Dead Drop: March 25

MARTIAL OR BS ARTIST?  Aging actor Steven Seagal is famous for – well, being Steven Seagal.  Although American born, he gained dual Russian citizenship in 2016. A Russian spokesman at the time said that Moscow eventually gave Seagal citizenship because he had been bugging them about it for a while.  Now comes word from Radaronline that an audiotape recorded more than 30 years ago. has recently surfaced.  In it, Seagal is purportedly heard bragging about having ties to the CIA.  “I don’t really like to talk about what I have done in the field, and I don’t,” said the voice. “You can say that I’ve worked for people who were in the CIA and worked for the CIA. Sure, I’ve worked with people like that, but I’ve always admired the people that can count.” Among his other past utterances, is that Vladimir Putin is “one of the greatest living world leaders.”  This week, media accounts said that the U.S. has been unable to determine who, if anyone, is running the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Maybe it is Steven Seagal.  Just sayin’.

ACTION HERO OF A DIFFERENT COLOR: Meanwhile, former “Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s viral video calling Putin, “history’s worst president,” has (not unexpectedly) attracted some slings and arrows from Moscow. While most Russians probably have not seen Arnold’s video – Russian state TV did see it, and they apparently didn’t like it very much. Russian TV personality Vadim Gigin told viewers that Arnold’s face looked like, “…the cover page of American imperialism and colonialism.” 

DOUBLE-O CHANNEL ONE: Another person to earn the ire of Russian TV is Marina Ovsyannikova, who achieved fame by interrupting a Russian Channel One newscast by shouting “Stop the war!” and rolling out a sign telling viewers, “Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.”  Ovysyannokova seemingly got off easy with just a court fine but now her employer (or we presume — former employer) has accused her of being a British spy. We kinda doubt that – but if so, jolly well done, MI-6!

TANKS A LOT: Last week’s Dead Drop talked about a Ukrainian program meant to offer Russian pilots up to $1 million (and Ukrainian citizenship) if they defected to the Ukrainian side and brought their plane with them. Well, now we hear, according to Ukrainian officials, a Russian tank crew member saw a similar offer on his phone (apparently there is an app for that) and he turned in his fully operational tank and got about $10,000. It’s interesting to note that the tanker only gets his money (and new citizenship) after the war is over – so he now has multiple reasons to be rooting for Kyiv. Apparently, Putin’s people are taking these defection risks seriously too.  According to The Daily Mail Vlad the enforcer has sent “execution squads” to kill any of his own troops trying to switch sides.

LOOKING WORSE ALL THE TIME:  A couple weeks ago, we noted that a December 2021 Washington Post OPED by TV writer and former (short-term) CIA officer Joe Weisberg was not aging well.  The piece was titled, “The Cold War is over. Why do we still treat Russia like the Evil Empire?  Someone just pointed out to us that – to this day – Weisberg has the piece as his pinned tweet atop his twitter account – meaning if you check out his latest ruminations – you can’t miss his major miss from December.  We suppose you’ve gotta admire someone who sticks to their position – no matter how obviously wrong it might be. Weisberg was on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell recently talking about how Vladimir Putin’s public comments are an influential mix of “outrageous lies” with “thoughtful insights, truths.”  He said that he is now not excusing Putin’s actions but wants to recognize that the U.S. “is capable of doing the same thing.”

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME: A few weeks ago, we thought we all might be getting a refresher on the names and silhouettes of various Russian weapons systems. But they all look pretty much the same when they are mangled charred bits of metal by the side of the road.  We were reminded however, that NATO has its own nicknames for Soviet – and now Russian weapons. For example, the MiG-29, so much in the news lately, is called the “Fulcrum” by NATO. Typically, NATO gives fighters “F” names – like Flanker and Foxhound. Bombers get B’s – Bear, Blinder, Backfire etc. The alliance gives Russian air-to-ground missiles names that begin with “K.”  Perhaps most appropriately, the short-range AS-10 is called the “Karen.” Of course, the Russians have their own naming schemes.  Their self-propelled cannons, howitzers and mortars are named after flowers. Sweet, isn’t it?

BOOK NEWS:  Former New York Times Moscow bureau chief and deputy editorial page editor Phil Taubman, has landed a deal to write, “In the Nation’s Service,” a biography of former Secretary of State George Shultz, who died at the age of 100, a little over a year ago.  The book is due to be published in the winter of 2023, by Stanford University Press. Not coincidentally, perhaps, Taubman now works at Stanford’s Center for International Security & Cooperation and Shultz was associated with the Hoover Institute at Stanford for decades after leaving office. In addition to detailing Shultz’s diplomatic service, we’re hoping that Taubman will provide the low-down on whether it was true that Shultz had a Princeton Tiger tattoo on his butt.

I FEEL THE NEED, THE NEED FOR CHEESE:  The long-awaited, long-delayed, premier of “Top Gun: Maverick” will soon be upon us.  It will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival.  Tom Cruise will be in France for the launch and in addition to showing the flick, he’ll also be honored with a “special tribute” to his illustrious film career. That sounds like the kind of thing that happens at the end of your career.

LYING ABOUT LYING: Some Intelligence Community veterans are unhappy about the way the New York Post recently dissed 51 of their colleagues claiming that they had “lied” about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Here is the background: On March 19th the tabloid (famous for their “Headless body in topless bar” headline) published a cover story titled, “Spies Who Lie” calling out who they say were 51 intelligence “experts” (quotation marks theirs) who the Post said, “falsely discredited Hunter Biden’s laptop and still won’t say sorry.” The group, (16 of whom are Cipher Brief experts) signed an October 2020 letter saying that earlier stories that first appeared in the Post about Biden’s laptop and emails had all the hallmarks of a Russian “information” operation.  Their letter explicitly said the former officials did not know whether the story about the laptop was true or not. There was nothing in the letter that said the story was “disinformation.”  Recent reporting now confirms that the laptop and emails are real.  Though there is still a question of how the emails made their way into the public domain in the first place, as the Washington Post noted in a recent article. Part of the problem was that both Politico and the Biden campaign mischaracterized the original intelligence veterans letter, saying they called the story “disinformation.” They did not.  We know that the Russians did amplify in US social media the Hunter Biden emails story during the 2020 election campaign.  This is exactly what the former intelligence officials expected they would do. There is a huge difference between a hostile intelligence service information operation, that disseminates derogatory–but ultimately true–information and a disinformation operation that disseminates propaganda that is false. As far as we know, the New York Post has failed to apologize for failing to understand the difference.  Dead Drop knows that with all of this info flying around, it can be tough to know what disinformation actually is, so we worked with a few trusted partners to put together a little disinformation explainer.

POCKET LITTER: Dead Droplets and bits and pieces of interesting /weird stuff we discovered:

HIS THIRD CHOICE WAS PROBABLY NORTH KOREA:  Evan Neumann, a California man wanted for taking part in the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, has been granted asylum in – of all places – Belarus.  It was not his first choice.  According to the BBC, Neumann first fled to Ukraine in the hope of avoiding prosecution in the U.S.  Upon further reflection, he reportedly decided to relocate to Belarus, where he hoped to start a new life.  Local officials said, “Hello, Neumann” and added, “Now you are completely under the protection of the Republic of Belarus.” That must be a relief. Neumann says he plans to move his family to Belarus – a decision that Mrs. Neumann apparently has not signed off on yet.

WHAT WAS HE THINKING?  A guy named Kendall Rust was arrested this week for trying to steal a ballistic vest from the Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida.  Rust, a contractor, was doing some work at the museum and apparently took a shine to the vest. The gear was said to have been worn by a SEAL who was part of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. A woman working at the museum noticed Rust appeared to be acting suspiciously and then noticed that the vest was missing. Cops were summoned and found it in Rust’s toolbox. He said he was just taking it to take a picture of it. The museum valued the vest at $50,000. Stealing stuff from a SEAL museum? Priceless.

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