Dead Drop: May 12

COMEY SOON? The Dead Drop understands that multiple literary agents and publishing insiders are desperately trying to get through to just-fired Jim Comey to convince him they should be selected to help market a book about his tumultuous time as FBI Director. Comey left no hint of his future plans in a short note he sent to friends and co-workers on Wednesday. The ousted gumshoe did say that he was not “going to spend time on the decision (to fire him) or the way it was executed.” But there are many in the literary world who hope he can be convinced that there is a story worth telling of his time at the Bureau. Our money is on Bob Barnett, super-lawyer and book peddler to the stars. Barnett famously charges clients $1250 an hour rather than the 15% cut that traditional agents can get – a difference that can add up on mega-deals (like the one Barnett reportedly landed for the Obamas, that some say is in the $65 million range.)

NOT WITH HER: A federal court ruling late last week ordering the State Department to turn over Hillary Clinton emails relating to the aftermath of the Benghazi attack was largely ignored by the U.S. media. The Dead Drop first learned of it through “RT” – the Putin propaganda arm.  Guess Team Vlad must really enjoy piling on.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GO BOWLING:  Have you noticed that when the heat gets high on White House Press spokesman Sean Spicer – he often departs on Navy reserve duty?  This week – for at least the third time we know of – (in the immediate aftermath of the Comey kerfluffle) – Spicer donned his sailor suit and went to the Pentagon.  His deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had to fleet up and to take the conn in the briefing room.  What are these critical naval reserve duties demanding Spicer’s attention?  We don’t know – but we do know that on one occasion (presumably on a weekend) – Spicer brought a group of a half dozen fellow weekend warriors to the White House for a tour.  They posed outside the West Wing, in the briefing room – and even spent some of their spare time bowling in the White House alley.

NANO NUTTY: Last week North Korea claimed that the CIA and South Korean intelligence had plotted to assassinate Kim Jong un.  The DPRK says the alleged assassin was someone named “Kim.” Good tradecraft guys! They’ll never single out someone with that surname. (Not sure about the North – but 20% of the people in the South go by that name.)  Kim (the assassin) supposedly was ordered to use “radioactive material or nanoparticle poisonous material” and paid $40,000 for the job – which goes a long way in Pyongyang. Most surprisingly, the North says Kim reportedly is a “lumberjack” which may explain why he was willing to take on the assignment, since the locals have eaten most of the trees in the country. The CIA refused to confirm nor deny the allegations – which sound suspiciously like the plot of the 2014 movie “The Interview,” which inspired Kim Jong un’s folks to hack Sony Pictures.

WEEDING OUT INTELLIGENCE CANDIDATES:  Apparently, some folks are worried that strict policies about marijuana use may be keeping too many good candidates away from intelligence community careers. says FBI Director Comey and former DNI Clapper in recent months backtracked from comments which implied zero tolerance.

TWEET MYSTERIES:  The CIA’s very popular twitter account has not only inspired 1.88 million followers but also the interest of Amanda Johnson, a PhD candidate at MIT.  Johnson, an anthropologist, admired the sense of humor displayed by the Agency’s twitter team – and so in December 2014, she fired off a FOIA request to see some of the documents about how and why CIA administers the account.  She is still waiting.   Courthouse News Service reports that Johnson has gotten tired of twiddling her thumbs and has filed suit against the Agency.  Her federal complaint is full of the kind of analytics you would expect from a MIT-PhD candidate, explaining why she thinks the Agency has failed to respond to her request in a timely fashion and has given other people’s requests—which have come in after hers – greater priority.  We suspect that it is not that often that the CIA gets FOIA requests from people who admire their work – so we hope someone acts on Johnson’s request soon.

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

  • Anyone else notice? The name of the ACLU lawyer suing two CIA contractors on behalf of a couple of  low-level al Qaeda operatives who claim they were tortured?  The lawyer’s name is “Dror Ladin.”  Guess it would be too much of a coincidence if his middle name is “Bin.”
  • Outted House: reports that outted CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband Ambassador Joe Wilson have put their (judging by the pictures — very nice) Santa Fe, NM hideaway on the market for $2.1 million.  Looks like the book, movie, and speech deals have enabled Plame to come through the ordeal of being exposed—OK.
  • Spoonerisms: The folks at continue to plow through the now readily-available declassified CIA files to come up with interesting documents from the past.  This week, they share some 1973 CIA documents about the Agency’s investigations into Uri Geller’s ability (or lack thereof) to bend spoons with his mind. One document shows that CIA officials were unconvinced – but open to the possibility—that by using “extra-sensory” powers, someone could “reproduce blueprints locked in safes without looking at the blueprints” or “could distinguish from a distance decoys from real missiles.” How you do all this with bent spoons is beyond us.

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:

  • In case you missed it. Former DNI James Clapper was in the news a bit this week testifying before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  The full transcript of the session is here.
  • Fishy Timing: Former senior CIA officer John Sipher on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Tuesday morning talking about how the timing of the Comey firing “is fishy” and what the Director’s dismissal means to the Bureau’s Russia Investigation.

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

John McLaughlin, former Acting Director of the CIA:

“I’m reading And So We Read On:  How The Great Gatsby Came to be and Why it Endures by Maureen Corrigan.  We foreign policy geeks can refresh and learn a lot from literature, and as a life-long F. Scott Fitzgerald fan, I loved this book – which gives you the context, the characters, and the milieu around which the ‘great American novel’ was written.“

SECURITY QUOTE(S) OF THE WEEK: Reaction to President Donald Trump firing FBI Director James Comey

“I’m sure the Russians are happy as clams.  For the rest of the world, I think it will be very unsettling.”

-James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence

“This action will appear and will be perceived by FBI as an order from on-high to deep-six any investigation.  As we have seen in the last few days of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn revelations, there is likely really incriminating information on the broader campaign—not just Flynn, but possibly up to Donald Trump. This is a Watergate moment!”

-James Jeffrey, former Ambassador to Turkey and to Iraq

“Internationally, nothing good will come of this. Key allies are already nervous about the Trump Administration’s disruptiveness and chaotic beginning. This will worsen this significantly.”

-Michael Leiter, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center

“I do think the Director could determine how much energy, how many resources, how much personal attention the [Russia] investigation would get, and that could change with the new Director.”

-Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA and of the NSA

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING:  Got any tips for your friendly neighborhood Dead Drop?  Shoot us a note at [email protected].