Dead Drop: September 15

LEAKS AND LIES:  A couple parallel stories caught our eye this week.  Muckrock News dug up a 1984 CIA document penned under the name of then Director William Casey which discussed the severe problem of leaks. Casey opined that “most of the people in government and the media who disclose classified information do not realize the gravity of the damage that results.” The then-DCI argued for new legislation making it a crime to disclose classified information to an unauthorized individual – rather than relying on prosecutions using the Espionage Act, which he described as “driving tacks with a sledge hammer.”  A third of a century later, leaks still bedevil the federal government.  Axios first reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering recommending single-issue polygraph tests be given to the entire National Security Council staff to try to find out who leaked transcripts of the President’s phone calls to foreign leaders. The theory is that since a relatively few number of officials have access to such transcripts – the odds of catching the perpetrator are higher than normal – and even if they don’t turn up the leaker – the move might chill the plans of future leakers. Meanwhile, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster sent a memo to federal agencies telling them to institute an anti-leak program.  His memo quickly leaked.

RUSSIAN TO PRINT: A recent article in the N.Y. Post says that fiction about Russian espionage is suddenly hot in the publishing world.  John Le Carré’s first George Smiley novel in 25 years, A Legacy of Spies, is just one example. U.S.- Russian spy thrillers were on the back burner for a while – but now it seems that art is imitating life – and they are back with a vengeance.

SPINNING SPUTNIK: The Feds are generally cautious about going after news organizations –even those the President calls “fake,” but it appears that there is no such reluctance to looking into the dealing of Sputnik – a Russian-government-funded news organization which serves as a house organ for the Putin regime.  According to Yahoo News, the FBI has grilled a former Sputnik White House Correspondent as part of an investigation into whether the so-called news organization is really a lobbying arm of the Russian government and may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA.) On Tuesday, the state-owned media outlet RT (formerly known as “Russia Today”) was reportedly ordered to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, as well.

SCRATCHED RECORDS:  We are less than six weeks away from the October 26th date when all U.S. government files on JFK’s assassination are supposed to be released. reports that it has recently been discovered that a batch of CIA records on Lee Harvey Oswald have gone missing, however. There is a convoluted story about what might be in the missing volume of documents – and dispute about whether the volume ever existed. Safe to say, however, that any thought that the release of documents in October would put to rest any of the controversy – can be put in the round file.

FOR YOUR EARS ONLY:  CBS News and The Cipher Brief are about to launch a new podcast called “Intelligence Matters.”  Hosted by former Acting CIA Director and current CBS News national security contributor Michael Morell, the weekly “commute length” program will feature interviews with top current and former officials talking about the critical issues of our time.  The first episode will be released on Tuesday September 19th with Morell talking with former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.  On the maiden program, they’ll discuss everything from the importance of public service and integrity in government to what to do about North Korea and the defense budgetThe well-connected Morell (who is also a regular contributor to The Cipher Brief) will draw on his 32-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency to ask the critical questions that need to be addressed each week. The podcast will be available on iTunes and other major platforms.  Be sure to give “Intelligence Matters” a listen – and subscribe for a weekly shot of conversation between the most experienced experts on national security.

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

  • Department of Dubious Intelligence: Press accounts report that a declassified CIA memo reported that Agency sources reported in 1955 that Adolph Hitler was alive and well and living in South America.  One source told the CIA that since more than ten years had passed since the end of the war – Hitler could no longer be charged with war crimes. The Dead Drop was unaware that there was a statute of limitations on genocide. The memo was accompanied by a photograph which purported to show two men – including one with a mustache who vaguely looks like Der Führer. Interestingly, the guy with the mustache was identified as “Adolf Schrittelmayor” – you would think that if Hitler had gone into hiding, he might have shaved the mustache and come up with a better first name.
  • Poster Boy: Hollywood has just released a poster for the upcoming movie American Assassin. The film, based on a novel by the late Vince Flynn, centers on Mitch Rapp, who joins the CIA to seek personal revenge against terrorists who killed his girlfriend. The poster shows Rapp, weapon drawn, bursting through a CIA seal with blood dripping through the hole. We are guessing this is not a romantic comedy.
  • Bad Company: Russian President Vladimir Putin cracked a joke at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s expense late last week. Putin noted that the Russians had previously awarded Tillerson their Order of Friendship “but he seems to have fallen in with the wrong company and to be steering in the other direction.” Unclear if Putin, when talking about “the wrong company,” was referring to the folks who have been pushing for increased sanctions on Russia – or to President Trump. But since we first spotted this item in Breitbart News – we are assuming the former.
  • Everybody’s Gonna Get (Roger) Stoned: Trump whisperer Roger Stone appeared on Alex Jones’ Inforwars program this week, and the guest and host agreed that someone may be drugging President Trump. Salon reports that Stone says he has two sources who tell him the president has been slurring his words lately – and while that could mean that the 71-year-old man was tired—Stone thinks that with POTUS’s “perfect genes,” another explanation is that General Kelly maybe spiking his diet cokes.   Really.
  • Al Qaeda Leader Blasts ISIS in New Memoir: (Not really)  The Mideast Beast, a satirical website which says it is “totally fictitious and should not be taken seriously in any way,”  has an item this week about a memoir by Ayman al-Zawahiri  in which he (supposedly) blasts his ISIS counterparts. “Everything that we did, ISIS just kept trying to one-up us,” Zawahiri complains in the book. “We proposed declaring a caliphate once we unite the lands of Islam, and they said ‘Well, we’ll declare it immediately.’ We proposed killing all the Jews and Christians, and they said, ‘We’ll kill the Shiites too.’”  You know the book is bogus – because the website offered no link earning them a sales kickback.

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:

  • Retired Navy four-star admiral Jim Stavridis writing in Bloomberg View described how a naval blockade of North Korea might work.
  • Asia expert Gordon Chang was on Fox Business Channel explaining why the new UN sanctions against North Korea will not be effective.
  • Former NCTC Director Matt Olsen told The Hill that we should expect “one or more small scale terrorism attacks” in the U.S. in the next year or two.

WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND? (Our contributors tell us about what they’re currently reading)

Michael Morell, former Acting and Deputy CIA Director:

“I am reading Mark Bowden’s latest book, Hue 1968:  A Turning Point in the American War in Vietnam.  Bowden provides a detailed and riveting account of the Tet offensive in central Vietnam.  In so doing, he reminds us of a government’s ability to deceive itself, the role of the media in a democracy, and the importance of having an effective political strategy in a military campaign. “


“Russia today, or at least the Russia under the leadership of former KBG careerist turned politician, Vladimir Putin, sees the world as a stark zero-sum game where anything good for the U.S. must be bad for Russia, and anything bad for the U.S. must be good for Russia.  In that simple construct, when you ask if Russia is meddling in Afghanistan and working counter to U.S. objective’s in the region, the answer is, of course they are.”

-Kevin Hulbert, former senior intelligence officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations

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.