Dead Drop: April 14

THE PASSING OF A LEGEND: Ambassador Hugh Montgomery died last week at the age of 93.  The Washington Post describe him as “one of the most admired CIA officers of his generation.” We disagree.  Montgomery was one of the most admired CIA officers of ANY generation. An OSS veteran who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, Montgomery (after a break to earn his Ph.D. at Harvard post-WWII) went on to have a remarkable career at the CIA, which included assignments to Moscow, Berlin, and other Cold War hot spots.  Montgomery has been described as “a Ph.D. who could handle himself in a bar fight.”  But the Ambassador could also talk his way out of a bar fight in at least eight different languages.  Montgomery led the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and earned ambassadorial rank when he represented the U.S. at the UN.  Montgomery remained a fixture at Langley and did not hang up his trench coat until he was 90.

WHAT PRICE SPYING?  The South China Morning Post reported this week that the Chinese government is offering its citizens rewards of from 10,000 to 500,000 yuan (US $1500 to $72,400) for tips leading to the arrest of foreign spies in China.  We wonder: how insignificant a spy do you have to be to rate only a $1500 reward? Catching spies may be child’s play, however.  The Beijing City National Security Bureau released this cartoon video showing how to catch a foreign spy.

CONSIDER THE (LACK OF) SOURCE:  A website called “Consortium News” published a bombshell report on Saturday alleging that “As President Trump was launching his missile strike against Syria, CIA Director Pompeo and other intelligence officials weren’t at the table, suggesting their doubts about Bashar al-Assad’s guilt.”  The accusation was based on a single unnamed source – and the absence of CIA Director Mike Pompeo or DNI Dan Coats in a photo released by the White House.  According to U.S. News and World Report,  the CIA and ODNI are pushing back against Consortium’s “ridiculous” claim. Top spokesmen from both organizations say there is no truth to the report – something they would have told Consortium if the news organization had bothered to ask. Must have been one of those stories that was “too good to check.”

SEAN SPICER’S TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD WEEK: It was fascinating to watch the major TV news shows on Monday to see how they handled comments from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer regarding what might prompt additional U.S. action in Syria. Spicer was asked what the “red line” for the U.S. was in Syria – is it just chemical weapons or would some kinds of conventional warfare be enough to trip Trump’s trigger?  The press secretary said: “…I will tell you, the answer is, is that if you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb in to innocent people, I think you can – you will see a response from this President.  That is unacceptable.”  A lot of folks read that as a new red line – since the Assad regime (by some estimates) dropped about 35 barrel bombs a day last year and continue to do so. Some networks, like CNN and NBC, Monday noted that White House officials had backed away from Spicer’s assertion – while others CBS appeared not to have gotten the message by airtime that Spicer got a little ahead of his skis. Spicer probably got up Tuesday morning happy to have Monday in his rearview mirror.  But then he dug himself a much deeper hole on Tuesday, saying that not even Hitler used “gas on his own people.”  He was quickly reminded about the Holocaust – which involved the killing of millions of innocent people with chemicals.  After about three tries issuing written explanations – Spicer went on network TV to issue abject apologies for what he called his “blunder” and expressed regret that his comments distracted from the President’s efforts to “destabilize (sic) the region.”

GUESS HIS NEXT POSITION: Spicer continued his apology tour on Wednesday. You know you are in trouble when websites like the one titled, “Does Sean Spicer Still Have A Job?” start popping up. The Dead Drop figures it won’t be long until Spicer’s skills are deemed critically needed as Ambassador in some far-off country. (See the way K.T. McFarland was rewarded with a job in Singapore to get her out of the NSC.)  We’d welcome guesses as to what job is on the horizon for Spicer.  The Ambassador job to Syria is open, isn’t it?  Send your predictions to: [email protected]

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

  • Swimming Bullets: According to the Military Times, a Norwegian company has create “supercavitating” bullets that can “swim.” This may be of interest not only to Navy SEALs but also to Hollywood screenwriters – who always have folks escaping pursuit by diving into the water and swimming away.
  • CIA Assessment of Prospects of Syrian Regime Change Exposed: Not exactly new news.  A Canadian outfit called the Centre for Research on Globalization dug through the archives of declassified CIA documents to find this 1986 Agency paper (released in 2011) about Bashar al-Assad’s dad Hafiz’s troubles on the home front.
  • Draining the Swamp: The White House posted on their website a request for the public to help them decide which cabinet agency of government should be reorganized or eliminated.  They helpfully provide a list of agencies to consider.  The first one listed is the Central Intelligence Agency. That might seem like a pointed message – but the list is alphabetical and most of the others start with “Department of…”
  • Someone tell Sean Spicer:  Back in 2013 regarding Syria and chemical weapons, MSNBC talking head Chris Matthews  said on “Morning Joe”  “…we didn’t use them in World War II, Hitler didn’t use them, we don’t use chemical weapons…”

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:

WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND? (Our contributors tell us about what they’re currently reading)

Michael Hayden, former CIA and NSA Director:

“I’m reading Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, trying to understand the Trump wave.” 


“As far as I can assess, it appears that the Russians left this effort to low level operatives.  Probably assuming a small chance of success, the Russian “B Team” merely trotted out a few tools from the KGB manual of standard procedures.  The [cyber] attacks on U.S. entities [U.S. democratic system] were the intelligence equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.”

– John Sipher, former member, CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service

Got an inside scoop to share?  Drop us a note at:[email protected].  And don’t worry, who you are will remain a tightly held secret.