressed at a press conference in Argentina that ISIS is “not an existential threat to us.” The WSJ editorial noted that this isn’t the first time folks tried to turn down the volume on the terror threat. The paper cited a monumentally ill-timed OP-ED by “terrorism expert” Larry C. Johnson, which ran in the New York Times on July 10, 2001 that the paper referred to as “arguing that the data on terrorism didn’t justify the fears it generated.” Johnson said this week that he stands by what he wrote eight weeks before 9/11. What the Wall Street Journal failed to mention is that Johnson (along with co-author Milt Bearden) wrote another
OP-ED that ran in (wait for it) The Wall Street Journal on June 15, 2000. In that one Johnson told readers: “But how big a threat is Mr. bin Laden? He has consistently denied any involvement in the crimes credited to him — a noteworthy lack of bravado for the world’s number one terrorist – and he has literally disappeared from view in Afghanistan. Reports over the last year of Mr. bin Laden being spotted fighting with the Chechen rebels or riding a white stallion in the Hindu Kush carry all the credibility of Elvis sightings.”
ON THE BOOKS: Hardly a week goes by when The Dead Drop doesn’t hear about another intelligence community alumni cranking out a book. Some try their hand at fiction – cynics might say that isn’t too far a leap from some writing of the past. This week we heard that former CIA analyst Mark Henshaw has sold a fourth book in his “Red Cell” series. The most recent of which was called “The Fall of Moscow Station.” No title released for the next one – but the plot involves someone fighting to save the CIA from being torn apart by an “explosion of moles at the highest echelons.” Sounds messy.
THE AMERICANS SEASON 4 EPISODE 2:
SPOILER ALERT…if you don’t want to know what happened…read no further.
The improbable scenario of dispatching Philip and Elizabeth Jennings indeed turns out to be ill-advised as the two illegals fail to convey to Moscow Center their hot potato, a Defense Department toxic pathogen. On the home front, the Jennings learn that their daughter Paige, distraught over the truth about her parents, has revealed all to her mentor Pastor Tim.
Nailed it and failed it: Parental disagreements about child rearing are commonplace … not so commonplace are disagreements when the child has just divulged to her pastor that her parents are Soviet spies. Faced with possible exposure that could lead to their arrest, the Jennings argue about a solution. Elizabeth claims they have no choice but to assassinate Pastor Tim. As we have said before, KGB illegals didn’t commit murder as part of their duties, which were to maintain a solid cover and low profile to fulfill their primary mission of stealing American secrets.
Philip, however, “nails” it when he proposes that their best option is leaving the country. Just consider the many minefields in the show thus far that could compromise them — among others, a botched attempt to send a toxic U.S. government biowarfare specimen to Moscow; the murder of an FBI agent; a highly distressed source; FBI secretary Marta, shaken by her colleague’s murder by her supposed husband Philip; and now a Christian pastor aware of their true identities. In a real life situation, the KGB would have extracted these imperiled illegals long before. But where would the drama be in that?
Nailed it: The Jennings’ agent, William, correctly assesses the dangers of passing the pathogen on through a dead drop since it could be accidentally discovered and toyed with by a dog, child, or simple passerby … and toyed with in a way that the toxic brew could be unleashed and infect hundreds of innocent Americans. Of course, the crack KGB operatives should have realized this as well as their spy.
Failed it: Using the illegals was an implausible scenario from the start because of a number of potential pitfalls that the KGB would have avoided in a real operation. No matter how efficient the operatives, it’s doubtful the KGB would have risked illegals keeping a toxin in a frozen cooler — the least mistake in handling could result in a fatal accident and hundreds of deaths, not only exposing the illegals but, far more seriously, sparking a catastrophic escalation of Cold War tensions and a powerful U.S. response. Now matter how much KGB leaders might have relied on their illegals, they wouldn’t have risked provoking a war with the U.S. by allowing them to handle the deadly specimen.
In a real life operation, the KGB would have sealed any toxic biological agent away in a diplomatic pouch immediately and spirited it away on the first Aeroflot flight to Moscow under closely controlled and guarded circumstances.
Instead of this simple and secure approach, Philip has to pass the pathogen wrapped in a tin to a pilot in the back of an airport bus. The pilot, already nervous from his previous KGB courier duties, is so agitated that he arouses the suspicion of another passenger who happens to be an airport security guard. Unable to allay the guard’s suspicions, Philip strangles him to death while the driver is off the bus and the only other passenger, a teenage girl sitting far in front of them, can’t hear a sound, because she has headphones blaring the synthetic beats of “Tainted Love” into her eardrums. Again, yet another murder that doesn’t fit the low profile behavior of a real illegal. After all this effort, Philip still fails. The pilot gets off the bus and leaves the pathogen behind. Stay tuned as our heroes go back to the drawing board.
ADVISE AND DISSENT: Got any hot tips or cold cuts you’d like to share? Reach out to us at [email protected].