CHANGE AT TOP OF NSA: Dead Drop sources tell The Cipher Brief that National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers has told his staff that he will be stepping down from his post this Spring. Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources say that Rogers had hoped to remain in his role until the fall, but was nudged toward an earlier departure. His replacement – we’re told – is expected to be Lt. General Paul Nakasone, the current Commander of U.S. Army Cyber Command. The Senate would have to confirm the appointment, which could take several months. Nakasone is widely admired both for his current role and his previous work commanding the Cyber National Mission Force at U.S. Cyber Command. The administration is apparently planning to name Nakasone as head of both the NSA and Cyber Command, meaning that a decision to split that dual-hatted role will be pushed back even further. Nakasone won’t keep the dual-hatted role long-term — just until the Trump administration decides to formalize the split, which sources tell The Dead Drop won’t be anytime soon.
The news that Rogers was exiting stage right this spring was first tweeted by The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima.
BOND, JANE BOND? British Prime Minister Theresa May gave a thumbs up to the BBC’s decision to cast a woman in the lead role of their iconic Doctor Who “programme” – and added that she would like to see a woman cast as 007 someday.
SPY TRADE MAG: The New Yorker recently discovered the CIA’s “Studies in Intelligence” publication, which it says has been “providing analyses of old spy operations, book reviews and tales of derring-do” since 1955. The unclassified version of “Studies” can be found on the agency’s website, although the New Yorker failed to provide a link. Perhaps they feared losing eyeballs to the government publication.
IRAN AMOK: The outbreak of demonstrations in Iran has sparked a wide variety of reactions, including from the chattering class. Former Congressman Ron Paul asked on his video blog whether there were CIA fingerprints on the protests. That mirrored comments from the pro-Hezbollah Al-Manar website, which reminded readers that the Wall Street Journal reported in June that the CIA had established a new mission center to increase the focus on Iran. Iran’s Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri got into the act midweek, accusing the CIA of fomenting the protests, in a story by the state-run IRNA news agency. (The CIA declined to comment.)
HIDDEN LIBRARY COLLECTION: Jefferson Morley, author of the book “The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton,” wrote an article published by The Intercept this week on how he got his hands on some documents that shed light on Angleton, the controversial counterintelligence legend. In the late 1970s, a veteran CIA officer by the name of Cleveland Cram (which sounds like a pseudonym but apparently isn’t) was given the job of writing a history of the agency’s counterintelligence staff. Six years later, Cram produced 12 highly classified volumes – “each running 300 to 400 pages” – about the program. When Cram died in 1999, his family donated more than a dozen cartons of correspondence and documents to the Georgetown University library, where they sat until 2014. That’s when the CIA reportedly retrieved them to review them for possible classified information. The files have never been returned. But Morley heard from a British-American movie producer who happened to have visited the Georgetown stacks some years ago and had photocopied a number of the pages before they were retrieved by Langley. Those pages provide fresh insights into a man accused of all manner of malfeasance, ranging from leading a mole hunting reign of terror to possibly covering up evidence in the JFK assassination.
LET’S HOPE THEY ARE RIGHT: The National Reconnaissance Office tweeted out the image of a mission patch for launch scheduled for Jan. 10. According to NRO, the patch depicts the battle between good and evil and the motto “Mali Nunquam Praevalebunt” Latin for “Evil will never prevail.” The launch from Vandenberg AFB will be the NRO’s 50th launch since 1996. The mission is part of the United Launch Alliance – a 50-50 venture between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company. The NRO’s website doesn’t seem to tell use precisely what the mission of “NROL-47” is – but we’re betting it has something to do with beating those evil-doers.
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN: Presidential historian Tim Naftali was on CNN this week saying that President Donald Trump’s comments about the “Deep State Justice Department” are reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s efforts to blame the CIA for undermining his administration when the agency refused to participate in the cover-up of Watergate.
FINDING DER FÜHRER: The cable TV outfit History has begun its third season of “Hunting Hitler” in which CIA veteran Bob Baer and team try to find out “once and for all” the true fate of Adolf Hitler. Spoiler alert: there is no indication Hitler is hiding in Abbottabad. This season, Baer has added Nada Bakos to his group. Bakos was a CIA targeting officer who played a key role in finding Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of ISIS. History’s website carries an interview with Bakos in which she discusses “the fine art of ferreting out fugitives.”
PUSHING KIM’S BUTTONS: Two Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee were so incensed over Trump’s latest North Korea “nuclear button” tweet that they wrote the Director of National Intelligence to complain. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico are asking the Intelligence Community to assess the risk to the United States and to U.S. interests and personnel arising from the president’s latest North Korea tweet. A DNI spokesman would only say, “We have received the letter.”
POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting/weird stuff we discovered:
- Tunnel of Hate: According to the website Right Wing Watch, a “journalist” by the name of Liz Crokin has video posted on YouTube in which she says “there are underground tunnels underneath the Playboy Mansion, because the Playboy Mansion is a CIA operation and they use the underground tunnels to traffic kids.” While any whacko can put a video on YouTube, we noticed that by early this week that more than 200,000 people had viewed this episode of Crokin’s rantings. Previously, she was among those peddling the theory that there were secret tunnels under a DC pizza restaurant – allegedly also for child trafficking reasons.
- Photographic Memory: In one of their end-of-the-year retweets, the CIA posted a link to a nearly 70-year-old declassified document in which the agency provided tips to people about how to take the best photos of UFOs. The best suggestion was #1 on the list: “Have camera set at infinity.”
- Oh Fudge: Benjamin Wittes, writing on the website Lawfare, reports that he got a personal response from CIA Director Mike Pompeo to a Freedom of Information Act request he submitted on Dec. 22 asking for a copy of Pompeo’s holiday greeting to his workforce. Wittes (and others) had reported rumors that some in the intelligence community were miffed because the greeting was “exclusionary” and partisan. Pompeo responded personally (something unheard of in the FOIA world) with a lightly redacted version of the note, which included family photos and his mother’s fudge recipe. Wittes admits, now that he has read it, the note seems to be a “perfectly gracious expression of holiday good wishes” and that he was “frankly expecting it to be far worse.” Sounds like he was disappointed.
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:
- Taking Down Strawmen: Former senior CIA Russia hand John Sipher was on MSNBC Saturday. He said that Trump administration comments suggesting that the FBI, CIA and Justice Department are enemies of the administration are “just nonsense.”
- Deep Distress: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday that the president’s tweet suggesting the Justice Department is part of the “Deep State” is “reprehensible.”
- A Different Strategy: Ambassador Joe DeTrani, former special envoy for the Six Party Talks and DNI mission manager for North Korea, writes in the Washington Times that returning to negotiations on North Korea is in the best interests of both the U.S. and China.
- How Hard is Jim Mattis’s Job? Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and currently Dean at the Fletcher School at Tufts, was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday. When asked about the difficulty of the SECDEF’s job – Stavridis said, “On a scale of 1 to 10….it’s a 13.” The only job harder perhaps, he said, is White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s. The two retired generals, Stavridis said, are “trying to create some guard rails around this presidency.”
WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND?
“I have finished The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries, by Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan, two of the most knowledgeable observers of the Russian intel scene and co-founders of “agentura.ru” – probably the best website on Russian intel (with English translation). The Red Web was published in 2015, before the current furor over Putin election meddling. But [it] provides a comprehensive and fascinating history of the evolution of the internet in Russia since the fall of the U.S.S.R., both from technical as well as historical and political perspectives – a must-read primer for anyone who wants to delve into the roots of current Russian disinformation operations.” – Michael Sulick, former director of CIA’s clandestine service
SECURITY QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“I would say the protests are going to linger. But they could go in a couple of different directions based upon events that are probably beyond anyone’s control, in terms of the extent of any uptick in protester violence and excessive force or missteps by security forces.
“I think that in terms of the regime itself, there is no indication that the size of the protests is sufficient to cause the regime to collapse, nor is there evidence that security forces are beginning to fall apart, refuse to obey orders, or join the protesters.
“Therefore, the regime will likely linger, perhaps for years. But I think, in the end, Iran’s political and social fabric will have been changed by these events. This is the most dramatic unrest Iran has seen since 1979, and that is something that the regime will not be able to paint over.”
– Norman Roule, former CIA Iran & Mideast expert and National Intelligence Manager for Iran
This story was updated Monday to add Dead Drop reporting, plus adding with news that Nakasone would likely take on both roles temporarily until the NSA-CyberCom dual hat spot was finalized.