Dead Drop: February 9

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Seasoned Dead Drop readers (i.e. old ones) may remember the mystery of D.B. Cooper, a guy who hijacked a Seattle, Wash.-bound flight in November 1971. Cooper demanded $200,000 in cash and four parachutes or else he would blow up the plane. He got the cash, ordered the plane aloft and bailed out from the rear stair door, somewhere over the Pacific Northwest – never to be seen again. Now a private investigative team claims to have figured out that Cooper “was a black-ops CIA operative” who might even have been involved in the Iran-Contra scandal – which happened about 15 years after the hijacking. According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, some of the investigators plan to reveal their findings on the steps of the FBI building this week. Thomas Colbert, a documentary filmmaker leading the effort appeared on Fox News last week to assert that the FBI has been “flat-out lying” about the case. Credit the filmmaker for knowing where to get airtime for a story critical of the FBI these days.

BLAST FROM THE PAST II: This must be the week for old mysteries. The Dead Drop got a tip from a reader that History Channel has a program called “The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer.” In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a serial killer running around California. The killer says he did in 37 people; authorities say it might have been only five. In any case, the killer’s M.O. was to send letters to local media including cryptograms (aka “ciphers”), which for the most part have remained unbroken despite efforts from the FBI, CIA and others. The perp was never found. The History Channel has assembled a team of sleuths and code breakers who claim to have cracked one of the ciphers. But our source points to some complex analysis by other retired and hobbyist cryptanalysts who say the History Channel’s work is bunk. Our view, based on absolutely no evidence (other than notes found in Al Capone’s safe,) is that the Zodiac Killer may be D.B. Cooper.

THE EX FILES: According to CNN, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) recently came into possession of thousands of classified intelligence files. How did they get them? Was this the work of a Sydney Ed Snowden or a Down Under Daniel Ellsberg? Nope. The documents were in old government filing cabinets that had been sold to a used furniture store in the capital Canberra. “A nifty person drilled the locks and uncovered the trove of documents inside,” ABC said. The Prime Minister’s office was reportedly so concerned that it had safes delivered to the broadcaster at 1.a.m. so that the material could be secured on-site while negotiations were underway. But within hours, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization seized the documents from ABC bureaus in Canberra’s Parliament House, and in the cities of Brisbane and Melbourne, the state-owned broadcaster said.

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? AP reports that a former Palestinian intelligence chief and the head of the West Bank bar association are suing Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority alleging they were targeted by a CIA-backed wiretapping operation. The CIA declined to comment.

OSS MUSEUM PARACHUTES INTO LOUDON COUNTY: We learned from The Loudon Tribune that a site in that county has been selected for the planned National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations. The paper says the “museum is a joint effort of the OSS Society and Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program. Its slogan: Telling America’s Greatest Untold Story.” Organizers eye opening the museum in 2020.

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

  • The Intelligence Game: Back in 1985, the creator of “NFL Challenge,” one of the first sports simulation games for computers, wrote to the Director of Central Intelligence William Casey, proposing creating a computer simulation game for training intelligence analysts. According to the folks at, the head of CIA Public Affairs (name redacted in the declassified document) returned a sample program with a note saying, “There is no interest for such software at this time.”
  • Broken Cover: Michele Assad, a former CIA clandestine service officer, has a memoir out called “Breaking Cover.” The subtitle is: “My Secret Life in the CIA and What It Taught Me about What’s Worth Fighting For” and it was published by religious publisher Tyndale.

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:

  • America’s Front Yard: Retired Navy Admiral Jim Stavridis, who was once commander of the U.S. Southern Command, penned an op-ed for Bloomberg View this week offering six steps on a path to a Latin America strategy.
  • Beyond Hope: James Clapper, former DNI was on CNN Wednesday morning, saying that the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee is “completely dysfunctional” and “paralyzed with partisanship.”
  • Smearing a Source: Former senior CIA officer John Sipher was on MSNBC talking about the negative impact the release of the Nunes memo might have on future intelligence collection.
  • Parade Rest: Several TCB network folks spoke out about reports that President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to plan a massive military parade. Among those commenting were John McLaughlin who tweeted that when he was in the Army the LAST thing he and his colleagues wanted to do was parade. Retired General Mike Hayden said to put him down as a “no” – and noted he used to watch parades like the one the POTUS proposes “in Bulgaria.” A column by retired Admiral Jim Stavridis in argued against the marching madness and concluded with “Let’s leave the missiles in the silos where they belong, and be quietly confident in the lethality, professionalism, and integrity of our military — no parade necessary.”
  • A Very Good Hit: Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, says Mexican law enforcement earned “a good feather in the hat of Mexican justice” when they captured American Zetas gang boss Jose Maria Guizar Valencia, on Thursday. “He was one of the top underbosses of the Zetas,” Vigil told Business Insider. “This guy steadily rose up the ranks, and he actually started as a hit man for the Zetas … but he was groomed to handle logistics,” and coordinate with other Zetas members to get drugs to the US, said Vigil, who detailed his experiences working undercover in Mexico in “Deal.”


“I’m reading Katy Tur’s “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History,” an engaging, personal account of last year’s election. I need relief from all the unrelenting North Korea news, and her book, a look back, is absolutely absorbing, putting events into context for me. – Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World 

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].