Dead Drop April 8

POLITICS TRUMP PAST PRACTICE: The Dead Drop hears that (even more than usual) senior uniformed U.S. officials are cringing at the prospect of meeting with the media or testifying on the Hill these days. The reason is that pesky reporters and Congressional members keep asking questions premised on things said on the presidential campaign trail.  Without directly specifying the source of the question, inquisitors keep asking things like: “Is NATO obsolete?”  “Should U.S. forces target the families of terrorists?” and “Do you favor Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia getting nukes?”   In normal times, the answers to these questions would be easy – but responding publicly today can give the appearance of putting active duty flag and general officers at odds with statements made by the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump who has teed up all these issues.

BOOM BUS: “There’s gotta be more to the story,” Dead Drop aficionados are telling each other concerning last week’s news that the CIA accidentally left some explosive material on a special-needs school bus in Loudon County, VA following a training exercise.  Local officials said the material was C-4 which is pretty stable and normally can’t be detonated by heat, or being dropped – or even with a gun shot. Still, it is considered poor form to leave it lying around.  The CIA has been conducting K-9 training for federal and local law enforcement outfits for a number of years.  We haven’t been able to sniff out whether the dogs in question belonged to the Agency or Loudon County – or why a local school bus was needed for the exercise – but there is no doubt the putty-like explosives came from Langley. We wonder how long it will be before the incident earns the Taiwanese animation treatment.

ROLLING DOUBLE OH SEVEN AND ELEVEN: Jason Hanson is a former CIA officer who has carved a niche for himself giving personal safety tips on TV programs like The Rachel Ray Show, Today, and Shark Tank and a blog that gives tips on things like “7 Key Factors When Choosing a Survival Knife.” Now comes word from the Las Vegas Sun that Hanson has put together a show he calls “Spy, Escape & Evasion,” which has been booked at the Stratosphere hotel & casino in Vegas for three months starting in August.  The Dead Drop figures this is good news for intelligence professionals who may be able to swing by the Stratosphere and get a tax write off for their summer trip to Vegas as professional development.

“The Americans” Reviewed by Mike Sulick

Spoiler Alert:  If you don’t want to know (yet) what happened in the most recent episode of the FX series, “The Americans” – stop reading now.

“The Americans”: Season 4, Episode 4

Finally, a ray of hope seeps through the otherwise troubled life of Soviet illegals Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. Thanks to their agent, biowarfare specialist William, their Soviet handler Gabriel is cured of infection from the toxic pathogen. Although the couple was not infected, Elizabeth experiences a violent reaction from the antibiotic and suffers a dark night of the soul. After Elizabeth recovers, she admits Philip was right and they can’t murder the pastor and his wife. However, instead of Philip’s suggestion that they leave, the couple agrees to work on Pastor Tim to convince him that it’s in everyone’s best interest for him to protect their identities.

Nailed it, sort of: As we’ve said before, murder would only complicate the espionage mission of an illegal, so the couple’s decision to abandon their plans for Pastor Tim makes sense. The issue, however, is far from resolved. Gabriel has to convince Moscow that the murder would destroy any hope of recruiting the Jennings’ daughter into the KGB fold – and she’s clearly not about to agree. Besides that, the Jennings’ decision to win over Pastor Tim seems like a doomed “Hail Mary” pass. It should be fascinating to see how the two representatives of godless communism try to manipulate the Christian pastor.

Nailed it… unfortunately: Locked in her Soviet prison cell, Nina Krilova dreams she has regained her freedom when she is suddenly awakened by guards to “transfer” her. She is led out of the cell and told her appeal has been denied, her death sentence still stands, and she will be executed shortly. A second later, she is shot in the back of the head and collapses dead onto the floor. Tragically, the scene is accurate. Traitors to the Soviet cause were typically executed by the “nine grams’ solution,” an allusion to the weight of the bullet fired into the back of the head. 

Failed it: While Elizabeth is recovering, Philip has a very frank and detailed discussion with his agent William about the family issue with his daughter. Intelligence officers may share tidbits of their family life to build rapport, but they don’t, as a rule, discuss serious personal problems with their spies. We nitpickers can probably forgive Philip’s lapse –- he is, after all, severely stressed, and he and his wife just escaped poisoning by a deadly pathogen. But it’s still a lapse.

Failed It… maybe: Straight arrow Stan Beeman ventures further into rogue territory. While his fellow agent takes Marta to dinner, Stan breaks into her apartment and rifles the drawers for possible clues to her spying (he also doesn’t wear latex gloves – the fingerprint division would have a field day!). Stan’s icy demeanor belies his growing fanaticism – in his dogged quest to unmask a mole in the FBI, Stan is conducting an unauthorized, warrantless search. While it may be plausible that an FBI agent could go over the edge as Stan does, we should note that the law enforcement officer in this case is breaking the law he has sworn to uphold.