Dead Drop: December 15

HIGH COTTON: Conservative pundit Fred Barnes wrote in the Weekly Standard that the rumored nomination of Senator Tom Cotton to become CIA director “is one of the worst ideas to come out of the Trump administration.”  It is not that Barnes thinks poorly of Cotton; quite the contrary—he thinks the gig would ruin Cotton’s chances to run for president in 2020. Sure, George H. W. Bush was Director of Central Intelligence in 1976-77 and ran for president in 1980, but that was then, and this is now, according to Barnes.  He says that while CIA director candidates are not exactly a dime a dozen, there are plenty of other potential contenders for Trump to choose from, and Barnes recommends John Bolton. One of The Dead Drop’s readers asked why there don’t seem to be any women being talked about as potential director if Mike Pompeo decamps for Foggy Bottom.  One reader suggested they are all too smart to take the job.  Nominating a woman to a post that has always been held by a man might be a savvy PR move by Trump who, in case you haven’t noticed, has had some issues with women. There is no shortage of highly-qualified female candidates, including current Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Susan Gordon.  What do you think?  Send your comments our way: [email protected].

ROLLING STONE: Fourteen senior former national security, intelligence and policy officials have filed a very unusual amicus brief connected to a lawsuit brought against President Trump and Roger Stone. First reported in Business Insider, the brief explains how Moscow used local actors to enhance the effectiveness of its influence operations – potentially including efforts to disrupt the 2016 election. Among those signing the brief were Cipher Brief network members James Clapper, Michael Hayden, Michael Morell, Steven Hall and John Sipher.

PARTY PEOPLE: The press corps was banished from the CIA holiday party this year, but spies tell us the Trump administration turned out in full force. CIA Director Mike Pompeo and his wife, along with CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel greeted guests that included Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. A senior administration official confirmed Kushner and Trump’s attendance, speaking anonymously to discuss the matter. The CIA declined to comment. Senator Tom Cotton also showed up, giving curious CIA officers a chance to meet and mingle in the event he becomes their boss in the new year, though both The White House and The State Department call rumors that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be replaced by Pompeo — little more than “fake news”.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE: Last week, The Dead Drop mentioned that the government of Turkey had issued an arrest warrant for Graham Fuller, an 80-year-old retired CIA officer. The warrant alleges that Fuller helped foment a coup in the country, a claim he rejects. The Washington Free Beacon reported this week that a friend of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has placed a bounty of 3 million Turkish lira (approximately $800,000) for Fuller and former Pentagon official Michael Rubin. The Free Beacon quotes an unnamed State Department official as saying, “The notion that current or former employees of the United States Government were involved in the failed coup is absurd.”

ASIS JOB BASIS: The Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) has posted a very cool video online that purports to test a candidate’s aptitude for being an intelligence officer. The interactive video tests your ability to see, hear and remember various facts while lots of confusing information is being thrown at you. The Dead Drop took the test. ASIS recommended that we keep our day job.

PRESCIENT PROGNOSTICATION: has dug up a declassified 1971 CIA report submitted to Henry Kissinger that declared that the status of Jerusalem was “an issue without prospects.” Of course, the document was written 10 years before Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and Middle East Mr. Fixit, was born.  So, unless they could time travel, CIA analysts had no way of knowing that the status of Jerusalem would soon be resolved.////

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

  • Crazy Time: The U.K. tabloid, The Daily Star, tells us that a former U.S. presidential candidate we’ve never heard of, Andrew Basiago, claims the U.S. successfully developed time travel and the teleportation of children. He knows, because he was one of the kids DARPA beamed around, Basiago says.  OK, but here is the crazy part:  Basiago says one of the main activities this ‘time travel’ was used for was to allow the CIA to go back in time and brief future U.S. leaders – including Donald Trump. The Dead Drop deems this a mass intelligence failure, since they forgot to tell Trump that that microphone on the Access Hollywood bus would be hot.
  • Boom Town: A website in India called ZeeNews posted an item this week that includes YouTube video of aircraft flying above “Area 51” in Nevada. On the video, you can hear a double sonic boom. The site says, “Conspiracy theories have claimed that the sonic booms show the CIA is secretly testing alien technology or hypersonic aircraft.” Why two booms would equate to “alien technology” we don’t know, but that explanation is likely more entertaining than the truth.
  • Deranged Interrogation: In case you don’t have time to watch Alex Jones’s Info Wars program, the digital news site, The Wrap, has dug up a clip from last week where the conspiracy theorist “interviews” an Amazon Echo device. “Alexa, are you connected to the CIA?” he asks. When the device says “no,” and claims to work for Amazon, Jones accuses it of lying. The Dead Drop is not sure Jones can outsmart the Echo…but no matter how frustrated he gets with the answers, we recommend he skip waterboarding Alexa.
  • When Irish Spies Aren’t Smilin’: The Irish Times newspaper reports that the country’s Taoiseach (AKA Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar recently warned of serious complications if Ireland created a “bespoke” intelligence agency like the CIA or MI6. While this is not big news on this side of the pond, we liked the concept of a “bespoke” intelligence agency so much that we thought we’d share.

NETWORK NEWS: Not a day goes by when members of The Cipher Brief Network aren’t making news.  Here’s what you missed this week:

  • Active Measures: John Sipher, former senior CIA operations officer, was quoted in a Mother Jones story that asserted that Russian propagandists were pushing for a Roy Moore win in Alabama. And fellow Russia hand Daniel Hoffman appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Thursday, talking about Vladimir Putin’s efforts to denigrate U.S. democracy.
  • On Reflection: Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell was interviewed by Susan Glasser on a com podcast. In the wide-ranging discussion, Morell said there were downsides when he and other intelligence community alumni criticized then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. Morell says those comments (which he stands by), in addition to various leaks, likely helped fuel Trump’s skepticism about American intelligence.
  • “Dotard” v. “Little Rocket Man”: Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and currently Dean at the Fletcher School at Tufts, offered in the Nikkei Asian Review “three military ideas for dealing with North Korea.” We’re intrigued.
  • CNAS: And Stavridis’s successor as SACEUR, retired USAF General Philip Breedlove –the newest member of The Cipher Brief network—has just joined the board of advisors of the Center for a New American Security.

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