Dead Drop: July 28

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US:  This week marks the second anniversary of The Dead Drop. They said it wouldn’t last.  Or maybe, shouldn’t.  In any case, since the first appearance posted on July 31, 2015, there have been more than 100 editions of The Dead Drop sharing interesting links, newsy items, and gossip from the world of intelligence and national security. Two years seems like a long time. Especially when compared to the recent and likely tenure of Trump administration officials. We’d like to make it to our third birthday – and you can help by providing tips (not the financial kind – just leads on new stories.) We are not asking you to spill the nation’s secrets – just to share items that will amuse and perhaps educate your fellow readers.  Send us birthday presents at:  [email protected].

REARRANGING THE DECK CHAIRS: As of this writing (a VERY important caveat) – the President has not yet fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions – nor has Sessions voluntarily walked the plank. But one of those two occurrences seems inevitable. But wait, that’s not all. If you believe the (“fake”) news, other cabinet-level officials also seem to be lining up on the exit ramp. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made an unannounced trip to Texas for some time off amid reports from friends of his that he has just about reached the end of his rope – and that they expect a “Rex-it” before the end of the year.  On Wednesday, however, Tillerson told reporters he planned to stay in his job “As long as the president lets me.” Then there were reports that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster had fallen (further) in disfavor with the President and his days in the West Wing are dwindling down to a precious few. Politico reported on Tuesday that CIA Director Mike Pompeo and John Bolton were on the shortlist of candidates to be the Trump Administration’s third National Security Advisor. Politico immediately let the air out of their own trial balloon, however, saying that Pompeo has let it be known that he is happy where he is and doesn’t want to move any closer to the Oval Office. The question arises – when there are vacancies, who would want to fill them?

NAME GAME: Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum last week,  the aforementioned CIA Director Mike Pompeo hammered the New York Times for publishing the name of an undercover CIA officer who is reportedly now in charge of the Agency’s Iran operations. (We mentioned the issue in The Dead Drop in early June.) The NYT followed up with a defensive explanation of why they did what they did. One justification was that the name had already been published (in another context) in the media. Yes, in the New York Times. The Times said they think the American public needs to know who is making “life and death decisions in their names.”  The vast majority of Times readers who responded (at least when last we looked) disagreed. As one reader put it, “And now NYT is making life and death decisions.  Dead wrong.”  A short while later, the White House director of social media, Dan Scavino, sent out a tweet attacking Stephens for repeating the undercover officer’s name in his questioning. The only problem is that Stephens did no such thing.  He mentioned the name of Philip Agee, a disgraced CIA officer  who revealed the names of many clandestine service officers in the 1970s and was the inspiration for a law which made such acts criminal. Apparently, Mr. Scavino, the former general manager of the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, NY, is not quite up on his intelligence history.  Details on the Stephens-Scavino dust up here.

WELL, THAT’S ONE INTERPRETATION: Also at the Aspen Security Forum, former CIA Director John Brennan was interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.  When asked about the possibility that the President might order the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Brennan said he thought “… it’s the obligation of some executive branch officials to refuse to carry that out.” Various obscure news sites like “” and the Macedonian news service “MINA”  (in identical language) characterized Brennan’s comments as “effectively calling for a coup against the president should Trump give the order to fire Mueller.” And while those news sites are obscure – they were not so unknown that (at least for a while on Tuesday) the “coup” charge was the top item of the Drudge Report.

USS GERALD R. FORD HEADS UP: Last Saturday President Trump attended the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78). There was lots of talk of the tremendous capabilities of the Navy’s first-of-its-class aircraft carrier. One unique fact of the ship’s design that went unmentioned from the podium, was brought to our attention by Navy Times. The FORD will have 5000+ sailors but zero urinals. Apparently, it is the first carrier built from the keel up to have only flush toilets and stalls. The design will allow the ship to shift around berthing compartments (and associated “heads”) without concern about gender-specific bathroom facilities. Navy Times found a bathroom expert, Chuck Kaufman, president of the Public Restroom Company, who was not down with the decision. Kaufman said that “(A toilet is) by far a less clean environment that a urinal.  By far.” But apparently the Navy is taking a stand on the matter.

TRUMP LEGAL TEAM: At his first White House press briefing, incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci said he will need to sit down with the President’s legal team to discuss how far he can go in defending the boss against allegations of wrongdoing with the Ruskies. Someone reminded us that a recent addition to Trump’s dream team of outside legal counsel is attorney John Dowd. While representing a client back in 2011, Dowd was asked by CNBC for comment – and responded by telling the questioner to “get the f### out of here” and flipping him the bird. Video here. Seems like Dowd should be a good fit with his new client.

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

  • The Atlantic had a lengthy article this week about Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who they dubbed “The Man McMaster Couldn’t Fire.” Cohen-Watnick, a former Mike Flynn protégé, remains the NSC senior director for intelligence programs.  It is unclear how the 31-year-old landed the job that traditionally has been handled by very experienced career intelligence professionals or how he has kept it following Flynn’s firing – but the article makes an interesting read, anyway.
  • Jerky Boys of Russia” Strike DOE: No, not Putin and Kislyak – in this case we are talking about two Russian pranksters who somehow got Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on the phone for 22 minutes and convinced him he was talking to the Ukrainian prime minister. They posted the entire recording on line – in case you find it impossible to believe that the folks in charge of maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal could by scammed by a couple of Russian comedians. On the bright side – Perry did not say anything really dumb – like offering to abolish the Department of Energy. He listened respectfully as the ersatz PM suggested that Ukraine is considering using pig manure as an energy source – but at least that was not a Perry plan.
  • CBC reports that a Canadian family recently got the answer to a question they have been asking for more than five decades. David McPherson (described as a “woodsman”) found a mysterious 400-pound box hanging from a parachute in a tree in 1962. The Canadian military quickly seized the object and refused to say what they thought it was. Newly declassified CIA documents show it was a high-altitude balloon-mounted spy camera intended to secretly photograph the Soviet Union.

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:

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

Mike Leiter, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center:

“For me, it is Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow.  Truthfully, with all the dysfunction that is our politics and the challenges globally, I decided I needed a healthy dose of escapist fiction—especially something that is about a different era of Russian history.  The book is a brilliant rendition of life for an aristocrat in post-revolutionary Russia and his house arrest in the Metropol.  Although fiction, it does offer glimpses into Russian history and political personality that perhaps continues to have a bearing on Vladimir Putin’s vision for Russia’s future.  A beautiful read!”


“The public discussion about – and the government focus on – carfentanil is all about the dangerous role it plays in the contemporary drug epidemic – with good reason. Drug overdoses, with a growing number caused by carfentanil, are now the leading cause of death from injury in the United States, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and homicides. Some police and paramedics have themselves overdosed after coming into contact with carfentanil.

But the drug also constitutes a significant threat to national security. It is a weapon of mass destruction.

Indeed, carfentanil is the perfect terrorist weapon. It is readily available in large quantities. It comes in several forms – including tablets, powder, and spray. It can be absorbed through the skin or through inhalation. It acts quickly. And, it is deadly.”

-Michael Morell, former Deputy and Acting Director of the CIA

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