Dead Drop: February 23

DARK ROOTS: Wayne Allyn Root is a conservative commentator and talk show host we never heard of before. But he must be a player because, if his Twitter feed is to be believed, he had dinner with President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago last weekend. Shortly before that event, if left-leaning media are to be believed, Root (who likes to mention his initials are W-A-R) tweeted “@realDonaldTrump time to consider armed drones at every school in USA. If drones can save lives in the middle of Syria, operated by military heroes at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, then they can be used to protect schools inside USA.” (He apparently later deleted the tweet, but MediaMatters preserved a screenshot of it, which Root inexplicably retweeted.) Root writes a column for the Las Vegas Review- Journal, so credit to him for finding a local angle to the Florida shooting.

SPEAKING OF DRONES: We may have discovered where Root can get a start on building his school protection air force. According to the Pentagon, the Air Force is mothballing its MQ-1 Predator fleet on March 9th as it transitions to an all-MQ-9 Reaper force. We don’t know exactly how many Predators might be available to fly cover over the approximately 100,000 public schools in America, and we don’t know how the Predator’s Hellfire missiles can be targeted to take out just the active shooters and miss the other kids and teachers, but no doubt the finest minds are working on a plan.

SITUATIONAL CLASSIFICATION ETHICS: Late last week, the CIA filed court documents that sought to explain why the agency thinks it’s OK for them to provide classified and sensitive information to certain journalists and turn down others who file FOIA requests for the same information. Apparently, the rationale has something to do with protecting sources and methods –by sharing sensitive information with known journalists. We say “apparently” because much of the actual filing is redacted.

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

  • Spy School in Hell’s Kitchen: Back in October The Dead Drop told you about a forthcoming spy museum set to open in 2018 in New York City. Called “Spyscape,” the exhibit began operations this past weekend. According to the New York Post, “the real draw is the selection of interactive games that test visitors’ own deception, encryption and intelligence skills — and determine what kind of spy they could be.” You’ll have to want to find out pretty badly, since tickets cost $39 a pop.
  • With Friends Like These: It is sometimes instructive to look at who Russian President Vladimir Putin’s house organ, RT, is criticizing or supporting, and then to give earnest consideration to taking the opposite view. This week we noticed RT attacked former CIA Director John Brennan for a tweet in which he urged Congress to “prevent access to semiautomatic weapons that kill innocents.” And RT lauded former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, calling him an “invisible hero, forgotten by media.” Sterling just got out of the slammer after having done two years of a three-and-a-half-year sentence leaking classified information.
  • Headline of the week: An article from Air Force Times looking at an apparent disparity between the way general officers and lower ranking personnel are treated for serious offenses is titled: “Different spanks for different ranks.”

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:

  • McMaster Abuse: Former CIA and NSA Director General Mike Hayden was on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on Tuesday saying we owe people like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster a tremendous debt of gratitude for staying at their posts, even as they are being abused by the president. Hayden also contributed a piece to The Hill in which he suggested that it might be time for the CIA to make a call to the White House to gently advise them that some statements from administration officials like Vice President Mike Pence inaccurately describe the intelligence community’s views on Russian election meddling – the intelligence community never ruled on whether the meddling actually influenced votes, as Pence contends.
  • Was That 400-Pound Hacker Russian? We all remember Trump’s past speculation that the person who hacked the Democratic National Committee’s email in 2016 might have been some “400-pound genius” working from a bedroom in New Jersey. Numerous Cipher Brief experts weighed in last week following Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians. Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin said in a tweet: “Especially striking about Mueller indictment is the stark contrast between its almost clinical devotion to hard, documental fact (truth, remember that?) contrasted with a year of dissembling, chaos, spin, and falsehood infecting our politics.” Former CIA Russia hand John Sipher told MSNBC: the Russian effort wasn’t designed to change opinions but harden them and suppress or get out vote. Former DNI James Clapper predicted to CNN that there will be “other shoes to drop” in Mueller’s investigation, notably involving finances.
  • Worst in Show: John McLaughlin also had a piece in Ozy describing recent worst and best examples of Congressional oversight of intelligence. The bottom line, he says, is that HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes, in an effort to discredit the investigation of Russia’s activities, “has taken partisanship to a new low in a committee that deals with some of the nation’s most sensitive foreign and domestic activities — exactly the reverse of what these committees were created to do.”
  • No Deal: Former top House Intelligence Committee staffer Michael Allen had a piece in the Wall Street Journal late last week explaining why Trump administration’s threat to withdraw from a bilateral free-trade agreement could undermine Seoul’s cooperation with the U.S. against North Korea.
  • Policy-Wonk Mosh Pit: Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis was one of several Cipher Brief experts at last weekend’s annual Munich Security Conference. He described some of the key takeaways from the event (including his mosh-pit description) in an opinion piece for Bloomberg View.

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

“Just finished ‘Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Journey’ by Alfred Lansing. It’s about an expedition’s survival in the Antarctic in 1914-1916. Leadership, innovation, spirit, resolve and human survival despite overwhelming odds.

“Just started ‘Life’ by Keith Richards (yes, the Rolling Stone guitarist) about numerous second chances, change, resolve and survival in a different sense.” – Adm. (Ret.) Jonathan Greenert, former Chief of Naval Operations (2011-2015)

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].