Dead Drop: December 23

MR. WHIPPLE PUTS THE SQUEEZE ON THE IC: There is a new book coming out next month by Chris Whipple (previously known to Cipher Brief readers as the author of The Spymasters. The new book is about the Biden presidency and is called The Fight of His Life. And as often happens, Politico got their hands on a copy in advance. From early reports, it sounds like the White House will like much of what they read. Some folks who might not be as thrilled are current and former members of the Intelligence Community, who seem to be blamed in part for the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan. Whipple quotes White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain criticizing former SECDEF and CIA director Leon Panetta for having compared the Afghan exit with JFK’s handling of the Bay of Pigs. “Joe Biden didn’t pay a trillion dollars to these people to be trained to be the army. He wasn’t out there saying for years, as Leon was, that we had built a viable fighting force. Leon favored the war. Leon oversaw the training of the Afghan army,” Klain kvetched. “He was CIA director and defense secretary when many of the Afghan troops were trained. If this was Biden’s Bay of Pigs, it was Leon’s army that lost the fight.” Whipple also writes that Biden “felt left down by his briefers” about the Afghan endgame. Current CIA director Bill Burns is quoted in the book saying he doesn’t think the outcome came from an intelligence failure. But an unnamed senior White House aide shot back saying: “Bill can point to things that said, ‘it’s possible that X will happen,’ right? In a twenty-page document, ‘it’s possible that X will happen’ in one line.” This whole exchange is another example of the notion that in Washington, there are only “policy successes” and “intelligence failures.” (BTW, if you don’t get the Mr. Whipple’s reference in this item’s title — you might be too young to remember some 1970s TV commercials.)

CONSPIRACY THEORY REDUX: Late last week, the National Archives released a huge pile of documents relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As a result, all the outstanding questions about that terrible day 59 years ago, have been resolved. (Just kidding). The good news is that the United States has apparently developed a cadre of extraordinary speed readers because within an hour or so of the 13,173 documents being made available — various “experts” announced that they were right all along — on whatever they thought. The release — mandated by law — means that about 98% of all documents relating to the assassination have now been made public and about 3% of the records remain redacted, in whole or in part. Former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, who has made a career of pursuing JFK conspiracies, quickly talked about taking the government to court to force the release of the remaining material saying that he thinks it will provide “smoking-gun proof” that Lee Harvey Oswald was linked to the CIA. Of course, some people didn’t need to read the records because they have sources. For example, Fox News host Tucker Carlson was outraged that every document was not released in full and told viewers that he had spoken with someone “deeply familiar” with the unreleased material and asked them “Did the CIA have a hand in the murder of John F. Kennedy?” and says he was told by this deep throat source that, “The answer is yes. I believe they were involved. It’s a whole different country from what we thought it was. It’s all fake.” (Hmm. Something about that tone sounds familiar.) The Agency’s alleged culpability may be bad news for fellow Fox News talking head Sean Hannity, who often mysteriously, sports a CIA lapel pin on his jacket. We are confident that Hannity was not on the “grassy knoll” in Dallas or otherwise involved — since he was only two years old at the time.

“The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

Access all of The Cipher Brief’s national security-focused expert insight by becoming a Cipher Brief Subscriber+ Member.