Dead Drop: October 13

DEEP STATE OR DEEP CONCERN?  President Trump and his supporters would have you believe that those concerned about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election are just relics of the “deep state” struggling to protect their stake in the status quo.  On the other side are a growing number of prominent voices arguing against sweeping allegations of election manipulation under the Oval Office carpet.  A relatively new outfit called the “Committee to Investigate Russia”, which released a short video last week, explaining why “Russia matters.” Included in the video were former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, former DNI James Clapper, former FBI official Clint Watts, former CIA and NSA Director General Michael Hayden, and former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell.

POTTED PALMS: Last Thursday, President Trump participated in a ritual event – a dinner with his top military officials – four-star combatant commanders and their spouses.  Such dinners have been going on for years.  In this case – on short notice, sources tell The Cipher Brief, the White House press pool was called into the State Dining Room to photograph the crowd.  With cameras rolling, we’re told, the President offered up a rhetorical question: “You guys know what this represents?” and then proceeded to answer his own inquiry: “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”  He was right, because what ensued was a storm of speculation about what the heck he was talking about. The Dead Drop is reliably informed that flag and general officers present were uniformly embarrassed about being used as props for presidential saber rattling.  It’s possible that to some in the room, the prospect of armed conflict is not a joking matter or a suitable subject for trolling America’s foes. 

SPACE RACE: New Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, gave a hint of how he’ll approach Washington, D.C., wowing a crowd at his embassy with the U.S. premiere of a real-life Soviet space yarn drama, “SALYUT-7.”  We’re told that after a cocktail hour replete with caviar and shots of vodka, a crowd of diplomats, academics, Russophiles and a handful of journalists watched the film, described by one attendees as “an equal to any Hollywood space blockbuster.”  Antonov said the dramatization had recently been screened at the Kremlin, but that it’s still off limits to the public.  In a rather diplomatic gesture, one source said he reminded the audience that Russia got to space first, by launching the Sputnik satellite, saying “In the six decades since the Sputnik launch, the renowned space race gradually transformed into a cooperation that can serve today as a model for working together to achieve a better understanding between our nations.”  Just a couple weeks ago, the U.S. and Russia agreed to collaborate on a NASA-led program to build the first lunar space station, the Deep Space Gateway, despite tensions back here on earth. 

KIRIAKOU KRASH: John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who, in 2012, was sentenced to 30 months in the slammer for disclosing the identity of a fellow CIA official, was involved in a serious traffic accident last week.  According to Newsweek, one of Kiriakou’s attorneys says he was driving his Vespa in northwest Washington when a car in front of him stopped suddenly and he plowed into it.  On Facebook, Kiriakou reported he broke six ribs and a clavicle and the hospital installed ports in his neck and back to deliver “targeted painkillers.” Normally traffic accidents would not meet the threshold for Dead Drop items – but we make exception in this case because Newsweek reports that a friend says Kiriakou believes the incident may not have been an accident – darkly hinting that someone or some Agency (when not worried about North Korea, Iran, and Russia) may have been busy plotting Vespa accidents in NW DC.

MIXED MESSAGES: Last Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a warning to all military and DOD personnel to knock off the loose lips, reminding them “it is a violation of our oath to divulge, in any fashion, non-public DoD information, classified, or unclassified, to anyone without the required security clearance as well as a specific need to know in the performance of their duties.” Then on Friday, Mattis told senior military leaders to engage the media – but stay in their lanes. A Top Pentagon spokeswoman told DOD communicators to tell their bosses “we want them to feel free, even obligated, to speak, in their lane…”  You’ll forgive senior officials if they err on the side of caution and just shut up.

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

  • Bang! Pow! PA&E?  –Color them embarrassed. Late last week, Marvel Entertainment, the folks who bring you Spider-Man, the Avengers and the X-Men, teased a forthcoming announcement about partnering with defense contractor Northrop Grumman to come up with a new franchise — apparently where the heroes would be defense contractors.  According to Defense News, the idea was killed hours before it was to be formally announced – apparently Marvel fans’ negative views of the arms industry proved to be kryptonite.
  • Great Balls of Fire:Muckrock has uncovered Pentagon documents which seem to suggest the U.S. government took seriously reports that the Soviets were able to create “ball lightning” by using the brain as a superconductor. Apparently, sometime around 1990, someone in DIA found a Chinese magazine article which reported on a Soviet magazine piece.   Muckrock reports that the article suggests if someone is “incredulous about these super humans who can resurrect plants, heal people with their hands, and shoot ball lightning out of them, then “your [sic] are an arrogant stupid ass.”
  • Someday Their Prince Will Come:Wyoming voters learned over the weekend that Blackwater founder Erik Prince is considering establishing residency in their state in order to run for the Senate.  The New York Times reported that Steve Bannon is encouraging Prince to challenge Republican incumbent John Barrasso in the 2018 primaries. The Dead Drop has previously reported that Prince has been involved in trying to change U.S. policy in Afghanistan – with private contractors assuming more of the load. Perhaps he figures he would have more success in that regard as a member of the Senate.  Prince reportedly owns property in Wyoming and spent time there in the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • Where you stand depends upon where you sit: Washington’s game of musical chairs among senior administration officials is closely watched around the world. For example, the Israeli news site Arutz Sheva 7 commented favorably on rumors that Senator Tom Cotton (R, AK) might replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo – if Pompeo became Secretary of State, as is a whispered possibility. Meanwhile, The New Arab website is kvetching about the “Pompeo to Foggy Bottom” speculation, quoting an American “Muslim advocate” as calling Pompeo an “award-winning bigot.”

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:

  • Red Handed: Former senior CIA operations officer Steven Hall was quoted in an LA Times story about reports that the Russian government leveraged Kaspersky antivirus software to steal U.S. secrets.  Hall says Kaspersky “is likely to be beholden to the Kremlin” and its CEO “knows he’s at the mercy of Putin.”  For the record, the Kaspersky CEO doesn’t agree with Mr. Hall.
  • Reds in the Black. Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral Jim Stavridiswriting in Bloomberg View, warns Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Black Sea ambitions don’t end in Crimea.  Shocking.
  • Fighting Words:Former CIA and NSA Director, General Mike Hayden writing in The Hill, talks about how words matter – especially those of a president.  Hayden says he “used to worry that the president could blunder us into war with his language. Now I’m afraid he’ll order us to start one.”
  • Bank Shot: According to American BankerLeslie Ireland, former Assistant Treasury Secretary for Intelligence has been appointed to the board of Citigroup.

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING:  Got any tips for your friendly neighborhood Dead Drop?  Shoot us a note at [email protected].