Dead Drop May 13

BUMPY RHODES:  Much of the inside-the-beltway national security elite crowd spent the weekend buzzing about a New York Times magazine profile of NSC official Ben Rhodes. In the lengthy article, the 38-year-old Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, takes a lot of shots at the American foreign-policy establishment (which he calls “the blob”,) and at know-nothing reporters. But after opening fire – the only clear hits Rhodes landed were on his own feet. The article, by David Samuels, is odd because it gives the impression that the writer admires his subject and yet skewers Rhodes by exposing his hubris and “lack of real-world experience” for his job.   The impression left is so devastating – that Tom Ricks – a left-leaning journalist took to the pages of and headlined his review of the article as: “A stunning profile of Ben Rhodes, the asshole who is the president’s foreign policy guru.” Carlos Lozada in the Washington Post was only slightly kinder – calling the profile” “just gross.” By Monday spokesman Josh Earnest was doing damage control insisting that in the view of the White House, Hillary Clinton is not part of the “blob” and suggesting that Rhodes now wishes he had stated a few things differently in the interview.  The Dead Drop thinks that the lesson here for those of you members of “the blob” is to avoid spending too much time congratulating yourself in the media about how much smarter you are than everyone else. Also – while Samuels seems impressed by Rhodes’ intellect –if the White House had Googled the reporter’s work before agreeing to cooperate with the reporter – they would have found that had been a strong opponent of the Iran deal that Rhodes brags about spinning into existence.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST: Speaking of Josh Earnest’s efforts to clean up Rhodes’ dust – there was an amusing exchange in Monday’s press briefing.  Springing off an impression left by the NYT article, Fox News correspondent Kevin Corke asked the White House spokesman: “Can you state categorically that no senior official in this administration has ever lied publicly about any aspect of the Iran nuclear deal?”  Apparently mishearing the question – Earnest responded: “No, Kevin.”   We’re pretty sure he meant to say “Yes.”

BRIEF CASE:  In his recently published book, “Playing to the Edge,” former CIA Director, General Mike Hayden, describes getting ready to brief an incoming president. On election day 2008, the Intelligence Community had teams standing by in Chicago and Phoenix ready to brief which ever candidate won.  Hayden writes that “the process would have been the same for either (Obama or McCain) and no matter who won” and says the briefers humorously looked forward to creating “aw, shit” moments – when the candidate would learn facts that would make them regret things recently said on the campaign trail. In addition to the post-election access to the Presidential Daily Brief, tradition has it that after the conventions the nominees get intelligence briefings.  While pre-election briefings are short on the “crown jewels” of sources and methods, the candidates are likely to be read into some very sensitive analysis of current threats. Former Acting and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Monday that his impression is Republican presumptive candidate Donald Trump has a simple world view and is going to get “a picture of the world that is very complex, much more complex than any business deal he has ever been involved in.” What happens after that?  Some of The Dead Drop’s sources speculate that this time – fearing how some candidates might react to the information – it might be the briefers saying “Aw, shit!”

TWEET SUCCESS: Last week The Dead Drop mentioned the CIA’s Twitter tactic of simulating live-tweeting the Osama bin Ladin raid.   And we mentioned that the tactic got mixed reviews in some media outlets.  This week we learned that “CIA’s tweets on the bin Ladin raid garnered more than 11 million views.” Eleven million!  That is nearly as many daily views at The Dead Drop earns (we wish.)  We also learn that CIA’s Twitter account gained more than 20,000 new followers during the bin Ladin raid tweets….which was the highest day of follower growth over the previous 12 months.  Trust us, the media outlets who were critical of the (not so) live Tweeting of the OBL operation would kill for those kinds of results.  Hey CIA! How about re-tweeting this?

THAT’S A RAPP: In this week’s Tinseltown report, according to Variety, 24-year-old actor Dylan O’Brien is in negotiations to portray Mitch Rapp in a film adaptation of the late Vince Flynn’s novel “American Assassin.”  The Dead Drop hears that the whole series of Vince Flynn novels are very popular within the clandestine service.  Mitch Rapp, as the film’s title implies, is trained as a CIA assassin.  According to Variety, Michael Keaton has also signed on to star in the flick.

The Americans by Michael Sulick

Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know (yet) what happened in the most recent episode of the FX series, The Americans, stop reading now.

Season 4, Episode 9

The last episode ended as Soviet handler Gabriel minimized the spy duties of his illegals, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. The KGB husband and wife are indeed at the breaking point. Philip is crestfallen over the exfiltration of his source, FBI secretary Martha. Philip and Elizabeth were almost infected by a deadly biowarfare agent provided by their Defense Department source and, to add to the strain, they are still coping with the dilemma of their daughter’s mentor, Pastor Tim, who is now aware they are not mere American travel agents but KGB officers.

Now that the couple are resting from their spy duties, this episode shifts focus a bit to the high stakes context of their Cold War espionage, the potential for mass destruction in the superpower conflict. Characters on both sides, the illegals and their children, FBI agent Stan Beeman, and KGB officers in the embassy are all shown viewing with apprehension The Day After, a graphic and frightening 1983 TV film about the effects of a disastrous nuclear holocaust on the residents of a small Kansas town.          

Besides that, KGB officer Oleg reveals to his lover and fellow operative terrifying news he learned from his well- connected father. A Soviet launch detection system mistakenly registered the U.S. firing nuclear missiles at the USSR. Fortunately, a duty officer believed the alert was a false alarm so a counterattack wasn’t triggered –- and a nuclear holocaust was averted.

If that wasn’t enough to remind viewers of the precarious nature of the Cold War, agent William signals an emergency meeting to advise Philip of equally disturbing news. The Defense Department has developed a new biowarfare agent, this one a virus that causes a hemorrhagic fever which, as he graphically explains, “liquefies the organs” and “makes the blood come out of the skin.”

The Soviets now need access to the mysterious “Level 4” even more desperately after agent William’s revelation and, as a result, we learn the operational motive behind Elizabeth’s cultivation of her Korean-American friend, Yong Hee. As we suspected, Yong Hee or her husband Don were targets chosen by the Jennings to facilitate their agent’s access to the super restricted biowarfare area.

As we have seen in past episodes, Elizabeth has developed a true friendship with Yong Hee to the point where the unsuspecting target leaves with her husband for a quick vacation and lets Elizabeth babysit her three children. Once the children are asleep, Elizabeth rummages through the house searching for some vulnerability to use against Don and discovers a porno tape hidden in a bookshelf. Later, she asks Don to drive her home and move a piece of furniture, after which she treats her target, a wine connoisseur, to a glass sufficiently spiked to knock him out. She drags Don to bed unconscious and strips him. He awakens to find himself naked, lying beside an equally bared Elizabeth, and he dresses hurriedly and stumbles out with an embarrassed apology. Looks like our illegals may be getting closer to accessing “Level 4.”

Nailed it: Despite its horrifying theme, The Day After remains one of the most watched ever made-for-TV films. Nearly 100 million watched the original ABC broadcast, and the network set up special hotlines with counselors to calm down viewers disturbed by the graphic film. During the same period, the Soviet leadership feared that President Reagan would launch a nuclear first strike against the USSR. To prevent any surprise, KGB Chairman Andropov initiated “Operation RYAN,” a massive intelligence collection program to gather indications of US preparations for a sudden attack (RYAN is the Russian acronym for “nuclear missile attack”).

Nailed it: Elizabeth’s staged seduction of Don is a variation on a time-tested spy recruitment ploy—the honey trap—designed to place the target in a compromising situation and then blackmail him. Russian intelligence is particularly fond of honey traps and has compromised countless targets for decades. As a rule, Western services, including the CIA, do not use blackmail. Besides moral considerations, people coerced to spy may pass false information or produce just enough to keep their blackmailers at bay. Western services prefer those who cooperate willingly and are more inclined to provide accurate and comprehensive information.    

Failed it: Although the Jennings are taking a break from espionage, they still have to deal with the Pastor Tim issue. Philip and his daughter attend a party to send Tim off on a missionary task to Ethiopia (and he even got a great deal on the tickets, thanks to his KGB friends who pose as travel agents!). The Pastor tells Philip they should all meet after his return to “see where we are.” Pastor Tim’s procrastination about the Jennings KGB affiliation is starting to seem a bit stretched – but, then again, it makes for better TV drama as viewers keep tuning in to see what the pastor will do and how our sometimes violent KGB spies will react.    

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