Dead Drop May 6

TOO SOON?  CIA’s social meeting mavens took to live tweeting events surrounding the demise of Osama bin Ladin last Sunday – marking the fifth anniversary of the terrorist’s exit from the planet. The gimmick got mixed reviews at best – some in the Twitterverse enjoyed the simulated play-by-play of what was arguably the Agency’s greatest hit. Others, ranging from Fortune (which said the tactic “backfired”) to snarky foreign media, like Putin’s “RT” and various British tabloids, were less amused – asking, for example, when CIA was going to recreate live tweets of the Bay of Pigs invasion.  Some people are never satisfied.

OBL STILL DEAD: There are so few successes that outfits like CIA are allowed to celebrate – you have to cut them some slack when they keep spiking the ball in the end zone on well-known victories like nailing bin Ladin. On Sunday, CIA Director John Brennan continued his visibility raising efforts by appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press.  The ostensible purpose also was to note the five-year anniversary of bin Ladin’s “up close and personal” meeting with Navy SEALs.  But MtP host Chuck Todd wasted little time segueing to current threats like ISIS/ISIL/Daesh (choose your favorite label.)  Brennan did a good job of ducking a question about the President once having called ISIS “the JV team.” He also cast doubt on the wisdom of declassifying and releasing the “28-pages” from the 2002 Congressional Joint Inquiry which reportedly raise questions about Saudi officials’ involvement in 9/11 planning. Brennan described the pages as “uncorroborated, un-vetted information,” some of which is “very inaccurate.”  Meanwhile, former CIA Director Porter Goss (who was co-chair of the Joint Inquiry) came out in favor of declassifying the 28-pages – not that he thinks such a move will settle matters.  He told the Florida Bulldog: “My guess is that some of the 28-page material will be released soon, but some bits will still be redacted. Thus the speculation will continue. I think this will all be settled about the same time everyone agrees about the Kennedy assassination.”

BLACK TIE OBSERVATIONS: The Atlantic Council handed out its Distinguished Leadership Awards in Washington this week before a (DC-style) star-studded crowd. Attendees like General David Petraeus, Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Former CIA Director William H. Webster and others donned tuxes to honor Henry Kravis, Co-Chair and Co-CEO of KKR, Robert Gates, Former Secretary of Defense, Vittorio Grigolo, Italian Operatic Tenor and General Joseph Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command. Michele Flournoy introduced Honoree Gates by sharing stories of his leadership style while serving as her boss at the Pentagon. While its obvious she’s a big fan, she lit up just a little recalling ‘that time he made his security detail take him through the Burger King drive thru’.

SLICK MOVE: Former senior CIA official Steve Slick, now director of the Intelligence Studies Project at the University of Texas – Austin, has an article in Foreign Policy to help guide the next President (whomever he or she may be) on how to decide “on whether to abandon and reverse, selectively modify, or press ahead with the reforms now underway at CIA.”  The lengthy piece is worth a read – but what caught The Dead Drop’s eye was language tagged on at the very end of Slick’s piece saying: “This essay was reviewed and approved by the CIA’s Publication Review Board. The PRB requested removal of text that described a counterterrorism program previously acknowledged by the president and recent CIA directors.”  Hmm.  Wonder what that program was?  We could speculate, but don’t want to drone on here.

YOU DON’T KNOW JACK: This week, like seemingly every other week, there is a lot of Hollywood news regarding the intelligence community.  One of the more interesting nuggets is that Amazon is creating a TV series based on “Jack Ryan,” the hero of so many Tom Clancy novels.  Cast to play the titled character is John Krasinski perhaps best known as a nice but boring paper salesman on the TV series “The Office.” Krasinski will be the fifth actor to play the play CIA analyst Jack Ryan.  He will be following in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine. Press accounts say in the TV version – Jack Ryan will be a modern day analyst and the stories will be inspired by – but not based on—the Clancy novels.  Real-world CIA analysts can take comfort at least in knowing that the producers didn’t cast one of the nerdier paper peddlers of The Office’s “Dunder Mifflin,” such as Rainn Wilson (aka Dwight Schrute) to exemplify their profession.

GOOD CATCH: And then there is word that Paul Rudd will star in a movie based on The Catcher Was A Spy, a 1994 book about a real world journeyman major league baseball catcher by the name of Moe Berg who happened to speak ten languages and who worked for the Office of Strategic Services (CIA’s forerunner).

The Americans   Reviewed by 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.

The Americans Season 4 Episode 8

The saga of the FBI secretary appears to be over when the KGB flies her out of the U.S. from an isolated airfield to her new life in the socialist paradise. Martha’s exfiltration is different from the journeys of real life defectors who had to make their own way out of the U.S. In 1960, two disgruntled NSA employees, Bernon Mitchell and William Martin, bought one-way tickets to Mexico City and flew from there to Cuba to meet the KGB for onward travel to Moscow. CIA spy Edward Howard traveled from the U.S. by a circuitous route to Europe to meet his handlers –- on a domestic flight to New York, he was seated next to actor Lee Marvin, who, among other roles, starred in the espionage and crime thriller “Gorky Park.”

Most of the episode focuses on the repercussions of Martha’s defection. Elizabeth Jennings grows exasperated with her husband Philip and daughter Page. Philip, depressed over Martha’s defection, mopes around the house until Elizabeth confronts him. Losing an agent is part of the job, she tells him, so get over it. This sparks a nasty marital spat as long festering wounds are reopened and the two hurl accusations at each other, mainly about their respective former lovers, who, of course, were also their agents.

Page, meanwhile, has been cutting Bible class instead of following her parents’ order to stay cozy with Pastor Tim so he won’t reveal that her parents are KGB spies. An angry Elizabeth severely scolds her daughter and commands her to do her duty since she’s responsible for revealing the truth about her parents. Besides Bible class and Sunday services, Elizabeth screams at her daughter, “you’re going to find some other s–t  to volunteer for at that goddamned church” to monitor the pastor’s mood–- nice language for a mother, but Elizabeth is at heart a true communist and atheist.

The Jennings’ Soviet handler Gabriel also isn’t too pleased when he finds the illegals furiously arguing with each other. Later, he meets his fellow handler Claudia and bemoans the generation gap. He can’t fathom these young kids today who bring their marital problems to the job and whine over losing an agent –- not like the old days when, as Gabriel relates, he had to arrest a childhood friend in front of his weeping family, a decorated war hero who became an enemy of the people. I guess life under Stalin was a bit more complicated for a KGB officer.

Gabriel decides the Jennings are under so much pressure that it’s time to lighten their workload and assign them no new operations. The episode ends seven months later with scenes of the happy Jennings family. Page is shown playing miniature golf with Pastor Tim and his wife.  When she returns home, obeying her mother’s orders, she dutifully provides her parents a full report on the pastor’s mood. If Pastor Tim hasn’t revealed the truth about the Jennings all this time, he is either supremely gullible or Page may well be the best intelligence officer in the family.

Nailed it: Philip’s remorse over Martha’s defection is understandable. Intelligence officers don’t like to lose agents and can be emotionally affected when it happens –- after all, as Philip says, agents are human beings. At the same time,

Elizabeth, who is colder than Philip, is correct –- such losses are part of the business.

Nailed it: KGB handler Gabriel looks crushed when Philip reveals to him that he is attending sessions of EST, i.e., Erhard Seminars Training. EST was a popular self-improvement program that challenged participants to find their true nature instead of playing roles imposed on them and involved baring their souls in group awareness sessions. Role playing is essential to illegals’ operations, and baring one’s soul is clearly at odds with illegals’ living their cover. 

Nailed and failed: Amid the family problems in the episode, Elizabeth’s agent Lisa signals for an emergency meeting. Lisa works for a contractor involved in a classified Defense Department project. She was recruited by Elizabeth in a false flag operation, believing she is providing information to an industry competitor and not the KGB. At the meeting, Lisa is distraught. A struggling mother and recovering alcoholic, she’s drinking again, her husband has just run off with another woman, and she is convinced she can start reversing her fortunes by revealing her espionage to the authorities.

The scenario is certainly plausible. People are often motivated to spy to solve personal problems, usually financial, but their solution rarely works, and the pressures of a double life only complicate matters. Their handlers, like Elizabeth, try their best to walk them back from the ledge. When Elizabeth can’t dissuade her, however, she “fails” it by bashing her agitated spy over the head and killing her. As we’ve said before, murder is hardly in keeping with the low profile illegals strive to maintain. I wonder if Elizabeth cleaned up the evidence at the murder scene… otherwise our illegals may be facing yet another threat from an FBI forensic sweep of the victim’s home.

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