Dead Drop: May 19

DON’T TELL THE PRESIDENT: You’ve probably heard the rumors about President Trump thinking about shaking up the White House Communications team. If reports are correct, Sean Spicer may have more free time for reserve duty and hanging out among the bushes.  As the President considers re-shaping his press shop – let’s hope no one tells him about a move made by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte appointing Margaux Justiniano Uson, “a blogger known for posting ‘sexy’ videos on social media,” as the new assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Office.  The Philippine Star reports that Uson calls reporters “presstitutes,” because she views them as biased against her boss.

MIKE FLYNN’S OLD EMPLOYER IS SAYING CRAZY THINGS AGAIN: No, not that one.  We mean “RT” (the artists formerly known as “Russia Today.”) The Putin provided network has a talk show called Watching the Hawks.  A recent episode featured an interview with Dan Kovalik discussing his forthcoming book: “The Plot to Scapegoat Russia: How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Russia.”

LIKE MINDS? Who made the following quotes? (A) “I am personally offended by the American news media. I think it is destructive and disgusting. (B) Guys, have you been reading American papers again? Don’t read them…They can be used for different things but not for reading.” Answer: (A) Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (B) Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.

BLOWING OFF STEAMPress accounts say that Navy officials were stunned last week when President Trump told Time Magazine that he opposes the new digital technology used for catapults on the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and thinks the sea service should go back to steam catapults.  It is not that the new aircraft launching system is without problems or controversy.  To us, the surprise, however, is that the President knew older carriers used steam to fling fighters skyward.  We would have thought he believed it was done with rubber bands.

GET OUT OF GAOL FREE CARD: The Guardian reports that Edward Snowden and 100 others have signed an open letter to President Trump to “immediately close the Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and drop any changes against Julian Assange and other WikiLeaks staff members.”  Before you say, “that’ll never happen,” remember that Trump said “I love WikiLeaks” when he was on the campaign trail.  And as folks recall – he also praised the work of FBI Director Jim Comey before he fired him – so a flip-flop is certainly not out of the question.  Of course, if Trump had the ability to shut down investigations – we suspect the one into WikiLeaks would not be the first on his list.

KEEP OFF THE GRASSLEY: Senator Chuck Grassley (R- IA) is making noises about preventing a vote to confirm the nominee for CIA General Counsel, Courtney Elwood, because the Agency is a little (OK, a lot) behind in answering the mail.  According to The Hill, Grassley says he sent a letter to the CIA in April 2014 about “declassifying two whistleblower notifications.”  “More than three years have passed since my initial request, and I still have not received declassified versions of the documents or an explanation of why the documents have not been declassified,” Grassley said.

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

  • Uncorking former state secrets:’s continuing review of formerly classified documents now available from the CIA’s CREST database – has opened up a series of 1952 memos where CIA officers trash each other’s preferences for east coast – and west coast champagne.
  • Fargo embargo: reports that the Russians apparently enjoy the FX TV series Fargo – but – the state-owned Russian TV network which airs it edits out or alters dialog when it contains jokes about or snarky references to Vladimir Putin.
  • Just the facts, Ma’am: The indefatigable folks at uncovered a 1982 memo from former CIA Director Richard Helms to one of his successors – William Casey – relaying an offer from TV star Jack Webb to create a TV series about the Agency.  Webb, reportedly a long-time friend of President Reagan, offered to create a show touting the successes of the CIA. He would have been doing for them what his “Dragnet” did for the Los Angeles Police Department.  Webb died a few months later and the show never came to be. After his death, the LAPD retired the fictional Joe Friday’s badge – which, for you trivia experts, was: 714.
  • Speaking of Cops and Spies: CBS announced this week that they will air a new drama (to debut mid-season) called Instinct.  Alan Cumming will play “a former CIA operative who is lured back to his old life when the NYPD needs his help to stop a serial killer.”
  • RC Cold Call: CNN’s State Department correspondent Michelle Kosinski posted to her Facebook page a story about how State Department communications advisor R.C. Hammond called her on Monday when news broke about the President allegedly over-sharing with the Russians in the Oval Office. Kosinski said Hammand demanded to know who her sources were, and when she wouldn’t provide them, threatened that he would make sure “NO ONE – no one – at the department would speak to (her) EVER AGAIN.” She says he added that they didn’t think she was “SMART ENOUGH to HANDLE our information!!!!!” 

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:

  • Michael Morell, former Deputy Director of the CIA, was on CBS Evening News this week telling Scott Pelley that reports that the President exposed sensitive information to the Russians was “highly damaging” for two reasons – both what the Russians do with the information and the chilling effect the release has on U.S. intelligence sharing partners.
  • Former CIA and NSA Director, General Mike Hayden, writing in the Washington Post says that his previous speculation that Moscow views Donald Trump as “a useful fool” seems to be holding up. At least two other TCB network experts also contributed opinion pieces to the Post.  Morell writing that there were three takeaways from the Trump leaking story – and one is good news: at least we now know he is listening to his intelligence briefings. And Steven Hall, senior Clandestine Service alumni, explaining that the CIA would not trust a country whose leader did what Trump did.
  • Long-time CIA Deputy John McLaughlin told MSNBC that it appears the President is not learning from his mistakes.
  • On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis said that this week’s worldwide cyber-attacks should be thought about like a “pandemic” – an international infectious disease.

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

Frank Archibald, former CIA Director of the National Clandestine Service:

“I am reading The Swamp Fox by John Oliver. The book highlights Francis Marion’s key role in the South Carolina portion of the American southern campaign after 1780 that defeated the British “Southern Strategy” and sapped British and Tory strength leading to the American victory at Yorktown.


“This has been largely touted as the year of ransomware, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see an increase in these ransomware attacks.  I suspect we’re going to see more of these attacks throughout the rest of the year – criminals using WannaCrypt or things like that, to encrypt your computers for ransom.  What this current attack is doing is using phishing to gain entry into your systems and lateral movement within a network to attack a large number of systems.  They are attacking companies throughout the world.  It is a huge, global issue.”

-Gen. Keith Alexander, former National Security Agency Director

DON’T BE SHY:  If you know any tidbits, just pass them along to us at: [email protected].  And don’t worry, who you are will remain a tightly held secret.