Dead Drop: September 18

REVENGE – A DISH BEST SERVED COLD? In one of the more unusual stories we have seen recently, Politico reports that U.S. intelligence believes that the Iranian government “is weighing an assassination attempt” against the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks. The plot is said to be possible retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani nine months ago. A question even bigger than: “Why now?” is: “Why Marks?”  Soleimani had a long and bloody history supporting terrorist activities. Marks, on the other hand, has been an ambassador for just under a year.  A political appointee she has been a member of the Mara-a-Lago club in Florida and reportedly a long-time friend of President Trump.  While Soleimani’s stock in trade was terrorism, Mark’s made her mark designing and selling handbags that go for up to $40,000 each.  She seems an unlikely target – but the Politico story had lots of detail citing well-placed intelligence sources including the assertion that the planned attack was reported in the CIA’s World Intelligence Review (aka WIRe) widely available to senior government officials. While several media outlets have reported on Politico’s story – we have noticed (so far) a dearth of major news organizations confirming it and adding any additional detail.  That gave us pause – but then a left-handed confirmation came from the Commander in Chief. President Trump tweeted on Tuesday that  “According to press reports, Iran may be planning an assassination, or other attack, against the United States in retaliation for the killing of terrorist leader Soleimani, which was carried out for his planning a future attack, murdering U.S. Troops, and the death & suffering….caused over so many years. Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!” That is a much more vigorous response than the silence which accompanied press reports of Russian efforts to place bounties on U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan. We are not sure if that means that one story is more credible than the other.  Or simply a matter of the country of origin of the threats.

MODEL BEHAVIOR:  On the anniversary of 9/11, reporter Catherine Herridge produced a story for CBS This Morning about the model makers from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency who built a scale model of the Abbottabad compound prior to the assault where UBL was tracked down and met his maker. One of the model builders appeared in the report, with his identity concealed.  He told Herridge that he did not know who lived in the compound until the mission’s success was announced.  Speaking of compartmented information, CBS anchor Anthony Mason said that until seeing Herridge’s report, he didn’t know that NGA existed – but  added, “thank goodness it does.”

The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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