Dead Drop May 20

HER MAJESTY’S NOT-SO SECRET SERVICE. Britain’s signals intelligence outfit, GCHQ, took a 140-character step into the sunlight on Monday by joining Twitter.  The outfit, long an enigma (pardon the expression), has recently been showing a little leg. In following the lead of CIA, NSA, and FBI in entering the world of Twitter – GCHQ says it hopes to “use its own voice to talk directly about the important work we do in keeping Britain safe.”

HIGH-STAKES POLITICAL PLEDGE: When running for President, it is important to stake out policy positions you would take that would differentiate you from your competition and current office holders.  Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton has done that recently by renewing a pledge that, if elected, she will declassify and release government documents to help get to the bottom of the mystery about UFOs and Area 51.  Only in recent years has the CIA even admitted the existence of the place. The Obama White House has said it has no plans to release any additional information about the issue. The Dead Drop is unaware of any statements by the Trump campaign on the issue – however we speculate that if it turns out there is a threat from UFOs and aliens – that President Trump would build a wall.

“THE SPYMASTERS” REMASTERED: If you missed Showtime’s “The Spymasters: The CIA in the Crosshairs” when it aired last fall – you get another shot on Saturday May 21nd at 9PM on CBS.  The original documentary included interviews with every living CIA Director. It is unclear if the all will be in this version – since the program had to be edited to include commercial messages. The CBS promo video includes soundbites from Donald Trump because – well, because how can you not include Trump in any promo these days? Mandy Patinkin (who plays “Saul” on Homeland) narrated the documentary. 

TMZ FOR SPIES? The Dead Drop stumbled across an E-Book just published called “Celebrity Spies: Trues Stories Book 1 – Hollywood Actors.”  The promotional material tells us that “Cary Grant was a spy hunter” and “Frank Sinatra lent the CIA his jet for rendition flights.”

Apparently they are rolling out these nuggets piecemeal.  Subsequent installments will include stories about non-actor famous folks with ties to espionage.  For example, one will talk about how the “U.S. Secret Service and Scotland Yard hired Harry Houdini to train agents in escapology.”

SPEAKING OF HOUDINI: Former CIA Acting Director and Deputy Director John McLaughlin (a world-class amateur magician in his own right), will be honored at INSA’s 32nd William Oliver Baker Award dinner in DC on Friday, June 10th. McLaughlin is being honored for Outstanding Service to the U.S. Intelligence and national security communities.

Affectionately known in CIA circles as “Merlin,” McLaughlin is now Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University in Washington and is a member of The Cipher Brief Network.

The Americans  Reviewed 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 10   

We wondered how the thorny issue of Pastor Tim’s knowledge of the Jennings’ KGB affiliation would end, and this episode seems to resolve it… but only momentarily. Pastor Tim goes missing in Ethiopia while conducting his missionary work. Problem solved? Not really. He had told his pregnant wife Alice about the Jennnings. Now that her husband is missing, the distraught Alice angrily tells the Jennings she believes they might be involved in his disappearance. Ethiopia, as she has learned, is a Soviet client state after all.

Alice is not quite as trusting about the illegals as her husband and decides to take some action. She tells Philip and Elizabeth that she has recorded a tape revealing the illegals’ identities and given it to a lawyer with instructions to send it to the Justice Department if Tim doesn’t return or something happens to her. Clearly, the KGB isn’t the only one who resorts to blackmail.

Aside from the Pastor Tim imbroglio, the Jennings’ handler Gabriel is eager to provide their agent William with access to top secret “level 4,” so he can obtain a sample of the deadly Tularemia virus developed by the Department of Defense. Elizabeth tells him she is ready to move ahead. As we learned in the previous episode, she exploited her relationship with her new friend Young Hee to stage a supposed seduction of the lady’s husband Don. Although Elizabeth has been the cold, staunch communist throughout the series, in this episode we see that she has developed a genuine friendship for Young Hee and is having qualms about harming the lady and her family.

FBI trivia experts may have caught a quick allusion to J. Edgar Hoover in the episode. The FBI counterintelligence unit’s new, overly bureaucratic supervisor returns a report to Agent Adderholt and tells him to “watch the margins.” As the legend goes, Hoover, fussy about format, once penned “watch the borders” on a report in which words were typed outside the margin. After the report went back down the chain, Hoover’s subordinates, clearly unfamiliar with proper formatting, read his note and assigned hundreds of special agents to guard the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada. No margin for error here!

Nailed it: Philip, who often is the voice of operational reason in the show, expresses his doubt about this latest operation to obtain a biowarfare sample. He reminds Soviet handler Gabriel that they almost caused an epidemic with the last sample. He’s right about that. Let’s hope they don’t stash the Tularemia virus, ten times deadlier than past samples, in a refrigerator and mishandle it as before.

Failed it: The Pastor Tim issue is chock full of dramatic tension but in reality, Moscow Center would have extracted the Jennings a long time ago once it learned the illegals were compromised. Of course that would have put a serious crimp in the entire show. Now, once the KGB learns that the distraught pastor’s wife has an audio tape ready to go to the Justice Department, it would most certainly pull them out. Philip and Elizabeth have a wealth of knowledge about operations in the U.S., and the Soviets just can’t risk them arrested and in the hands of the FBI if the pastor or his wife give them up.

Failed it: After a series of dismal compromises under Agent Gaad’s watch, we thought he rode off into the sunset, retiring and going on vacation with his Thai wife to Bangkok. But not yet. Gaad is suddenly confronted by three Russians who gain entry into his Bangkok hotel room. The leader ensures Gaad they’re not there to hurt him. While their true purpose isn’t stated, the Russians are clearly there for a “cold pitch,” i.e., coming out of the blue to recruit him as a spy.

Cold pitches do occur in the real world of espionage, but the target is usually approached by one intelligence officer, not three at the same time breaking into his hotel room. A cold pitch comes as a complete surprise to the target, and the recruiter initially has to calm him down before making the recruitment offer—three men confronting a target at once hardly has that soothing effect. No wonder Gaad feels a bit intimidated.

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.