Dead Drop: May 13

CAREFUL. DON’T GET VLAD MAD:  We were somewhat perplexed last week regarding the kerfuffle over the wisdom of U.S. officials sharing information about sharing information with the Ukrainians. Well, sharing “intelligence” information anyway. People we respect were quite vocal on both sides of the argument. It all started when the New York Times published a story which said that U.S. intelligence that was shared with the Ukrainians helped kill a whole bunch of Russian generals during the course of the war in Ukraine.  Then, NBC News weighed in reporting that American intelligence contributed heavily to the sinking of the Russian Black Sea flagship the Moskva. After each of these stories, Pentagon and other officials tried to dial things back a little. Regarding the NYT story, officials said the headline was misleading, and stressed that the U.S. didn’t provide intelligence with the specific purpose of killing specific generals. Essentially, they said, “we just gave them information on Russian troop whereabouts and some generals might have had the misfortune of being in the vicinity.”  Then, regarding the Moskva story, officials said they just confirmed to the Ukrainians that their intelligence on the location of the Moskva was correct – but they didn’t know they were going to sink it. At that point, the chattering class jumped in and said, “shut up already.” Figures like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman argued that his sources assured him that the stories were not “part of any thought-out strategy.” Thought-out or not, it is unclear if either of the story lines started with “leaks” or if they were the result of authorized background briefs to members of the media that may have gone awry. Then, somebody leaked news that President Biden was telling folks to quit leaking. Reportedly, Biden read the riot act to defense and intelligence officials about loose lips and sinking ships. As we mentioned, people we respect a lot can take different positions of this.  For example, former DNI James Clapper was on said on CNN, “some of the hand-wringing about this is kind of over-wrought.” But about an hour later, retired General David Petraeus was on the same network saying that the intelligence stories have “gone too far.” He suggested that he thought they were, “needlessly provocative.” Our take: U.S. officials take great pride in talking about the tons of lethal weapons that the U.S. has provided to the Ukrainians including Howitzers, Javelins, Stingers and switchblade drones. Administration officials are also happy to tell you the U.S. is sending billions of dollars worth of weapons.  But suggesting to the Ukrainians where they might aim them? Can’t do that, because THAT might annoy Putin.

DON’T THOSE UKRAINIANS READ THE DEAD DROP?  Last week’s Dead Drop had an item noting that Kyiv is doing well spreading the truth about Ukrainian successes against Moscow – but that they should avoid making stuff up. Apparently, not everyone was listening. This past weekend, there was a flurry of stories that yet another Russian ship, this time the frigate Admiral Makarov, had been set on fire and was spewing black smoke all over the Black Sea. Many news outlets repeated the claim, some including video purporting to show the ship ablaze. But we noticed many of those same sources quietly delete their tweets. Turns out, the video may have been fake, perhaps another one of those video game generated mini-movies. There were other videos from a day or two later, that appear legit, showing the Ukrainians attacking Russian held positions on Snake Island and taking down a Russian troop-carrying helicopter – perhaps with a drone. No need to fake it.

The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

Access all of The Cipher Brief‘s national security-focused expert insight by becoming a Cipher Brief Subscriber+Member.

Continue Reading

Get access to all our Dead Drops

Sign up Today