Dead Drop: June 24

CIPHER PUZZLE: Word is out this week that highly-respected former CIA officer Mark Kelton has taken a job as Director of Insider Threat Solutions at Cipher Solutions, LLC. Mark, as you may know, is an important player in The Cipher Brief network and has contributed many important essays and interviews to this website.  Despite the similarity in their names – “Cipher Solutions” and “The Cipher Brief “are not related – but we share in benefiting from Mark Kelton’s expertise.

REVIEWING PUBLICATIONS REVIEW: Secrecy News recently reported that in the FY2017 intelligence authorization act, Congress directs the Director of National Intelligence that when it comes to current and former officials seeking permission to write intelligence related material for publication, the DNI should: “develop a uniform new policy that clearly sets forth what kinds of materials must be reviewed, with guidance for conducting and completing the review in a timely manner, and with a prompt and transparent appeal process.”

Currently each of the component parts of the intelligence community has its own rules and processes – and, by most accounts, those processes are far from timely and prompt.  The best known, and perhaps least admired, such operation is the CIA’s Publication Review Board (PRB). The Dead Drop has been hearing a crescendo of criticism from current and former CIA officers who say reviews have slowed to a snail’s pace. When the PRB does respond, it is often with ridiculous demands for redactions that no reasonable person would think would be classified.

For years, the PRB has required former officers to avoid using the term “CIA station” – but recently, in at least one case, they objected to the use of the term “CIA headquarters.”  Those submitting manuscripts for clearance are routinely told to not expect timely answers due to lack of staff and the large amount of material being submitted.  Novelist wannabees are now being told the wait for substantive response may be over one year.  Authors of non-fiction have, in many cases, been in limbo much longer. The overly cautious action by publications reviews within the IC is, in the minds of some, an over-reaction to Edward Snowden leaks. “The IC has decided to punish the innocent,” one vet told us. 

DATAMINR & TWITTER WRIST SLAPPED? When CIA Director John Brennan testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week most of the headlines were about his gloomy assessment about how the war against ISIL/ISIS is going.  But buried in the proceedings was an interesting exchange about how Twitter and its analytics partner Dataminr have apparently been playing “keep away” from the U.S. government. 

Senator Tom Cotton, (R, AR) asked Brennan about reports that the two companies recently ended cooperation with the CIA on using their unique capability to analyze important events and patterns amidst the firehose of information flowing on Twitter.  Cotton cited a Wall Street Journal report that quoted Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, as being worried about the “optics” of helping U.S. intelligence agencies. But, according to another WSJ report, Twitter and Dataminr continue to work with “RT” (also known as Russia Today) a propaganda arm of Vladimir Putin’s government. When pressed, Brennan admitted that he was “disappointed that there is not more active cooperation consistent with our legal authorities that might be available from the U.S. private sector.”

Irony alert – Twitter’s decision to disallow U.S. intelligence to benefit from Dataminr’s technology – was touted (among other places) on Putin’s RT.

“BEZ KOMMENTARIYEV”: That’s Russian for “no comment” (we think). Speaking of Russia, “Sputnik International,” another Russian “news” site, reported that a CIA spokesperson refused to comment on another item in the proposed 2017 Intelligence Authorization Bill, which sought the revival of an interagency committee to counter Russian “active measures” – a term used to cover things like disinformation, propaganda and media manipulation. Sputnik called the proposal a “possible revival of (an) Anti-Russian spy committee.” The fact that “Sputnik” would not think highly of an active measures watchdog is not in the least surprising.