Dead Drop: January 13

SHORTEST HONEYMOON EVER: Last Friday, after the briefing by top U.S. intelligence officials, President-elect Trump said: “I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.”  On Wednesday, after news reports of Russian collection on him, he referred to it as: “…nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies — who knows? But maybe the intelligence agencies — which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that. A tremendous blot on their record, because a thing like that should never have been written.” In a Tweet and at his press conference Wednesday, Trump implied that leaks he believes came from the intelligence community were something “that Nazi Germany would have done.” On Wednesday evening, outgoing DNI James Clapper issued a press release saying he was dismayed at the leaks and that in a call to the President-elect, he had expressed doubt that the leaks had come from the intelligence community. Détente between Trump and the IC was shorter-lived than a Syrian cease fire.

MAKING A BIGLY DEAL ON HACKING: At his presser on Wednesday, Trump finally conceded that Russia was probably behind the hacking of the DNC and Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta. But he complained that on things like China hacking OPM, “we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn’t make a big deal out of that. That was something that was extraordinary. That was probably China.” Apparently, his argument was that the Obama administration did not take action against Beijing comparable to that recently taken against Moscow.  But then Trump went on to also blame the media saying: “…it’s not just Russia. Take a look at what’s happened. You don’t report it the same way; 22 million accounts were hacked in this country by China.” Obviously, the President-elect has not been reading The Cipher Brief where article, after article, after article – and more delved into the significance of the OPM breach.

O TRUMP, WHERE IS THY STING?  Among the many colorful parts of the PEOTUS’s presser on Wednesday was a section where he said that he was trying to find out who was leaking – so he didn’t tell his close personal staff about an upcoming meeting with U.S. intelligence.  When news of the meeting appeared in the press shortly thereafter – he said he knew the leak came from the IC.  A headline in the UK Daily Mail described it thusly, ”Trump conducts his own sting operation to ensnare intelligence briefers – and says he caught them leaking.”  Note to the President-elect: the fact that you are having a meeting is not in itself classified.  It is the content.

POLITICAL HACKS: The release by the Intelligence Community late last week of an unclassified version of their report on possible Russian meddling during the U.S. electoral process saw just about every potential observer weigh in to tell us what it all meant. Unsurprisingly, WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange announced from his Ecuadorian Embassy in London exile that he was not impressed. Assange said at a press conference that the CIA had issued a “press release” not an intelligence report.  His pique is understandable – after all, isn’t it WikiLeaks’s job to release the highly-classified stuff?  A big chunk of the report (which was issued by the DNI, not the CIA, Julian) was devoted to how Russian-backed propaganda outfits like “RT” (the propaganda artists formerly known as “Russia Today”) regularly carry Putin’s water.  So, it was amusing to see folks like former CIA analyst Larry Johnson quickly appear on RT to denigrate the report and offer their expert opinions.  Johnson worked for the CIA for four years back in the 1980s – so long ago that Russian President Vladimir Putin was still working for the KGB.

LET’S PLAY PASSWORD:  Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus placed the blame on some of the hacking squarely on the shoulders of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, when he appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. Priebus said to Host John Dickerson, “I mean, John Podesta’s password into his system, do you know what his password was? Password.” Except what was hacked was Podesta’s Gmail account – and according to Politifact, Gmail does not allow you to use “password” as your password.  Apparently, Podesta DID use “p@ssword” as his Windows 8 login.  That might have allowed WikiLeaks to replace Podesta’s screensaver with a picture of Putin – but not grant them access to the Gmail.

WHAT THE (BLEEP) JUST HAPPENED? That would be a wonderful title for a book about the 2016 political season.  Instead, it is the title of a 2012 book by Monica Crowley. Once she was named to the Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications position in the Trump NSC, the book suddenly got some scrutiny, and outfits like CNN found that large chunks of it appeared to be plagiarized from other sources.  Then Politico got into the game and found hijacked passages from Crowley’s PhD dissertation. Crowley’s publisher announced on Tuesday that they would withdraw the book from sale, telling CNN, “The book, which has reached the end of its natural sales cycle, will no longer be offered for purchase until such time as the author has the opportunity to source and revise the material.” Being accused of plagiarism may not be all that big an impediment for a Trump administration national security spokesperson.  The scary part may be putting out statements that have never been uttered before.

MY THIRD CAREER CHOICE IS CIA DIRECTOR: Outgoing CIA Director John Brennan was interviewed by David Axelrod for the podcast “The Axe Files” late last week.  During the hour-long interview, Brennan talked not only about his observations as CIA Director over the past four years – but also his formative experiences.  Brennan told Axelrod that at one point growing up, he had aspired to be the first American pope – and at another time to be an NBA player.  Turned out, despite considerable leaping ability, Brennan did not have a prayer for the latter position. What’s next for him? Brennan said he hopes to be reintroduced to his family and American culture (having not seen a movie in years) – and plans to not be silent on national security issues and doing some “writing, speaking and commentating from the sidelines.”

WHY DOES THAT DATE SOUND FAMILIAR? We hear the annual World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland is on tap for January 17-20th this year.  There is something else that is going on for January 20th that is having some impact on attendance. Some think tankers and Congressional delegations are lamenting that U.S. inauguration commitments will keep them away from Davos.  Others say they have been looking for an excuse to be out of the country.  The big winner may be the Munich Security Conference slated for February 16-19.  With a ton of international issues on the table – and some leftover travel funds, Munich might draw a bigger crowd than usual.

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

  • “IF ITS SUNDAY, ITS….” the FBI? Last Sunday night, the FBI released about 300 pages of documents related to the Hillary Clinton email investigation.  We are sure there must be an explanation of why the Bureau elected to put out the material while most of America was watching NFL playoffs, the Golden Globes, and shoveling their sidewalks.
  • CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? The Department of Justice announced on Friday that a North Carolina man had pled guilty to hacking a number of senior U.S. officials. In addition to accessing the personal email of folks believed to include CIA Director John Brennan, 24 year old Justin Liverman is said to have sent threatening text messages to another victim’s cell phone and hired a “phonebombing” service to call the victim repeatedly. ArsTechnica says the second victim’s phone was called once an hour for 30 days, leaving a threatening voicemail.
  • “POWERFUL WOMEN NEEDED” — That is the headline of an advertisement that the Mossad is running in Israeli publication.  According to BBC News, “Mossad already has a staff that is 40% female, with 24% of them in key senior roles.”

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:

  • “A very dark place” – Former CIA and NSA Director General Mike Hayden told Britain’s Sky News that U.S. intelligence would be in a “very dark place” if they told the President that they were giving him their very best judgment,  with high confidence, and he told them to “take a hike.”
  • Adversaries scared – Former NATO Commander, Admiral Jim Stavridis, speaking at the United States Institute of Peace on Tuesday, said that America’s enemies will be “frightened” by President-elect Trump because he is so un-predictable.
  • Intelligence can take a punch – or a tweet –  Writing in, former CIA acting Director John McLaughlin explains why we need intelligence officers more than ever.


“To be a stronger, more resilient nation against cyber and critical infrastructure attacks, we must rely on all elements of national power, not just military institutions. Improving the physical and network security of critical infrastructure is a vital strategic challenge, a national security imperative, and needs to be a top priority for the incoming Trump administration.”

-Todd Rosenblum, IBM Senior Executive and former Acting Assisting Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Deputy Undersecretary of Intelligence for Plans, Policy and Performance Management at DHS. 

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