Dead Drop: July 8

(TIME) LOST IN TRANSLATION: Ever since President Richard Nixon met with Chairman Mao in 1972 – American and Chinese leaders have used “consecutive translation” whenever they meet.  One side would talk – and then sit there staring off into the distance while interpreters delivered the message to those across the table. That was thought the best way to ensure that every single word was translated correctly – but man, was it a time waster.  According to a Dead Drop source, last September, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Washington, the practice changed.  In advance of the meeting, President Barack Obama proposed that the discussion be conducted with simultaneous translation. Productivity of the meeting (or at least the number of words that could be fired back and forth instantly) doubled over a set period of time.  When Xi came back to DC in March to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, the two presidents held a two-hour meeting, once again using simultaneous interpretation. Obama and Xi are expected to meet again on the margins of the G20 in Hangzhou in September and are expected to continue the practice.

FREE EATS! They say there is no such thing as a free lunch.  But apparently there IS a free dinner. The Dead Drop noticed that an announcement for the Intelligence and National Security Alliance’s (INSA) “Leadership Dinner” on July 19th makes an offer some feds may not be able to resist.  The keynote speaker at the dinner is CIA Director John Brennan who is scheduled to discuss “the top priorities for the CIA and Intelligence Community in today’s threat environment, and his perspective on the unique role the CIA plays in supporting the President and protecting our nation.” According to the announcement, INSA members get in for a mere $225. Non-members get hit for $325 – but federal employees are “gratis.” All you CIA employees who have been complaining about the Agency’s new cafeteria contractor might want to sign up for some of that good chow at The Ritz-Carlton.

NEW WRINKLE ON INTELLIGENCE GATHERING: Fast Company has a story out explaining why the CIA invested in a skin care company.  The Agency’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, dropped some coin on Skincential Sciences.  The company’s product, Clearista, reportedly aims to tighten up your sagging skin, but the Agency has taken a shine to them for their ability to collect biomarkers. 

COMEY’S EMAIL CALL: By now, just about every pundit has sliced and diced FBI Director James Comey’s Tuesday statement about Hillary Clinton’s handling of email while Secretary of State.  There are lots of points to debate on how things fell on the “careless to criminal” scale.  But what caught The Dead Drop’s eye was Comey’s comment that: “While not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified e-mail systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.” That is reminiscent of charges made 16 years ago when the Department was accused of systemic failure to protect secrets.  The charges stung at the time, causing then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to say: ”I don’t care how skilled you are as a diplomat, how brilliant you may be at meetings, or how creative you are as an administrator… if you are not professional about security, you are a failure.” Look for that quote in Trump ads this fall.

BILLIONAIRE BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB: The 34th annual Allen & Company conference is going on in Sun Valley, Idaho this week.  That’s the event where the biggest movers and shakers in the media world gather to listen to lectures, partake of the great outdoors, and occasionally buy and sell each other’s companies. In addition to mega moguls present, such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg and Rupert Murdoch, the guest list also includes the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Seinfeld.  According to the Wall Street Journal, current CIA Director John Brennan and former CIA Director George Tenet are there as “guests.” The WSJ didn’t exactly get that right, since Tenet is Managing Director of Allen & Company – the investment bank running the event.  Photos of the high rollers coming and going to the secretive confab also captured former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell among the attendees.