Dunford Diverted. Some media outlets picked up on an ‘up-in-the-air’ tidbit during General Joseph Dunford’s much-covered trip to Iraq this week. It seems the Joint Chief’s Chairman’s plane was diverted for about 30 minutes after Iraqi ground controllers refused to allow him to land in Irbil. At least one media outlet called it ‘another possible sign of growing friction between Washington and Baghdad’. A Dead Drop source tells us that leap of logic was way overplayed. It turns out there was an original flight plan filed with the U.S. Embassy that included a scheduled landing in Baghdad, but it seems that the General’s meeting times changed the same day, prompting a new flight plan to be filed re-routing the General’s plane to Irbil. The source says the updated plan was filed with the State Department but the source is less clear on whether that new information was shared with the Iraqis. It took about 30 minutes to sort out the confusion and the General’s plane was allowed to land. It seems to us a more appropriate headline would have been ‘reporting over plane diversion is another possible sign of growing annoyance with reporters who jump to conclusions’.
Surprise, No surprises. If you’ve been following the Benghazi story (and who can avoid it?) you probably noticed that there was no new information that came out of Thursday’s hearing with star witness Hillary Clinton. The House Select Committee’s Republican members blasted her for not being on top of the security situation in Libya during the 2012 attacks when she was Secretary of State….again. Democrats rushed to her defense…again…using their time to make the case for why the committee is little more than a partisan, needless waste of taxpayer dollars, particularly in light of the fact that there have already been no fewer than eight previous investigations. Clinton remained cool in the face of the attacks, er, questions. What The Dead Drop wants to know is why the Representatives on the panel aren’t asking relevant questions, like ‘Hey, we authorized a bunch of money make sure U.S. Embassies are more protected overseas post-Benghazi. How’s that working out?’ Now, it’s fair to say we’re biased toward actually relevant facts, and that was The Cipher Brief’s focus last month as our network of contributors offered their own assessments.
Stolen Valor. The news last week of the arrest of frequent Fox News guest Wayne Simmons for allegedly fraudulently passing himself off as a CIA vet has caused some folks to ask: Is it even possible for someone to do something like that and get away with it for so long? Glad you asked. Generally speaking – it is much easier to pretend to be a CIA officer than a member of the military. If a talking head wannabee wished to pretend to be a Marine, for example, in most cases a news organization could make one phone call to the Pentagon and find out that individual’s dates of service, rank, and awards. But call the CIA and ask if it is true that someone used to work for them – and most often the Agency refuses to confirm nor deny. Diligent news organizations often call around to known Agency alumni to unofficially check out a potential pundit’s credentials by asking: “Ever heard of this guy or gal?” FNC did not cover itself in glory when the story first broke – stressing in public comments that Simmons was not a PAID contributor – just a frequent guest. Oh, so it is OK if your guests are fake? There have been a few occasions when the CIA spotted a pseudo-spy and blew the whistle themselves, for example in 2001 when they outed a guy who appeared on CNN lying about an invented Agency past. The Dead Drop’s sources tell us that a bigger problem than completely fake intelligence alumni – are folks who worked at the CIA for a few years in low-level positions– and then dine out on their “expertise” for decades to follow.
Spot the Not-Spook. Want to do your own vetting of people appearing in the media claiming CIA expertise? Here are a couple tips to help you out. If they refer to themselves at a former “CIA Agent” – they aren’t. People at the Agency call themselves “officers.” Agents are the foreigners they recruit to steal secrets for the U.S. Has the purported CIA alumni written a book? Of course they have. Who hasn’t? Check out the “front matter” – the disclaimers etc. at the beginning of the book. Real Agency veterans are required to get their books (including novels!) cleared by the CIA Publications Review Board. There should be a disclaimer in the book saying something like: “All statements of fact, opinion or analysis expressed are those of the author….” And ending with “This material has been reviewed by the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.” Note – Wayne Simmons wrote a novel in 2012 called “The Natanz Directive.” In it, his publisher described him as a former “CIA Agent” who “spent twenty-seven years as part of an Outside Paramilitary Special Operations Group for the CIA.” (There is no such outfit.) There is no disclaimer in the book from the Agency about classified material. Hmmmm.
Friends in Tough Places….A staunch U.S. ally in a rather tough part of the world is going shopping for much-needed military equipment elsewhere after the U.S. politely refused to help out. A Dead Drop source tells us that there is much consternation over a reluctance on the part of the U.S to offer Jordan more military equipment, particularly in their efforts against ISIS. It seems the Jordanians have instead buying equipment like UAVs , rocket systems and smart munitions from countries like Israel and China instead. A source blames it on an illogical U.S. regulatory system that is based on pre-9/11 rules, adding that politics and a lack of understanding of the region don’t help any.
Thoughts on this? Write to us at [email protected]
On The Move…In case you missed it, there is a new U.S. Senior Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Richard Olson, the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan got the job. You might remember that POTUS created this role a few years back asking Richard Holbrooke to take it on.
The Deputy Director if the National Clandestine Service for Counterintelligence (DDNCS/CI) is a free agent after more than 34 years with the Agency. Mark Kelton is entering the private sector and has signed on to lend his insights to The Cipher Brief from time to time. Kelton’s expertise lies in detecting insider threats, assessments of counterintelligence risk and crisis management.
Homeland – Season 5 Episode 3. For the first time in a long while – Carrie did not narrowly escape being bombed in this episode. In fact, the only things that exploded in Episode 3 were a couple tempers. Last week Saul and the Berlin station chief tried to throw each other under the bus and get the other person thrown out of Germany to take the fall for the Agency and German intelligence getting caught in bed together. This week Saul figured out how to get the U.S. Ambassador tossed out instead. And we find out Saul and the Chief of Station are more than just colleagues – they’re involved. Numan, the German hacker, manages to elude CIA surveillance and pass additional stolen documents to the American journalist – more bombshell disclosures to follow no doubt. Carrie wants to figure out who is trying to kill her so she elects to go into hiding and go off her meds because she does her best thinking while crazy. Jonas agrees to hang around and watch because that is what boyfriends are for. Quinn kidnaps Jonas’s son – which results in the boy’s mom contacting Jonas – thereby leading Quinn to Carrie. Carrie hides out in the woods and shoots Quinn who wisely is wearing ballistic jacket and ends up choking her unconscious.
How did Homeland do accuracy-wise?
Nailed it. Since mom is in the crosshairs, Carrie’s billionaire boss sends baby Frannie back to the U.S. on a private jet to keep her safe. Destination: Manassas, VA. Good tradecraft not to go into Dulles or Reagan…although they called Manassas “Davis Field” – which ain’t right.
Failed it. A nerdy Germany hacker manages to evade heavy CIA surveillance on the reporter and pass her stolen documents? A trained intelligence operative maybe. A computer geek? We hope not.
Give it some serious thought and tell us what other hits or errors you noticed. (But don’t stop taking your meds.) email us at: [email protected]