Dead Drop: January 26

CRUSHING FOES AND KILLER GRAPHICS: CIA Director Mike Pompeo invited CBS News to his headquarters for a lengthy interview that aired on “CBS This Morning” on Jan. 22. Speaking of the then-ongoing government shutdown, Pompeo told Norah O’Donnell it “won’t impact our operations here at CIA.”  He continued, “We’re gonna continue crushing our adversaries, whether the government’s open or closed.” Describing the intelligence briefing he gives the president most days, he said he delivers “the most exquisite information any leader in the world ever gets a chance to see” and it comes complete with the “killer graphics” the president loves. Among the folks Pompeo crushed was his predecessor John Brennan, who has criticized President Donald Trump’s Jan. 21, 2017, speech before the CIA Memorial Wall.  Asked about that criticism, Pompeo said “there’s a long history of former directors behaving in a way that reflects the excellence, professionalism and nonpolitical nature of the Central Intelligence Agency. It is my hope that all the former directors will behave that way. Because when they don’t, they do damage to the CIA.”

RETURN FIRE: It turns out Brennan was in Florida making some speeches the day of Pompeo’s appearance on CBS News. The Bradendon Herald reported that Brennan was asked about another statement Pompeo made in the CBS interview –that he wished the Obama administration had taken Russian interference in U.S. elections as seriously as the Trump administration is now doing. “Well, I disagree with Mike Pompeo on that,” Brennan said, adding that Pompeo was not a member of the Obama administration or a senior member of the House intelligence committee. “He knows not of what he speaks.”

DOLLARS AND SENSE: The Senate bill to end the government shutdown reportedly contains some unusual language that would allow the Trump administration to secretly shift money around within intelligence programs without specific authorization from Congress and without notifying the Hill.  But senior administration officials say, “the measure had `nothing in the slightest’ to do with shifting intelligence resources to private intelligence gathering or off-the books spy programs,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Maybe the intelligence community will be able to use the provision to buy some more killer graphics.

BOARD GAMES: The White House may finally be close to naming some folks to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, reports Foreign Policy. The PIAB has been moribund since the change of administrations. The 16 member-panel in place at the end of Obama’s tenure had been sent packing, and no one was named to replace them.  FP said Stephen Feinberg, the billionaire CEO of Cerberus Capital Management, had been tapped to lead the panel and Samantha Ravich, a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, may be named Feinberg’s deputy. PayPal progenitor Peter Thiel had been mentioned previously as a possible PIAB chair but didn’t get the gig. One reason, we hear, is that he holds multiple nationalities – news media revealed last year that he inexplicably obtained New Zealand citizenship some years ago, in addition to having citizenship in the U.S. and in Germany, where he was born. Pledging dual allegiance can make getting top security clearances a bit tricky.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE:  There seems to be a lot of finger-pointing and blame-game playing going on now. The pro-Trump camp escalated its verbal war against the FBI over the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.  On Jan. 23, Senator Ron Johnson (R, WI) said he had an informant who confirmed that a “secret society” of FBI officials were holding “secret meetings off site,” potentially indicating “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI.” (By Wednesday, Johnson appeared to back off the claim a bit.)  Fox News’ Sean Hannity launched a monologue this week alleging FBI officials “ignore the rule of law” and “weaponize the powerful tools of intelligence … to target members of the Trump campaign.” According to Hannity, “people must be held accountable, they must be investigated, they must be indicted, and probably many of them thrown in jail.” Not to be outdone, Fox Business News’ Lou Dobbs opined, “It may be time to declare war outright against the deep state, and clear out the rot in the upper levels of the FBI and the Justice Department.” Other parts of the government were not spared the paranoia and invective.  On his syndicated radio show on Tuesday, radio host Rush Limbaugh went on a riff where he speculated that perhaps the “deep state” embedded in the intelligence community intentionally passed flawed intelligence on Iraq WMD to President Bush in 2003 in order to set him up for a fall.

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

  • Risky Gamble: A British lad named Kane Gamble was in court last week after having admitted hacking into the private email, I-Pads and smart TVs of senior U.S. officials, including then-CIA Director John Brennan, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and others. Gamble, who was 15 at the time, breached security from his bedroom in Leicestershire. According to the Daily Telegraph, prosecutors said Gamble used “social engineering” to manipulate call center and help desk staff into giving him access to confidential information.
  • Sunken Sub with Cartel Cash? Two former CIA officers have found a sunken submarine used by Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel to smuggle cocaine from Colombia to Puerto Rico, according to Fox News. Sounds like they might be hoping that the sub might also have carried some of the billions of dollars Escobar made in the drug trade.  The search mission is being filmed by Discovery UK , so downstream, you can expect a documentary revealing what they found.  We noticed that British tabloid, The Sun, carried a similar story, but in their version they described the mission as “CIA divers hunting for drug kingpin’s £50 billion fortune.” That gives readers the impression that current CIA officers were on the treasure hunt – rather than ex-CIA officers.
  • Core No More: The NSA’s website recently underwent some modification, The Intercept On a page that provides the agency’s mission statement and core values, the word “honesty” was removed as a top priority. The original, seen here, promised “honesty,” “respect for the law,” “integrity” and “transparency.”  The new one, updated about two weeks ago and seen here, pledges “commitment to service,” “respect for the law,” “integrity,” “transparency,” “respect for people” and “accountability.” Frankly, The Dead Drop is surprised that anyone reads these feel-good mission statement pages, but given the deep-state paranoia, NSA might want to plug “honesty” back into the mix.
  • Need to Read: Eleven months ago, The Dead Drop told you about former CIA analyst Karen Cleveland having sold her first novel called “Need to Know” to a publisher. The manuscript was so well-received she reportedly snagged a two-book deal and a movie offer in the seven-figure range. Well, “Need to Know” was published this week, and so far seems to be garnering very positive reviews.  Cleveland reportedly wrote it while on maternity leave from the CIA.
  • Islam with an “S”: The National Security Archives has been in a FOIA battle with DOD to obtain copies of Donald Rumsfeld’s “snowflakes” – a blizzard of memos and instructions to the Pentagon staff on whatever came to mind. While Rumsfeld released many of the snowflakes in conjunction with his 2011 memoir, “Known and Unknown,” – apparently there are many more. The National Security Archives just published about 900 pages of the documents.  In one snowflake, dated Oct. 27, 2001, Rummy tells folks, “We’ve got to say “Islam” with an “S” instead of a “Z” instead of “Izlam” and the same thing with Muslim. “It’s `Muslim,’ as opposed to `Muzzlum.’ It’s got to be with an `S’ instead of a `Z.’”   The cover note tells his spokesperson, Torie Clarke, to check out the memo – and if right “make sure the President is given that information, as well as the folks in the Pentagon.” These being “snowflakes,” ergo brief, there’s no explanation of why Rummy he might have become seized with that distinction.

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:

  • High Stakes: Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin opines in Ozy that “the U.S. must lean in to preserve its stake in Syria.”
  • Peril and Promise: Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, and current dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts, Admiral Jim Stavridis, explains for Bloomberg View “How the U.S. and Israel can reshape the Middle East.”
  • Mueller Time: Former Homeland Security Advisor to President Obama and Chief of Staff to FBI Director Bob Mueller, Lisa Monaco, did a lengthy interview on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time about reports that Special Counsel Mueller wants to interview President Trump.
  • “What the Captain meant to say:” Former CIA and NSA Director General Mike Hayden was on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, saying that, if the president testifies before Mueller’s group, there won’t be an opportunity for Trump’s lawyers to jump in and clean up what he says. Hayden made an oblique reference to a bit of Vietnam-era humor sometimes referred to as “What the Captain meant to say,” in which a public affairs officer tries to translate salty remarks of an Air Force fighter pilot into something fit for public consumption.

“On my nightstand is ‘This Kind of War’ by T.R. Fehrenbach. It’s a superb study of the causes and course of the Korean war, with some insights which are well worth keeping in mind today. First, how decision makers (MacArthur) fall into the trap of dismissing intelligence which doesn’t accord with their view of reality. Second, the problem of mirror imaging, that is to say, expecting your adversary to do or not do something, based on what you would do or not do.  Both lessons seem worth remembering today.” – Paul Kolbe, a 25-year CIA veteran who served in Russia, the Balkans, Indonesia, East Germany, Zimbabwe, and Austria.

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