Dead Drop May 27

WALL OF HONOR: On Monday, the CIA held its annual ceremony in the headquarters lobby honoring their men and women who have died in the line of duty. Four new stars were added to the marble Memorial Wall recognizing fallen officers.  This year’s additions, however, all died in the 1950s or ‘60s and who, for various reasons, had not previously been represented on the wall.  The addition of these four stars brings the wall’s total to 117.  A CIA press release gives the details on the latest entries in the book of honor. By tradition, the ceremony in the Agency’s lobby is presided over by the CIA Director, and family members of many of the fallen officers attend.  It is the one occasion when the names of all those behind the stars are read out loud – including those who identities are not publicly released – even in death.

DRESSING FOR DEBATE:  We hear that the former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, is donning a tux and heading to England next week for a formal debate at the Oxford Union.  The Society’s debates date back to the 1800s and are run much like today’s debates in the House of Commons.  The despatch boxes— the wooden boxes used as lecterns in the British Parliament— may have come from the time of Winston Churchill, but the debate topics are firmly rooted in things Churchill likely never imagined vis a vis the Apple–FBI debate.  Next week’s debate topic is whether technology companies should prevent government access to consumer data.  It’s certain that the question will have members heading for the door, but the question is, which door?  Voting for the winner of the debate is determined by which door a member chooses to exit.  Olsen, who currently serves as the President of Consulting for IronNet Cybersecurity, was dressed a little more casually a couple of weeks ago when he stopped by The Cipher Brief.  We asked him what kind of book he would write if he ever decided to jump on the bandwagon and write one.  Perhaps it was the adventurous side of him that answered he’d write a spy novel, along the lines of David Ignatius’ books, except the hero would be a DOJ lawyer who saves the world (and protects civil liberties, too).  At least next week, the former DOJ lawyer will be perfectly dressed for the part.

CIA TRAFFIC REPORTS: No, we’re not talking about the jams on Route 123 in McLean – but rather the traffic visiting the Agency’s internet homepage.  MuckRock, an outfit that says it is a “collaborative news site that gives you the tools to keep our government transparent and accountable,”  recently published a story based on a response to a FOIA request for CIA web stats. They got their hands on reports covering 2009 to January 2015, which show that virtual visitors to Langley peaked in 2012 with 59,864,999 hits. MuckRock notes that each year the traffic peaks in the spring –  they speculate that this might be the result of college seniors trying to figure out what they are going to do after graduation.  The Agency was pulling down an average of almost 5 million visitors a month in 2012 but by January 2015, the number had fallen to about 4 million…. still a very respectable number in The Dead Drop’s view.

“THE ROCK” TURNS TO STONE:  Speaking of 4 million – there seem to be about that many movies and TV series on the air or in the works about the intelligence community.  There are so many that Hollywood apparently has used up every creative title and name.  That’s the only explanation for an otherwise potentially amusing forthcoming flick called, “Central Intelligence.” Opening on June 17, it stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as “Bob Stone” a one-time bullied, overweight geek who grew up to be a lethal CIA “agent.” Stone joins up with high school buddy Calvin Joyner (played by Kevin Hart) and “drags him through a world of shoot-outs, double-crosses and espionage.” The “Central Intelligence” movie website (not to be confused with the Central Intelligence Agency website mentioned earlier) offers movie aficionados a chance to generate their own “agent name.”

THE TIES THAT DON’T BIND:  Or how about the syndicated television show “Crime Watch Daily,” which this week featured “former CIA spy Jason Hanson” telling viewers how to escape if they find themselves with their hands duct-taped or zip tied in front of them.  And he shows how to get out of hand cuffs while stuffed in the trunk of a car.  That last maneuver requires that you had the forethought to always keep a modified hair barrette within easy reach to pick the lock.  It also helps if the bad guys are dumb enough to secure your hands in front rather than behind your back.

UN-REALITY SHOW: And speaking of odd-ball entertainment, TMZ reported this week something about “Dual Survival,” which reportedly has been airing on the Discovery Channel for seven seasons (although The Dead Drop has never heard of it). One of the two cast members (for several past seasons), Cody Ludin, is suing the other (Joe Teti) for trying to kill him. TMZ says Teti is a “former CIA operative.” Previous publicity called him a “retired Force Recon Marine, Army Special Forces Green Beret, and a former operative in one of the most top-secret government counterterrorist units in the world.” TMZ says that in the lawsuit, Lundin alleges Teti “threatened to bury him on a mountain while waving around an ice axe,” and during a shoot in Hawaii, “threatened to impale him with a spear.”  How did they fail to get this on camera? Sounds like a ratings winner.  For his part, Teti denies the allegations and says he is “hurt” by the accusations. No doubt he is a sensitive soul.

THE AMERICANS ARE COMING (BACK) –  Not all programming is so goofy. The FX television network announced this week that their highly popular series, The Americans, will run for two more seasons and then the network will pull the plug on the drama about two KGB spies posing as an American couple, living in the DC area during the Reagan administration.  It may seem odd to kill off such a successful show – but FX says doing so will give showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg time to collaborate on another series.  No word on what that one will be about – but The Dead Drop is confident that it will NOT involve characters chasing each other with ice axes and threatening to impale colleagues with a spear. That said – what was in this week’s episode of The Americans?  Glad you asked.  Here is our weekly critique by CIA veteran Mike 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 11

How long can KGB illegals operate in the U.S. after an American pastor and his wife learn their true identities? Judging by this week’s episode of The Americans, apparently a long time. In the previous episode, the Jennings appeared to be on the brink of disaster. Pastor Tim went missing in Africa, and his distraught wife Alice, believing the Soviets may have been responsible for his disappearance, threatened to expose the illegals to the Department of Justice.

After Pastor Tim turns up safe, the threat seems to diminish in this episode. The pastor and his wife even apologize for her earlier outbursts and threats of exposing the illegals … poor woman, after all, was distraught over her husband’s disappearance.

The Jennings, of course, want to keep the pastor and his wife happy – and silent – so they eagerly accept the apology and then invite the couple to dinner. Talk about awkward moments – in one of the more bizarre scenes in the series, the Jennings neighbor, FBI agent Stan Beeman unexpectedly drops in on the foursome and stays for dinner. So the illegals host a dinner where one guest is hunting Soviet spies and doesn’t know the Jennings’ real identities, but the other guests do. No wonder Philip and Elizabeth exchange worried looks during the repast.

Elizabeth Jennings, who has been the staunch, cold-hearted communist throughout the series, also starts to suffer from the strain of her double life and begins seeking out Pastor Tim for spiritual guidance. Her soul searching has been kindled by her operation to befriend Young Hee, her fellow cosmetics saleswoman, so she can compromise her husband Don and through him gain access to the top secret level of the Defense Department’s biowarfare research. While cultivating Young Hee, however, Elizabeth forged a real friendship with her and developed affection for the lady’s family.

After staging a phony seduction of Young Hee’s husband in the previous episode, Elizabeth now wants out of the operation, but Moscow Center orders her to proceed. Her next step in blackmailing Don is to advise him that their wine-induced lovemaking has left her pregnant. We won’t spoil it here for the viewers, but our illegals do manage to search Don’s office …  but they still don’t find the access codes for the top secret “Level 4.”

Nailed it: Cold War intelligence officers may find it implausible that Pastor Tim, Young Hee’s husband Don and other American characters in the show could be so gullible. Unfortunately, in reality, the characters do epitomize the naïveté of scores of Americans who were lured into or volunteered to spy for the Soviet bloc throughout the Cold War.

Failed it: Unsuspecting FBI agent Stan tells Philip about the death of retired Agent Gaad, his former supervisor, in Bangkok. Stan believes the KGB was responsible, although he can’t fathom why they would have done it – Gaad, after all, didn’t know anything. In reality, however, Beeman, or any other FBI agent for that matter, would know that Gaad, as the recently retired FBI counterintelligence chief, would have a wealth of information on operations against the Soviets. The KGB also was well aware that Gaad retired because his career was tainted by security fiascos (his secretary’s collaboration with the KGB and the planting of a bug in his office), and because of that, he may have been bitter, resentful, and thus vulnerable to a Soviet recruitment attempt.

Failed it: Stan the FBI man is feeling as stressed as his neighbors Philip and Elizabeth. He meets Oleg Burov, his special back channel to the KGB residency, and tells the Soviet that the FBI is discussing possible attempts for Stan to blackmail him.

Stan, still despondent over the KGB arrest of his source Anya, tells Burov he doesn’t want him on his conscience too and will not see him again. Stan is growing perhaps a bit too cozy with his Soviet contact by telling him FBI operational plans – but even more implausibly, his decision to sever his FBI-sanctioned contact with the KGB officer is one that his superiors and not he would make on his own.

Failed it: The illegals’ ruse to gain unescorted access to Don’s office is clever but so risky that it seems highly improbable. Three illegals are used in the operation and exposed to Don – Philip, his handler Gabriel, and a female illegal, and even then, they have to search Don’s office intensively for the precise access they need …  and ultimately they don’t find it. It’s highly doubtful the KGB would risk compromising three illegals at once, even if they are desperate to acquire samples of America’s deadliest viruses.

Failed it: While I’m no fan of the KGB, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the final scene where Elizabeth uses her KGB-honed self-defense skills to overcome two nasty thugs threatening her and her daughter. In reality, however, KGB illegals are trained in living their cover, communicating covertly, manipulating targets, and gathering intelligence more than in the martial arts that Elizabeth uses against the would-be rapists.

SERVICE THE DEAD DROP: OK, admit it.  You have been secretly enjoying some of the nuggets stashed in The Dead Drop for the past few months, but what have you contributed? Isn’t it time that you share one of those juicy little tidbits – or ironic observations you’ve been hoarding?  Send us your tips to [email protected]