Dead Drop: February 3

POLITICAL COMMISSARS COMING? – The Dead Drop is very reliably told that among the plans circulating within President Trump’s National Security Council Staff – is one that would call for the assignment of a “liaison officer” from the NSC to be attached to the front office of each of the component parts of the intelligence community to ensure “consistency of message.”  What does that mean?   “That sounds exactly like the old Soviet zampolits or political commissars,” one old Russia hand told us. “These guys would essentially be spies – to report back to [National Security Adviser] General Flynn if anyone is straying from approved dogma.”  This might strike some readers as just a wacky rumor – but those who have been awake for the past couple weeks are probably less likely to dismiss as implausible, rumors of re-structuring in national security.

TWISTING ARMS ON TORTURE: Remember way back about ten days ago when draft Executive Orders started floating around calling on the CIA to examine the efficacy of “enhanced interrogation” (known in some circles as “torture”)?  And remember a few days later the President came out and said that while he personally believes that harsh interrogation works – he was ceding decision making on that subject to Secretary of Defense Mattis?  We understand that when Mattis heard about the draft EO – he sent word to the White House that if it were signed – the President should start looking for a new SECDEF. Apparently, that warning got the President’s attention – and being mad about “Mad Dog,” he capitulated.

MUSLIM BAN: Maybe that experience of a cabinet member threatening to fall on his sword over some poorly crafted staff work had an impact – but not the one you would expect. When the White House staff drafted their temporary ban on folks from seven majority-Muslim nations coming into the U.S. – the document was signed and released with virtually no coordination with those Administration officials who not only had a view on the matter – but also had the responsibility to enforce it. It has been widely reported that the Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, first heard about the Executive Order from the media, just as it was being signed. (Although he now denies being in the dark.) But there is little if any evidence that senior officials from any other cabinet agencies like State, Defense, etc. were consulted either.

RIDING THE CREST: A couple weeks ago we told you about how CIA has now made 12 million pages of previously hard-to-get declassified documents readily available through their electronic reading room.  Well, people around the world are having great fun digging through the material for stuff of particularly interest to them.  For example, Scottish media were interested to read about how CIA explored the use of a psychic in probing the Lockerbie bombing. Others were fascinated by Agency documents relating to UFO investigations. But maybe some of that psychic stuff worked.   Asian media were surprised to learn that the CIA assessed the impact of a possible assassination of India’s Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi – five years before he was murdered.  Got a hunch there is something in the files of interest to you?  Visit the  Crest:25-Year Program Archive here and see what you can uncover.

HIS NAME IS MUDD: The always amusing former CIA and FBI official Phil Mudd was on CNN Wednesday night and was asked about National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s announcement earlier in the day that the administration was “officially putting Iran on notice.” Mudd said he had no idea what Flynn was talking about – suggesting that perhaps the General was putting them on “double secret probation.”  Great line.  But Mudd mistakenly attributed that phrase to the movie Caddyshack. Sometime later, Mudd returned to CNN’s air to sheepishly tell Wolf Blitzer, “Wolf, I’m deeply apologetic.” Mudd added “My former supervisor, CIA Director George Tenet, just called me and crushed me, I’m getting emails from everywhere. As a child of the 70s and 80s, making a reference to an Animal House line and referring to Caddyshack mistakenly, I’m sorry I should be put in the dunce room, not the Situation Room. I apologize.”

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

  • How Dare They? The Moscow Times says a top cybersecurity specialist for Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) was  arrested on suspicion of leaking info to the U.S. intelligence community.
  • Saving OSS HQ: News came this week that a few former OSS operatives and their supporters pulled off one final successful mission:  Getting the site of OSS’s headquarters near the Kennedy Center placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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:

  • This stuff is hard. Former CIA Acting Director and Deputy Director John McLaughlin, according to The Hill newspaper, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the Trump administration’s executive order on immigration shows that the administration “doesn’t yet know how hard government is.”
  • People principles. Former NATO Commander, retired Admiral James Stavridis, wrote in The Boston Globe this week that President Trump’s executive order on immigration “hurts us as a nation, and places us on the wrong side of our principles.”
  • NSC Seats of Power.  Former NSA and CIA Director, General Michael Hayden told NPR that he questioned the wisdom of adding Trump’s Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, to NSC Principals meetings. 
  • Sacred Walls.  Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, writing in the Washington Post, says that in addition to disrespecting the Agency’s star-filled wall of honor, President Trump also failed to honor the opposite wall in the CIA HQ lobby which contains the Biblical quote, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
  • Empty Halls.  Ambassador Richard Boucher, former State Department spokesman, was quoted in the Washington Post lamenting the departure of a large number of senior diplomats from Foggy Bottom. “You don’t run foreign policy by making statements, you run it with thousands of people working to implement programs every day,” Boucher said. “To undercut that is to undercut the institution.”

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

Neal Devins, Professor of Law and Government, William & Mary:

“I just read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 because I wanted a big book to read on vacation that would go fast. Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey is next on my list. I don’t want to read anything too heavy right now.”


“…there should be no doubt that to order the CIA to restart a detention and interrogation program, an official would have to act with a callous disregard for the men and women of the CIA.”

-Robert Eatinger, former Senior Deputy Counsel of the CIA

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