Dead Drop: January 6

GLAD HE DIDN’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY:  President-elect Donald Trump seems to be going out of his way to take shots at what will soon be “his” intelligence community.  On Tuesday night, he tweeted that “The “Intelligence” briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday,” adding, “perhaps more time needed to build a case.  Very strange!”  Strange indeed – since intelligence insiders say the briefing had always been scheduled for Friday.  Then on Wednesday, Trump seemed to embrace WikiLeaks founder and justice fugitive Julian Assange, quoting him as saying “a 14-year-old could have hacked (Clinton Campaign Manager John) Podesta.”  Apparently if you endorse the Team Trump narrative – you are suddenly an expert worth quoting.  Reminiscent of Churchill’s remark, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil.”  In this case – if you are willing to cast doubt on the Russian hacking theory – expect a gift basket full of Trump wine and steaks.

DON’T TUG ON SUPERMAN’S CAPE: MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough gave some advice to the president-elect Monday, regarding negative comments about the intelligence community: “If I’m going to piss off an agency, let me tell you which agency is at the very bottom of the list: the Central Intelligence Agency – because they cut people up.” For the record – we believe Joe meant via leaks – not with knives.

WHIPLASH: According to NBCNEWS.COM, polling indicates that for the first time since 2002, Democrats now have a more positive view of the CIA than do Republicans. Seems as if it is a matter of hearing what you like – and liking what you hear. How could the CIA win favor with Team Trump? We recommend releasing a report that says they have learned the DNC hack was really done by some 400 pound guy sitting on his bed in New Jersey.

UNWARRANTED INTELLIGENCE: Late last week, when the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued their 13-page long “Joint Analysis Report” (JAR) pointing fingers at the Russians for hacking the DNC emails,  the document contained a strange disclaimer at the top saying: DISCLAIMER: This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise.  Lots of folks noticed the “don’t hold us to this” notice – but few have provided plausible explanations for what the unprecedented warning might mean. Some technical outfits – like ArsTechnica – complained that the JAR was empty of proof of Russian complicity.

NOT RUNNING FOR DNI: Add “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani to the list of people unconvinced by reports of Russian meddling in the U.S. electoral process.  Giuliani told Fox News on December 30 that U.S. intelligence agencies were “incompetent” and “politicized” when it comes to the Russian hacking reports.

TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT:  The Wall Street Journal reported late Wednesday that the Trump transition team is planning on major structural changes to the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA. An unnamed person “familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning” was quoted as saying, “The view from the Trump team is the intelligence world has become completely politicized.” Non-political observers tell The Dead Drop that the chief proponent of this view within Trump Tower is retired LT Gen Mike Flynn, who was sent packing short of the expected end of his tour as Director of the DIA – by the DNI.

TOP FIVE ISSUES FOR D/CIA NOMINEE: Citing no sources, The Hill recently listed the top five issues they expect to come up in Rep. Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearing to be the next Director of the CIA. Their picks were: enhanced interrogation, surveillance, Russian hacking, partisanship and the Benghazi committee, and morale at the CIA. Sounds like a plausible list, although we might have ordered them differently.  What do YOU think the SSCI should ask Pompeo about?  Send us your recommendations…quickly.  We understand that Pompeo’s hearing is likely to be Wednesday January 11 before the SSCI – IF the nominee gets all his paperwork in on time.  General James Mattis’s hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is likely to be January 12th.  Assuming things go well – both could be positioned to assume their new duties very shortly after noon on January 20th. It appears SecState-designate Rex Tillerson and AG wannabee Sen. Jeff Sessions are also scheduled to be quizzed by their oversight committees on Wednesday.

WHEN IT ABSOLUTLEY, POSITIVELY HAS TO BE THERE OVERNIGHT: President-elect Trump told reporters on New Year’s Eve that it is folly to rely on computers. “You know, if you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old-fashioned way. Because I’ll tell you what: No computer is safe.”  Osama bin Laden might tell you that even relying on couriers is not always safe – but he’s not talking. 

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

  • PI vs CIA: Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines, said last week that “Most of the ambassadors of the United States, but not all, are not really professional ambassadors. At the same time they are spying, they are connected with the CIA.” According to Reuters, Duterte said that the CIA and State Department are trying to undermine his government – so he may have something in common with President-elect Trump when it comes to suspicions.
  • CALENDAR BOY: The Washington Post ran a story last week about a guy who has created a calendar of “Secret Ops of the CIA,” featuring reproductions of paintings that have graced the hallways at Langley for many years.  The kicker is that the Agency reportedly refuses to sell the calendar in its gift store because “it’s not an official work of the U.S. government.”    This is causing Agency alumni we know to scratch their heads.  “Just about everything in the Agency’s store,” one CIA veteran told us “is NOT an official work of the U.S. government.” Don’t despair. You can get the calendar from the International Spy Museum store – which is considerably easier to get into anyway.

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:

  • Your Move Mr. Trump:  Former CIA honcho John McLaughlin writing in about what is next on the Russia hacks.
  • Workplace Raids: Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security, told the New York Times that selective raids of certain workplaces could be effective ways of tamping down on the “ecosystem of smuggling” when used in a carefully targeted way.
  • Aleppo: Disaster for U.S. prestige:  The Albuquerque Journal ran an OP-ED (that originally appeared in The Cipher Brief) by former senior CIA officer Emile Nakhleh explaining how the failure of the U.S. to avert the human tragedy in Aleppo will have a lasting impact on how America is viewed around the world.
  • Cybersecurity Gold Mine: Former NATO Supreme Commander Admiral Jim Stavridis, writing in the Huffington Post, says the details in last week’s report by the FBI and DHS on Russia hacking “…sets a dramatic precedent that could serve a significant blow to Russia’s cyber operations.”

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

Rob Dannenberg, former CIA Chief of Operations for the Counterterrorism Center, Chief of the Central Eurasia Division, and Chief of the CIA’s Information Operations Center:

“I have just finished reading the second of (former CIA Director of the National Clandestine Service) Michael Sulick’s excellent pair of books on espionage in America, American Spies, and I am currently using my rusty Russian to slog through the recently published memoir of Vadim Victorovich Bakatin, the last Director of the KGB.”  


“At the end of the day, innovation brought us the Internet, and it will require innovation to secure it.”

-Jack Harrington, Vice President of Raytheon’s Cybersecurity and Special Missions (CSM) business

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