Dead Drop: December 30

JUST SAY “NO” TO SKULLDUGGERY: Outgoing CIA Director John Brennan gave an interview to NPR just prior to Christmas during which he opined that the U.S. should not retaliate in kind to Russian election hacking. “I think we need to remember what we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for our country, our democracy, our way of life, and to engage,” he told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly. “And the skullduggery that some of our opponents and adversaries engage in, I think is beneath this country’s greatness.”  One skeptic told The Dead Drop that “the CIA coming out against skullduggery is like Kim Kardashian railing against self-promotion.”

CLEARED TO WRITE:  An OP-ED in the Washington Post  last week by two former CIA officers, Nada Bakos and John Nixon, complained about the slowness of the CIA’s Publications Review Board in clearing books written by former Agency officials. (In Bakos’ case, her book, The Targeter: My Life in the CIA, on the Hunt for the Godfather of ISIS, reportedly is still in limbo having been held up for over 14 months.) The Dead Drop hears that the joint Washington Post OP-ED (of less than 800 words) took about three weeks to be cleared.

FREEDOM FROM INFORMATION: Muckrock has a story this week about a guy who filed an FOIA—Freedom of Information Act—appeal with the CIA in 2011. Earlier this month, the Agency responded – saying, “Since we have not corresponded with you in approximately six years, we seek confirmation that you are still interested in pursuing this appeal.” Then they gave him 60 days to respond. Good way to reduce your workload.  Wait long enough and the requester may die.

CALL US IN FIVE YEARS, ELEVEN MONTHS: A journalist and researcher filed a lawsuit against the CIA, FBI, and several other federal agencies regarding their FOIA request for documents about Russian meddling in the past presidential election. According to press accounts, Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro asked for certain documents on December 14 and having not heard back –twelve days laterfiled a lawsuit. Based on the experience of others, The Dead Drop would recommend that the plaintiffs not sit by the mailbox every day waiting for the documents.

WHO, WHY, WAIT – WHAT? Some website we never heard of – called “Who.What.Why”—ran a two-part series this week called “Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media.”  The articles are drawn from a book that was published in June with a similar title (with an added “and Hoodwinks Hollywood.”)  In part 1 of the article, the author revealed that those clever press manipulators at CIA headquarters “…confirmed they provide journalists with frequent background briefings, typically about foreign hot spots.” In the second installment, we learn that those evil SOBs at CIA sometimes invite reporters out to Langley for off-the-record dinners and inquire in advance if the media member has any food allergies. From the tone of the story, you get the impression the Agency probably adds extra gluten on the plates of those allergic to it.

MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES:  The Military Times Newspapers – you know: Army, Navy, and Air Force Times etc.—have a series of articles this week telling readers what they might expect during a Trump administration. Some predictions are predictable:  more soldiers, a YUGE Navy, added Marines etc.  But one possibility caught our eye:  beards for the Army. We are not sure if the new Commander in Chief will like that one. Some press accounts suggest that John Bolton failed to be selected for Secretary of State because the President-elect did not like the Ambassador’s mustache.

DNI-AL:  At last report, the Trump transition team has still not named a candidate to be the next Director of National Intelligence.  The two names more frequently heard in recent days are Fran Townsend and Carly Fiorina. The Dead Drop continues to hear that the view from Trump Tower is dim about the future of the DNI – so perhaps that is why they are not rushing to fill the position.  There are continuing rumors that in a Trump administration many of the responsibilities that have accrued to the DNI over the past decade will either go away – or be given back to the CIA.  Hmmm.  Maybe that is one way Trump can improve relations with the Agency he has publicly trashed in recent weeks. Speaking of Townsend, her former deputy, Tom Bossert was picked to take her former job as White House advisor for homeland security and counterterrorism – a position which has grown in clout in recent years.  CIA Director John Brennan held it before taking the reins at Langley. According to Politico, “The Trump transition team said that Bossert’s post of Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, formerly filled by a deputy to the national security adviser, will be “elevated and restored to its independent status.”

MEAN TWEETS: Trump nominee for CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, might want to slow down on the Tweet-liking just a bit.  On Wednesday, according to Mediaite, he “liked” a Tweet (from “FourCallingBears@GayPatriot”) calling Secretary of State John Kerry “a traitor and Vietnam’s worst export to the USA.” Two weeks ago, Pompeo also reportedly “liked” a Tweet, from Edward Snowden-promoter Glenn Greenwald, in which Greenwald chastised liberals and journalists for believing an NBC report from two anonymous CIA sources.

POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting and weird stuff we stumbled across

  • DOES TRUMP KNOW? The extremely unreliable UK publication The Daily Star told us on Christmas Eve that years ago Vladimir Putin was killed in a plot by the CIA and MI6, and replaced by a body double who still leads Russia. Their source is anonymous “theorists” and their proof comes from YouTube videos that show Vlad’s appearance seems to have changed a bit – which could be the work of the CIA – or plastic surgeons.
  • TIME FLIES: The very same Daily Star, three days later, reported Putin (unclear if it was the real one or the CIA dupe) visited a laboratory seeking a “youth pill.” That article included a link to a story from last year speculating that Putin may be a time traveler.
  • THE GRINCH WHO ENDURED TORTURE: This holiday gem turned up this week.  In an interview a few years ago, actor  Jim Carrey claimed that when he was filming the movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – the process of putting on the makeup was so grueling – the film’s producers supposedly hired someone who had previously taught CIA officers how to withstand torture – to teach Carrey how to endure the eight hour a day process.

NETWORK NEWS: Not a day goes by when members of The Cipher Brief Network aren’t making news.  (OK, maybe Christmas day – but other than that….) Here are just a few examples from this week:

  • BAH HUMBUG: General Mike Hayden, writing in The Hill, tells us about “Managing intelligence in a world of post-truth BS.” Hayden says intelligence veterans were “gobsmacked” to hear the President-elect claim the Presidential Daily Brief would tell him the same thing every day for the next eight years.
  • THE SANTA CLAUSE: Admiral Jim Stavridis, retired NATO commander and now Dean at the Fletcher School at Tufts, tells the Military Times that the U.S. is ill-prepared to conduct operations in the Arctic. 
  • THE GAME OF RISK:  Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the New York Times that while every inauguration presents security issues, “I can’t think of an inauguration that presented more security challenges than this one.”

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

Eliot Cohen, Director of the Strategic Studies Program at SAIS at Johns Hopkins University, former Counselor at the State Department, and author of the upcoming book, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.

“I have been re-reading of late, Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which are wonderfully leisurely and shrewd accounts of nineteenth century British social life and politics. “


“Compared to China, ISIS amounts to a nasty swarm of gnats.  Compared to China, Russia comes across as a cranky old man (with a shotgun). However, neither ISIS, nor Putin’s Russia, nor any other world power can rival or possibly displace the U.S. as the major power in the world: only China can.”

     -Ambassador Richard Boucher, former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia

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