Dead Drop: August 11

FULL OF SOUND AND FURY: Like you – and the rest of the world – we have been trying to figure out the significance of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un tossing verbal nuclear hand grenades at each other. As one seasoned hand told us, “It can become real sporty any time you have a face-off between a crazy man with nukes on one side and the leader of North Korea on the other.” There are many odd things about this week’s spitball fight.  Here are a couple that caught our attention.  The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that a DIA report last month concluded that the North Koreans have been able to miniaturize nuclear warheads so that they will fit on their ICBMs.  When asked about it at an opioid conference in New Jersey that afternoon, President Trump went off on a rant about how Pyongyang best not make any more threats or they will be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Our question is – if this was sparked by the DIA report (which presumably the President was briefed on sometime last month), why did it take a story in the Washington Post to get him riled up?  And, while we are at it – what was up with that body language?  Trump delivered his remarks with his arms so firmly and fully crossed that some observers likened it to a straight jacket look. And then there is Kim.  Right after the U.S. reveals that it thinks he may have achieved the capability of mounting nuclear warheads on ICBMs that can hit the U.S. mainland – he threatens to strike Guam.  Way to undercut your talking points, Kim.  Since this is all just rhetoric anyway – if you are going to strike fear into the hearts of most Americans – why not threaten to nuke some place most of them can find on a map?

THE FRESH PRINCE OF MIL AIR: Blackwater founder and professional controversy progenitor Erik Prince stirred up quite a hornet’s nest recently with suggestions that the U.S. is wasting money and missing opportunities in its support to the Afghan Air Force.  Prince has suggested augmenting the Afghan aviators with his own private air force.  The notion has been met with little enthusiasm within the Pentagon, where some experts suggest that Prince’s “turn-key composite air wing” could be a legal turkey. The Military Times quoted former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann as saying, “Using a contracted force to conduct U.S. war operations is a bad idea that wants to die.” Prince has been on a media blitz lately, writing Op-Eds for the Wall Street Journal and USA Today and appearing on Erin Burnett’s CNN program to tout a proposal which calls for consolidating authority in Afghanistan under one person who he dubbed, “an American viceroy who would lead all U.S. government and coalition efforts—including command, budget, policy, promotion, and contracting—and report directly to the president.”

SINK USSS? But if you think the Prince plan for a private Air Force is edgy – wait till you hear one of his other proposals.  The Dead Drop has been told that Prince has suggested that the U.S. Secret Service be shipped back to the Treasury Department and that the personal protection of the president become the province of a newly created private Praetorian guard.  Reflecting on his Blackwater roots, Prince reportedly thinks he can do the job better than the USSS.  The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, apparently is a big Prince fan.  We understand that the President was blown away by some of the pomp and circumstance he observed on his recent trip to France. So, replacing those “blend into the background” Secret Service folks with a guard force with snazzy uniforms may be in the cards.  POTUS is probably envious of the high-stepping, toy soldier guys who can be seen opening the big golden doors for Vladimir Putin, and he may opt to contract for some of his own. Want to know more about where Prince is coming from? Check out: Master of War: Blackwater USA’s Erik Prince and the Business of War by The Cipher Brief’s own Suzanne Kelly.

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

  • Eye Spy: There is a new biography out of the late actor Peter Falk. According to the UK newspaper The Express, long before he played the forgetful TV detective, Falk aspired to work for the CIA.  The biography’s author is quoted saying, “He wanted to be a CIA agent, but he had worked building railroads in Communist-controlled Yugoslavia for six months, plus he had a glass eye. The CIA laughed him out of the building.
  • Ode to bad poetry: com continues trawling through the CIA Crest database for weird things. One of their latest discoveries is some really bad poetry that for no apparent reason found its way into the Agency archives.  Our favorite is an homage to the children’s TV show, Captain Kangaroo.
  • Conspiracy Theory That Will Not Die: The usually unreliable newspaper the Daily Star reports about a documentary being released in the UK called “Marilyn Monroe: Declassified.” The filmmakers claim to have evidence that “proves” Monroe was murdered in a plot linked to the CIA and FBI.

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:

  • Former CIA Deputy Director David Cohen’s Op-Ed in the Washington Post says President Trump is trying to politicize intelligence and explains why that is dangerous.
  • New TCB network member Daniel Hoffman was on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 late last week discussing whether the Obama administration could have done anything to stop Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Hoffman explained doing so would be difficult because of  “…two critical elements to Vladimir Putin’s life experience. One is that he was a KGB officer, director of FSB. The other is, he’s a black belt in judo. And one of the key principles in judo is to use your opponent’s strength against him.”
  • Former DNI James Clapper appearing on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” urged the President to dial it back a bit on North Korea. “We need to tone down the rhetoric of regime change and all this. As desirable as that may be, all that does is amp up the paranoia,” Clapper said.
  • In an Op-Ed in The New York Times, former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin offers a “smart way to deal with Putin’s Russia.”
  • Former CIA analyst and founding Director of The Walt Disney Company’s Global Intelligence practice, Rodney Faraon, is interviewed in The Diplomat on President Trump and U.S. Asia policy – and why intelligence matters.

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

Retired Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

“I’m re-reading Bernard Brodie’s Strategy in the Missile Age.  As tensions rise with a Russian leader who recently reaffirmed his willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons—along with the need to recapitalize our nuclear deterrent alongside increasing threats to our ability to command and control those forces—I thought it would be interesting to review the work of the person largely credited with laying out nuclear deterrence strategy in the 1960s.  One of Brodie’s most compelling chapters, though, which applies across-the-board, is entitled “Strategy Comes with a Dollar Sign,” which is a sound refutation of those who denigrate so-called budget-based strategies. Brodie understood that strategy is balancing ends, ways, and means.”


“This is what makes any military action against North Korea so risky — what if the North can detonate a nuclear weapon over Chicago right now?”

-Michael Morell, former Acting and Deputy Director of the CIA

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING:  Got any tips for your friendly neighborhood Dead Drop?  Shoot us a note at [email protected].