Dead Drop: December 8

REXIT?: A flurry of news reports last week said there was a plan in place for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to leave office – and for CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him. Multiple news organizations said they had the story confirmed by White House sources – only to have the president tweet a day later that the story was “fake news” and that Tillerson was sticking around. But anonymous sources close to the president made clear their disdain for the Secretary of State – and hint that Trump wanted a “Rexit” soon.

SHORT TIMER? If CIA chief Mike Pompeo decamps for Foggy Bottom soon, it will mark a short – though not the shortest — tenure for a director at the Agency. He’ll have to stay at Langley until March 29th to exceed former CIA Director David Petraeus’ tenure. If you count assignments as Director of Central Intelligence (the pre-2005 post that combined running the CIA with the Intelligence Community writ large) Pompeo is already free of the shortest tenure title. The first DCI, Navy Rear Admiral

DOES POMPEO WANT TILLERSON’S JOB? Officially he says he is focused on his current gig. But he does seem willing to say and do things likely to please the boss. A recent example? Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Reagan Library in California on Saturday, Pompeo asserted that President Donald Trump’s tweets help the CIA and that they “have a real-world impact on our capacity to understand what’s going on in other places in the world.” Pompeo added, “That is, our adversaries responded to those tweets in ways that were helpful to us to understand command and control issues, who’s listening to what messages, how those messages are resonating around the world.” That assessment of the value of presidential tweets is likely music to Trump’s ears – and quite different from that of many observers.

YET ANOTHER CELEBRITY THE CIA DIDN’T KILL: Every week there seems to be a goofy new conspiracy theory about some prominent figure who supposedly was whacked by the CIA. This week there is a story floating around social media alleging that the Agency assassinated reggae giant Bob Marley back in 1981. There is a fake news outfit called “” that recently posted a story about a supposed deathbed confession of a “CIA agent” named Bill Oxley, saying he “committed 17 assassinations for the American government between 1974 and 1985, including music icon Bob Marley.” This is one of those clickbait items made up from whole cloth. Various fact-checking organizations, including Snopes, note that the image shown of “Oxley” in the story is a stock photo of a sick man in Poland. The hospital in which he was said to be dying says it has never heard of him – and there is nothing to suggest that the man ever existed, or worked for CIA.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd didn’t think much of the inclusion of this item in this week’s Dead Drop: “The story is false, absurd, and carries about the same credence as the ‘Bat Boy Lives!’ stories of years past.  Basic due diligence on ‘’ reveals a long history of inventing conspiracy theories and peddling false claims…. This is the same website that claimed Katy Perry eats human flesh, that the CIA downed the World Trade Center on 9/11, and that Hitler faked his death and escaped to Argentina.”

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

Help in getting the word out: As they periodically do, the CIA posted on its social media accounts last week notices that they are hiring. In this case they are seeking U.S. citizens who speak Korean, apparently for some “Language Officer” jobs in the Directorate of Operations. The ads got an unexpected boost when they were cited by the Kremlin-run Sputnik News. Putin’s news agency could not resist noting that the job postings came out “just two days before North Korea fired off a Hwasong-15 missile” with “the ability to hit the United States mainland.”

Langley Did It? The Turkish government recently issued an arrest warrant for Graham Fuller, an 80-year-old retired CIA officer who they accused of being the “CIA handler” of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who Ankara blames for fomenting a coup. Graham, who was vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council in the mid-1980s, told AP via email that he rejects claims that he was in Turkey “directing the coup attempt.” Graham said he was in Canada on the night of the coup and hasn’t been in Turkey in five years.

Nice work if you can avoid it: News emerged this week that the House Select Committee on Benghazi paid a former staffer $150,000 in a settlement to resolve his claim that he was fired in part in retaliation for being unwilling to focus his investigative work on Hillary Clinton.

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 senior CIA operations officer John Sipher, writing in Just Security, says if you want to get Vladimir Putin’s attention, sanction something that really matters to him – like sports. Apparently the International Olympic Committee was listening – because a few days later they banned Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics for state supported cheating.
  • Another former CIA Russia hand, Daniel Hoffman, was on MSNBC on Friday regarding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s plea agreement and reports of Russian contact with the Trump campaign and transition team.
  • Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin reacted to reports that Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., may succeed Pompeo at Langley. He told The Washington Post, “It’s always hard to judge CIA directors in advance. With Cotton, he’s very smart and directly experienced in war — that’s to the good. But for politicians who take the job, the challenge is to observe the bright line that separates policy from intelligence — to shift from making policy to informing it.”


One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams” by Chris Fussell, (also a Cipher Brief Network Expert), with C.W. Goodyear:

“One Mission” connects leadership and organizational design ideas that were learned on the battlefield into the board room. What stands out is the proof that these ideas work. Principal author Chris Fussell is a former Navy SEAL who was General Stan McChrystal’s aide at the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and co-author on McChrystal’s bestselling “Team of Teams.”

“One Mission” emphasizes the how-to, non-military foundational elements of creating a singular, high-performing, adaptable team. Such a team can then be networked with other distributed, interconnected elements that are empowered to rapidly execute in dynamically changing environments.

In that sense, “One Mission” is a valuable prequel to “Team of Teams,” and its impact can best be realized when considered in tandem with its partner. Highly recommended reading for leaders looking to improve their teams’ shared consciousness, empowered execution and ultimate results. – Rear Admiral Paul Becker, U.S. Navy (Ret), former Director of Intelligence (J2) for The Joint Chiefs of Staff.


On the Trump administration decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital:

“Jerusalem is really the eye of the storm. Vis-à-vis extremist groups, it is a rallying cry – an emotional place for a call to action…. It puts us in the crosshairs of extremist narratives that place American lives at risk, both in terms of troops on the battlefield and diplomats in the field….So inflaming the idea that the U.S. is somehow going after Muslims allows extremists to say to their followers—whether it’s on the streets of Barcelona or on Boylston Street in Boston—that they are seeing in real-time the president of the United States out to get them, and they have a responsibility to push back in a violent way.” – Farah Pandith, a political appointee in the George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama administrations at the National Security Council

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].