Dead Drop: February 10

FAKE VIEWS: You can’t make this stuff up.  Well, maybe you can.  Michael Isikoff had a story recently about a website calling itself the “Center for Global Strategic Monitoring,” which runs opinion pieces – often ostensibly from well-known former government officials.  The kicker is that the people whose names are attached to the articles – never wrote them.  According to Yahoo News, counterfeit Op-Eds have been published in the names of people like former CIA officials Bruce Riedel and Paul Pillar, and ex-FBI counterterrorism analyst Matthew Levitt.  We found a few other prominent names on the CGS website that strike us as unlikely contributors to the faux website – like former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.  So who is making up this stuff and why?  Isikoff says some of the legit articles on the site are lifted from Russian propaganda sites—RT and Sputnik News – and some folks note that the bogus pieces look like they might have been translated from Russian.

SAPP PROGRAM:  The Dead Drop hears that Betty Sapp, the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, is the leading candidate to be Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence under DNI nominee Dan Coats. It is a big job – at least for the moment – although we hear the Trump administration continues to give serious consideration to restructuring the IC and slimming down the DNI shop.

DEPUTY (MAD) DOG: The Washington Examiner is reporting that Lockheed Martin executive Robert Rangel is front runner for the job of Deputy Secretary of Defense.  Rangel was a top aide to former SECDEF Bob Gates and spent five years on the HASC staff. Former Senator James Talent is also reportedly in the running – but the betting here is that Rangel’s industry ties will be deemed most useful as the Pentagon continues to try to wrangle with growing weapons systems costs.

HIGH PRAISE & LOW BLOWS FOR HASPEL:  Last Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo announced his selection of veteran Clandestine Service officer Gina Haspel to be his Deputy. The pick drew high praise from many currently serving Agency officers and alumni.  Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell took to the pages of The Cipher Brief to sing her praises. Various media outfits found various human rights organizations less pleased with the selection – citing reports that Haspel had allegedly run a so-called “black site” circa 2002, where al Qaeda terrorists were allegedly subjected to harsh interrogation.  An article by Matthew Rosenberg in the New York Times  on February 3rd alleged that Haspel oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. Without attribution, the article asserted that “…Zubaydah alone was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide.” Knowledgeable CIA officials swear that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded five times (more on this later), that no one’s head was slammed into walls – and Abu Zubaydah’s two weeks of harsh stopped not when officials decided he had no useful information – but when he started freely providing tons of information (as indicated in the CIA’s response to the 2014 Feinstein report) – something he continued to do for the next several years until moved to Guantanamo Bay in 2006. 

The 183RD TIME: Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler took a swing at (and mostly missed) addressing the controversy of how many times Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were waterboarded.  The conventional wisdom is that AZ was subjected to the technique 83 times and KSM a whopping 183. Who says those numbers are wrong?  Well to start – Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  When they were interviewed by the ICRC back in 2007 – both said they had been waterboarded five times. (Turns out KSM actually had be subjected to a few more sessions than that – but he forgot a few.)  The 83 and 183 refer to the number of times the plastic water bottle was tipped….for pours which lasted less than ten seconds each for Abu Zubaydah according to a 2004 CIA IG report which, due to sloppy language, contributed to the confusion over how many times AZ and KSM got wet. Even one waterboarding is reportedly no fun. Just ask the tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen who have be subjected to the practice as part of their training.  However, Marc Thiessen in his 2010 book “Courting Disaster” quotes former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy as saying the suggestion that KSM was waterboarded 183 times is “ridiculous,” adding, “if you were out in a rainstorm and you got hit by 10,000 rain drops, it would be like saying you’d been in the rain 10,000 times.”

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

  • “General Jackassery:” Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, used an awesome phrase in an interview with Marine Corps Times in explaining his push to dial back drinking among Leathernecks. Neller said: “Alcohol – if it’s not respected and managed – it takes Marines into a bad place, whether it’s domestic abuse, sexual assault, suicide, hazing, DUI, or just general jackassery.”
  • Cabinetry: The White House announced on Wednesday the make-up of President Trump’s cabinet (each president gets to decide to whom he accords cabinet status.)  In addition to the usual suspects, Trump’s gang of 24 includes not only the Director of National Intelligence (a position that has been in the cabinet since it was created in 2004) but a return to the cabinet of the Director of the CIA.  D/CIA George Tenet held cabinet status during the Clinton administration – but lost it during the Bush ’43 years.  Despite the lack of a cabinet seat under Bush, Tenet enjoyed extraordinary access to the POTUS and wrote in his 2007 memoir that he welcomed the change since it meant he no longer had to attend ceremonial events like the State of the Union address.

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:

  • Endangering Troops: Three TCB network members (General Mike Hayden, John McLaughlin and Michael Morell) were among ten former senior officials who signed a join declaration to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit saying President Trump’s travel ban undermines national security and will “endanger U.S. troops in the field.”
  • “On Notice” –  Retired NATO Commander Admiral James Stavridis takes a stab at explaining to U.S. News & World Report what National Security Advisor Mike Flynn might have meant when he said the Administration was putting Iran “on notice.”
  • Defeating ISIS:  Retired Ambassador James Jeffrey told Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee about the key challenges for defeating ISIS.

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

Todd Harrison, Director of the Aerospace Security Project and Defense Budget Analysis at CSIS.

“I’m reading a space-related book actually – Crowded Orbits: Conflict and Cooperation in Space by James Clay Moltz.”


 “While the Russian economy is anemic and produces little that the world is interested in buying other than oil, the Russians are the best in the world at surveillance, theft, blackmail, and subversion. We at CIA responsible for beating the Russian intelligence services on their own turf dubbed Moscow the “Yankee Stadium” of espionage. American diplomats and visitors can anticipate audio and video surveillance in their hotel rooms and homes, their movements to be tracked, and should assume any Russian they meet will be questioned and potentially threatened by authorities.”

-John Sipher, former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service

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