Dead Drop: November 3

IN THE PICTURE: The big news this week, of course, was the indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and the guilty plea of Trump campaign advisor George Popadopolous. While the administration raced to distance themselves from Popadopolous, the media dug up this March 2016 photo of the 30-year-old energy consultant meeting with Trump, then-Senator Jeff Sessions and about ten other members of Trump’s national security team. So, who are the other folks who made it into the photo? They include: J.D. Gordon, a retired Navy commander who worked on Mike Huckabee and Herman Cain campaigns (and who achieved notoriety while serving as a Pentagon escort for media going to Guantanamo Bay – by filing a complaint against a female Miami Herald reporter for making “abusive and degrading comments of an explicitly sexual nature” to him; her newspaper determined she’d merely cursed him out.) Also in the photo: former DOD Inspector General Joseph Schmitz, once accused of making anti-Semitic remarks while in office – an allegation he termed “lies.”

NOT IN THE PICTURE: On Wednesday, the CIA released nearly half a million additional files from the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Ladin. Among the files was UBL’s personal diary. Handwritten in Arabic, the journal did have a brand name in English – it was called a “Lucky Exclusive” note book. Exclusive, yes. Lucky? Not so much. Some readers kvetched that the Agency did not provide an English translation to accompany UBL’s musings. The data dump did include “79,000 audio and image files” and “10,000 video files.” The release does not include UBL’s personal porn stash which reportedly was among the material scooped up during the raid.

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

  • Cheap at Twice the Price: Among the fascinating nuggets released by the National Archives last week in their partial dump of JFK assassination-related documents – was a memo which says the U.S. considered offering bounties to Cubans who killed communist leaders on the island. The rewards would have ranged from a high of $100,000 for some officials to just two cents for killing Fidel Castro. Now $0.02 might sound low – but remember, that was in 1962 dollars.
  • Wax on, Wax Off: Fortunately for the rest of us, the folks at seem to have plenty of time to mine the CIA’s now-declassified archives for fun stuff. They report that they have discovered the reason the files contain a flyer for a creepy wax museum. It seems back in the early 1990s, members of the government’s psychic remote viewer program were being challenged to prove their worth – (no one could have seen that coming!) – so they were given an assignment to describe a random wax museum. They described some tall rectangular structure, some animals and a bald guy. Close enough for government work.
  • Intelligence Ziti Gritty: Muckrock’s continuing excavation of the CIA’s CREST data base also served up a now declassified (formerly Top Secret) 1973 Agency memo regarding a pasta shortage in Italy.
  • Leadership Secrets: The Dead Drop hears that former Pittsburgh Steeler coach Bill Cowher was out at the CIA last week sharing leadership lessons with an auditorium full of Agency officers. According to our spies, Cowher, now an analyst on CBS TV’s “The NFL Today”, did not give a speech – but was interviewed by former CIA Director George Tenet. We’d love to give you a little play by play on the session – but for some reason an Agency spokesman punted and refused to confirm or deny the event. CBS did not immediately respond to request for comment.
  • Who is Watching the Watchdogs? ProPublica is out this week with a story which says two former CIA employees filed complaints against Chrisopher Sharpley, the guy now nominated to be Agency Inspector General. But Sharpley told Congress last month he was unaware of any pending complaints against him. There’s lots of finger pointing in the lengthy story. ProPublica quotes a former CIA official as saying there is a “war” going on between the CIA’s inspector general and the intelligence community IG. That can’t turn out well.

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:

  • Russia 1 – U.S. 0: Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, on a Politico podcast, said “The Russians succeeded…beyond their wildest expectations” in sowing “discontent, discord and disruption in our political life.”
  • “Followed the ISIS playbook perfectly:” Former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell appeared on CBS “This Morning” on Wednesday to discuss the New York terror attack.
  • Let them train with them but not keep them. Former NSA and CIA Director General Mike Hayden told The Jerusalem Post that Israel should be allowed to buy bunker-buster bombs – with significant restrictions – to deter Iran.
  • Buy George: Former CIA operations officer (and long-time Russia hand) Steven Hall, writing in the Washington Post explains how Russia’s outreach to George Papadopoulos “went just how spies would have done it.”


“I’m continuing to leaven my foreign policy reading with a rich menu from other disciplines.  My latest is A Life in Letters,  edited by Matthew Bruccoli. This is the personal and professional correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The letters are beautifully and artfully written and chock full of insights about the literary, theatrical, and occasionally political life of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, with insight into other authors such as Hemingway John Dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson, Willa Cather, and many others. “Something totally different”, as Monty Python used to say…

John McLaughlin, former Acting Director of the CIA


Network expert Matt Olsen, former NCTC director and FBI Special Counsel to the Director, did not think much of President Donald Trump’s comments Wednesday calling the U.S. justice system, “a joke and…a laughingstock” and threatening to send the New York suspect to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“The way this is being handled right now through the criminal justice system is appropriate and demonstrates that the FBI, the local police department and our criminal justice system is the best way to take someone like this off the street, and ensure that there is swift and certain justice,” Olsen said after the deadly terror attack that killed eight in New York City this week. “We’ve seen that play out right now with the fact that he has apparently provided a full confession in a form that can be used as evidence against him in court.”

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